As a scout helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, I spent fifteen months in Northern Iraq flying with an M4 and an M9 Beretta. We we're lucky enough to have specially manufactured M4 mounts on the dashboard of our OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Helicopters, but I always carried my 9MM on me. In this kind of situation - tight space, open doors, and in combat - you want to make sure your gun holster is a perfect fit for the job.
This is always my primary concern when it comes to a handgun holster. You can have all the features in the world, but if it breaks down then you are not left in a good position. Especially in harsh combat environments, you may not have the luxury of being well stocked. In this situation, it pays in the long run to buy the most durable holster you can find.
In particular, I had a problem with the holster cracking at bolt and screw locations. The stress of constantly drawing and holstering your weapon will tend to push those locations to the limit.
For me, this is the second most important feature. On average, our combat flights were 4-6 hours long. And trust me, you don't want to be flying for 4-6 hours, everyday for 15 months with an uncomfortable holster. Now comfort is a very personal thing, but understanding the different things you can have on a holster will help steer you in the right direction.
Slide Holsters, Hip Holsters, and Shoulder Holsters
There are three main kinds of holsters you should look at for a handgun. These are slide holsters, hip holsters, and shoulder holsters. Let me quickly go over what each of them is, and then I'll cover the pros and cons for each.
- Slide OWB Holster - This is a specific kind of holster that sits on your waist and can slide back and forth on your belt or inside your pants waistband if it is a paddle holster.
- OWB Paddle Holster - An OWB paddle holster is like a belt slide holster, in that it attaches to the belt or waistline outside of the waistband. However, unlike a belt slide holster, it isn't secured to the point it's attached to by totally enclosing the belt. Instead, a metal or hard plastic clip secures the holster to the belt or waistband. Some have a retention lip in the clip for added security.
- Thigh Holster - A hip holster clips on to your belt, kind of like a slide holster, but it also hangs down the side of your leg. From there, there are straps used to hold it snug against your leg.
- Shoulder Holster - A shoulder has a specific kind of harness that goes over your shoulders and then has the pistol sit roughly under your armpit. You know this kind because pretty much every detective in every cop movie likes to use this one. It just looks good when you have a cheap suit and a big bushy mustache.
I was issued a shoulder holster from the army that was made of durable nylon material. The holster itself was pretty decent, but the main issue I faced was the constant jabbing of the 9MM into my ribs. You can either wear it loose, which makes it easy to get on and off, but also allows it to bounce, or you can wear it tight, but have the constant pressure on your ribs. Either way, it is not the ideal holster for comfort.
On top of that, the shoulder holster did not work well with my gear. If you are wearing any kind of protective armor and chest rig, you'll find the shoulder holster less than ideal for accessing ammo on your chest.
I was also issued a hip holster. Personally, I found this to be the least comfortable of all the holsters. The main problem was heat. The holster sat on the side of my quads, but it was strapped down and around my leg, causing my pants to be tight and reducing their breathability.
It also didn't work very well in the OH-58D helicopter, which had very little room inside the cockpit. I was constantly catching it when reaching for something on the side of my leg.
For some people this kind of holster is good, like an infantryman, but for a helicopter pilot, it's not the best.
Unfortunately, I was never issued a slide holster, but after talking to some other pilots about what they wore, I decided to order one anyway. That was a great move. Of all the holsters, the slide holster was the most comfortable. I had a paddle holster that also secured to my belt. This holster was great because it was form fitting, had a very low profile, and due to it's location on my waist, it was completely out of the way in the helicopter.
Ease of Drawing Your Weapon
One very important aspect of choosing a holster is how easy it is to draw your weapon. There is a balance between ease of draw, and security though. Let's just say, you should be able to shake it around, and the weapon stays put. But give it a solid pull, and the weapon should slide out in one smooth movement. If it gets stuck, or takes too much pressure this could cause problems in the heat of battle.
One great feature is to have adjustable retention on the holster. This means you can basically customize it to your preferred feel. That way, if you are a 90 pound weakling, you don't have to fear your holster anymore. Avoid physically modifying your holster and stick to ones that come with these kinds of adjustment features built in.
Does It Look Cool?
I always had two rules in the Army.
Rule No. 1 - Always chose practical.
Rule No. 2 - Always know where you are on the map. But if you don't know where you are, at least you are prepared.
Think about it, when was the last time you looked at a picture of an Army Ranger or Navy Seal and thought, "That guy looks goofy."
That's because special operators understand rule number one. So after everything else, make sure the holster is practical.
One specific holster that meets all these criteria is the Alien Gear Cloak Slide OWB (Outside the Waistband) Holster.
In summary, when buying a holster, durability is key. You don't want it falling apart on you. Go with a slide holster, and probably one that secures with a belt, and not just a paddle, as you don't want your gun falling off. Make sure you are comfortable with drawing your weapon out of the holster and stick to holsters that have adjustable retention.
About The Author
Jon Brantingham is a former U.S. Army Captain, and Scout Helicopter Pilot. He served 15 months in Iraq from 2007-2008, and has expert marksmanship qualifications in both the M9 Beretta Pistol and M16 Rifle.