Shoulder Holsters and Hip Holsters

posted on April 11, 2016
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The new defensive shooter has a vast array of guns, ammo and holsters from which to choose. In fact, that vast assortment of gear may create some confusion when he or she sets out to find what works best. Let’s look at the three most-popular methods for carrying the defensive handgun, and point out some of the good qualities and not-so-good qualities of each.

The most-common defensive holster is the hip holster and it goes back to those days when  handguns were first carried on one’s person. It is still popular today because it does its job so well, combining security with speed. Depending upon the cant of the holster, it may be carried behind the strong-side hip, in front of the strong-side hip or on the support side in crossdraw fashion. It is also available with safety straps, thumb snaps, and other retention devices that allow the pistol to be carried securely. Some sort of retention device is an especially good idea if the rig is to be worn during strenuous outdoor activities such as hunting, hiking and camping.

For concealment purposes, I particularly like the style of hip holster that has a second belt loop on the back edge of the holster because this particular feature pulls the butt of the gun into the body, reducing the outline of the gun on the covering garment. The biggest problem with using a hip holster is that the covering garment must be long enough so it covers and conceals the entire rig. In most cases, a sweatshirt or sweater just won’t get the job done. This usually requires the wearer to use a suit jacket or sports coat to ensure the sidearm is properly hidden from view. If the handgun is worn in the appendix carry or crossdraw, that jacket must also be fastened in front so the garment doesn’t blow open and inadvertently reveal the firearm. Wearing a jacket or sports coat in some climates—depending upon the time of year—may unfortunately be a dead giveaway to some that the person is armed.

This is one reason that the inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters have become so popular. They can be carried in any of the three positions mentioned above and covered with just about any kind of shirt, sweater or sweatshirt. Furthermore, the IWB works quite nicely with today’s popular relaxed styles of dress. The IWB holster fits inside the waistband and is fastened to the pants belt, so little more than the grip sticks up above the waistband. Since the belt helps hold the pistol snugly in place, retention devices are generally not needed. However, most holster companies offer models with such devices for customers who desire it.

Having decided to use an IWB holster, it is a good idea for the defensive shooter to begin buying his or her pants one size larger than normal in the waist. This allows for more comfort when carrying the handgun for extended periods. In fact, when wearing a full-size service pistol or large revolver, it might even be a good idea to get pants that are two sizes larger in the waist. The IWB holster offers some of the best concealment in the defensive world. It allows the user an easier way to more easily carry a full-size service pistol and still keep it extremely well hidden.

On the downside, the IWB holster may not be the best choice for full-figured concealed-carry adherents. Without trying to be unkind, a person with rolls of fat around the midsection may discover that the IWB allows the butt of their pistol to gouge them in the side. Persons interested in using an IWB holster should make sure their particular holster fastens securely to the belt. More-economical IWB variants feature metal clips that are supposed to secure to the belt but they often don’t fail to do so reliably, which results in the holster coming out with the gun when the shooter attempts a fast draw.

In recent years, holster makers have improved the design of the metal clips that some still use. However, the best bet is to select an IWB holster that uses a leather strap to secure it to the belt. Properly designed, the IWB holster will stay in place when the handgun is drawn.

The shoulder holsters is another design that has been around since our frontier days. Some of today’s shoulder rigs hold the handgun in the horizontal position, while others hold it vertically. Neither is better than the other and the choice just depends upon the user’s preference.

Many models also have the advantage of holding spare ammunition on the side of the body opposite the pistol. Shoulder rigs are especially good for those who spend a lot of their time seated, either at a desk or in a vehicle. As a result, one can present their sidearm without having to lean forward or stand up in order to obtain a shooting grip on their pistol. When using a shoulder holster, one should make sure his or her cover garment is fastened in front for reasons stated earlier. A heavy shirt, with only a couple of lower buttons fastened or a partially zipped windbreaker will suffice. When presenting one’s pistol from a shoulder holster, the shooter goes in through the open, upper portion of the garment for access.

Some shoulder rigs have straps that fasten to the pants belt, some do not.  Regardless, neither system holds the handgun as rigidly in place as does the hip holster or IWB rig. For this reason, the shoulder holster is not quite as fast as these other two.

In addition, one has to reach across his body to take a shooting grip on the pistol. Obviously, some folks with barrel-shaped chests and short arms may find this difficult to do quickly and efficiently. Similarly, some might find the shoulder straps pulling down on the shoulder muscles to be quite uncomfortable after hours of wear.

It is quite likely that the new shooter will find that one of these three popular carry methods will work for them. It requires some experimentation and study to determine exactly which one fits a person’s particular situation and needs. However, these three defensive carry methods are where to start in determining what works best. In another issue, we’ll cover other types of defensive holsters and carry methods that, while not as commonly used as these, may have some value to the individual defensive shooter.


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