There are an infinite number of factors that have influence on which holster to use for concealed carry. I wrote a whole book about gun holsters and even that just begins to scratch the surface. The bottom line about gun holsters is that there is no cut-and-dried option for everyone. The right choice depends on each individual’s lifestyle and specific needs. What’s perfect for one may be completely dysfunctional for another.

However, I believe there are three criteria that a concealed carry holster needs to meet:

  • A good holster helps you access your gun quickly, yet safely.
  • A good holster protects the trigger.
  • A good holster ensures that your gun remains under your control.

With that said, let’s take a look at some “wrong holster” topics.

The non-holster

There are different definitions of “the wrong holster” and one of them is “no holster.” This simply refers to sticking a gun in your belt or pocket without use of a holster.

I do not like this, Sam-I-Am—for two different, but often intertwined, reasons.

First, using a holster is a good way to make sure that you and your gun stay together. A good holster should have retention features, and whether that’s achieved by friction, fit, or positive retention devices is irrelevant. As they say, the first rule of gun fighting is to have a gun. If you rely on just the pressure of your pants or belt, you may find you don’t have a gun when you most need it!

Depending on your daily lifestyle, and ankle holster like this Galco Ankle Glove may be your most accessible option. It's not nearly as effective when wearing shorts however.
Depending on your daily lifestyle, and ankle holster like this Galco Ankle Glove may be your most accessible option. It’s not nearly as effective when wearing shorts however.

Second, your gun trigger is completely unprotected when you are not using a proper holster. When carrying in your belt, you certainly don’t want your trigger exposed. The problem is even worse with holster-less pocket carry. Keys, change, or that roll of breath mints just might get caught up in the trigger.

Strangely enough, reasons one and two frequently go together. Case in point: NFL star Plaxico Burress, 2008. While only he knows the exact details that led to his negligent discharge, it appears that he was carrying his pistol sans holster when it started to slip down his leg. He inadvertently yanked the trigger while groping to catch his gun and shot himself in the leg. A classic example of reasons one and two playing together with malice.

Unfortunately, I could fill up this entire story with nothing but links to news stories of people negligently shooting themselves, and sometimes others, simply because they were not using a holster. Of course, every single one of those cases also involved a different deadly sin—keeping your finger off the trigger. Of course, most non-holster incidents are the result of a desperate grab to catch a falling gun, not an intentional trigger discipline issue. The point is that a good holster that protects the trigger will not allow a gun to be fired while holstered.

The inaccessible holster

One of the primary functions of a good holster is to safely hold your gun in a stable and accessible position. The best example of “inaccessibility” is a gun tossed in an open bag like a purse, briefcase, or backpack. Not only do you not know exactly where it is amongst the clutter, it could be in any orientation relative to your drawing hand. A good holster should safely support muscle memory. When you reach for your gun, it should not only be in the same spot every single time, it should be in exactly the same orientation. As an example, consider a good pocket holster. As you go about your day, it shouldn’t turn sideways or upside down. It should be designed to keep your gun in exactly the same place—grip towards the top of your pocket ready to draw. This applies to any holster design—belt, ankle, purse, whatever. If your holster and gun move, rotate, or sag, you can’t have a consistent and predictable draw.

Notice I didn’t include non-belt holsters in this category. While some may shun things like ankle holsters for lack of “accessibility” I tend to believe there are a nearly infinite number of “it depends” situations. For example, if you spend 90 percent of your day sitting or driving, something like an ankle or shoulder holster may in fact be your most accessible option. I loves me my Galco Miami II shoulder holster backed up by a Galco Ankle Glove while on long drives.

Pet Peeve! I tire of couch commandos telling me that "civilians" don't need retention holster like this Blackhawk! Serpa. If you're an active type, a retention holster can provide peace of mind.
Pet peeve! I tire of couch commandos telling me that “civilians” don’t need retention holsters like this BLACKHAWK! Serpa. If you’re an active type, a retention holster can provide peace of mind.

The ejection holster

Although seemingly defying the laws of physics, it is possible to launch a gun at high velocity from a poorly-designed holster. I know this from personal experience. Let’s just say I was using a first-generation undershirt holster. You know, those ones made from cosmic space fabric with a coefficient of friction less than the number of Republican votes for Obamacare. Anyway, the first-generation model did not have adequate Velcro closures in the gun pocket. When I bent over to pick up something off the ground, I managed to launch a Glock 32 right through my shirt collar. Who’d a thunk it possible? I pinky swear this is a true story.

The point is that you need to make sure your holster is up to the task of securing your gun well enough for your particular lifestyle. If you tend to have hyperactive days chasing purse snatchers or just your disobedient hamster, then consider a holster with some sort of positive retention device. Retention holsters aren’t just for protection against gun grabs—they are a wonderful option for those of us with active lifestyles. Heck, I frequently ride a bike, sometimes in excess of four miles per hour. And when I do, I’m always more comfortable using a retention holster.

The budget holster

All things being equal, I’ll always recommend spending enough money to get quality when it comes to a gun holster. After all, it’s one of life’s few buying decisions that can literally have life-or-death implications. Granted, there are inexpensive holsters that meet the three criteria outlined above. Just don’t sacrifice—at all—on those criteria to save a few bucks. You’re betting your life on a multi-hundred dollar pistol, using defensive ammunition costing a buck per round, so don’t settle for a $9.99 dollar-store holster. Your life is worth more than that, right?

Images by Tom McHale

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6 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins of Concealed Carry: Using the Wrong Holster

  1. What is your experience with the Serpa? A few years ago I took a defensive pistol course using a Serpa and another student had one to. Both jammed up after getting some dirt/sand in them while learning how to shoot from the ground. I was able to release mine with a lot of force, the other guy was less experienced and ended up needing help. I liked that holster a lot but since then haven’t trusted it. Yes we were rolling around in the dirt but we weren’t buried in a sand dune either.

    1. I haven’t run across that myself, but perhaps an interesting option to consider is something like the N82 Tactical retention holster. Rather than moving parts like many retention designs, it relies on a twisting motion to release the gun. Maybe something like that is more dirt and crud friendly?

      1. Thanks! Recently tested the Uncle Mikes Reflex and could not get it to jam, even after pouring dirt all over it, getting it wet, and then freezing it. I’ll check out the N82 and run it through the same abuse.

  2. Sometimes I wish Amazon didn’t make it so easy to buy new holsters. One click and 3 days later you get a holster in the mail. I’m addicted. I keep looking for something that is more comfortable than my Supertuck, but I always end up trying the new holster for a while then going back to the supertuck. I have definitely tried a budget holster or two but they just end up collecting dust in the closet.

  3. My best advice is to have a Kydex holster made to fit your gun perfectly. Kydex is so common and easy now that any gun shop can make one(almost any, some don’t bother) and it only takes an hour. The retention is adjustable and has adequate hold because it’s modeled around your actual gun and not a generic model or training weapon. I’ve seen the ones used to make molds of… and there are differences.

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