After one of our last holster reviews, a Gun Tests reader commented favorably on the article but remarked that many of the holsters were not available in left-hand models. As a southpaw, he mentioned several setbacks he had experienced in holster selection.
Here, then, we attempt to correct the problem by searching out left-hand, ambidextrous, and multi-purpose holsters and testing them thoroughly. We also look at the tactical implications of a right-handed person using a left-hand holster. It has been recognized that the self-defense shooter should be able to use the firearm at least reasonably well with the “off” side, so this is a viable tactical consideration.
The holster separates the gun from the body and also interfaces the gun to the body. Too many people spend a great deal of time choosing the handgun and ammunition, and very little effort is expended choosing the holster. A holster that doesn’t fit the handgun well can be dangerous. A poorly fitting holster that flops on the belt is a chafing nuisance. The holster must balance speed and retention and concealment and access. More than one shooter has had his handgun slip out of the holster and hit the ground. This is a serious safety and legal concern. The holster should allow a rapid presentation from concealed carry without impediment.
A quality holster is about as expensive as a good pair of shoes, and we all know what poor footwear does — it doesn’t last and makes your feet ache. For left-hand shooters, a one in five minority among shooters, the choice is a bit more difficult. Most, but not all, makers offer a left-hand option. Sometimes there is greater time involved in order to obtain the left-hand holster.
As with any other holster, a left-hand model will present the firearm for a proper draw from concealed carry. The holster will feature a proper belt loop and attachment on the opposite face of the holster than for a right-hand holster. There are subtle differences in tilt and angle for the righty using a left-hand holster as a crossdraw unit, so it must be set up properly for that use.
For this test, our primary rater was a natural southpaw who learned to shoot right handed for practical reasons. He felt that it was an advantage for him to be born left-handed, and now he is more ambidextrous than most. He looked closely at the choices as a right-handed shooter who may wear a left-hand holster with a vertical or reverse cant and wear the holster near the back pocket and reach and complete the cavalry draw. Of course, the holster is also accessible to the left hand with this draw. Some carry modes depend on the situation you find yourself in at work in an at-risk environment and may work well for some.
Here’s what we found when we compared several of these holsters:
Hunter Co. Inc. Snap Off Series 1100 Holster, $46
We found several versions of this holster on Brownells.com. We chose a model that accepts a snubnose 38 Special revolver. The Snap Off is a modernized Mexican loop in many ways. The design allows the holster to be slipped over the belt and hooked on without threading the belt through the loop. This is more of a field holster than for concealed carry, but we have seen worse holsters used for personal defense. You can get by with some designs better for lightweight handguns that with heavy handguns.
The holster doesn’t flop or shift as much as we thought, and the belt snap holds the revolver secure by looping over the hammer. This isn’t ideal for concealed carry — just the same, there are fabric holsters that are far less secure. We felt this holster is pricey for what you get.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
Quest Ambidextrous Holster, $17
Purchased at an Academy Sports & Outdoors store, the Quest holster (OPIAmerica.com) is an interesting design. This is a fairly thick nylon holster rather than a floppy thin-fabric holster. The holster mouth and lip are well stitched. The holster features a magazine carrier. While some prefer a separate magazine carrier, when the Quest-design carrier isn’t in use, the magazine compartment lays flat against the holster, so it’s no impediment to concealed carry. The one-size-fits-all holster doesn’t fit all handguns well, but it accommodated a Glock 45 9mm and SIG P229 9mm well. A Glock 48 wallowed in the holster. There are several gun-specific models listed on the company’s website that may serve better.
A security strap is centrally located and may be wrapped over the hammer or grip strap of the handgun to maintain security. As one of the raters pointed out, the holster may be worn on the belt, but it is more secure if worn between the belt and the pants. The spine is pretty stiff.
There are better holsters out there, but for the money, the Quest could help a new gun buyer by offering something to use until he can order a better holster. We rated it down on fit and speed.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
Barber Leather Works Chameleon, $30
This holster is a neat trick, according to the rater’s consensus. Made by BarberLeatherworks.com, it is ambidextrous and is offered in two sizes. It is intended to “tide the shooter” over until he or she receives a true custom holster. With a handgun that fits well and slips deep into the holster, the draw angle is compromised to an extent. But it does succeed as a stopgap. It is more secure than many fabric holsters. The leatherwork is good, as is the stitching. On the rear face of the holster are two belt slots. The result is a long tunnel loop. This makes for good security and a tight fit on a proper gun belt. The Chameleon is equally at home on either hip. When the holster is worn as an outside-the-waistband unit, the belt clip is exposed. If worn as an inside-the-waistband holster, we felt that it is more secure. A short-slide handgun such as the Glock 43 works best with this holster. The belt clip is strong and takes a good bite on the belt. We rated it an A not because it is the greatest concealed-carry holster but because it fills a real need and does what it is designed to do.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Jason Winnie Little Problem Solver, $30
Available on JasonWinnie.com, as the name implies this holster is intended to solve problems in concealed carry while you are waiting for your custom holster to be delivered, or perhaps if you own a handgun that is difficult to fit or there are no molds available. This holster takes some study to appreciate. The outside of the holster is smooth and well finished. The holster body has a leather attachment sewn on. This leather attachment isn’t going anywhere; it is very sturdy. The belt loops and belt clip are on the same piece of leather. The side of the holster facing the body is slightly thicker leather. The holster is at home on either side of the body, either as a belt slide or as an inside-the-waistband holster, the latter being where it works better. The Problem Solver earns its name.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Swap Rig Holsters Cargo Pack2, $40
Available on SwapRigHolsters.com, this holster is intended to hold a pocket pistol or backup handgun in cargo shorts or pants pockets. It works well. It is an ambidextrous design and is also adjustable. Dialing the adjustment screw allows the tightness of the holster to maintain its hold on small handguns to the level you desire.
We tested a snubnose 38, a Colt 1903 32, and a Ruger LCP 380. The holster works well and offers a fast draw and good stability. This is a special-purpose holster that’s better than a standard pocket holster for crews pants or those who deploy crews-type trousers. It is the best pocket holster for either right- or left-hand use and for weak-side use by a shooter who uses either hand. It offers a lot of utility for the dollar.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Blackhawk! Ambi Flat Belt Holster 40FB02BK, $18
We found this on the website Quartermaster.com. This is a neat little belt slide that cinches up tight on the belt. The supple fabric will tighten against the body as tightly as the belt will allow. There is a retention strap that is attached to a Velcro tab on either side of the belt slide. It is an ambidextrous holster. The belt slide works well for handguns that fit properly. We tried several Glock and SIG pistols, and while much of the slide protrudes, this one seems plenty tight against the body, with less chance of a slip up. As a belt slide, this is a neat and useful holster equally suited for left- or right-side carry. Some raters would not consider it without the safety strap in place; others would. It depends on the gun and retention.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Hip Holster 81152, $14
We found this holster online at EagleEye.com for $14 to $24 and at the local Walmart and Academy Sports for an average of $14 to $16. Uncle Mike’s and the Sidekick have been around a long time. This is an improved version compared to the Uncle Mike’s holsters tested in the past. This is a true left-handed holster — it isn’t ambidextrous. This is a size 5, which covers a variety of handguns. Glock, Beretta, SIG, and Ruger are listed. We found it a good, tight fit for the Glock 45 9mm and also the SIG 1911 45. The SIG has the distinctive P-series profile and isn’t the easiest to find a holster for. The Sidekick is a range and field holster in our judgment, but it could serve under a covering garment. The belt loops cinch up tightly to a proper gun belt. The main impediment for concealed carry is that fit isn’t tight enough for carry without a retention device. The strap works fine, but you have to get your fingers up and under the tap to unsnap it. There is not overhang for easy access. Just the same, for less than $15, this is a holster with good stitching and reinforced spine that holds its shape.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
Jeffrey Custom Leather Ranger R Leather Lining/Alligator Trim, $235
This was priced at $155 for the Ranger R holster with leather lining, available on JeffreyCustomLeather.com. Add $80 for the alligator trim. Most custom makers advertise a wait of three to six weeks, but Jeffrey Custom Leather is usually ahead of the game for this delivery. Such a wait is realistic considering the work and effort that goes into such a holster. We ordered our Ranger R for the Colt Detective Special. Because one of the raters has been wanting such a holster for some time, he popped for the alligator trim. While alligator is very rugged and will protect the gun and the shooter for many years, is it a vanity more than a needed upgrade? Only the user may make that decision. Fit is excellent. It took some effort to shove the revolver into the holster. After wearing the handgun holstered a few days, the break-in resulted in excellent speed. The hand goes to the holster and a quick tug brings the revolver into action. Retention is excellent, and so is the balance between speed and retention. The Ranger R design features a wing over the holster body that cinches the handgun close into the body, giving the best possible concealment for an OWB holster. The holster was also worn on the back near the right kidney to test its use for special chores with a right-hand draw. It worked well. The Ranger R is arguably one of the finest holsters we have tested, making it an excellent all-round choice for concealed carry. Left-handed shooters need not despair for a custom holster.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A+ (Our Pick)
Blackhawk! Sportster Holster ~$18
Bought on DEGuns.net, we found a range of prices for the Blackhawk! holster. Any price around $20 is more than fair. At first glance, the Blackhawk! and Uncle Mike’s holsters appear similar, but in hands-on testing, the Blackhawk! is much more versatile. We ordered the Blackhawk! size 02 for medium and large double-action revolvers with around an inch-thick barrel to give the test more depth. The K-frame Combat Masterpiece 4-inch is a good fit in this holster, and so is the L-frame 586. Possible long use with the 586 would stretch the holster too much for use with the smaller K-frame, so be advised about that possibility. The Sportster is ambidextrous with a sewn-on belt loop on each side of the holster. A strong spine at the front of the holster keeps the holster solid. It does not collapse when the handgun is drawn. The holster is supplied with a thumb-break plastic retention strap that works okay. There is a small plastic ruler supplied that allows the user to break contact between the retention straps and the Velcro holding them. You may not need the straps if using the holster as an inside-the-waistband holster. There is a steel clip supplied — it was set up for left-hand use as delivered — that allows using the holster as an inside-the-waistband type. The plastic ruler may be used to change the belt clip from side to side. It is a bit of a chore, but then it is very secure when in place.
We tested the holster primarily as an IWB. It worked well. We also used the holster for right-hand draw in the cavalry style. This is placing the holster in the belt as a left-hand holster. The hand reaches to draw the gun and then twists it forward. The larger butt of a revolver lies against the body in this draw. We gained some concealment and lost some speed in the draw. Using the Sportster on either side, we find it to be a useful and viable product. This holster is inexpensive, but we cannot call it cheap. For those owning several firearms, this is a resource that is good to have. The semi-auto versions have a magazine pouch on the spines.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)
1791 Gun Leather 3 Way Multi-fit OWB Concealment Holster, $48
Available on the company website at 1791GunLeather.com, the 3 Way holster may be worn strong side, crossdraw, or small of the back. Small of the back is the least-favored draw of most of the raters. It was designed to get the gun and holster on the belt and concealed under a short covering garment, for those who have a difficult time acclimating to an inside-the-waistband holster. It works and works well for that, but the draw is bent wrist, not ideal. The holster must be tightly fitted to make small-of-back-carry (SOB) viable. We ordered the holster in Stealth Black. The fit and finish were good and the stitching credible. On each face of the holster, a leather component is sewn on, each with three belt loops. One set offers strong-side or crossdraw carry and the others SOB carry.
The raters really like the crossdraw option. The holster is tight against the belt, but height wise, there is just enough movement to adjust the draw angle of the holster for strong-side or crossdraw modes, and it stays in place. We like the versatility of this holster. It works equally well for right- or left-hand use in strong-side carry and also works well in crossdraw. As for SOB carry, we like it as well as any other small-of-the-back unit, which isn’t much, but it works.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
1791 Gun Leather Open Top Revolver Holster, $53
Also available on the website 1791GunLeather.com, this is a well-executed, excellent design. We were surprised that this one was in stock and was delivered so quickly. The work is custom grade. The stitching is good, and the end of the line of the stitching is blocked to prevent unraveling. The rear face of the holster features excellent double stitching. This maintains the blocking and fit of the handgun in the holster. Yet, this is off the rack for the maker. The leather is high quality and edging is well done. Fit is good and requires a modest break in before you realize your best speed. Note the belt loops are tight and feature a slight indent on the side closest to the handgun to allow the belt to glide in and cinch up tight. This is an impressive holster on every count, especially for the price.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
1791 Gunleather SCH Multi Fit IWB, $44
Available on the website, the Smooth Concealment Holster (SCH) is made of breathable supple steer hide, the maker claims. This one is finished in Night Sky Black. The holster is designed to fit Glock 17 and Glock 19 types as well as a range of SIG and Springfield models and, surprisingly, the CZ 75 as well. We found the holster to be well stitched and blocked, although some expense was saved by not double stitching the holster. A leather rectangle is sewn into the face of the body to attach the spring-steel belt clip. We liked this holster. It wears well, it is comfortable, and it features a sweat guard. The holster mouth closes when the gun is drawn. This isn’t ideal. The Glock 19 was a tight fit for this holster. The Glock 48, is a perfect fit, so sizing is on the tight side.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
Blackhawk! ARC IWB/AWB, $23
Available on the website Blackhawk.com, this plastic holster is affordable and well designed. Injection-molded polymer construction is used. The ARC is thinner than Kydex but worked fine during testing. The ARC is adjustable for cant and ride height. Depending on the clothing, you may wish the holster to ride deeper for concealment, while the higher ride offers a sharp draw. The holster is fully ambidextrous. This holster isn’t rigid like Kydex, and it does flex, but not collapse, after the handgun is drawn. And it costs around $23.
As a left-hand holster, the Appendix Reversible Carry works well. All appendix holsters have a certain amount of roll out due to the design, but the ARC is less offensive than most. This is a good piece of gear that is well work the money. We rated it down a half grade on the thin construction.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
Written and photographed by Gun Tests Staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests