November 14, 2023
Have you ever looked at a piece of carry gear and wished it had this or that feature? I have seen a lot of gear over the last 45 years, and I know I have. In truth, it hasn’t changed that much. A real step forward in holster design was the Roy Baker Pancake Holster, basically two round pieces of leather sewn together to create a pouch with a belt slot on each side instead of a single loop on the rear. The design pulled the gun closer to the torso making it flatter and more concealable. The trade off? It was darn near impossible to easily replace the gun. A great deal of “weedling” was required to reinsert the handgun due to the leather pouch going flat once the gun was removed. The solution? Make the outer piece of leather larger and hard mold it so the pouch would retain its shape.
The market for carry gear and accessories is nearly an industry onto itself. And, like any manufacturing pursuit, one way to increase profitability to is realize efficiencies of scale; i.e. mass produce. The custom, one-at-a-time holster maker may offer a more innovative product, but they will never have the financial success of the large holster “factory.” It’s not an attack on the holster industry, but have you ever looked at a product and just knew if they had done this or that it would have been better? When I’ve inquired about design choices or requested changes, it’s not uncommon to be rebuffed by an institutional mindset (“This is how we have always done it.”) or explanations about untenable production costs. To be fair, both justifications are sound considering most customers are not overly finicky about their carry gear, so “just ok” is “just fine.”
As an example, take the simple magazine pouch. There really isn’t much to it, just a piece of material (synthetic or leather) tightly formed around the magazine body. Originally, cowhide was used but it tended to stretch with use. To improve longevity, the magazine body was covered as high as possible leaving only the floor plate exposed. This “solution” created a new problem wherein not enough magazine was exposed to accomodate a proper grasp during removal. The results were poor grips and dropped magazines. Law enforcement uniform duty pouches are the worst example of this.
In my opinion, only half of the magazine body should be covered to provide real estate for a proper grip. Synthetic materials have made a properly fitted pouch possible as they can be tightened and loosened without stretching. Unfortunately, mass production has kept the mag pouch from its full potential due to prevalence of multi-fit sizing. A magazine pouch for a Glock 26 is often the same one for the Glock 17, which brings us right back to the problem discussed earlier.
Another issue is attachment. Some concealment mag pouches use a belt clip, and I like them. They are convenient. But, from my perspective, the clips are also wrong side down. Have you ever pulled a magazine and the pouch off the belt as one unit? That is because the open end of the clip is down, at the bottom edge of the belt. The stress placed on the clip does not occur when the pouch is riding on your belt, it's when the magazine is aggressively pulled on to perform a reload. The clip should be placed on the back of the magazine upside down so the closed end is on the bottom. A clip with a good hook on the open end will hold the pouch on the belt with complete security. I know it’s easier to mount the clip to the top end of the pouch than it is the bottom, but the design would be enhanced with this small change.
Do you now see what I am talking about? Small changes can result in big performance advancements and some of our major manufacturers are moving in this direction. For example, inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters are hugely popular and have been for decades thanks to their ease of concealment. A great example is the Bruce Nelson Summer Special, which has been reproduced in some form or fashion by many holster makers. Typically, they were made with heavy cowhide, suede side out for stabilization. A leather-covered metal band was sewn at the top to keep the mouth of the holster open when the gun was removed, allowing a handgun to be reholstered without taking the holster off the belt. For belt retention, leather straps with snap closures loop around the belt. Due to the thickness of the leather wrapped around the gun, it was necessary to buy trousers a size or two bigger than you normally wear.
Attempts were made to trim the package down. We are all familiar with the suede leather “clip on gun bag” that most holster makers offered. Every cop I knew had one for their snub revolver. Problems arose as the gun could “pop out” of the holster by standard twisting and bending. Of course, you had to remove it to reholster and on many occasions, the suede gun sack was drawn with the handgun, hanging off the barrel when fired.
When injection molded holsters became reality, I thought the thickness problem would be addressed, but they made the same IWB designs, with similar dimensions, in synthetic versions. Now the holster was hard and did not soften and mold to the wearer like leather. In truth, I found it to be more uncomfortable. Fortunately, Safariland took a fresh look at the concept with the new Schema IWB rig and we now see what synthetic materials can do.
The Schema features a minimalist design — no material in places it is not needed — for enhanced concealment with smaller footprint compared to traditional IWB holsters. It is as thin as a holster can be and still allow the gun to be cleanly drawn and reholstered. The Schema is optic-compatible and will work with most popular models. Its single clip does a great job of holding the holster in place when worn on the hip. I have worn it very little forward of the hip and in truth, I like holsters with dual clips for this purpose as they keep the grip heavy pistol from rocking back and forth. I have worn the Schema daily with a Glock 43X without having to buy larger trousers. It’s slim design and solid retention make this an exceptional rig for everyday carry.
Even with the Schema, outside-the-waistband (OWB) carry is what I typically rely on these days. As inviting as AIWB can be, a mesh hernia repair has made the location a no-go for me. That’s ok, OWB can be quite comfortable, concealable and convenient with the right holster. For many years, most every OWB holster came with what is called an “FBI cant.” This 20-plus degree grip forward tilt was intended for behind-the-hip carry in the natural hollow of the back. For decades, men’s jackets were designed to hang from the shoulders leaving amble space between the torso and the jacket material to conceal very large handguns. The forward tilt allowed the hand to more naturally engage the grip as it traveled around the torso to the holstered handgun.
In recent years, carrying a gun to the rear of the body has become less popular with more shooters carrying the gun on their side, better known as 3 o’clock or strongside, or even forward of the hip at the appendix or abdomen. Many have tried to use the FBI cant on their side resulting in the hand and wrist being twisted at an odd angle in order to establish a shooting grip. This hinders a fast and consistent draw and has resulted in fumbled handguns. A few leather holsters were made with multiple belt slots or loops offset to allow for multiple angles of carry, but it has been the synthetic holster that has best addressed the problem.
With Kydex or injection molded rigs, it’s just a matter of which belt attachments are used. Take the now discontinued Ken Hackathorn Signature model from Raven Concealment as an example. What I liked about the rig was the superior fit and finish as well as the reduction in material used. Instead of a square piece of Kydex, Ken had them remove any material that was not necessary to reduce bulk. He also specified 1.5-inch drop loops to help lower the holster on the belt. What this also resulted in was the ability to flip the loops to adjust the cant of the holster. By turning one loop right side up, a more vertical cant could be achieved.
When the Hackathorn holster was discontinued, I had KSG Armory in Texas make what I feel is an improved version of Ken’s concept. It took the minimum material idea even further while using thinner, lighter Kydex. I asked for very trim belt loops with multiple holes on the forward edge of the holster body so the cant could be adjusted by moving the loop up and down, facilitating everything from an FBI cant to extreme muzzle forward when worn forward of the hip. It is both a concealable and fast rig with minimal bulk and can be worn on the side at 3 o’clock totally concealed with a light garment. Raven Concealment has incorporated many of these same ideas into their hugely popular Perun series of holsters, a rig that has been adopted by many armed professionals the world over, including some of our federal law enforcement agencies.
A quick thought on holster tilt as it relates to the male torso. As many men age, there is a certain “thickening” of the waist that can be attributed to fine living. This wider mid-torso results in the belt sliding down in front at the belt buckle. Thus, a vertical/neutral cant holster ends up being more of an FBI cant. I have had a few leather holsters custom made with the belt loop sewn for a muzzle forward cant so when the holster is mounted on the belt and it slides down, it rides vertical. I have had great success with this modification.
Last, but not least, is the paddle holster. These rigs are quite popular, especially with plainclothes law enforcement due to their easy on and off convenience. Unfortunately, these rigs are only concealable under a jacket or suit coat. Why? The rounded contour of the paddle attachment which makes them comfortable to wear also pushes the holster pouch outward. In doing so, they make the rig less concealable. In addition, many paddles are narrow at the top where they attach to the holster body allowing them to rock back and forth due to the weight of a grip-heavy pistol. I created a belt “claw” that was really more of an open bottom belt loop with a flat back that would allow for easy on and off the belt convenience while still keeping the holster flat to the body. The late Dan Hillsman of Hillsman Holsters, Shin Chen of X-Concealment and Bob Meszaros of Templar Custom Arms all made the belt claw design, unfortunately, none of these companies are still in business.
These are a few of my thoughts on carry gear and how it can be improved, and I’m glad to see that some recommended modifications are already being utilized, if only on the small scale. I bet many reading this have had a similar experiences with their holsters and accessories, and more than a few thoughts of their own. So, while I doubt one article will have any major impact on the holster industry, I have enjoyed my carry gear journey through the years.
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine