Holsters: $700 gun, $12 holster, right?


A prospective handgun buyer will spend hours researching which firearm is right for them.  They’ll look at caliber, size, options and cost before making a purchase. Unfortunately, most buyers fail to put for any thought, other than cost, into the holster.

Buying the holster is a serious task. First, it needs to be safe, meaning it won’t cause an accidental discharge while holstering. Next, it needs to have some retention level so if you end up on you back it doesn’t just fall out. And of course, it should be comfortable. The better it excels at those few things, the better it’ll serve you. To be a quality concealed carry holster, it must strike a balance between concealment and accessibility, but must also be comfortable enough to actually wear.

By purchasing a poorly designed or ill-suited holster, it could lead to discomfort, a compromised draw of the firearm and even to the loss of your handgun. And no, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a holster but skimping on it could be lethal. Your choice of holster is deserving of serious contemplation.

There are thousands of holsters on the market today including leather, Kydex, nylon or synthetic. Choosing a holster is a matter of preference and application. First, what are your goals. Do you plan to carry concealed, strong side or weak side draw, inside the pant or outside, thumb snap or retention shield?  

When shopping for a holster, you will find yourself confronted with the terms Level I, Level II and Level III in relation to the retention properties of the holster. The following is a quick explanation of these levels to help you make your selection.

Level I

This level causes the most confusion for shoppers. Most instructors and holster manufactures consider the good old-fashioned plain Jane holster with no snaps, straps, flaps, buttons, breaks, or other devices to hold the handgun in as a Level I. The pistol is held into these holsters by the friction produced on the sides of the frame of the gun by the holster and gravitation. These holsters are usually the cheapest, the easiest to use, and normally the fastest. Unfortunately, if you’re involved in a fight or get up fast from an awkward position, the Level I type of holster can leave your gun bouncing across the floor.

Level II

The Level II holster means there is some sort of security feature that must be manipulated prior to drawing the handgun. It could be a strap over the hammer, a lever or flap, or a shield that needs be moved or snapped to get to the handgun to leave the holster. These are the minimum safe holsters for law enforcement, military, and security personnel. While the strap, flap, or lever will usually keep the gun in place if the wearer falls or stumbles, it can still be moved very fast and the handgun deployed. They take practice to get used to and its advised that the user practice drawing with an unloaded firearm from one of these holsters several hundred times to get used to it.

Level III

Level III, for those who need or want more than the force of gravity, the friction of the holster sides, and a lever or strap to hold their gun in, there’s the Level III design. These holsters incorporate all the above methods while adding the need to push, pull, or rotate the gun in a certain way to releases the handgun. They are more expensive due to the craftsmanship involved, but can be a lifesaver in today’s world. In most cases, it’s almost impossible for an assailant to remove one of these from the holster of another person, even if they are unconscious.

Now the downside, they require a lot of training to develop the muscle memory to carry and use these holsters effectively. These are bulky, leading to the primary users being law enforcement and security while on patrol. For those who still need more retention, such as corrections, there are Level 4 and 5 holsters.

For most, the Level II is recommended as it provides more positive control on the handgun.  Next, think about spare magazines.  Think far enough in advance that your primary magazine may malfunction meaning you need a secondary magazine with you.  How about a light?

In future segments, we’ll review several styles of holsters, magazine pouches and tactical lights.  In the meantime, pick your firearm of choice, research holsters and pick something comfortable with safety features and finally, practice. Go to the local gun range and practice drawing from the holster with an empty handgun first, then proceed to live fire from there. Or better yet, take the guesswork out, and attend a Concealed Carry class to push your limits, you won’t be disappointed.

Updated 05/2019