Holster Basics: What Makes a Holster a Holster?

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Last Updated on March 31, 2021.
Holster Basics What Makes a Holster a Holster

If you carry a handgun, a holster is one of the most important purchases you can make. A holster protects your firearm and keeps it close to your body for easy access in an emergency. Whether you open carry or carry concealed, here’s what you need to know about gun holsters.


Why Do Holster Elements Matter?

Holsters come in various materials, colors, configurations, and designs—shoulder holsters, waistband holsters, ankle holsters — you name it. But regardless of the design and your preferred carry method, the holster you choose should meet specific minimum requirements for reliable and safe functionality

These ensure that your holster protects you and keeps you in fighting form. After all, if you carry a gun, you’re carrying a weapon to protect yourself and your loved ones. That’s an exceptional responsibility.

If you neglect these elements, the holster you choose may be subpar and unable to serve your needs as effectively. For a self-defense weapon, this can have dire consequences.


Essential Holster Elements

Whether you’re new to concealed carry or experienced, a holster should let you carry your weapon confidently. You should know that you can draw and reholster it safely, it retains your weapon securely, and it protects both you and the weapon.

Trigger Guard

Firearms safety is your responsibility. You should know the rules that govern the safe handling of firearms and observe them without fail. Here’s a recital of the four rules:

  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not prepared to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be aware of your target and what is behind it.

Col. Jeff Cooper formulated these rules over three decades ago, drawing from U.S. Army field manuals and his own experience as an instructor. If you follow these rules consistently, you shouldn’t suffer an unintentional discharge. However, the design of a gun holster can hinder or help your practicing these rules — especially Rule 3. 

When you place your hand on your weapon and achieve a full firing grip, your finger should remain straight alongside the holster and the pistol’s frame. A safe holster should cover the trigger guard, so when you draw the weapon, your finger remains straight alongside it. 

Holsters that require you to manipulate a button or other active-retention device with your trigger finger, causing it to curl in the process, can have disastrous results. Choose a holster that prevents your finger from entering the trigger guard until your gun clears the holster completely. 

Does that mean you must opt for a passive-retention holster that uses friction? Not at all. If you’d prefer active retention, choose a design in which you can use your thumb to operate a snap closure or lever. These are a popular choice among law-enforcement officers to discourage attempted gun grabs. 

The Holster Should Remain Open

When you draw your weapon, whether for training or in self-defense, you must return it to the holster. This is called reholstering. A holster made from a soft, collapsible material, such as chamois leather, can close once you draw your weapon. 

This means that you’ll have to open it with your support hand to reholster it. When you have to open your holster with your support hand, you risk covering it with the gun’s muzzle. 

Ideally, the holster’s mouth should remain open when there’s no gun in it. This ensures that you can reholster your weapon with one hand. If your other hand is occupied, this will only improve your efficiency. It’s also safer. 

Sweat Guard

A sweat guard, also called a sweat shield, describes that part of the holster raised to cover the slide. It protects the gun from perspiration that can cause and accelerate rust or damage the finish. It also protects you. 

If you practice firing your weapon regularly, you’ll notice that the slide and barrel are liable to become hot — quickly. It doesn’t take more than a magazine or two for the weapon to get hot enough to cause burns when pressed against exposed skin. 

Even if you don’t fire that many rounds through it, if you’ve ever left a gun out in the sun on a hot day, you also know how uncomfortable steel or aluminum can be against your flanks or abdomen.


Moving Forward

Once you understand the importance of these criteria, you can choose a suitable holster for concealed or open carry that meets them. After you find the holster that’s right for you, you can start adding to your list of accessories.

A good waistband holster needs a good gun belt. It should be sturdy, durable, and fit correctly. You need something that won’t sag or pull away from you. 

When you use a gun belt and carry on your waistband, choose pants one size up from what you usually wear. This allows plenty of room for the gun and holster while also providing a comfortable fit.

Some elements that a good-quality holster should have, such as retention and rigidity, apply equally to magazine carriers/pouches. This allows you to carry spare ammunition on your person securely — you can never predict how many rounds you’ll need in a fight. 

While holster design and your carry position affect draw speed, you need to hone your skills on the range for the best results. 

Finally, practice a safe draw stroke with your holster as often as you can. Holster design matters, but safe gun handling is a matter of repetition and rule-adherence. The more you do it correctly, the more you’ll build muscle memory.


Final Thoughts

Every gun holster should meet these elements at a minimum. If it does, chances are good that your holster will be a quality product that can protect you and your weapon for years. Self-defense is a serious matter. So choose the best holster to meet your carry needs.