Revolvers remain an important part of the personal defense scene. In some shops, the majority of handguns sold for personal defense are revolvers, usually small-frame 38s and compact 357 Magnum revolvers. The 357 Magnum remains a popular handgun among a large and loyal group, such as for outdoors carry and animal defense. Still other shooters deploy big-bore revolvers in 44 Special and 45 Colt chamberings. In all these cases, the shooter has to have a good holster to carry these handguns.
The design of a holster is important, and there are features specific to the revolver. A high ride keeps the revolver cylinder off the belt line. The revolver handle must be tilted into the draw, so the cant of the holster is important. The holster must retain a balance of speed and retention. The revolver cylinder presents a problem with concealment. The cylinder bulge inhibits the design of an inside-the-waistband holster, as an example. If the cylinder bulge rides below the belt line too much, the draw is affected. One of our senior raters noted that in the early days of police transition to the self-loader handgun, many of the holsters offered were simply revolver holsters without the cylinder bulge. The difference in balance and center of gravity wasn’t understood or tended to.
In this evaluation, we considered that the modern revolver holster should be an individual design. Our focus is on concealed carry, with consideration given how revolvers might be used in the field. We tested a number of holsters from major makers and found them satisfactory to excellent in fit and function.
The fit of the holster should be sufficient that the revolver may be carried during normal day-to-day movement, even a brisk walk or run, with no danger of losing the handgun from the holster. The holster should allow a good sharp draw. After the revolver is drawn, the holster must not collapse, and the user should be able to re-holster the handgun without difficulty. Here’s what we found:
Alien Gear Cloak Tuck IWB, $29.88
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
This was our price at AlienGearHolsters.com. The first thing we noticed when we unwrapped the holster was a genuine leather smell. The backing is leather, and the Cloak Tuck features a Neoprene backing that works well to insulate the holster from the body. The cylinder sits against this backing during normal wear, and the result is a long curve rather than a sharp protrusion of the cylinder into the body. The plastic portion of the holster is a very good fit. It was molded for the Ruger SP101. The fit on the trigger guard gave the holster excellent retention. The tilt is what we used to call the FBI tilt, and this is ideal for a rapid presentation from leather. This is also called a rear rake because the barrel is tilted to the rear. The holster is supplied with an extensive hardware kit that allows a range of adjustment. The balance of speed and retention are excellent. Speed out of the holster was good, and when wearing the holster, we found the Cloak Tuck was as comfortable as a load-bearing device may be. The foot print is larger than traditional IWB holsters, but the fit and speed are excellent. We rated it down a grade because of its large footprint.
Garrity’s Gunleather IWB Standard Holster $90; Options, $30
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Order this at GarritysGunLeather.com. Garrity’s IWB holster featured a tight fit on the Smith & Wesson 442 used for testing. The Garrity’s IWB holds the revolver tightly and does not collapse when the revolver is drawn. The reinforced holstering welt is strong and keeps the holster mouth open and helps keep the revolver secure in the holster. The edging, where the halves of the holster are stitched or glued together, is very well done.
This IWB demands a break-in period because the fit is very tight. At least 50 draws will be needed before you begin carrying this holster, per our experience. Once broken-in, the holster is very fast on the draw. We normally prefer dual belt loops, but this is a compact design for a small revolver. The belt loop allows a range of adjustment for rake or cant by use of a set screw in the attachment of the belt loop/snap to the holster body. This is a solid choice for concealed carry.
Galco Carry Lite, $35.95
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
We purchased this at Galcogunleather.com. The Carry Lite is a mass-produced holster often found on the shelves at larger stores. The construction is adequate, and the holster will accept a few revolvers in a certain range. It is not a fit-them-all holster, but it will accept, as an example, a Ruger LCR 357 Magnum and the Ruger SP101 in one size range and in another size range, a 2.5-inch-barrel S&W Model 19 and a Charter Arms Bulldog. The holster features a positive thumb snap for retention, an interesting features because more than a few agencies require all off-duty holsters to have a thumb break, so this one fits that criteria. The belt clip is properly positioned for concealed carry, holding the revolver at the proper angle.
The revolver cylinder rides high on the belt. Some do not like a thumb break because it slows down the draw, but this break is easily removed as the revolver is drawn. However, the user must practice with the thumb break. The thumb break is secure, and it falls under the thumb easily, and the thumb break itself is reinforced. The holster is adequately molded, but some effort is required to re-holster. Still, the Carry Lite isn’t as tightly molded as some of the holsters tested, so we rated it down a grade. Choosing between this holster and the Alien Gear holster will be a hard choice for some, but we would point out the Carry Lite has a smaller footprint than hybrid holsters at 4.5 inches versus 9.5 inches. We like the Carry Lite because it puts a good, but affordable, holster in the hands of many shooters.
Tagua Gunleather Paddle Holster, $34.95
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
We bought this at an Academy Sports store. The holsters are also available at TaguaGunLeather.com. One of our raters carries a Smith & Wesson 442 as his daily carry revolver and the larger Smith & Wesson 360 when circumstances permit. The larger 38 Special features an exposed hammer for single-action fire and a larger grip. It is the more accurate, if larger revolver. The paddle holster is a good fit for the J-frame revolver. Retention is good, but it isn’t as tight as some of the other holsters. The paddle is stabilized in the inside of the pants by a stub on the paddle. The plastic paddle is quite thin. At some shops on line, this holster is advertised as a fast-draw holster. It is, in fact, very fast. This is because the holster is offset from the body. This affords an excellent draw angle.
The leather fitting and finish aren’t custom grade, but we got our money’s worth. Also, the holster is a fair field holster, but we would prefer something more secure when hiking. We graded the holster down a half notch on retention and another half notch on concealment. We rated it down another half grade on the thin paddle. The holster is as concealable as any other paddle holster, but the offset makes this holster less desirable for concealed carry, in our view.
DM Bullard Combat Holster, $85
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This is available from DMBullardLeather.com. The DM Bullard Combat holster was ordered for a 3-inch-barrel GP100 44 Special. A surprising number of revolver shooters carry a large revolver such as this one. It isn’t difficult to hide under a concealed-carry vest with the proper drape. With a short barrel and heavy frame, the weight is in the handle, which the holster must accommodate or the rig won’t be balanced properly. The Combat holster offers a relatively flat pancake type design. The belt loops hold the handgun and holster tight against the belt line.
The holster allows a good sharp draw. Retention is good. The lip of the holstering mouth is slightly flared. Although the holster mouth doesn’t collapse on drawing, this lip makes for faster reholstering. The holster is double stitched, an important consideration when you are carrying a heavy revolver. This DM Bullard Combat unit is a good example of an all-round serviceable holster. We also tested an example with the optional basketweave finish. Results were the same. If you like the basketweave cosmetics, go right ahead and buy that one and pay the added expense.
Jeffrey Custom Leather R1 Ranger, $155
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Order this at JeffreyCustomLeather.com. The Ranger is a unique high-ride holster designed for maximum concealment as a belt holster. This holster was ordered for a 4-inch-barrel Ruger GP100. It takes a good-quality leather holster to keep such a heavy revolver secure.
The Ranger is supplied with a full leather lining and molded sight channel. These are options with some custom holsters, and they are time consuming and make the holster more expensive. We find the sight channel makes for a real speed on the draw when the handgun has high-visibility sights. The leather lining is nice to have, but is not demanded for concealed carry. The holster is also supplied with a body shield. The Ranger rides very close to the body with the belt properly tightened, and the holster features a high ride and forward cant. When wearing the Ranger R1 with a heavy revolver, we found it to be one of the most comfortable holsters tested. While expensive, this holster delivers your money’s worth.
Wright Leather Works Banshee IWB, $108
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This is available from WrightLeatherWorks.com. The Banshee IWB was molded for the S&W J-frame 38 Special. This holster may appear worn because it has been in service for many months with one of the raters. This holster spreads the weight of the handgun out along the body of the holster. We like the dual belt-loop design. These snaps keep the holster secure. The gun handle rides above the belt line, allowing a good draw.
Retention is good, and the holster mouth is reinforced to prevent the holster collapsing on the draw. The loops are adjustable for ride; the carrier can choose either low ride or high ride inside the pants, and the cant and rake may be adjusted to an extent by using these options. If you are going to spend money on a custom-grade holster, this one gives you many options.
Tauris Holsters Semi High Ride (Practical Carry), $150
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The price listed above is for the standard holster at TaurisHolsters.com. The unit we tested has options on it that ran the price up to $225. This is a standard semi-high-ride in most particulars, but we added two options. The first is a retention screw, which was an affordable upgrade at $15, and the second, shark trim, at $60, which was a vanity. This makes for an expensive holster at $225, but it comes out to be a flawless custom holster as well. Sharkskin is practically scuff proof and is very durable. Just the same, most users may not need shark-trimmed leather. The retention screw allows adjusting the tightness of the holster and also will serve to tighten the leather many months from now when the holster becomes worn.
The Semi High Ride holster may be ordered in crossdraw for no extra charge, and the choice of cant includes muzzle back, muzzle forward, and muzzle vertical. The FBI tilt is a good all-round cant that we usually specify so that a number of raters may evaluate the same holster. The Tauris holster shows an ideal balance of speed and retention. Speed is good, even faster than the Tagua paddle, but with much better retention. The black finish is less likely to flash “gun” if the user inadvertently exposes the handgun. The break-in period was modest.
Barber Leather Works Pancake Holster, $110
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
We ordered this holster with no frills; it is simply the standard version from BarberLeatherWorks.com. This is a highly developed pancake type. The original pancake holster set off a revolution in holster design, but the original tended to allow the holster to collapse and did not offer the best retention.
The Barber Leather Works holster is tightly molded to the individual firearm, in this case a Ruger SP101. The belt loops are properly spaced for a rear rake (the muzzle faces to the rear) and forward tilt (the handle is tilted forward) for a rapid draw. The holster body is defined apart from the pancake holster by double stitching. This double stitching keeps the handgun secure and tight against the holster body itself. There is a holstering welt that keeps tension on the cylinder and also prevents the holster from collapsing. Because we did not order a contrasting holstering welt, it isn’t obvious from the photos, but the welt definitely keeps the handgun secure. The fit is very tight, and this holster demands a break-in period. But once that break-in is done, the combination of fit and design makes for a very fast holster that provides excellent retention. The IWB holster is great for concealed carry, but it gives up something in speed and simplicity to the pancake.
This is a close-riding holster that may be concealed by a properly draped sport shirt or a carry vest, and the footprint is minimal for easy hiding when out in public.
GunMate Hip Holster, $14
GUN TESTS GRADE: F (Belt holster)
GUN TESTS GRADE: D (IWB)
We bought this at an Academy Sports store, but it’s also offered at many other outlets. This holster is the least expensive tested and was included both on that basis and on the basis of popularity. The clerk at the gun section of a super store told us that half the people purchasing a revolver buy this holster or one very similar. Compared to the formless-floppy-no-shape holsters also on the rack for $7 to $10, the GunMate holster is okay for range work. We may stop short of calling the formless rigs dangerous, but we believe that they are unsuited to personal defense. The GunMate was an incremental step up. The GunMate holster has a closed bottom. There is a type of edging sewn around the fabric body.
The holster is supplied with a long plastic component and a shorter fabric component to act as a thumb break. There is a single spring-steel belt clip applied. It allows both left- and right-hand configuration. We have seen shooters show up for a personal-defense class with the holster worn improperly on the belt by using the IWB belt clip and wearing the holster on the belt as an OWB. It isn’t difficult to change the plastic component left to right for the thumb break, but it is very difficult to change the spring-steel clip. Some raters found it frustrating. One bent the steel clip out of shape. When worn as a strong-side holster, there is little retention and the thumb break must be used to retain the revolver. The holster is a loose fit. But the thumb break is very stiff, and it is difficult to move the thumb break on the draw. When used as an IWB, body compression holds the revolver to an extent, but the poor fit doesn’t give the user much retention.
Jason Winnie Leathergoods 121, $90
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Available from JasonWinnie.com, this holster is well fitted to the individual handgun and provides good retention. We first thought a break-in period was needed, but then realized this is simply a good, tight fit.
When holding the holster in the hand, some effort is required to break the handgun loose. But when properly worn snugly against the body and secured by two belt loops, the user simply yanks the handgun and is good to go. The design allows the two belt loops to keep the holster rigidly attached to the belt. The holster also rides low in the pants. The belt loops are practically even with the holster body, but there is sufficient cut out in the design to keep the handle isolated, allowing for a good, sharp draw. When our team studied this holster and compared it to others side by side, it is an outstanding design.
SwapRig Holsters Cargo Pocket Holster, $29.75
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Available from SwapRigHolsters.com at more than 6 inches wide, this isn’t a typical pocket holster. This holster is designed for use with the popular cargo-style pants. There is a retention screw that allows adjustment for different handguns. The holster also fits various pocket handguns up to the Smith & Wesson Shield class. The holster is a good, tight fit in many cargo pants pockets. Adjustment is good, and we found the holster allowed a good, sharp draw. When drawing from a pocket holster, blade the hand going into the pocket and bring the gun from the holster. If you confirm the grip in the pocket, then you are impeding the draw, perhaps making a pocket draw impossible. Holsters designed to fit more than one handgun are not ideal, and we graded the holster down a grade on fit. However, it is a holster with much utility and it is ambidextrous.
Lobo Gun Leather Deep Cover Holster, $84
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This unit from LoboGunLeather.comwas $90 as tested. When ordering the Deep Cover, we recommend that you spend an extra $6 and add the hammer shield/sweat guard. This holster uses the popular Ulti Clip. It is worn by placing it inside the pants and wearing the shirt over the holster. The belt clip goes over the top of the belt. If you are legally armed and using a tuckable holster, the belt clip remains visible, while it doesn’t with an IWB and the shirt tail worn out. However, some do not like the sport shirt worn outside, or their job prevents them from wearing such an outfit. One of our raters works in the media and wears a tuckable as often as possible with his Kimber 1911. When the suit coat comes off, the holster isn’t visible.
It is true that much practice must go into this type of draw. The Lobo Deep Cover is as comfortable as any IWB. The tuckable concept works well. If you do not cover the holster with the shirt, you simply have a deep-riding IWB. The belt clip is rigid. This holster allows excellent concealment, and fit and finish are first class. There is one concern: The fit is tight, very tight. We worked this out in a few dozen repetitions. When simply holding the holster, the gun seems tight, and it is, but when the holster is properly affixed to the belt, the draw isn’t as difficult. But a break-in is demanded.
Lobo Gunleathers Pocket Holster $50
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This item is also available from LoboGunLeather.com as a pocket-carry style popular for small revolvers. In our view, a holster is essential for pocket carry, though we recognize many people disagree, and they pocket-carry every day in lightweight clothing. One of our raters began his police career 40 years ago and had his grandmother sew a leather lining in his uniform pants to carry a snubnose 38. This was okay, but it limited him to those modified trousers.
The Lobo Pocket Holster is ambidextrous, as most pocket holsters are. The holster is double stitched and offers good retention. The holster must be stabilized for a good sharp draw. We found that the ring finger may stabilize the holster at the bottom or the thumb at the top. The holster is a good, tight fit, and it is possible to slant the holster and snag the lip of the holster on the trousers to expedite the draw, depending on if the pocket is side loading or top loading. The holster has a stiff welt and spine. This is an aid in stabilizing the holster in the trousers. We tested this holster extensively in both right- and left-hand draw and found it ideal for most uses.
Written and photographed by Gun Tests staff.