Most shooters needing a concealed-carry holster look to the inside-the-waistband holster. The IWB has the advantage of concealing the major part of the pistol inside the pants. With the IWB, you need only conceal the handle of the pistol with a covering garment. An IWB must be comfortable to work well, as the acclimation is more difficult than with other types of holsters. The holster must not collapse after the pistol is drawn, allowing the pistol to be reholstered.
In this review we tested seven holsters from five makers. All are molded for the 1911 Commander size pistol. We included single loops, dual loops, and a J-hook belt attachment. We tested each holster with one hundred draws each, and at least a day of concealed carry by individual raters. Break in is one consideration and so is speed.
The criteria are stringent but also personal to your situation. The level of comfort must be in sync with the lifestyle. How often will you remove the holster during the day? Will it be buckled on for the duration of the day or sometimes taken off?
The safety of the holster cannot be compromised. The holster must pass the jump test, in which you jump up and down and let your weight hit the floor without dislodging the pistol. (Please do this drill only with a triple-checked unloaded handgun.)
Accessibility is another option. Tuckables are popular, but they do not have the brilliant speed of a properly designed conventional high-quality leather holster.
Finally, comfort is an important consideration. A handgun on the side is more comforting than comfortable, and an acclimation period is necessary for all of us when we begin carrying a handgun, but the holster should protect both the body from sharp edges and the handgun from perspiration.
Often, first-class gear will have a waiting period of 20 to 24 weeks. The High Noon holster was in stock, and the Wild Bill holster can be found hanging on a rack at most gun shows. Brownells usually has Milt Sparks Summer Special holsters in stock for the Glock and 1911 at $94.11. Based on the availability of the Milt Sparks holster at Brownells, the Summer Special is a good buy. If you have a common pistol such as the 1911 or the Glock, then Barber and Liberty will probably have a popular model ready to ship. But in some cases, expect a wait, which means you may have to purchase a cheap off-the-rack holster in the meantime. We have told you what you are getting with these holsters. What you are getting is good quality leather that should serve you well for personal defense.
Here are the opinions of our testers who wore, drew from, and carried guns in these holsters:
Milt Sparks Summer Special, $90
The Milt Sparks Summer Special was among the first IWB designs to incorporate a metal holstering welt around the holster mouth, covered by leather. This allows the handgun to be reholstered easily as the holster mouth will not collapse after the pistol is drawn. The original design by Bruce Nelson was improved by the late Milt Sparks, and the current design features dual belt loops and a sewn-in sight track. The holster is designed with a rough-out finish and a strong spine to aid in stability. One tester has worn his daily for just over ten years. It is still in excellent condition, although it is sweat stained.
Our team said the holster rides comfortably, and the balance of speed and retention is ideal. The sight track and the belt loops are well designed. The bottom of the holster is open to make it a bit shorter, and the overall fit and feel is of quality.
The holster was tested to the tune of 100 draws, and it passed the jump test. Our testers said the holsters speed was good, the draw was sharp, and retention was good. Most of us would spend a few more dollars for the Summer Special 2, which has a sweat guard. Gun Tests Grade: A
High Noon Tail Gunner, $210
The High Noon Tail Gunner as tested is the most expensive holster of the group. In natural finish with straps, the holster is $95. The horsehide versions run $135 to $160. This holster in natural brown finish is $110. The black finish is very nice, very low key, and the holster is well made, but you have to decide if the black finish is worth a sawbuck. Its sweat guard rides high and works. The stabilizing tail that gives the Tail Gunner its name is an excellent feature that prevents shifting. The pistol does not bump the body during movement, and the guard is a protection against the slide-lock safety moving to the off position during movement. There is no rotation during movement, and the holster is held firmly during the draw. The Tail Gunner features first-class double stitching around the wing and the belt clip. One rater noted the belt clip takes the belt in its mouth like a tiger taking a bite. The Tail Gunner features a tension screw. The tension screw is sometimes misunderstood. The screw is used to supply additional friction to ensure proper fit in the case of slightly differing frames and also to snug up fit as the holster becomes worn. In any case, the tension screw is a good thing to have. This is a desirable holster based on features. However, the others get the job done for less. A smart buy would be the standard leather Tail Gunner at $110. The holster illustrated is the personal choice of one of our raters, and he figured he deserved it. This was the tightest holster as delivered, demanding a break-in period. Afterward, the hundred draws became fast from concealment. This is not a holster for the inexperienced, but rather its made for a demanding individual.
Gun Tests Grade: A
Wild BillsUndercover, $60
This is an inexpensive holster, but there is a reinforced holstering welt and a reinforcing spine. It is not lined. The belt clip is attached to the spine. This gets the clip off of the face of the holster and makes certain that the holster is as thin as possible. The holstering welt leather covers ABS plastic, which works well in this application. The solid fit allowed us to make good sharp draws, and the handgun was readily reholstered. While this holster may not exhibit the finish of more expensive models, it is well worth its price. It does not exhibit shift on the belt, which is important for a concealment holster. The holster was good to go as delivered without a break-in period. The profile is quite thin. The combination of features and low price are attractive. While offered by a custom maker, this holster is usually in stock off the rack. Gun Tests Grade: B
Liberty Custom Leather Savannah, $50
The two Savannah holsters are an exercise in options. Frankly, we were surprised by the modest price of the first holster tested. While the business is competitive these days, a holster of this quality for $50 is welcome, as long it works. The Savannah features a reinforced holstering welt and a single-loop design. The single loop is less complicated than a double loop, but in the end most raters felt it should be less secure in practice. However, the wide single loop did not prove to be less secure when actually worn and tested. The holster did not demand a break-in period, and the fit was good. Carriers said the holster rode well on the belt. When the notes were compared, the Savannah earns our Best Buy rating at $50 plus shipping.
Gun Tests Grade: A (Best Buy)
Liberty Custom Leather Savannah, Freedom Line, $125
A few custom features drive the price up, sometimes doubling the price. This is true of the Tail Gunner as tested and also this version of the Savannah. The holstering welt of this Savannah is alligator trim and the holster is fitted with dual belt loops. Fit and finish are excellent. While we like the Savannah in the standard version, the Freedom Line holster simply has more features. You have already spent $50 and the additional $75 gives you dual belt loops. The alligator trim may not be necessary but it looks great. This holster demanded a modest break in period. We liked this one a lot. How much advantage you get for the extra tariff is debatable, but it does offer advantages, and the holster is very well made and finished.
Gun Tests Grade: A
Barber Leatherworks S and S Model (Snaps and Straps), $120
This holster holds the pistol very securely, based not on a super tight fit but on the geometry of the design. The holster features superb retention but brilliant speed as well. The S and S holster features a flat profile, with the wings of the holster extending to each side and holding the belt loops. This spreads the weight of the handgun about the hips more efficiently but results in a longer holster. The trade-off is there for those wearing a heavy handgun on a daily basis. The holstering welt is well designed and rides in an offset that may make for more comfort for those of us with a middle-age spread. The sweat guard is well designed. This holster offered excellent molding, a bone-type molding as opposed to the press-type found on mass-production holsters. This holster is as stable as any as a result of the double wings.
Gun Tests Grade: A
Liberty Custom Leather Saigon Clip, $50
This holster uses a spring-steel belt clip. It is a minimalist design with no more leather than absolutely needed, which will appeal to some users on that basis. However, the bottom of the holster is open in belt-slide fashion, which we do not feel is appropriate in an IWB design. The slide and front sight, it would seem, would be prone to snag on the clothing or even the holster on the draw. This didnt happen in practice even with the requisite 100 draws by four raters. The holster did allow more movement when you attempt to move the holster by hand, but kept the handgun in place when walking or moving. For the same price, we would much rather have the standard Savannah.
Gun Tests Grade: B
Our Team Said: In the end, we have holsters that do the same thing in different ways. The most demanding concealed-carry handgunners will choose the High Noon or the Barber Leather Works designs because each accomplishes real stability, one with a tailgunner fin and the other with dual wings. The Summer Special is a classic design with much to recommend it, but its more complex than it first appears. The Wild Bill holster is often found on the rack at gun shows, so its availability is a big plus. The Saigon Belt Clip is probably best suited to a LW 3-inch 1911, and we would use other designs for the Commander 45. The Liberty Custom Leather Savannah is very nice in the Freedom Line, but the standard version does as well for less, so its a Best Buy.
Contacts:barberleatherwords.com,Highnoonholsters.com, Libertycustomleather.com, Miltsparks.com and Wildbillsconcealment.com
Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT