By Steve Tracy
New designs and new materials combine to conceal your off-duty handgun like never before.
Concealment holsters have come a long way in recent years. Years ago, off-duty police officers were a fairly limited market for holster makers. The big companies offered several different modes of carry that satisfied the basic needs of the law enforcement community. Many holsters were quality made and would last a 30-year career. Others, well, not so much.
While necessity may be the mother of invention, free-market capitalism and the urge to improve leads to invention’s two best friends, known as innovation and improvement. In 1986, there were only 16 states that did not allow some form of concealed carry by law-abiding citizens. Today every state has some sort of legal system whereby its residents can carry concealed firearms. This explosion of customers has led to a proliferation of holster makers, both big and small. Concealment, comfort, materials and safety are the result of a larger customer base. Where there is money to be made, good-old American ingenuity steps up. Law enforcement officers benefit from this advancement of technology with the new concealment holsters being produced today.
It used to be that ankle holsters, outside waistband (OWB), inside waistband (IWB), shoulder holsters, and pocket holsters were all made from leather. Leather was king and quality holsters lasted an entire career. Leather is still in plentiful use and those of us who appreciate the artistry of a handmade holster still gravitate toward custom cowhide. But new materials work pretty well too and may even last longer than leather.
Belt-mounted hip holsters are referred to these days as outside waistband holsters (OWB). Commonly mounted on your waist using slots that your belt slides through, they are offered in straight, forward (FBI) cant, or even with a rearward slant. Paddle style holsters have a sturdy paddle that slides inside your waistband to mount the holster on your hip without the need to run a belt through any slots. Easy on and easy off is the attribute of the paddle holster.
Retention devices are not as important for off-duty holsters as they are for exposed duty carry. John Bianchi (one of the foremost authorities on holsters and author of the classic book Blue Steel & Gunleather) has stated, “It is the height of bad taste and unprofessional behavior for (guns and accessories) to be flaunted or inadvertently shown in public.” If no one knows you have a gun, then no one will ever try to grab it out of your holster. Thumb break snaps, screw-down tension devices, and wet molding to the exact contour of a handgun keep your pistol secure. Getting back to the shoulder holster, if it’s constantly covered by a jacket and no one is aware you’re wearing it, there is little opportunity for your handgun to be snatched away.
Inside the waistband (IWB) holsters used to be simple leather pouches with a spring steel clip to keep the handgun from falling down inside your pants.
Shoulder holsters used to be much more common. One of the shoulder rig’s failings is that the handgun’s grip is positioned for a perfect grasp by anyone you’re facing. However, one of their advantages is an easy draw from a seated position.
Ankle holsters offer deep concealment, but a difficult and slow draw. Although from a seated position in a squad car, they can actually be quite fast.
Nylon holsters had their day in the 1980s and ’90s, but they often frayed and wore out quickly. Plastic, in its various polymer forms, such as Kydex®, is relatively easy to form into complicated shapes by molding it around a form, like the replica of a handgun. The tight form retains a handgun well without the need for a thumb break or other retention device.
Fobus Holsters offer polymer holsters in many carry styles. BLACKHAWK! offers quality “old-school” leather holsters alongside their modern polymer holsters, including their Serpa retention holsters. Polymer is used for just about every style of holster ever created. It offers the advantage over leather of never needing any maintenance and it’s impervious to liquids.
Crossbreed Holsters was one of the first companies to attach a Kydex® formed holster to a leather backing equipped with specially made belt clips. This style of holster is designed for IWB carry. The wide leather backing spreads out a large handgun’s weight for comfortable, all-day carry. The Kydex® holds its form for quick and safe re-holstering. The clips keep the holster in position and are designed for a “tuckable” manner in which they’re not very obvious when a shirt is tucked in over the handgun. This style may look big and cumbersome, but those who choose it, swear by it.
Many manufacturers offer a version similar to this design and it has become very popular. It offers the advantage of great concealment like the old-school IWB holsters did, but it will not collapse on itself like soft leather, which can make re-holstering a dangerous nightmare.
Minimalistic polymer systems almost aren’t even holsters in the traditional sense of the word. The Q-Series Stealth model covers just the trigger guard of a Glock pistol. It incorporates a clip to keep the pistol in position IWB. The gun is kept concealed by your shirt.
The G-Sock is a similar concept whereby a polymer cover snaps over the trigger guard of Glock. It has a cord attached through a reinforced hole at the front, which ties onto your belt loop. When the pistol is drawn, the cord retains the trigger cover on your person automatically.
There are more custom holster makers today than ever before. Finding them is easy by simply searching “custom holster” on the Internet. One-man shops abound and the big holster makers usually offer some level of customization to suit your needs and price range.
BLACKHAWK! has made a name for themselves with their line of polymer holsters, but they also make some of the finest Italian-leather concealment holsters around. Mernickle Holsters has an extensive lineup to fit almost any handgun in any configuration you can think of. El Paso Saddlery has been making holsters in Texas since 1889 and their Yaqui Slide is a minimalist belt holster that works well with many pistols. El Paso’s artisans can even tool the leather with floral carving and a dyed background.
For the ultimate in custom work, some makers offer holsters made from tanned leather that didn’t come from a cow. Alligator, shark, elephant, ostrich, hippopotamus, and snake skin are some of the choices. Hopp Custom Leather made a holster to fit an S&W M&P Shield with a Crimson Trace laser mounted under the frame. Eric Hopp used stingray leather for this custom order. Patience is a virtue because his one-man shop is backed up with orders. But the wait was well worth it, as the holster not only looks amazing, it wears comfortably and provides a secure hold and a swift draw.
From old school to new school, modern holsters are plentiful in design and manufacture today. They’re made to last and made to be worn comfortably all day long. Some holster designs are even a shame to keep hidden, but despite how handsome they may be, all officers should stick to Bianchi’s creed and have good taste and professionalism and keep them hidden. Unless of course, you run into a fellow Police Marksman subscriber who appreciates quality.. PM
Steve Tracy is a 26-year police veteran with 24 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also a instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at email@example.com.