Holsters, Belts, and Related Gear: As Important as the Carry Gun, In Many Ways

Holsters, Belts, and Related Gear: As Important as the Carry Gun, In Many Ways

So you want to buy a pistol for carry and concealment?  The learning process has begun!  Doubtless, you’ve already pored over a variety of brands and models, watched YouTube reviews until your retinas burn, and compared feature sets more times than you’d care to admit to your significant other.  Perhaps you’ve even shot a few at Bellevue Gun Club or another range to see which you like best, and find easiest to shoot.  But beyond the track record or design sophistication of the firearm in question, have you taken a moment to consider the supplementary gear needed to actually effectively and safely conceal said firearm on your person on a day-to-day basis?

When clients visit us to get conversant over the idea of owning their first handgun and learning “the art of the pistol” for discreet personal protection, my typical bias towards recommending the Glock product line first is as much a reflection of the immense selection of quality gear for Glock, as it is the durability and reliability of the world’s most popular striker fired pistol.  To be clear: there are many outstanding pistols out there, some of which I like significantly more for one reason or another, and may even carry more often, but few if any of these guns will be as simple and fast to get supplementary gear for, such as holsters, magazine carriers, spare magazines, or minor replacement parts.  Proven, prolific designs–regardless of brand–have a big support advantage when you start selecting those important supplementary items. 

Getting back on track, this is not a blog about Glock vs other brands, or a plug to extol the theoretical superiority of one platform over another.  The above is merely to emphasize that quality carry gear is in many ways as important as the gun itself, as it is these things which effectively connect your firearm system to you, and enable you to grow as a shooter.  In addition to Glock, leading brands such as Smith & Wesson, SIG-Sauer, HK, Beretta, Walther, and CZ will have significant support in terms of accessories you can readily acquire.   Similarly, the enduring 1911 design (in 5-inch “Government”, or 4.25-inch “Commander” variants, particularly) will also have many, many quality makers offering options to their users. (That said, do note that 1911 frames with a railed dustcover to mount a weapons light, such as the Springfield Operator or Dan Wesson Specialist, will be more challenging to get holsters for, as the enlarged dimension of the rails preclude fit in a holster designed for classic, non-railed 1911s).  Conversely, high-end boutique pistols not based on popular designs, long out of production vintage handguns, defunct military service pistols, and other less commonly encountered pistols may have nothing available with the exception of something custom made, and even then, custom makers may decline to take on such projects depending upon their backlog and manufacturing capability. 

Holsters and magazine carriers are essential, in either quality kydex or leather.  Depending upon the level of concealment desired, comfort preferences and other variables that are very subjective, strongside outside the waistband (OWB), inside the waistband (IWB) and appendix inside the waistband (AIWB) are the most popular and generally recommendable options for everyday carry.  Broadly speaking, some key hallmarks of a good holster include an exact fit to the model of pistol you have, absolutely positive retention, so your firearm doesn’t part company from you at the worst possible time, and an exacting fit around the trigger guard so that no material can make its way inside to the trigger face, and inadvertently leverage-discharge the firearm when you move.   (And it is on that particularly cringeworthy note, that I must stop and remind the reader that yes, the high quality carry firearm you’ve proudly selected should be fully loaded, including the chamber, if you’re truly serious about carrying for personal protection.  A properly designed holster, in conjunction with good training for safe drawing and reholstering technique, will enable you to do so without any fear of such catastrophes.)  

Magazine carriers should be crafted for the specific magazines they are intended to carry, or if not, be very close to exact dimension, with some ability to adjust the retention via a screw or similar device.  With the exception of certain “caddy” Appendix IWB designs where the magazine carrier is connected to the holster itself, your magazines will normally be carried on the side of the body opposite your dominant hand (left side for right handed shooters, and right side for southpaws, in other words).  A good setup, be it a single carrier or double, should hold the magazines securely, yet not so deeply that one can’t obtain a full grip on the magazine body.  Being able to do that is a fundamental aspect of smooth, efficient reloads, and will be highly appreciated in either higher level training, or a real-life scenario.

An oft-overlooked component which is of actual great importance is the belt itself, as this is the lynchpin that holds everything together.  As I tell students, the right holster and belt can make all the difference in ease of concealment, and indeed, I stand by the statement that a duty-sized pistol with the proper holster/carrier/belt setup is more comfortable–and even concealable–than a small or compact pistol in a poorly designed holster with a mediocre belt supporting it.  The classic choice in a gunbelt is a 1.25-1.75 inch wide setup in stiff leather, but many synthetic options have joined the fray, including a new generation of belts with very fine ratcheting or velcro based adjustments that enable finding a truly perfect tension, rather than leaving the user stuck between one belt hole that is just a little too loose, and another that’s just a bit unforgiving after that tasty, filling dinner.  1.75 inch width belts are perhaps a bit too wide for many, while a 1.25 inch belt more closely mimics a dress belt.  Belts of 1.50 inch width are my personal favorite as this compromise offers plenty of support, while still fitting easily within the loops of most jeans and slacks.  Whatever option you choose, be sure the width of your belt matches the loops or slots of your chosen magazine carriers and holster, as this will ensure optimum support and stability for drawing and reholstering, as well as improved comfort through the absence of annoying shifting.  Whether you choose classic leather, or a modern synthetic material, be sure the belt was designed to carry a firearm, as floppy belts not cut out to hold the weight of a pistol will quickly reveal their inadequacy in this role; gun belts are different breed, and their rigidity, strength and support are truly invaluable to he or she who “goes heeled” daily, as the Old Western expression goes.  Find the right holster and belt combination, and you could very well gravitate to a larger, easier-to-shoot platform for your carry gun…rather than the harder-to-shoot subcompact that you were planning to settle on because you didn’t imagine you could effectively carry anything larger.  Food for thought?  Hopefully!

Which type of holster is best for you? Well, that is quite likely the detailed topic of a whole separate blog.  Suffice it to say, each system mentioned above has pros and cons to consider, and like the gun itself, is subject to a certain degree of personal variables ranging from attire, body build, ease of access relative to concealment, discretion needed for the occasion, and plain old personal preference based on knowledge acquired.  If I had to suggest a versatile first holster for someone with, say, a Glock 19 or Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0, I would propose a quality low-profile body hugging OWB such as the excellent Tenicor ARX: a holster like this one will work very well for all but the most demanding concealment application, be generally comfortable for many, and also fulfill the role of a excellent all-purpose holster for range and training use.  Once the basics of the draw are mastered, and some familiarity is achieved, a second holster, in the more purely conceable IWB configuration, would be a good addition, and from here the individual can decide if a strongside, or appendix type orientation, would be best for their needs.  One thing we joke about here in the firearms training community, largely because it’s so damn true to life, is that if you keep at it long enough, you will surely end up with a drawer full of holsters!  Why is this?  There’s a lot of variety out there, and tastes refine as we gain experience.  Sometimes our gear is adequate or even truly good for our purposes, but we later find something that works even better.  Choosing carry systems can be as fun, obsessive and occasionally frustrating as gun selection itself, but the process of evolving our preferences is rewarding, and speaks of the training journey itself.  

After reading all this you may well be thinking, “wait, he didn’t say anything about shoulder holsters; what about those?  Or belly band rigs?  How about a cross-draw setup, or small of the back?  Or holster purses and satchels….are those ok for some uses?  Ankle holsters surely have some place, don’t they?”  I hear you!  In this case, my omission was intentional for simplicity’s sake.  Humans have devised nearly as many ways to carry firearms as there exist firearm types.  So too, just as many methods have gone by the wayside, victims of the winds of fashion, safety considerations not worth violating, or other intangibles.  Some setups are more specialized, and while not ideal for everyday use or most individuals, do have certain niche applications.  To that end, I highly recommend our readers sign up for and attend our Concealed Carry Seminar, which will provide a wealth of information about various carry modes and their strengths and weaknesses, including some I’ve not spoken of here, as well as a great deal of legal information pertinent to the responsible concealed carrier; the Ladies Concealed Carry class covers the same excellent material, but presents holster and gear selection from a female perspective, addressing specific challenges women face in being armed daily.  Knowledge is indeed power, and we hope you gain both through some of the information shared here, as well as our many courses here at the range.   


By:  Adam Keith. – RSO and Instructor at Bellevue Gun Club

If you, your family or organization is interested in private or group training please contact us.

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