Effective carry of a pistol is more than just stuffing it in your pocket or waistband, and requires more equipment.
A good concealed carry rig is one where all components- belt, holster, ammunition pouches and clothing- all work together properly to allow you to carry your pistol and equipment comfortably, efficiently and, most of all, discreetly.
Nonetheless, the heart of any concealed carry getup is the holster, as it is the holster that has the lion’s share of the job when it comes to supporting and securing the gun while also keeping it ready for a split-second draw.
Among holsters, the variation in makers, models and their respective qualities is nearly endless. This means the pressure is definitely on, then, as your choice of holster will have a disproportionate outcome on your success as a whole.
My readers know I am a fan of quality. Quality is always a better value than an alternate option of inferior make, because quality will keep right on doing its job long after the cheap stuff has quit the field or worn out.
Cheap holsters may be comfortable, at first. They may even work well, at first. But time and time again once they start getting a little mileage on them, or treated roughly, they break. I have seen it too many times in training to ever bet my outcome in a fight on a $20 POS holster.
In an effort to keep our readers in the loop on who’s who in holsters right now, this article will give you both some considerations on selecting a holster that is right for you and a list of some of the best models to be had on the market today. Read on and see how you’ll re-skin your smokewagon.
Holster Selection Criteria
Holster selection is a topic unto itself, and one I and other writers have spent plenty of time discussing.
In short, before you ever fire up your browser to shop for the latest gun bucket or head out to your favorite locked-on gun shop to look for a quality rig, you must first know what it is you need.
“Huh? What on Earth are you babbling about, Charles? I need a leather holster for my Shur-Fine Ventilator-9 here. Done.” Right, but what is your task, your mission?
I don’t want to get esoteric, but you need a clearly defined objective for your particular pistol and a holster will help your achieve that objective. Listen up, this is important!
What I mean is this: you need to precisely articulate what you need your holster to do before you go shopping for it. This is the only way you will not get derailed by choices upon choices in the search.
Remember this maxim: The task determines the tools. Military veteran readers may have heard it put “the mission drives the gear”.
For instance, if you need a holster to conceal your small pocket pistol in an absolutely no-detection-acceptable environment that will be a different animal compared one for daily carry.
A holster intended to afford you the best security for open carry work while still allowing a fast draw will look far different still. If you cannot articulate what it is you need the gun (and holster) to do, you need to think it through.
Considerations for Concealed Carry
Concealed carry holsters broadly all need to accomplish the same thing, so that narrows down our field of holsters a fair bit.
First, they must support the gun and contain it with a certain amount of security, at least enough to withstand walking, running climbing stairs, and the occasional jostle without spilling the pistol.
Retention on concealed carry holsters is often only accomplished via friction fit, as concealment is intended to be the primary protection for the gun against a takeaway or loss, not snaps, clasps, hoods and the like.
That brings us to our second consideration, and that is how well the holster helps conceal the pistol. This is not an easy good-better-best comparison: the variables in it are significant, and several of them are unique to the person carrying it, such as their height, shape, physique, attire, etc.
Generally, holsters today intended for concealment will follow one of a few design ideologies for maximizing their concealability, making life easier on the person toting the pistol.
The objective here is to make the gun easier to conceal with less work or wardrobe modification from you, the carrier. A holster designed for maximum concealment may let you carry a larger gun in the same place with no discernible printing compared to one not optimized for carry.
The location you intend to carry the gun on your body will further define your options; IWB holsters do not work outside their intended use unless they are convertible. You certainly cannot put an ankle holster on your hip, or use a pocket holster on your ankle.
Our final consideration is physical ruggedness, comprised of the holster’s actual durability, the strength of its attachment system and the quality of its materials. This is critical for a host of reasons! The life of a true daily carry holster is harsh. It has to deal with constant heat, moisture, abrasion, dings, dents and more.
Materials that are not up to par will break down quickly, spoiling the secure fit of the gun in the holster long before the holster itself starts to break down. Crappy stitching in leather or crappy rivets and other fasters in kydex are other common culprits.
Secure attachment points, be they fixed loops, snap loops or something else, must be secure in order to keep the holster and ergo the pistol on the users body during periods of intense exertion or impact.
Another important reason, though one we surely hope we will not need to prove, is the chance that you may wind up in a tug-of-war over the pistol with an assailant.
Again, compared to duty-style holsters we are counting on concealment of the pistol to defend it from surprise takeaways, but you cannot know ahead of time how your fight will turn out.
Some holster designs may not be as inherently secure as others. Pocket holsters for instance are typically designed in such a way as to keep the gun in the pants pockets without fear of falling out, oriented upright and the gun’s outline masked as something more anonymously shaped.
They typically do not otherwise attach to the body. This is not to be considered an inherent flaw.
Truly excellent holsters are only made with one of a handful of materials. Considering what some manufacturers use as holster-making fodder, you can be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The only acceptable materials for a hard-use top-quality holster that will take whatever you can throw at it are leather, kydex and certain injection molded plastics.
Not neoprene, cloth, nylon, or any holster with the body made from two differing materials, so-called hybrid holsters, of which examples a leather inner side and kydex outer side seems to be the most popular combination.
The “no-go” list simply ensures you will have a holster that is not a good performer or one that is durable. Kydex holsters, popular with many carriers for reasons of comfort, have retention issues and durability issues arising from their typical bolted-together construction.
Sure, you can find plenty of straight-up leather and kydex holsters that suck, but if you are paying attention you’ll see that all of the very best holsters use one or the other; leather or kydex, not something else, and not it combination. That is called a clue.
The Best Concealed Carry Holsters
All of the holsters on this list are ones I either have significant professional experience with or have a considerable amount of respect from dedicated professional users and other expert shooters. Simply put, all of the holsters on this list are here because they are favored by the most discerning of users.
The models featured run the gamut from traditional OWB to IWB and even pocket and ankle holsters. You might notice a conspicuous lack of holsters for certain carry positions, ones like small-of-back carry, crossdraw and shoulder holsters.
That is with cause: if a certain methods are absent it is because they are largely devoid of merit in all but the most specialized situations.
I have no doubt that any of them are positively “perfect” for someone reading out there, but I also have no doubt that your circumstances are a 0.001% occurrence for the rest of us who would be better served with another mode of carry.
Presented in no particular order, the list.
Raven Concealment Systems Perun OWB
RCS is a household word among fans of high-end kydex holsters, with their Phantom and Phantom LB being among the very best ever created.
Their newer Perun holster takes the legacy of the Phantom and further refines the concept, resulting in an extremely thin, hip-hugging pancake holster that makes concealment a breeze while offering the “just-right” sizing and impressive durability hat RCS is famous for.
The Perun improves on the Phantom concept in a few ways. Most impressively, the holster is fully ambidextrous, achievable by switching out the belt loops. These loops also allow the user to add a few degrees of cant by installing the appropriately slanted pair of loops.
The standard vertical loops may be used by either righties or lefties simply by switching what side of the holster they are installed on.
Unlike the Phantom, the Perun features user-selectable retention by way of an adjustable screw that has been specially designed so it will not back off under recoil unlike the typical screw-and-grommet arrangement typical of most holsters with adjustable retention.
Additional features include a generously enlarged muzzle end for comfort that is also relieved with a hole for any aftermarket extended or threaded barrels. One unusual feature is the twin shirt guards, which RCS touts as helping to keep foreign matter out of the holster when the pistol is drawn in addition to making the holster ambidextrous.
The next major change, is that the Perun is made from a proprietary injection-molded polymer, not traditionally bent and formed kydex. While this will, and has, no doubt rankled purists and long-time RCS fans, the new material is actually stronger than RCS previously chosen materials, and also allows a massive reduction in price.
Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon IWB
At the other end of the spectrum from the Perun is a holster designed specifically for IWB carry in either the traditional strongside or appendix carry role.
The Eidolon (pronounced AY-dough-lun, or EYE-doe-lawn depending on who you ask) is the other inheritor to the legacy of performance and quality wrought by the earlier and now discontinued Phantom. Long live the Phantom!
The Eidolon was groundbreaking when first introduced: aside from being made with the same injection molded polymer that was later employed on the Perun, the Eidolon was in essence a modular IWB holster, one that allowed the user to tailor not only the attachment system- belt loops, clips, etc.- but to add or remove an innovative claw, or wedge, that served to torque the gun and holster into the carrier’s body, aiding concealment.
While it was a major departure from the holsters that so endeared RCS to discerning shooters, the Eidolon quickly proved itself superior even to the Phantom when used in an IWB role, and has quickly become the standard by which others are measured. One change that was much improved over the Phantom was the price.
Raven Concealment Systems Vanguard 2
A unique “non-holster” the Vanguard 2 series from RCS is designed for special purpose applications and super low-profile concealment since it adds nearly no bulk to the gun.
The Vanguard is simply a covering for the trigger guard of the pistol that can be tucked inside the waistband with an attachable clip or belt loop. Think of it like an enhanced and more secure way to just tuck a gun in your belt and go.
The Vanguard 2 is also uniquely suited for use inside bags, pouches and other off-body compartments where the pistol needs a degree of safety but is otherwise securely encased.
You can attach the Vanguard 2 by way of lanyard or some other method to the parcel in question and carry in confidence that nothing will impinge on the trigger until you deliberately draw the gun.
This latest iteration of the Vanguard series can also make use of RCS’s claw attachment as seen on the Eidolon, as well as being available in a light-bearing variant.
Milt Sparks Summer Special
Designed by the late, great Bruce Nelson the Summer Special is the standard by which all other leather IWB holsters will be measured against.
Instantly recognizable by its natural rough-out appearance and reinforcing band at the holster mouth, the Summer Special provides an unmatched combination of concealability, comfort and easy reholstering.
Made with thoughtful details like a molded in sight track to prevent drag and snags, one-way directional snap loops and a metal band-reinforced holster mouth to insure one-handed reholstering, the Summer Special is far more than a nostalgia-heavy leather holster.
No sir, this rig is built for use, day in and day out. The rough-out construction helps the holster grip clothing and anchor it in place, while the now smooth interior is easy on your firearm and also aids a slick, fast draw.
There are few classics that truly stand the test of time, both in appeal and pure performance. The Summer Special is one such icon among holsters, and is well-deserving of its stellar reputation. Like all good leather holsters, it is expensive, but this is one where you truly get what you pay for.
Phlster holsters have been around for a while now but are only recently gaining more mainstream recognition thanks to a group of dedicated users and professionals who have been praising their merits to all who will listen.
One of their best options, the Classic model, is an AIWB specific holster that was among the very first, if not the first, kydex holsters to address the inherent ergonomic concerns of carrying a large pistol at that location. It is also to their credit that this rig features many desirable features as standard options.
The tuck-strut hardware aids concealment by reducing printing, while an odd but functional bulge, akin to a teardrop shape, on the body side of the holster improves comfort.
This holster comes standard with a relief cut for slide-mounted MRDS’s, a raised track for accompanying suppressor-height sights and is fully compatible with any compensators or threaded/extended barrels.
Retention is accomplished by engagement with the front of the trigger guard, not the entirety of the pistol as some other kydex holsters do. This results in a crisp, snappy release on the draw and a positively felt insertion when reholstering.
One of the best performing and most comfortable AIWB holsters on the market, period.
The Flex is not a holster so much as a holster carriage system, but for heavily-kitted EDC’ers, the benefits realized with this system are too great for me to not include it on this list.
The Flex is essentially a hair-thin, super light piece of laser cut Hypalon, a rugged, lightweight synthetic, and allows you to bundle all of your EDC gear- holsters, pouches etc.- onto one unit that attaches to your belt, inside the waistband, as one unit.
While it sounds bulky and awkward, in practice this unit is highly comfortable and reduces your profile by eliminating attachment points on the belt itself.
Take your average concealed carrying-citizen’s typical load of pistol, spare magazine and perhaps a small can of pepper spray and a knife.
Instead of clipping or threading four individual items on to the belt, they could all be attached, in whatever order and at whatever height and angle desired, onto the Flex panel, and the whole kit and caboodle could be donned or doffed as one.
The whisper-thinness and inherent flexibility of the Flex panel means you won’t even know it is there, but your equipment will be carried securely and presented for fast access.
The options for discreet carry are nearly endless, and are extremely convenient. The panel itself is a bargain, but you’ll need to add compatible holsters and pouches to complete your system.
Galco Ankle Glove
Galco is a force to reckoned with when it comes to no-frills hard working gun leather, and their Ankle Glove holster is no exception. Where most ankle holsters will slide, skid and generally be troublesome when they aren’t decimating the joints in your ankle, the Ankle Glove is made with features that guarantee its comfort and performance.
A wide neoprene band gives this holster a good grip while also spreading out the pressure needed to secure the gun and holster in one spot over a wider area.
The holster itself is premium saddle leather with a thumb break and optional calf strap for enhanced security during high mobility days and is backed with sheepskin padding to offer premium comfort.
Available for subcompact semis and snubbie revolvers, the Ankle Glove is one of the best in the breed, and elevates what is often an after-thought in concealed carry equipment into a prime piece of gear.
Blade-Tech Total Eclipse
One of the earliest names in the mass-production kydex market, Blade-Tech has long been respected for their sturdy and dependable designs available for nearly any major handgun.
While other premium kydex benders have since knocked a little luster off of the grand old maker, Blade-Tech’s Total Eclipse holster fills an important void in the market left by the departure of RCS’s Phantom holster, namely that of a convertible holster that can pull double duty as a IWB or OWB holster.
The Total Eclipse is available with a plethora of options to allow the user to set it up nearly any way they please, and unlike so many competitors who have tried (and mostly failed) the Total Eclipse succeeds at being both concealable, comfortable and durable enough for hard use.
Fully ambidextrous with adjustable cant and user-selectable attachment options, the Total Eclipse is the solution for people who want one holster to cover most of their bases or those who want to experiment with different carry techniques without being left with a pile of holsters destined for the Bin of Bad Ideas at the end.
Tough, adaptable and versatile, the Total Eclipse won’t leave your bank account in the dark.
DeSantis Gunhide Sof-Tuck
DeSantis is another respected name in leather holsters, and has been known for producing highly refined products that emphasize ease of concealment. The Sof-Tuck is one such holster, and one of the best available for those who like to keep their shirt tucked in and looking sharp.
Though you likely won’t be pulling it off with a fullsize pistol, if you carry a compact or subcompact handgun the Sof-Tuck will allow you to position is just about anywhere you want on your beltline discreetly and tuck your shirt in thanks to its unique strut attachment system.
The strut utilizes a sneakily low-profile clip that hooks behind the belt with only the bottom tip revealed, meaning someone will need eagle-eyes to spot it in the first place. This clip rides at the very end of the flexible strut which forms a channel long enough to tuck your shirt into in front of the holster, concealing it.
This suede leather holster also utilizes a reinforcing band at the mouth to aid in reholstering once the time comes to put the gun away. All in all, one of the best options for the dressed up professional or citizen who needs a super low-profile option.
JM Custom Kydex OWB1
JM Custom Kydex makes, yup, made-to-order kydex holsters of excellent quality. Don’t fret over any wait time; as long as you aren’t using a real oddball of a pistol they likely have one for you ready to ship.
Their OWB1 holster is notable for its use of unique belt loops, what JM Custom calls over-the-top belt loops that lend the holster even greater stability, especially when moving.
The holster is otherwise available with the typical 0, 10 or 15 degree cant options, various height shirt guards and ride height, and will have adjustable retention via screw-in-boss arrangement (don’t forget the thread locker).
What truly separates JM from other kydex makers is their slavish attention to detail and use of high quality components. While more and more kydex holster makers transition to the new breed of injection molding, JM Custom still cranks out slick, top-quality kydex the old “new-fashioned” way.
Life is too short for junk holsters. In fact, if your luck runs out, you might have the rest of your life in a fight to contemplate your crappy choices. Ensure you get your fighting chance to get your gun into gear on your personal bad day by choosing a high-quality holster for your pistol.
Your concealed carry system is only as strong as its weakest link, and if that weak link is a flimsy gun bucket, you may be fighting it when you should be fighting the bad guy.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.