Handgun holster

"Holster" redirects here. For other uses, see Holster (disambiguation).


16th-century pistol holster from Tbilisi, Georgia

Holsters are generally designed to offer protection to the handgun, secure its retention, and provide ready access to it. The need for ready access is often at odds with the need for security and protection, so the user must consider the individual's needs. Choosing the right balance can be very important, especially in the case of a defensive weapon holster, where failure to access the weapon quickly or damage or loss of the weapon due to insufficient retention or protection could result in serious injury or death to the user.

Holsters are generally designed to be used with one hand, allowing the handgun to be removed and/or replaced with the same hand. To be able to return the handgun to its holster one-handed, the holster must be made from stiff material that holds its shape so that the holster won't collapse when the object is no longer inside to give it support.

Holsters are generally attached to a person's belt or waistband or clipped to another article of clothing. Some holsters, such as ankle holsters, have integrated support. Other holsters may fit inside a pocket, to add stability and protection to the handgun, keeping it more reliably secure and accessible than if it were in the pocket alone.

Holsters are generally worn in a location where they can be readily accessible. Common locations are: at the waist (outside (OWB) or inside (IWB) the waistband), behind the back (small of back (SOB)), at the ankle, at the chest (in an elastic belly band or shoulder holster), or on the upper thigh. Holsters are sometimes contained in an external bag, such as a purse or fanny pack.


Since holsters are typically made from fairly stiff yet tough materials, there are a limited number of common choices. The traditional material, particularly for handgun holsters, is leather. It has an attractive appearance and can be dyed in many colors and/or embossed with elaborate designs for cosmetic reasons.

Ballistic nylon is another common fabric for holsters, as it is stiff, wear resistant, and thick enough to provide protection.

Molded plastics, such as Kydex, are also popular, due to their low cost and robustness.

Common types and styles

Holster designs for firearms cover a wide range of shapes, materials, and retention/release mechanisms, from simple leather pouches hanging from a belt to highly protective holsters with flaps that cover the entire handgun, to highly adjustable competition holsters that hold the handgun at a precise position and release instantly when activated. The wide range of types indicates the highly varied circumstances in which holsters are used, and the varying preferences of the users.

Categories by use

Holsters can be divided into four broad categories by use: duty holsters, worn by uniformed law enforcement and peace officers and security personnel; tactical holsters, worn by military, security, and law enforcement personnel in certain situations; concealment holsters, worn by plainclothes peace officers and private persons; and sporting holsters, worn for shooting sports and hunting.

Duty holsters are designed to be carried openly, so concealment is not an issue, but retention and appearance are. Duty holsters can be made of leather (plain, basketweave, or glossy), nylon, or plastic; they are designed to be attached to a duty belt, and worn on the dominant side.[1] Duty holsters are generally only found for service and compact size handguns as opposed to small subcompact handguns as these are generally only used for concealed carry backup guns.

The primary characteristic that often distinguishes duty holsters from all other holster designs is retention. Modern law enforcement duty holsters are available with varying levels of retention security (i.e. Level I, Level II, Level II+, Level III, etc.;[2] some security features are passive (such as retention screws, decoy straps, or hood guards), while others are active and require deliberate manipulation by the officer during the draw (such as traditional thumbreak snaps). While a higher level of retention will make it more difficult for a suspect to snatch a holstered handgun away from an officer, it may also reduce the speed and ease with which an officer may draw his handgun (especially if the security features are active and not passive). Therefore, when selecting a duty holster, an officer may be forced to find a compromise of speed and retention that he/she is comfortable with.

Tactical/military holsters are usually made of nylon or plastic. They may be made in a camouflage pattern to match the wearer's uniform. They are often of a drop-leg design and offer a retention device. Some military holsters still use the old flap design (also referred to as a "suicide" or "widow maker" holster, which is cumbersome and slow on the draw, but provides greater protection for the holstered firearm against the elements.[3]

There is some overlap between duty holsters, tactical holsters, and military holsters. Weapon retention is generally not as important a consideration in military use as it is in law enforcement due to the differences in their work environments.

A horsehide pocket holster with a Taurus Millennium PT145.
19th/Early 20th Century Single Loop Holster

Concealment holsters are designed to be easily concealed, as well as lightweight and unobtrusive. They are generally designed for subcompact and compact handguns since they are easier to conceal. Concealment holsters are designed to be worn under clothing, such as on the belt under a coat, under pants in an ankle holster, or in a trouser pocket. Since the holster is held close to the body, comfort is important, and concealment holsters often have broad surfaces in contact with the user's body, to distribute the pressure across a wider area and prevent abrasion of the skin. Protecting the handgun from the user's perspiration is often an important consideration in such carry locations. Often the outside of the holster is broader, to help break up the outline of the handgun and prevent printing, where the outline of the gun can be seen through clothing. For pocket holsters, the external flat side is often the side with a nap, or rougher surface, to hold the holster in place when drawing the pistol.

Sporting holsters cover a wide spectrum of styles: maximum access for fast draw shooting, highly adjustable holsters used in IPSC and pin shooting, old-fashioned holsters used in Cowboy Action Shooting, high retention, maximum protection holsters used for handgun hunting, and simple holsters used to hold a handgun while out plinking. Like any sporting equipment, sporting holsters evolve to maximize the benefits given the rules of the game, where applicable, so the competitive sports have the most specialized holsters.

Holsters for hunting can be unique if they are designed to carry large handguns or to make allowances for telescopic sights. Large handguns are often carried in holsters that are slung across the shoulder, and removed from the body before the handgun is drawn. Slow access is acceptable in this case because the handgun is not expected to be used for defensive purposes.

Categories by method of wear

An IWB concealment holster
A Belt Slide Holster
A Slim Jim Holster- A Tradition Design in the Percussion Revolver Era
A horizontal shoulder holster- the Galco Miami Classic II
A vertical shoulder holster- the Idaho Leather Company Last Man Standing for the 1911 Colt et al.:

Popular holster types are:

Other, specialized types of holsters are designed to be mounted inside briefcases, day planners, purses and filofaxes, or even articles of clothing, including the bra.

Attachment options

The safest way for carrying a handgun is carrying it in a holster that keeps the gun stable on its place and yet gives comfort and easy access when needed. As there are many different types of holster and ways for concealed carrying, one is able to choose the one that suits one's expectations and needs. For all these preferences such as – concealed carrying, safety, stability and easy accessibility, the most popular among customers are belt holsters. However, even in this group one can choose the different type of attaching the holster. Some of the most common belt holster attachment options are:[4]

Factors to consider when choosing a holster

When choosing a holster for a firearm, factors of interest include:


Notable manufacturers of firearm holsters include Bianchi International, Safariland & County Holster & Leather, LLC.. Custom leather workers typically focus on one area or two in leather work. Holster makers are those who usually stay put in their respective field. Any and all pistols, whether compact, mid-size or large hand-guns are sheathed in leather in a process that molds to the firearm, and hardens to a stout, strong and long lasting holster. These can be made into inside waist band, strong side, cross-over, should holster, chest holster, pocket and inside the shirt. These holsters are made for competition shooters, recreational, security and law enforcement.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Holsters.


  1. "Holster Materials". American Holsters. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  2. Sgt Mark Conway, New South Wales Police (2004). "Duty Holster Considerations". PPSC web site. The Police Policy Studies Council. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  3. "Handgun Holster". Dagger Shop. 2010. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  4. "Gun holsters attachement options". Craft Holsters. 2014. Retrieved 2015-04-19.
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