Whether working on a plainclothes detail or carrying off duty, selecting the proper holster for concealment and retention is vital. There are many options out there — leather, Kydex, hybrid — but what are the key considerations you should keep in mind?
“Anytime you're carrying a gun, you're carrying it for the defense of yourself or, in a law enforcement context, to protect the community. Anytime you're doing that, you need to have a high-quality high-performance holster whether that's in the duty context, or off duty, or in plainclothes, it applies the same,” says Mike Barham, media and public relations manager for Galco Holsters.
He points out there can be different concealment needs between off-duty officers and civilians, but even for cops, concealment has its advantages.
“The whole gray man philosophy can certainly apply to an off-duty officer, just as much as to a civilian,” he adds.
Barham points to how a quality holster can come into play related to officer safety in the event he or she ever has to draw a weapon while off-duty. An easy and efficient draw is important, but so too is the ability to easily reholster. It is vital to be able to reholster, even one-handed, and not have a weapon in hand when uniformed officers arrive on the scene.
The materials holsters are made from vary, and often individuals will favor one type over another. As Barham points out, it comes down to personal preference.
Kydex, he says, is practically maintenance-free. However, many people find a leather holster more comfortable because it will conform to the shape of one’s body over time. Further, he points out that there are now Kydex-leather hybrid holsters that offer the best of both worlds, the low maintenance of Kydex, and the shape-contouring ability of leather.
“If you look at the inside-the-waistband (IWB) designs that have a Kydex holster pocket and then either a leather or nylon backing plate that's against your body, those tend to conform better to the curvature of your individual body far more than something like Kydex will do,” Barham points out. So Kydex is just sort of the way it is and the way it's always going to be, whereas a lot of people find leather or a hybrid holster more comfortable.”
Of course, Galco for a long time has been known for producing leather holsters, but Barham points out that now the company has a “very strong presence” in both the Kydex and the hybrid holster markets.
So, what officers choose which type off-duty holsters?
“That's a little bit hard to pin down and I think there are some generational considerations there. People who have come into shooting in say the last 10 years, a lot of them have really only known Kydex,” he says while pointing out others are loyal to leather holsters. “Things have just changed and evolved so I think a lot of people just sort of stick with what they're comfortable and familiar with, which probably accounts for a lot of our leather sales.”
Officers know to check with their agencies before buying an off-duty carry firearm to make sure it is approved, but they may also need to check with the department to see if there are any expectations such as having some form of retention, whether a simple strap or otherwise, in an off-duty holster or even a plain-clothes carry holster for duty.
Given his tenure at Galco, Barham knows the ins and outs of all the holster options and provides some suggestions of what you should consider when you are shopping for an off-duty concealed or plain-clothes duty carry holster.
Barham suggests you always consider:
1. Not All Holsters Are Created Equal
There are many quality holsters out there, and there are lots of holsters that can quite literally get you killed Barham says. A holster designed and made in a one-man shop by a guy with two years of shooting experience who has had a CCW for only six months may not be the way to go. A company that outsources holster production to Mexico or Asia may not have the best control over its manufacturing processes and quality control. Look for a company with a long track record and, ideally, American manufacturing and quality control.
2. Cover the Trigger but Not Necessarily the Trigger Guard
The essential goal is that the trigger itself be protected enough that a finger or object can’t be placed on it. Covering more of the trigger guard can quite often be counterproductive. If, for example, the leather or Kydex of the holster is brought back to the “joint” where the trigger guard meets the front strap, a firing grip in the holster becomes impossible. This leads to a requirement to shift the dominant hand’s grip during the draw, which is not only slow but also potentially dangerous.
3. Full Firing Grip
As alluded to above, a firing grip in the holster is critical. Your grip on the gun in the holster should be the same grip you have when the gun is at full extension and ready to fire. Anything less will impede your draw because you’ll need to shift and adjust your grip as you bring the gun on target. This shifting is not only slow but also dangerous because it could cause you to fumble or even drop the handgun. An exception to this rule is made for some body and clothing types, especially for IWB appendix carry, where we might trade a full-firing grip for deeper concealment. Here we’d use a "pinch draw," which is the compression of the thumb and forefinger at the web of the hand. This more advanced technique uses the top of the hand to pull up from the holster, enabling the user to wrap the middle, ring, and pinky fingers around the grip as space is created.
4. Retention Requirements Vary
Open-top, “level one” holsters are often perfectly serviceable for civilian gun carriers. Law enforcement officers, however, are often called upon to go hands-on with suspects, whether in undercover/plainclothes or off-duty contexts. In this scenario, some type of manual retention device may be preferable. In many cases, law enforcement agencies require some kind of retention device, even on plain clothes/off-duty holsters.
5. Proper Wardrobe
You probably don’t wear the same shoes at the gym, in church, to work, and for hiking. It’s the same for holsters. Different seasons, different occasions, and different attire may all call for a change in holsters if you want to remain adequately armed. You might need a belt holster, an IWB, and maybe even an ankle holster for the same gun (or a variant of the same gun). Owning a holster wardrobe allows you to obey the first rule of gunfighting: have a gun.