The concept of having a pouch to carry a personal weapon is an old one. David slew Goliath with a stone he carried in a leather pouch on his waist. As the first handguns became popular, men often carried their pistols in a sash about their waist—a stylish and elegant method of carry but impractical if the carrier must exert himself very much. When fighting men started traveling horseback, leather pouches, often with some form of retainer were carried on the pommel of their saddles. As handguns became more sophisticated and carried more often, the ideas regarding holsters evolved as well.
Today holsters run a wide gamut in terms of design and materials. There are belt holsters, IWBs (inside the waistband), shoulder holsters, crossdraws, pocket, ankle, thigh, chest—the list is almost limitless. Leather has been the traditional material of choice, but today we often see holsters made from plastic or synthetic materials like ballistic nylon. Carbon-fiber has also been used, and I may have missed some other materials.
Choosing a holster is as personal a matter as choosing a self-defense firearm. It never ceases to amaze me to see someone with a tricked-out pistol that may have set him back $1500 stuffed into a padded nylon rig with a belt loop designed to fit any belt that may have cost him 30 bucks. Usually, in the so-called interest of safety, such a “holster” has another nylon strap with a cheesy snap that goes over the gun to keep it in the rig.
A holster for open carry satisfies—or should—a different set of parameters than a holster for concealed carry. Similarly, a concealment holster may be for “casual” concealment—just enough cover to keep the firearm concealed throughout normal day-to-day activities—or it may be for deep concealment where a very small gun must be carried with the utmost concealment, like pretending the wearer is unarmed. So-called “tactical” holsters are designed to carry usually a duty-size pistol as a secondary armament to a larger weapon like a rifle or shotgun.
So before one goes out and slaps money on the counter for a rig to pack his roscoe, it would be prudent to identify the needs or criteria such a device must serve. For what it’s worth, here is how I go about choosing a holster: First item of business is the fit of the gun to the holster. The holster must contain the pistol in such a way that it never can move within the holster. If I need the pistol, I need it quickly, and I do not want to be fumbling around searching for it. Equally true, the holster must fit one width—and one width only—belt for the same reason. I don’t want my pistol to wander around my girth, nor do I want it rocking to and fro as I wear it. Another thing I check is how the pistol is retained within the holster as I wear it. About the only time I want a separate retaining strap is for a field holster, and there I want a simple strap with a quality snap on it. Holsters meant for self-defense should be designed to retain the pistol securely by design and the inherent friction of the holster material. The exception to that is if you are planning on doing some rigorous movements while carrying the pistol, i.e. diving to the ground, crawling through stuff that might snag the pistol or jumping out of aircraft, or, you are a uniformed police officer who might need secondary retention to keep a bad guy from stealing your pistol.
Since I am a dinosaur—as some of you have been quick to point out—I remain fast to leather as my material of choice in a holster. I have tried plastic and nylon holsters, and only two remain here at casa Wyoming. One is a thigh rig I got from Safariland a few years ago for my Springfield Armory Operator with a SureFire light attached. The only reason I keep it is that it’s the only rig that will hold that pistol with the light attached, and I sometimes will carry it when I shoot a 3-gun match—a distinct rarity anymore. The other is a nylon over-the-shoulder rig for my TC G2 Contender. Every other holster is made from the hide of some poor dumb creature.
I prefer leather for several reasons. First, it can be formed to fit an individual firearm perfectly. Yes, some of the non-leather holsters can do that fairly well, but say you decide to put on a different front sight. Often that will mean the sight shaves off a minute piece of the holster as you draw. Another plus for leather is that while it may be stiff enough to hold a particular pistol design, it is also forgiving enough to give a little bit against my hide if I were to say take a spill with it on me. Too, leather is “sticky” enough, with the proper treatment and design, to hold my handguns securely.
Finally—and this is a most personal criteria—leather is far more attractive than any synthetic material. I agree that this has nothing to do with practicality, but I cannot help be who I am. I like beautiful things. That character flaw may have cost me dearly when it comes to the women in my life, but a beautiful gun or holster has never failed me. So that’s the way I like leather holsters.