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An In-Depth Look at Selecting a Conceal Carry Holster

There are many advantages to living in Europe.  Access to firing ranges, state of the art training, and keeping abreast of the latest in concealed carry techniques and technology, however, are not on the list. When I moved to Europe, the way people generally carried concealed was in the process of changing. It was not much of a surprise that when I moved back to the states and began to re-establish my own ability to carry a concealed pistol, I found that the concepts and technologies that had been in the process of changing had already done so. Combine that with the fact that my own concealed carry rigs were so strewn across the United States that I couldn’t even begin to get them into one place. I was, in effect, starting over.

There is nothing wrong, per se, with starting over. It has given me an opportunity to re-evaluate some of my practices and habits. It has also forced me to spend money that I thought was already spent in researching carry rigs and positions and evaluating their effectiveness.

The first decision that I needed to come to was to either carry in leather or kydex. Leather is classic and comfortable; a quality piece of leather can last for decades. However, ordering it and getting it properly broken in can be a chore. Kydex, on the other hand, has for the last decade at least, has been the “go to” holster material for the firearms community. It is water proof, durable, easy to maintain, and is relatively inexpensive to manufacture. A kydex piece, barring the inevitable backlog, can be ordered, made, and waiting at your doorstep in just a matter of days. With either material, the real proof is in the pudding. Online or magazine advertisements and the opinions of others matter little when the item advertised or recommended does not work the way it is supposed to or how the user wants it to.

For the immediate future, I settled on kydex for all of the advantages that it offers, and will, perhaps, re-open the kydex/leather debate depending on how I end up deciding to carry.

Before we go any further, I suppose I should share my opinion on what concealed carry really is. Unless you are a member of law enforcement or a high-end military special operations unit, a concealed carry pistol is not an offensive piece of weaponry. It is the pistol you put on when you think that there is no way you will need one. That being said, it does not suffice for every contingency or every budget. Not everyone has the bank account to go buy a small, easy to conceal, sub compact pistol and sometimes there is that… thing… that voice in your head that says “something is wrong” and indicates to you (or should indicate to you) that the use of a firearm is more likely that day than others and, perhaps, a more serious piece of steel is required. Also, climate and the carrier’s adaptation to that climate, personal clothing style, and many other factors affect how any one person will choose to carry a concealed pistol. For me, personally, my “go to” concealed carry piece is a Smith and Wesson M&P Shield in 9mm. My old stand by, the Glock 19, is used when it is cooler and I am dressed more like “me”, or when that… thing… tells me that I need a more serious piece of hardware.

With that in mind, my search is for rigs for both my Shield and my Glock. I require a stable holster that is as comfortable as possible, allows me to get a good combat grip on the gun before it comes out of the holster, and allows me to re-holster with one hand. All the while, keeping the pistol as concealed as possible. As with everything, there is a trade-off with holsters. The more “combat friendly” a holster is, the less it will conceal nicely. The opposite is true for holsters that are more “deep concealment”. I am looking for a holster that is, to me, the perfect balance of the two. If I could, I would roll with my dropped and offset belt holster from Blade-Tech and call it a day. Society, however, frowns on such behavior and, even in open carry states, such behavior tends to cause more problems than it solves.

Before I left for Europe, I carried in a strong side, inside the waistband rig, just aft of my right hipbone in about the 4 o’clock position. This worked pretty well for me, all things considered, and was generally how people carried concealed. These days, appendix carry (AIWB) seems to be the new hotness. There are a lot of pluses to this type of concealed carry. Having a pistol in the centerline position makes the draw considerably faster, and the pre-draw stroke (the movement of the hands in the process of drawing the weapon but before the pistol clears “leather”) appears to be less threatening. It is easier to retain a pistol holstered in the appendix position and concealing it there takes advantage of the human body’s natural topography to make concealing the weapon even easier.

AIWB, however, is by no means perfect. For people who carry weapons openly as part of their job, (police, military, armed security) carrying in the AIWB position may compromise muscle memory and cause a potentially fatal misstep when drawing in a life-threatening situation. Also, not everyone has the same physical topography and some people may be uncomfortable with a loaded pistol pointed in the direction of their junk. With all of this in mind, I decided to start my search with the new, and to rely on my understanding of the old. I purchased or borrowed (the money truck isn’t exactly backed up to my bank account these days) several examples of holsters for both my Shield and my Glock and gave each one of them a try.

Every holster that I tried is exceptionally well made and comes from an outstanding company with a solid reputation. Despite the misgivings that I may have had about any or all of the rigs, I would whole-heartedly recommend them to anyone. I would point out the positives and the negatives and allow the individual to make the decision about what is best for them. As I mentioned above, what works for me may not work for you. What bothers me may not bother you, and vice versa. As with all things, your mileage may vary.

Conceal Carry HolsterThe first candidate for my Glock was the VanGuard 2 from Raven Concealment Systems. The VanGuard 2 ($34.99) is a minimalist holster that only covers the trigger guard and, with the VanGuard 2 system, attaches to the belt with a tuckable strut and soft loop. At first it seemed that it would not allow me to get a combat grip on the pistol prior to the draw, but this was solved by a quick read of the enclosed instructions and simple application of a Phillips head screwdriver. For this holster, however, my perusing of the instructions revealed another problem. The lines, printed in bold ink, “do not re-holster while the VanGuard 2 is attached to your belt”. What the … ? What is the point of having a holster that you have to take off in order to safely re-holster your weapon? This does not compute. Being so minimalist, however, it is a very comfortable holster and does not leave a large “pistol footprint”. Having my Glock in the highest ride position possible (there are three) makes the pistol show or “print” a bit against a t-shirt and makes the weapon a bit unstable. Running it in the lowest position makes it more stable and causes less printing, but makes it more difficult to get a combat grip on the gun before draw. I decided to split the difference and run the holster in the middle slot. It worked well enough. I was able to acquire a combat grip on the gun before it came out of the holster; it was well concealed and fairly stable. The VanGuard is the go to holster for lots of people out there. Like everything that Raven Concealment Systems offers, it is well made and was able to ship to me quickly. However, I found that the inability to re-holster was a deal breaker and so I continued in search of the perfect rig.

Conceal Carry HolsterMy next effort was with the Appendix Carry Rig (ACR), also from Raven. This, I bought for my Shield. It is a small holster that is intended to sit at the appendix position. It is attached to the belt using two soft loops; one is attached directly to the holster and the other to a strut that attaches to another strut that attaches to the holster. While this may sound over complex, there is a method to the madness. The purpose of this is to make the holster stable without adding any more hardware than necessary to the vital area on the belt. It is also to allow the holster to shift with the wearer making it more comfortable. I found that the pistol sat at exactly the right draw height and it was a very stable holster. However, I also found that the complicated attachment system would, over the course of a day, allow the holster to tilt too much and to work its way out of the belt line eventually. Additionally, with the way my body is constructed, the second attachment strut sat right on my hipbone which was less than comfortable, especially when seated.

Following these two options, I switched companies and attempted the inside the waistband offering from a company called Black Center Tactical. BCT is a one-man show run out of, of all places, California. The quality of his work is excellent and I was very excited about trying it out. I found that the holster was exceptionally well made, but it sat a bit too low in the waistband for me, as I dislike having to dig for my pistol. I also found that it dug into me quite badly. I attempted to remedy both of these with my Dremel tool and a drill, cutting the strut, drilling another hole, and reattaching it with the pistol sitting higher. This did indeed help with both the position of the gun in comparison to my waistband, and make it much more comfortable to wear. However, it caused a new problem. As it turns out, if a pistol carried in the appendix position sticks up too high out of the waistband, it begins to lean away from the body. This has the unfortunate effect of making the pistol print, or show against the covering garment, rather badly. It does make the draw faster but if you have already been tagged as being armed, you may never get a chance to make that draw. I loaned this holster to a friend of mine who is experienced in such matters and who, as a matter of course, carries his pistols in the appendix position. He found the Black Center Tactical holster to be so comfortable and well made that he ordered two more and proves my earlier point about different people having different opinions on the same piece of gear.

Conceal Carry HolsterNext I tried the Shepherd from VEIL Solutions. The Shepherd ($85) is a rig that combines an appendix holster and spare magazine pouch into one solid piece. It was delivered and I was, again, very impressed with the workmanship and quality. It was also extremely comfortable. The draw was easy and fast and re-holstering was extremely easy. While the later may not be the most critical element to a good holster, is still pretty important. The problem was that with such a large piece of kydex, it is very difficult to conceal the pistol as the whole rig would move as I moved. It created an unnatural motion under my shirt. This is a problem as the human eye is drawn primarily to motion. Still, it is a great rig to grab and go since it’s a holster and ammunition pouch all-in-one. Just throw a pistol and magazine in it, slip it into your pants, and you’re ready to go.

Conceal Carry HolsterNext I grabbed a Ghost holster, which is also from VEIL Solutions. The Ghost ($34) is a minimalist rig very similar to the VanGuard. The major difference being that there is a bit more material and it more closely resembles a holster that has had parts cut way rather than a kydex trigger guard cover. I snapped it around my Glock, mounted it on my belt, and fell in love! The Ghost was perfect. It holds the pistol at the perfect height above the waistband, it is small enough that it minimizes the unnatural motion under the shirt, and it drastically lessens the likelihood of the pistol printing. In fact, even when worn under just a T-shirt, my Glock 19 disappeared. The additional material made re-holstering possible, although Chris at Veil Solutions cautions purchasers about this very thing. Again, not wanting my starry-eyed love of this holster to run away with itself; I leant it to a friend who has been having a hard time finding a holster.

My friend is a petite woman who has a hard time concealing pistols both because of her stature and because, as a woman, she is built differently than the people for whom most holsters are designed. After giving her a few weeks to use and form an opinion on the holster, she commented to me “I could wear it all day and it never hurt. With my shorter torso, that is hard to find. I can get a combat grip on the pistol, which is important, without the pistol leaning away from me.” I asked her about how it concealed and she was equally ebullient. She said, “My body works in that area and my physio-topography helps me hide a gun with that holster. The fact that it is both stable, and comfortable, makes it a winner in my book.” That is ringing praise indeed. Higher praise than that, however, is that I never got the holster back from her.

Conceal Carry HolsterAnd so, my decision, at least my temporary decision, has been reached. For now I will carry appendix in a Ghost holster from VEIL Solutions. Again, I found every holster tested to be of superb quality and would more than recommend any of them to anyone seeking my opinion on the matter.  I did not choose the Ghost because it is the best holster, but rather I chose it because it was the best holster for me.

Written by

HP Lefler is a traveler, adventurer, writer, and teacher. A native of Minnesota, he grew up sailing and waterskiing and now splits his love between the sandy beaches and high mountains. He lives in Virginia.

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