Whether you are a handgun enthusiast or someone who is just getting into the handgun scene for the first time, the type of holster you choose for your firearm is a very important choice; it’s almost as important as the handgun itself. Bearing this in mind, what are the different types of gun holsters?
Handgun holsters are generally defined by where they are worn on your body. The most common holsters by this definition are belt holsters, waistband holsters, shoulder holsters and ankle holsters.
After location, the different types of gun holsters are further defined by the following factors:
- The material of the holster
- The holster’s safety level
- Whether the holster is concealed carry or open carry
Here we cover no less than 11 types of gun holsters as well as recommended holsters to check out for each type!
The History of the Gun Holster
What we think of as modern handgun holsters, belt holsters, first started appearing around the 1850s. Before that, handguns were often placed into slits in belts or through slips of leather that could barely hold the rather heavy revolver handguns of the day.
Another form of holster was known as the pommel holster. It was a large leather satchel with a hole in the middle and room to hold two pistols on either side. The hole was used to slide the satchel over the pommel of a horse’s saddle. This was not practical once a rider dismounted their horse so a better holster was needed. The aforementioned slits and slips came next but were again only a temporary solution.
The final solution, the belt holster, then came about in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush. Variations that were known as the Slim Jim, the Mexican Loop and the Buscadero; all were versions of early belt holsters.
As gun violence led to laws outlawing guns, holster and gun makers conspired to make smaller guns that could be discreetly carried on a person’s body. These were the first concealed carry holsters and led to the invention of hip pocket holsters and shoulder holsters in the late 1800s.
Leather Gun Holsters
The oldest and most well known holster material is leather. You can emboss, dye and stitch leather and turn the holster into a piece of art. Not only that, but leather is soft and more comfortable than other materials, which makes it a great option for smaller pocket holsters and waistband holsters. Also, It doesn’t rub or chafe the skin. A well-made leather holster can basically last a lifetime. Finally, the smell of real leather is a natural and organic scent that is completely distinctive. You can almost never go wrong with a leather holster, no matter what the gun is or where it is worn on the body.
Our Recommended Leather HolsterPremium Leather Paddle OWB Revolver Holster from MASC
Nylon Gun Holsters
Nylon holsters are also quite common. Nylon holsters are usually the cheapest holsters you can buy, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be quality holsters. They don’t need to be formed or molded into shape like leather and Kydex holsters do and can therefore accept a wider range of handguns. The big downside to nylon holsters is that they usually will not last as long as the other options.
Our Recommended Nylon Holster
Kydex Gun Holsters
Kydex is a polymer or thermoplastic material and holsters made from it are used to carry many modern guns, especially semi-automatic pistols. They keep their shape forever because they are molded to fit the particular model of handgun they hold. Also, Kydex holsters are very lightweight and cheaper than leather. The major downside of Kydex is that it can scratch the finish of your handgun since it is a hard plastic.
Our Recommended Kydex Holster
Where a Holster is Worn
Belt Gun Holsters
The most popular type of handgun holster sold is the belt holster. They fall under the generic classification of a hip or waist holster, with the key distinction being that they are attached directly to a belt worn at the waist. They are the descendants of the original belt holsters that predated them by over 150 years.
Belt holsters can be made of any of the popular holster materials from leather to nylon and Kydex. They can be also used for both open and closed carry arrangements. Belt holsters offer better firearm protection than similar waistband holsters not attached to the belt. The holster will not come off unless the whole belt does, and therein lies their inherent safety advantage. They also offer the easiest and quickest draw of any holster design. In short, a belt holster will never go to waste no matter the choice of handgun.
Waistband Gun Holsters
Waistband holsters are similar to belt holsters in that they are worn in the same general area of the body, but the main difference is how the holster is held in place. Waistband holsters don’t attach directly to a belt, they are clipped into place either outside the waistband (known as OWB) or inside the waistband (IWB). Waistband holsters are used more for concealed carry applications than belt holsters.
Inside-The-Waistband Gun Holsters
An inside-the-waistband holster uses a clip to attach the holster to your belt or pants at the waist. Being carried inside the waistband affords them the greatest concealment factor. They work best with smaller guns, but even larger guns can be effectively concealed with IWB holsters. Another plus of IWB holsters is that they can be easily removed since they are only held in place by a clip attachment. The main downside of IWB holsters is that they are hard to access. If a quick draw is required, you might want to go with a different holster design.
Our Recommended Inside-the-Waistband Holster
Outside-The-Waistband Gun Holsters
Outside-the-waistband holsters are designed to be worn outside the waist and are usually held in place by some type of paddle-shaped attachment. The paddle will use a spring and clip mechanism along with friction to keep the holster in place outside of the waistband. The main advantages of OWB holsters is that they are quickly removable. If you are getting in and out of a car often or changing between sitting and standing positions often, then OWB holsters are an ideal choice. This is why they are popular with law enforcement officers. The main disadvantage of OWB holsters is they don’t offer the security of a belt holster since they are more easily removed from your body. They are also fairly large and cumbersome due to the paddles so they are not ideal for concealed-carry applications.
Shoulder Gun Holsters
Shoulder holsters are also a popular, if more niche, design. Shoulder holsters are designed so the support straps wrap around your shoulders and upper back while the actual holster hangs under an armpit against your ribcage either on the left or right sides. If you need to conceal larger guns, a shoulder holster is a good choice. You will need to wear a sport coat or jacket, but there is no other real choice to conceal large handguns on your body. Another positive of the shoulder holster design is that you remain comfortable even if you frequently change between sitting or standing positions. They also don’t add weight to your waistline. The main negative for shoulder holsters is drawing your handgun is much slower from a shoulder holster than a waist design.
Our Recommended Shoulder Holster
Ankle Gun Holsters
Ankle holsters are a unique option for handgun users who need access to a backup handgun or the best type of concealability. Modern ankle holsters are comfortable and offer good security thanks to the newer materials like Kydex. There are some big drawbacks to ankle holsters, though. They can only carry smaller handguns, they tend to attract dirt and dust and the draw from an ankle holster takes quite long.
Our Recommended Ankle Holster
Holster Safety Options
Modern holsters have safety ratings that identify what level of protection they offer to the handgun owner. These levels quantify the “retention” level of the holster — how securely they hold the firearm regardless of outside influences to the holster. There are three levels of retention. A level one holster usually only provides protection to the trigger. The gun can rather easily be removed from the holster by outside influences. Level two provides at least one mechanism that helps lock the firearm into place. Unless the mechanism is activated, the gun will not come free no matter the amount of pressure applied. Finally, level three holsters have at least two mechanical devices designed into the holster. Both need to be activated before the handgun can be removed from the holster.
Open Carry Holsters vs. Concealed Carry Holsters
Open Carry Holsters
These holsters are exactly as they seem. Open carry holsters are visible to other people, unobstructed by clothing, while concealed carry holsters are hidden from the view of others. Which you choose is dependent upon the reason you are carrying a handgun.
If you are going to the gun range or hiking in a rural area and desire protection from some threat you may come upon, an open carry holster is your best bet. It’s allows ease of access to your firearm and allows you to comfortably carry any larger handguns.
Concealed Carry Gun Holsters
Concealed carry holsters are generally worn inside the waistband, carried in pockets, or strapped to ankles. If your job requires it or your desire is to hide your handgun from the view of others, then there is no other choice than concealed carry holsters. The downside of concealed carry holsters is that they are often uncomfortable if worn for an extended period of time and generally require you to carry smaller guns since they must be hidden from view.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to also check out our review of the best types of gun safes.