In this review, we are looking at the holsters that readers asked us to test. Some are the exact holster suggested for review, others are a general type of holster we were asked to review and evaluate. It takes some time to collect and test these holsters, but we listen to readers. What we have is a mix of Kydex, leather, and composite inside-the-waistband holsters, or IWB, types, which many concealed-carry licensees prefer. We took a look at comfort, the balance of speed and retention, and value. While some are pricey, we also took a hard look at the least-expensive holsters of the same type. They ran the scale from A to D, with a number offering both affordability and practical value.
There are two basic types of IWB holsters, although some use a combination of the two traits. One uses the holster body, design, and molding to keep the pistol stabilized. The other uses compression from the body to keep the gun stabilized, much as if you simply stuck the gun in your waistline. With the former type, you might unbuckle the holster, but the gun is stabilized and the combination is held in the hand, which we prefer as a design. With others, the holster is floppy and cannot support the gun off the belt. Rating depended upon fit to the individual handgun, proper design and stitching, good attachment to the belt as an anchor during both carry and the draw, and the balance between speed and retention.
To rate an A, a proper inside-the-waistband holster should not collapse into itself after the handgun is drawn, and it should allow the user to place the handgun in the holster again without removing the holster.
Barber Leather Works Snaps and Straps, $120
At Barberleatherworks.com, this is a leather IWB with excellent execution and double stitching. This example is molded for the SIG P228. Molding was ideal, fitting the handgun it is designed for well. The Barber design features a long holstering welt rather than one that wraps around the holster mouth and a slight lip on the back of the holster to allow ease of holstering. The holster is well molded with good retention, and did not demand a break-in period. The two belt loops were secure. We drew the handgun with one loop unsnapped as a test, and while not an ideal draw, the pistol still drew relatively smoothly. This is a good fail safe. This holster also featured a built-in sight track. These features add up, and add to the price. This is the priciest holster tested, but it cannot be faulted on any account.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A+
Stealth Gear Onyx, $99
At StealthGearUSA.com, the Onyx has the appearance of a conventional hybrid IWB in many ways. The holster body is firmly attached but could be changed. We ordered the Onyx for two handguns not easily holstered, the Beretta 92A1 and the HK P7M8. We found the holsters to be well fitted with good retention on these handguns.
The holster was offset from the body slightly, but in this case we feel the tightly molded Kydex offered good retention. The important design feature is the flexible back. The Onyx uses a perforated core of cell foam, nylon mesh, and polyester. This allows for a breathable backing comparable to sport shirts of similar construction. In the area where the handgun contacts the backing, the material is not perforated, to protect the handgun from perspiration. The backing is more pliable than most leather. It is also thicker but compresses when worn. If you have a problem with perspiration, this holster may well solve your problem. The holster component is very well molded, and the backing is among the very few that are genuinely innovative. It is the most expensive holster of the type, but if it solves a comfort and perspiration problem, it is worthwhile.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A+
Discrete Defense Solutions IWB, $65
Available directly from DiscreteDefenseSolutions.com, this holster may be used as an IWB or Tuckable. The holster as delivered was molded for the Smith & Wesson Military & Police full-size 9mm. We have tested it with various raters who carry the M&P Compact and Shield as well. Fit was good, with the holster molded for both retention and speed. The belt loops were J hooks, meaning they go under the belt. Many believe that looping under the belt is the superior system for retention. The draw angle appeared as 15 degrees. The cant worked well for rapid access. The holster’s advantage is its Neoprene backing. It is designed to be more comfortable than leather. The raters were split on this. The Neoprene is rather high and may flop. It is easily trimmed with scissors to the desired height and could lose over an inch without impeding function.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Hidden Hybrid Holsters HHS S1, $60
This holster is available from HiddenHybridHolsters.com and is supplied with spring steel, Kydex, and tuckable belt clips. It is also cut on the leather backing with belts loops for use as an on-the-belt holster. The Kydex on the holster is 0.93-inch thick. The holster was riveted to the leather on one side and featured set screws on the other. There were three holes on each side for adjusting cant and drop. This holster was molded for a SIG P226, not the easiest handgun to conceal. The holster did the job and did so with comfort. The leather backing was thick enough for rigidity and it was lined with suede. The result was greater comfort and speed and retention didn’t suffer.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
kt-mech.com Gunfighter IWB .060 Kydex, $47
This Kydex holster is also available in the duty option of .080 Kydex for $54. The holster was tightly molded to the long bearing surfaces of the handgun, offering good retention. The holster featured a long stabilizing component that extends past the trigger guard to stabilize the handgun. This is important when you are deploying a full-size handgun and is referred to as the holster spine. With a total of ten slots in the holster, five on each side, there should be no problem in adjusting the holster to the cant and ride you desire. Some prefer a holster that rides deep in the trousers. With a 1911 or a Glock 17 as examples, enough of the handgun was stabilized that a higher ride was possible. The overwhelming impression concerning this holster is that it was fast. When properly worn just behind the hip, concealment was good, and the draw was smooth despite solid retention.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Alien Gear Cloak IWB, $36
At AlienGearHolsters.com, we added the $1 option of steel belt clips instead of the nylon clips. There are other options relating to packaging and extra clips, but the basic holster featured a low price. The belt clips offered good adjustment for a high or a low ride. The leather backing was supple and well finished. Retention and speed were credible. We are not certain how much we like the readily changed holster component. This results in slightly less compression on the handgun. The premise is interesting, particularly if you have multiple handguns. Alien Gear offers an unprecedented Free Trades for Life program which we have not used, but it seems interesting. The design isn’t quite as tight as the Gold Star holster, as an example, because the Gold Star holster is permanently riveted to the body. However, this is the component that allows changing the holster body. The Alien Gear IWB offers a compromise and a good value. The holster might rate an A+ on economy and an A- on tactical application, but in the end, the raters had to give the holster an A.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Gold Star Holsters IWB, $50
Go to Goldstarholsters.net to learn more about this IWB, which features a well-designed leather backing with sweat guard. The holster is positioned more to the right side, which seems to afford a superior draw angle. The holster is rigidly affixed to the leather backing. The spring-steel belt clips allow both angle and cant adjustment, with a total of ten perforations in the leather, five on each side. The holster body is finished in the popular zombie/skull motif. The holster gets high marks on both retention and speed. We like the placement of the holster on the backing for speed.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Mernickle Holsters PS 2, $80
MernickleHolsters.com is the place to find the PS 2, which represents a more economical holster from this custom maker. The PS 2 features an open bottom and a sweat guard. At first glance, it appears not to have a holstering welt. The internal steel holstering welt rides low, over the slide, offering good retention on the slide while also keeping the holster mouth open once the handgun is drawn. This has much merit. The holster isn’t waxed together where the edges meet. A properly waxed edging is important for longevity; however, the holster is stitched properly. The PS 2 is available with double loops at the same price. The belt clip is slightly raised by the welt, which we feel aids in getting a good bite on the belt. The edging bothers us, but the holster’s design, fit, and speed are all worthwhile.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
The Master’s Holster #5317 Reversible IWB, $60
Available at Holsterama.com, the 5317 holster was well made and well finished. The single stitching was well done. A contrast of white nylon thread against a tan finish was attractive. The holster is an economy IWB, so there is no built-in sight track, and the bottom is open. There is a spine traveling under the trigger guard for stability. The holster was ambidextrous. While this allows retailers to stock both left- and right-handed holsters easily, it also means the holster is a bit thicker than some. The test holster fit the Glock handgun well. The balance of speed and retention was good, and there was no break-in period. The holster relies upon body compression as well, and it does not collapse completely after the handgun is drawn. But the leather welt isn’t as effective as a metal-reinforced welt.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Tagua 4-in-1 Holster, $ 43
On TaguaGunLeather.com, our shooters looked for a fit to a Glock 19 and paid $35 retail for the holster. However, it has been advertised at CheaperThanDirt.com for $27. At less than thirty dollars, it is more attractive. The holster felt tight, but once the handgun was in the holster, there was looseness. The section holding the belt clip was well stitched. The leather was thin, but the waxing and edging were credible. Draws were fast enough after a dozen or so practice runs. There was no sweat guard, which matters less with the Glock than with a 1911. Of the three inexpensive leather IWB holsters — the Masters, Mernickle, and Tagua — we prefer the Masters. However, the Tagua is often stocked in many shops while the others must be ordered. If you need a holster right now, this holster beats the fabric holsters for retention and fit.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
Falco IWB Holster, $33
Available at Falcoholsters.com, this is a relatively inexpensive fabric holster with some good points. First, the spring-steel belt clip was both strong and completely rigid, with no play. It was fitted into a leather component that is sewn into the fabric holster. The belt clip is properly positioned. The holster isn’t a completely loose-fitting fit-them-all style, but is instead designed for specific handguns in a more narrow range than the Gun Mate and others. It is actually blocked to an extent. As a fast on-and-off item and an inexpensive quick choice, it has some merit. The holster collapses after the draw, but not completely. The forward edge of the holster is reinforced. The main drawback we found is that there is no sweatguard. After carrying the SIG P228 in the holster a few days, one of our raters found the slide was rusted. We really like a sweat guard. This is a minimalist holster that has some utility, and it may possibly be as good as it gets in fabric.
GUN TESTS GRADE: C+
Barber Leather Works Chameleon, $30
This is a design that has been around for some time in various forms. This holster is recommended by the maker as a “tide me over” until a custom order arrives. Custom holsters often take weeks to complete. The Chameleon is offered in two sizes. Fit, finish and stitching were good. The waxing on the edges was solid. The holster is ambidextrous without changing the spring-steel belt clip, which itself is strong and takes some strength to operate, offering a good fit to the belt. The execution was flawless, but the design isn’t the best for IWB use. While there were concerns with the slide protruding past the holster body and into the clothing, there were no snags during the draw. The holster collapses after the gun is drawn. If you own more than one handgun and trade from time to time, the Chameleon has appeal. It works as well as most inexpensive IWB holsters. One rater pressed this counterpoint to the C grade below: Where else can you find a quality holster for the ArmaLaser-equipped SCCY 9mm?
GUN TESTS GRADE: C
Blackhawk! Tuckable Holster, $32
Purchased from CheaperThanDirt.com, this is a tuckable design of soft suede leather. We found that once the pistol is drawn, it will take considerable effort to reholster. The holster must be completely removed from the belt to perform the reholstering move. The Tuckable is designed to be worn with the shirt tucked in over the holster and the belt loop coming from under the belt. The soft holster relies more on body pressure than the shape of the holster for retention. Basically, the soft floppy holster is just a pouch. The shirt must be pulled out to allow the draw, but this is true with every tuckable design. There is really little here to separate the gun from the body. Once in place, the holster offered retention when the holster was properly worn. The draw was consistent with some handguns; however, the holster is intended to fit more than one handgun. In the end, this holster is superior to the other fabric holsters because it fits the outline of the handgun more closely. It has utility in concealing a light handgun, but it is not ideal. It fit the Smith & Wesson Shield best.
GUN TESTS GRADE: C
Gun Mate IWB, $7
Purchased at MidwayUSA.com, this nylon IWB represents a ton of them on the shelves at the pawn shop. We include this one in this review not for its utility, but because there are too many to ignore. The Gun Mate holster more or less fits a number of handguns within the size range listed on fitting charts. It isn’t always easy to find an IWB for the High Point 45, a Ruger single action, the Star M80, or the Star Super. The Gun Mate provides the shooter with many sizes. The holster is thin, and this allows the gun to rub the body. The draw angle isn’t good because the handgun sits deeper in the holster, proportionately, and it must for this holster to have any type of retention. Rigidity isn’t good; there was discernible movement in the belt clip just before the gun leaves the holster. The holster collapses after the gun is drawn. This isn’t a good choice.
GUN TESTS GRADE: D
Quest IWB, $10
What is said of the Gun Mate may also be said of the Quest. However, when one of our raters could not find a holster for a certain revolver and ended up with the Quest, we found an interesting variation. It is thicker than the Gun Mate, almost padded in certain areas. However, the belt clip is in the wrong place. The belt clip is a spring-steel version that may be changed for left- or right-hand use. There is less play than with the Gun Mate. However, the belt clip is placed so high on the holster that the gun’s handle rides low in the pants, impeding the draw.
GUN TESTS GRADE: D
Written and photographed by Gun Tests staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.