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Modern Holsters: Carrying into the Future

For a long time, “holster” was most frequently used to describe a pouch stitched of leather or cloth shaped to contain a handgun and often, but not always, prevent it from falling out by means of a flap or strap or else just a snug friction fit. 

Other than oddities like the Berns-Martin break-front, with its spring steel retention hoop, or LAPD’s iconic clamshell holster from Speed Safety Holster Company, most design variations only applied to the way the gun buckets were attached to the wearer’s belt (or shoulder harness or ankle strap).

henry holsters spark

The Spark from Henry Holsters helps the FN 509 Compact disappear, even with a TLR-7 light and an SRO.

Changing laws fueled the growth of concealed carry throughout the ’80s and ’90s though, and we began to see the evolution of the CCW holster. This is when we first saw things like tuckable inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters, or holsters like the Versa-Max from Milt Sparks that spread the belt loops out to the sides and away from their traditional location on the body of the holster. This served both to spread the load on the belt and reduce the thickness of the package at its widest point, aiding concealability. 

These were the first steps in the evolution of the CCW holster into the machine for aiding in the concealment of a daily carry pistol that it is today.

The final ingredient for the puzzle emerged in the acceptance of rigid polymer for the shell of the holster body. Whether injection-molded plastic, as exemplified by imported Fobus holsters, or custom-shaped material such as Kydex from startups like Comp-Tac, this was seen as a mainstream alternative to leather or nylon as a holster material by the turn of the millennium.

As an aside, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to use Kydex as shorthand for “thermo-molded plastic holster” unless there’s a technical reason to distinguish Kydex from its competitor, Boltaron. Thermo-moldable polymer negates the need for a holster manufacturer to buy the expensive molds required for injection molding. A Kydex bender only needs a heat press and a home-made firearm form to wrap the Kydex around. It’s a slower process than injection molding, but it’s perfectly adequate for small- to mid-sized holster-making operation. For good or ill, Kydex has become, like “Kleenex” or “Xerox,” a catchall term to describe a category of object rather than a specific brand name.

At any rate, while Kydex’s initial popularity was probably due to a combination of its cost relative to leather holsters and the ability to quickly get a holster for an uncommon handgun from a gun show (or from a then-burgeoning World Wide Web shop), its other advantages soon became apparent. 

Dark Star Gear Hitchhiker

Dark Star Gear’s Hitchhiker will make a Glock 43 vanish, especially when fitted with a Dark Wing.

Foremost among those is that a Kydex and injection-molded polymer holster offers the possibility of a fast and very clean draw. Unlike a leather holster that largely relies on friction to retain the gun in the holster, polymer holsters use a mechanical lock, generally on the front of the trigger guard. Tug the pistol and, with that familiar pop or click, the gun is released all at once.

The need for speed became an arms race not only in the competitive world, but also in the CCW and tactical shooting community with the rise of social media, as YouTube (and then Instagram) made the #SubSecondDraw the calling card for more instructors and trainers, this fueled the rise of the modern, dedicated appendix, inside-the-waistband or AIWB holster, which is now practically a machine designed to conceal a pistol effectively while still facilitating an extremely rapid draw.

In the beginning, nearly any vertical inside-the-waistband holster was being used for this. The Bladetech Nano was popular for the purpose and, indeed, a plain straight-drop or zero-cant IWB holster is still marketed by many companies as a basic AIWB holster.

It didn’t take long, however, for various modifications to become common, whether to enhance comfort, concealability, and/or the ease and speed of the draw.

TUCK IN THE BUTT

The elements that make up the modern holster basically control three variables, which are ride height and cant, the “tuck” or angle of the grip horizontally relative to the belt, and the angle of the holster in the vertical plane.

Dark Star Hitchhiker

: In stylish gray, the Grayguns edition of the PHLster Classic has a TuckStrut and is the perfect home for a Boresight P320.

The angle of the grip relative to the belt was a problem when regular vertical IWB holsters began being used for AIWB with full-sized pistols. Because the human torso is roughly oval in cross-section when viewed from above, a full-size pistol’s grip makes a noticeable square protrusion under the shirt around the waistline.

Originally, users taped a rolled-up bundle of something behind the belt loops and over the trigger guard to force the butt of the pistol in toward the wearer’s stomach under the tension of the belt, but holster makers quickly began addressing that with dedicated solutions. Now, there are an array of various wings and claws that attach to the holster to perform this function.

On its injection-molded Eidolon modular IWB/AIWB holster, Raven Concealment Systems offers the option of a small curved protrusion it calls “The Claw” to force the butt in by levering off the belt, and this same concept is used by their Wing Claw for their minimalist Vanguard 2 holster-ette. The Wing Claw is popular enough that other holster companies source them from RCS and use them on their own holsters. 

Another popular third-party wing/claw is the ModWing from the mind of Andrew Henry of Henry Holsters. The ModWing, available in shapes for regular and light-bearing holsters, is ambidextrous by virtue of having a separate, textured pad that serves as the claw portion, which is attached to the wing portion by means of a screw. 

Also ambidextrous is the Tuck Strut from PHLster, which builds a claw into the strut used to make a holster tuckable. Ingeniously, it’s ambidextrous by being symmetrical in the vertical axis. Simply flip it upside down when attaching it to a left-hand holster, and it works just as well for southpaws. The newest of these wing attachments is the Dark Wing, from Dark Star Gear, which is also available in right- and left-hand versions.

PHLster Skeleton

The Skeleton from PHLster is a minimalist rig that nevertheless benefits from a TuckStrut.

The Keeper holster, from Keepers Concealment, handles tucking the butt of the pistol by building the attachment point for the belt loop into a wedge shape, which puts the entire body of the holster at an angle to the belt, tucking the grip inward nicely.

Another feature of the Keeper is a Velcro strip at the bottom of the holster used to attach a foam pad or wedge. One of the first holsters to offer this, the wedge serves two functions. First, it adds a bit of padding for comfort on the muzzle end of the holster, and secondly, it angles the top of the holstered pistol in toward the wearer’s body, reducing printing.

Other holsters have their own methods of angling the holster inward. The Classic from PHLster and the Flint and Spark holsters from Henry Holsters use a wedge actually molded into the holster body. The Raven Concealment Eidolon, conversely, features detachable rubber pads to perform the same task.

HEIGHT AND ANGLES

One thing that all these modern AIWB designs share is a range of adjustment for ride height and rake, relative to the belt. Comfortable carry for AIWB isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Some carriers prefer a vertical holster while others find that the best concealment and comfort happens with a slight reverse, or muzzle-forward, rake to the holster relative to the belt. All the holsters mentioned so far will accommodate these adjustments and some will go even further in their adjustability than that.

Dark Star Gear’s Orion, for instance, can be configured as a standard IWB/AIWB rig, or set up as a tuckable if your circumstances don’t accommodate that untucked shirt life. The Flint and light-bearing Spark from Henry Holsters are similarly outfitted with mounting options. 

RCS’s Eidolon does the concept one better by being completely ambidextrous. The same holster body, depending on mounting options, is standard or tuckable, strong-side or appendix, and right- or left-handed.

LIGHT IT UP

With the increase in comfort and concealability allowed by these tailorable mounting solutions, and the rise in popularity of weapon-mounted lights on carry handguns, perhaps nowhere have the advances come as fast as in the area of concealable holsters for pistols with WMLs.

henry holsters

This earlier light-bearing rig from Henry Holsters will allow carry of even a Glock 34 in comfort.

If you’re pretty well settled on your choice of pistol and light, and it’s a common one — and “common” here may generally be taken to mean a 9mm/.40S&W double-stack Glock with a SureFire X300U or Streamlight TLR-1 — then there are numerous, relatively slim, IWB/AIWB concealment holsters to choose from, some of which have already been name-checked in this article. Examples would include the aforementioned Henry Holsters Spark, as well as the Rigel from Dark Star Gear, Spotlight from PHLster, and Armordillo Concealment Lux.

Should your taste in carry pieces run slightly more iconoclastic than the ubiquitous Austrian plastic, never fear. There are some ingenious solutions on the market for you as well … provided you’re using either the aforementioned X300U or TLR-1 for a WML.

Holsters like the Gotham from Bawidamann and the Floodlight from PHLster index using the light itself, rather than the pistol, and will therefore accommodate a wide variety of handgun models — again, as long as you’re running that X300U or TLR-1. Have we mentioned that most of the holsters thus far are available either with the traditional sweat guard that also protects the wearer’s tummy from the sharp corners of a rear sight, or else with the body of the holster cut to clear a modern slide-mounted miniature red-dot optic?

These aren’t your father’s holsters … unless your father was a pretty forward-thinking dude. Instead of being a simple leather pouch designed to retain a small handgun, the holster of the next generation is a machine that actively aids in concealing a cutting-edge fighting pistol. 


Holsters Featured

PHLster: phlsterholsters.com
Bawidamann: bawidamann.com
Henry Holsters: henryholsters.com
Keepers Concealment: keepersconcealment.com
Dark Star Gear: darkstargear.com
Raven Concealment: rcsgear.com


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One response to “Modern Holsters: Carrying into the Future”

  1. Concealed Carrier says:

    Not mentioned above, the Tenicor VELO4 is an amazing holster for appendix carrying a Glock 43X. The VELO4 has a built-in wing/claw and wedge, so nothing extra is needed. Their T1 belt clips are awesome, with their “underhook” that holds on to the belt securely from below.
    I have a thin build/body-type, and the VELO4 is very concealable under just a t-shirt.

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  • Not mentioned above, the Tenicor VELO4 is an amazing holster for appendix carrying a Glock 43X. The VELO4 has a built-in wing/claw and wedge, so nothing extra is needed. Their T1 belt clips are awesome, with their "underhook" that holds on to the belt securely from below.
    I have a thin build/body-type, and the VELO4 is very concealable under just a t-shirt.

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