Holster: the complete guide

It is obvious, the choice of a weapon is made according to the type of mission that can be encountered by the user. Whether it is the service weapon of our law enforcement agencies, the SP2022 acquired in 2002, or the Glock 17 Gen 5, the French Army’s endowment weapon adopted in early 2020, the choice of these semi-automatic pistols (PSA) was made according to precise specifications and extremely rigorous tests. But did you know that such a process is carried out both on the weapon and on the holster that accompanies it?

Retention, weight, maneuverability, speed of implementation… each case has its particularities which will suit certain types of use. You can have the best PSA on the planet, if your holster does not meet the demands of your mission there is a good chance that it will be affected, and the consequences can be dramatic. A holster therefore occupies a crucial place in your professional equipment. In this practical guide we will detail the different models that are used by defense and security professionals around the world, and how to make the right choice.

Exposed port holsters

A visible port holster is worn on the wearer’s uniform and is therefore visible to others. There are 3 possible configurations.

Belt holster:

A traditional configuration for military and law enforcement personnel, this type of holster is worn on the user’s belt.

Belt holster

Thigh holster:

Suspended from your belt and held to your thigh using adjustable straps, thigh holsters are very useful when the user is in a seated position, to be in a vehicle for example, but also when you want to carry the PSA with a plate carrier.

Thigh holster

Chest holster:

Configuration used by the military or intervention forces, it is in fact a quick connection system that allows the holster (and therefore the weapon) to be transferred almost immediately from one MOLLE platform to another, whether either on a belt loop, a thigh platform or an assault vest, which allows you to have several carrying systems in one.

Chest holster

Discreet carry holsters

There are two main families of concealed carry holsters: the IWB for “Inside the waistband” (translated as “inside the belt”) or the OWB, “Outside the waistband” (in French “outside of the belt”).

IWB Holsters:

Also called “inside” holster, IWB holsters are the most used for concealed carry. Virtually undetectable, the discreet IWB holster is worn in the pants and hangs on the user’s belt. More discreet than OWB holsters, they will however be less comfortable and the weapon may come into contact with perspiration.

IWB Holsters

OWB Holsters:

Second configuration observed in discreetly worn holsters, OWB holsters are worn outside the pants concealed under a jacket or clothing, and adapt to your belt using a loop.

OWB Holsters

Other Discreet Case Types

Shoulder holster:

Another very well-known variant among OWB holsters, the shoulder holster is worn, as its name suggests, at the level of the user’s shoulder, making his weapon accessible under the arm.

Shoulder holster

Ankle Holster:

Perfectly concealed, the ankle holster is ideal for a compact or sub-compact back-up weapon. A negative point nevertheless on the speed of implementation of the weapon which is reduced, taking into account the fact that the user will have to lean and raise his bottom of pants before reaching his weapon.

Ankle Holster

Pocket holster:

Little used in France, this holster has the particularity of being worn in a trouser pocket. Its non-slip materials will allow the user to draw his weapon without taking the holster with him.

Pocket holster

Belt holster:

An alternative very popular with law enforcement in civilian clothes, the holster belt has the same characteristics as a discreet OWB holster, except that it will be much more comfortable because it is more elastic, and can generally accommodate other accessories (chargers, flashlight, handcuffs etc.).

Belt holster

Manufacturing materials

Today, the materials most used in the design of a holster are:


The flagship material of all modern holsters, the injected polymer has the advantage of being ultra strong, light, and offers the possibility for manufacturers to add retention or sophisticated configuration technologies to the holsters.



Traditionally used in the manufacture of holsters, leather is an excellent choice for concealed carry. It is flexible and takes the shape of the weapon over time. On the other hand, it requires more maintenance than a rigid polymer holster.



Kydex is a thermoformed plastic, it has the advantage of being both light and resistant. It is often used for OWB low profile carry holsters because the Kydex is thin and conforms perfectly to the shape of the weapon. However, it will be much less comfortable than leather for discreet IWB wear (leather takes the shape of the weapon and the body). In addition, since Kydex holsters are made “by hand”, they are expensive compared to their injected polymer counterparts.



Often used for universal holsters, nylon is a good compromise between Kydex and leather. A nylon holster will be strong, lightweight, comfortable and low maintenance. However, it will not be able to have modern retention common to injected polymer holsters.


Types of retention

There are two types of retention: passive retention and active retention.

Passive retention

We speak of passive retention when the weapon is drawn by simply pulling on the weapon and does not require any other manual “unlocking” of the retention device. A big time saver in terms of weapon deployment speed, this type of retention nevertheless has the disadvantage, and not the least important, of facilitating access to your weapon for other people.

Active retention

Active retention adds one (or more) additional gesture to the simple draw movement, it somehow locks the classic draw of a weapon. Active retention holsters are more secure and provide an additional obstacle to the snatching of your weapon by a malicious third party.

Retention Levels

The Holster Retention Rating System was created by Bill Rogers, founder of the Rogers Holster Company and is based on a series of tests that the end user can perform in the field. This system classifies holsters according to their retention level from 1 to 4. The higher the retention level, the more secure the weapon is in the holster.

Unlike Safariland, which after having bought the Rogers Holster Company retained this 4-level rating system, the Blackhawk firm preferred to simplify this system by measuring the degree of retention in 3 levels which are now recognized worldwide.

Retention Levels

Level 1: moderate retention

Level 1 (Level 1) type holsters have passive retention that secures the weapon by clamping the weapon into the holster to hold it in place. On the most sophisticated models, this tightening is adjustable thanks to a screw generally placed under the trigger guard. A simple pull releases the weapon.

Level 2: high retention

Level 2 holsters are the most common in the world. They have an active retention, and therefore present an additional locking of the weapon. Provided with a mechanism requiring an additional gesture from the user (most often pressure with the index finger), the gun cannot be removed from the holster without the user unlocking it manually.

Level 3: optimal retention

Maximum retention level par excellence, level 3 holsters have a third locking mechanism in addition to the level 2 retention level. This is most often a cover or a tab on the top of the holster which comes to cover the hammer and the base of the breech of the weapon. Although Blackhawk has managed the feat of making the gesture of unlocking and drawing the weapon as smooth as possible, three gestures are necessary to draw the pistol.

Little advice

As said at the beginning, each holster has its own technical characteristics and will only be suitable for certain types of use. There is no such thing as an “all-mission” holster that is better than all the others combined, it all depends on the demands of your mission. Before acquiring a new case, it is therefore important that you find out about the type of operation you are going to carry out, take the time to check all the technical data, the scenarios you may encounter, etc. Once you are sure, take this little practical guide from the beginning, first choose the appropriate family of holsters (concealed carry or visible carry), and finally choose a model according to its safety, comfort, compatibility with other equipment and of course its cost.


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