A holster is an unspecified, yet specialized article of
clothingor a device, worn to hold, or restrict the undesired movement of, an item, such as a handgunor other weapon, cellular telephone, hand tool, or virtually any other small object about the person, most commonly in a location where it can be easily withdrawn for immediate use.
Basic functions of a holster
Holsters are generally designed to offer protection to the object, secure retention, and ready access. The need for ready access is often at odds with the need for security and protection, so the user must decide how much they are willing to compromise on ready access to gain the security and protection. Picking the right compromise 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 the user's death. Even for a device as simple as a cellphone, the balance between safe and secure versus the ability to answer an incoming call, while not a life and death situation, can still greatly impact the usability of the holster.
Holsters must somewhat secure an object, so they must provide some means of doing so. The simplest type is a pouch, ideally one that closely fits the shape of the object it holds, while more complex holsters may clip onto the object, holding it at certain well defined points. Pouch-type holsters provide a fair amount of protection, depending on the material from which they are made, while the clip-on holsters provide little or no protection. Pouch type holsters may also be open on one or more sides, to provide easy access to the object, or they may have a spring or flap closure that retains it and provides protection on all sides.
Holsters are generally designed to be used with one hand, allowing the object to be removed and/or replaced with one hand. To be able to return an item to a holster one-handed, the holster should be made from a fairly stiff substance that holds its shape, so that the holster won't collapse without the object inside to give it support. Too stiff, however, and the holster might be prone to breakage if it is pressed between the wearer's body and another object, such as a chair or wall.
Holsters are generally worn attached to a person's belt or waistband, or clipped to an item of clothing. Some holsters may also fit inside a pocket, where they add stability and protection to the object, keeping it secure in the pocket. Holsters are generally kept near the waist, chest, or upper thighs of the user, where they may easily be reached. Other holsters may be behind the back, at the ankle, or even inside the pants, if they are intended to be concealed.
Since holsters are best made from fairly stiff yet tough materials, there are a limited number of common choices. The traditional material, particularly for handgun holsters, is
leather. Leather is commonly considered attractive, and can be found dyed in many colors and/or embossed with elaborate designs for cosmetic reasons. Ballistic nylonis a commonly used fabric for holsters, as it is stiff, wear resistant, and thick enough to provide protection. Molded plastics, such as Kydex, are also becoming popular.
In the case of handguns, there is also the "string holster" whose usage was taught by the OSS during World War II. This is simply a loop of string or cord, attached to the belt or a belt loop, placed inside the pants at the waistband, into which the muzzle of the weapon is inserted. This provides a modicum of retention, while maximizing concealability and lightness of weight.
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 with the right pressure. The wide range of types indicates the highly varied circumstances in which holsters are used, and the varying preferences of the users.
Categories of firearms holster use
Holsters can be divided into four broad categories by use: "duty holsters", worn by uniformed peace officers and security personnel; "tactical/military holsters", worn by military, security, and law enforcement personnel; "concealment holsters", worn by plainclothes peace officers and private persons; and "sporting holsters", worn for
shooting sportsand 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 strong-side of the user. Duty holsters are generally only found for full-sized and mid-sized handguns, as there is no reason to carry a subcompact handgun unless concealment is needed.The
Berns-Martinis one example of a high-security revolver duty holster.
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.); some security features are passive (such as retention screws, decoy straps, and Safariland's SLS hood guard accessory), while others are active and require deliberate manipulation by the officer during the draw (such as traditional thumbreak snaps, Safariland's SLS system and SLS Sentry accessory). 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 select a balance 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
camouflagepattern to match the wearer's uniform. They are often of a drop-leg design. Some military holsters still use the old "flap" design, which is cumbersome and slow on the draw, but provides great protection coverage for the holstered firearm against the elements. It should be noted that there is sometimes some overlapping between duty holsters, tactical holsters, and military holsters. Weapon retention is generally nowhere as paramount a consideration in military holsters as it is in law enforcement duty holsters due to the different occupational nature of their users.
Concealment holsters are designed to be easily concealed, as well as lightweight and unobtrusive; they are generally designed for compact and mid-sized handguns, since those 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). Protecting the handgun from the user's
perspirationis often an important consideration in such carry locations. Since the holster is held close to the body, comfort becomes important too, 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. Often the external side of the holster is also broader, to help break up the outline of the handgun and prevent "printing", where the outline of the gun can be seen through tight 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 the widest range, from holsters with maximum access for
Fast Drawshooting, to highly adjustable holsters used in IPSC and pin shooting, to old-fashioned holsters used in Cowboy Action Shooting such as the Bridgeport rig, to high retention, maximum protection holsters used for handgun hunting, to 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 tend to be unique, as they are designed to carry the largest handguns, and often must make allowances for telescopic sights. The largest 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 wearing
Popular holster types are:
* Outside the waistband (OWB) or belt holsters, which are most common in police and military use and in the popular historical image of the
Wild West" cowboy". Belt holsters can be worn relatively high and close to the body, slightly behind the hip bone ("4:00 position"), and can be concealed under a long, untucked shirt or jacket.
* Inside the waistband (IWB) holsters, which clip or mount to a belt and allow one to securely holster the weapon inside the pants. Some IWB holsters give the wearer the option of tucking a shirt over the firearm and holster.
* Shoulder holsters, that consist of two straps connected in a manner similar to a
backpack, with the actual holster mounted to a strap on the right or the left side. This holster setup requires the person to be wearing a jacket, vest, or camp shirt to hide the strap harness and the holster from others, but it's somewhat easier to carry since it's located near the center of body mass. In military use, such as pilots wearing flightsuits and senior officers in camouflage there is no need to hide its wear. Shoulder holsters are designed to position the handgun: 1. in a vertical position, with the barrel pointed generally toward the ground; 2. in a vertical position, with the barrel pointed generally upward; 3. in a horizontal position, with the barrel pointed generally behind the wearer.
* The "belly band" holster, which is a notoriously uncomfortable, wide elastic belt with a built-in holster, to be worn under a shirt that is not tucked in, to facilitate access. There are various types, worn at the belt line or higher, with the gun placement anywhere from in front to under the armpit. In order to remain in place, a belly band must be extremely tight; this does not lend itself to a very pleasant experience - it is comparable to wearing a girdle.
* Pocket holsters, for use with very small weapons, such as a
back-up gunor a mousegun.
* Small of Back/Middle of Back holsters, which are considered quite dangerous and are seldom used. This type of holster places the weapon directly over the center of the back, allowing for even large handguns to be carried with little printing. While both comfortable and stylish, should the wearer fall onto the weapon (such as in a close quarters fight) serious spinal injury (including parallysis) may occur. For this reason, in recent times many police departments in the US have disallowed any equipment, gun, handcuffs, etc, to be worn in this position.
* Groin holsters place the handgun mostly below the waistline around the 12:00 position. There are no body movement restrictions and very little clothing restrictions with this holster type.
* Thigh holsters are the more recent popular military and police item that holds the sidearm on the leg right where the hand naturally hangs, making for a quick draw. Early U.S. cavalry units used these in the early 1900s with a leather thong strapping it to the leg. Modern ones often use a drop leg
PALS gridwith a modular holster attached. Often with buckles for quick release.
* Ankle holsters are used often by law enforcement officials who wish to carry a secondary weapon, typically a smaller caliber weapon, to back up their primary firearm.
* Chest holsters can be attached to
MOLLEcompatible vests and chest carriers. Like shoulder holsters, chest holsters are often easier to draw from than belt holsters when the operator is seated inside a vehicle.
Other, specialized types of holsters are designed to be mounted inside briefcases,
day planners, purses and filofaxes, or even articles of clothing.
When choosing a holster for a firearm, factors of interest include:
* Safety - a well designed holster will provide protection to the handgun during insertion into or removal from the holster or while being carried that will: 1. prevent accidental disengagement of the safety mechanism; 2. prevent accidental pull of the trigger; 3. prevent forward or rearward movement of the hammer. These features will vary greatly as applicable to the action of the handgun. The safety features of a holster very much require that the holster be engineered and designed for each specific manufacture and model of handgun.
* Finish - a well finished holster should not snag a pistol or abrade its finish.
* Comfort - ability to wear a gun for an extended period without hurting the user
* Concealability - it is often desirable not to alert other people of one's being armed. A carefully designed and worn holster can make a gun virtually invisible. Almost all concealment holsters are designed to be worn with a covering garment that is part of the wearer's everyday attire.
* Draw ease - practical shooting holsters allow a gun to be presented quickly, but drawing ease is often compromised in
* Reholster ease - a rigid-walled holster will allow a gun to be returned to it with one hand, while a flexible one may collapse after the gun is drawn, requiring the use of both hands to reholster. Reholstering may be of secondary importance for civilians, who may often be legally required to contact law enforcement authorities after any lawful use of a firearm.
* Durability - ability to withstand abuse and long-term usage without mechanical failure or impaired performance
* Retention - a holster designed with retention in mind will help prevent a gun from being removed from the holster by anyone other than the person wearing it. Modern duty holsters have multiple hidden retention devices to this end. Frequently, retentive holsters are custom designed for a specific model of gun.
* Adjustability - a holster that provides for the adjustment of gun cant and position can aid in both comfort and concealment.
* Price - modern holsters for a $500 handgun can cost $20 to $200. Some users will require multiple holster types per gun, while others may prefer a generic holster for carrying multiple gun types.
Police duty belt
* [http://www.cop-supply.com/xcart/duty-holsters-c-290.html Cop-Supply.com] Praetorian Police Duty Holster
* [http://www.klnullholsters.com/ KLnullholsters.com] Company that purchased Seventrees Systems Ltd
* [http://www.thunderwearholsters.com/ Thunderwear] , showing examples of concealment holsters for guns, handcuffs, etc.
* [http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Conway/duty_holster_considerations.htm Police Policy Studies Council] article on choosing a duty holster
* [http://www.delfatti.com/webdoc16.html Del Fatti Leather] list of questions to answer when choosing a holster
* [http://www.usgalco.com/HolsterT1.asp Galco Gunleather catalog] , listing holsters by type
* [http://www.usgalco.com/ShopAlbum.asp Galco Gunleather Custom Shop] , showing examples of embossing and exotic leathers, including a Western style rig presented to
* [http://www.holsterss.com/ Pyle Mountain Holsters ] , page of examples of various holsters including shoulder holsters, side holsters, double shoulder holsters, and waistband holsters
* [http://www.allaboutholsters.com Common gun holster examples] explaining the purpose of the different style firearm holsters on the market.
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