Shooters know that quality leather gear is increasingly expensive. Like a good shoemaker, workmen capable of making quality holsters are few and far between. For many of us, this means buying off-the-shelf holsters. In this installment, we test more than a dozen holsters from makers large and small. While we tried to keep the price around $100 or less, in several cases we went over. This was a result of the raters adding options such as special reinforcements and sweat guards.
We tested traditional designs that have stood the test of time, such as the Galco Summer Comfort and the bold new designs from Urban Carry. We also tested the DeSantis Hidden Truth, a kydex design, as a counterpoint to leather. We threw in a couple of holsters that, while primarily are inside-the-waistband designs, do other things. These included the Wright Leatherworks Cobra, a combination IWB/OWB design, and the Jeffrey Custom Leather EZ Carry, a holster that may be worn between the belt and the trousers as well as IWB.
The IWB rides close to the body, and this makes the holster a very personal choice. The just-right holster for you is somewhere, you simply must find it. A true custom maker, such as Nightingale, offers options including cant and finish that may be important to the end user. For value and craftsmanship, the Galco Summer Comfort and Galco N3, available off the rack in some shops, are a good buy and represent the work of many craftsmen under a single roof. As our senior rater noted, holsters are a renewable resource. They do not last as long as handguns, but, of course, they are not intended to and simply cannot. When they become too worn, they should be discarded for safety reasons. Choose well, and if you get five years out of the holster in constant carry, you have done well.
Workmanship. We graded the holsters based on stitching, quality of edging, and the general quality of the holster. Finish was not as important in the long run as a perfect fit to the handgun and good design.
Fit.The holster must fit the handgun it is designed to carry. No slop is allowed. We did not test holsters designed to accommodate more than one handgun. On the other hand, we did not like a holster that is excessively tight and demands a long break-in period.
Belt attachment. We feel that it is useless to choose a quality holster without a good gunbelt. We used both Big Foot and Jeffrey Custom Leather belts during the test. The holsters were rated on how securely the holster attached to the belt, whether with a C hook, J hook, belt loops, or a strong metal clip. The holster should not be able to be drawn with the handgun — the holster must remain stable.
Draw angle.The holster must tilt the handle into the draw, allowing a natural draw from concealed carry.
Concealment. The holster had to be capable of good concealment inside the pants. During the test, we drew from concealed carry and carried the holstered handgun with the test holster. We feel that in the end, we had a good grasp of the utility of each holster.
Blackhawk! Leather IWB, $47
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
This was our price at OpticsPlanet.com. This holster was ordered for the Smith & Wesson J frame 2-inch barrel revolver. The holster features a wraparound holstering welt that also contains the spring-steel belt clip. The holster is nicely stitched. The inside of the holster is a natural finish and offers little friction as the piece is drawn and may be less offensive in finish wear. The holster’s dye is pleasant, with a fading of dark and light shades uncommon in a holster in this price range. Fit is good, the holster is comfortable, and the draw is sharp for those who practice. We rated the holster down a half grade because the holstering welt isn’t as solid as some. For the money, this is a good bet. Note: MSRP is $99, so be certain to shop around, as we did.
DeSantis GunHide Flex-Tuk, $66
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This is a current price at DeSantisHolster.com. The Flex-Tuk is supplied with both J- and C-clip belt attachments. We used the J-clip we preferred. The holster is partly leather and partly synthetic. Due to the design, the holster may be worn as an appendix holster or in the crossdraw position. Our example is molded for the J-frame Smith & Wesson, specifically the 3-inch-barrel Model 649 357 Magnum. We found the holster offered a good fit. When worn in the traditional by-the-kidney-over-the-right-rear-pocket position, the holster was comfortable and offered a good draw. However, when moving the Flex-Tuk to the appendix position, we were able to execute a brilliantly fast draw. The design complements the short-barrel revolver very well. Speed, comfort, and the draw angle are excellent.
DeSantis Hidden Truth, $70
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
This holster solicited a greater range of opinion than any of the other holsters tested. The DeSantis Hidden Truth was delivered molded for the Glock 19. The holster is configured with a magazine carrier in the body. This adds perhaps 2 inches to the footprint. The holster features C-clips that come up under the belt and take a good bite of the belt, offering excellent security. The holster is thick enough for ruggedness and thin enough for comfort. A sweat guard extends above the holster. There is considerable adjustment in the belt loops for angle, cant, and even drop. The gun butt may be angled in different directions, and the height of the holster above or below the belt line may be adjusted. A T-shirt may demand a higher ride, while others prefer a deep drop when wearing a sport coat. The holster is also well suited to appendix carry. About half the raters did not like this holster or any other with a magazine carrier. They felt that the draw may be compromised and that this is unnecessary bulk. More practical raters noted that few concealed-carry permit holders carry a spare magazine, even though they should. This holster limits excuses for not carrying a spare magazine. The senior rater had to correlate the competing opinions. The Hidden Truth is a good design, perhaps best suited for appendix carry. There were no complaints concerning the execution. We had to take half the raters into consideration and mark the holster down a half grade on the larger footprint. We also note that at no time did the magazine carrier interfere with a sharp draw.
Galco Gunleather Summer Comfort, $66
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This was a recent price at MidwayUSA.com. This holster is similar to the original Summer Special designed by Bruce Nelson. The holster features a strong spine for rigidity and a reinforced holstering welt that prevents the holster mouth from collapsing when the handgun is drawn. This welt also allows the handgun to be holstered without removing the holster from the belt. The holster isn’t adjustable; however, it is properly canted for a rear rake. This holster was molded for the Commander 45 ACP pistol. Retention is good. There is no wait for this holster, an advantage when some custom makers are posting a 28-week wait for custom holsters. As an aside, one of our raters, who wrote a book on holsters some time ago and has been carrying a 1911 in a Summer Special holster for many years, noted that most holsters of this type last about 5 to 7 years before becoming well worn and loose.
Galco N3, $87
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This was a recent price at GalcoHolsters.com. While holsters such as the Summer Comfort are good for concealed carry, the belt loops on the face of the holster add to the footprint. With a thin handgun such as the Colt 1911 or Browning Hi-Power, the problem isn’t severe. With heavier or thicker handguns, alternate designs may be profitable. The N3 features a reinforced holster mouth and a raised sweat guard, requisites of a quality IWB holster. The primary advantage of the N3 is the rear-mounted belt loop. Secured by two screws, this rear loop cinches the holster in tight and results in a flat profile. While the dual-loop holster is a good design, the rear-loop N3 is a superior design for concealed carry. The Summer Comfort is an easier holster to dismount quickly as well. During the draw and re-holster phase, we found a very sharp draw was possible with the N3. This holster fills a real need.
Galco Royal Guard, $135
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This is just $3.31 shy of being the most costly holster in the test. Only the Wright Leather Works Cobra, a combination of IWB/OWB utility, cost more among these products. What we found is a holster with excellent fit and stitching and attention to detail. The holstering welt is well designed. The dual belt loops tie in on the belt between belt loops, while more widely spaced loops will require threading through the loops to accommodate the correct cinched-in carry. The holster is well finished and features a built-in sight track. The draw angle isn’t adjustable, but the supplied FBI-type tilt is excellent for IWB carry. We think the Summer Comfort is nearly as useful, but the tilt and design of the Royal Guard will appeal to some users.
Jeffrey Custom Leather EZ Carry, $99
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This was a recent price at JeffreyCustomLeather.com. This is an interesting design. The EZ Carry features a strong steel clip that takes a good bite on the belt. With a dual loop holster, the belt is threaded through the loops and through intervening belt loops, the belt clip, or single loop attached to one point on the belt. The EZ Carry is also useful for carry between the belt and the trousers, offering a less complicated draw when a covering garment is worn. The holster features two retention screws for adjustment. As a rater noted earlier, the life of a quality holster in daily use may be five years, and these screws may be used to tighten up the holster if it becomes worn. This holster has a solid and robust feel that makes our estimate a bit higher. As delivered, the EZ Carry was very tight. However, after loosening the retention screws and working the pistol in the holster a few times, we found the fit was quite good. The holster offers a good, sharp draw. This holster is a special type of holster in many ways, offering secure carry with a very strong spring steel clip, yet the easy-on-and-off function is there. We like this holster.
Lobo Gun Leather Base IWB, $75; +$8 Sweat Guard
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This holster is available from LoboGunLeather.com, where we were able to get two examples of the Lobo Gun Leather dual-loop IWB holster. We ordered one for the Smith & Wesson L-frame revolver (a challenge to conceal), and the other for the Government Model 1911. We recommend that you order the optional sweat guard/hammer guard/slide guard at $8, making a total of $83. This addition protects the user’s body and the finish of the handgun. The Lobo holsters are heavily waxed and may be slightly thicker than other leather holsters tested. This reduces need for a holstering welt, which itself makes a holster thicker. The stitching is excellent.
A note on the design — there is no holstering welt. The holster remains rigid due to the molding, heavy construction, and waxing. The revolver holster keeps the cylinder right on the belt line, allowing a fast draw. The Lobo design features a tilt that makes for a good draw angle. This design actually features two separate spines. This makes for excellent rigidity. The belt loops are crimped past the area where they actually meet the belt, which makes for good adhesion to the belt. These holsters have good features, and during our range work, they provided excellent results in fast draw and reholstering efforts.
Lobo Leather Offset Belt Clip IWB, $68
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)
The problem of offsetting the belt loops has been addressed by a number of makers. Moving the belt loops out on wings is one example, but an even more compact design is the offset belt clip IWB from Lobo Gun Leather. We ordered this one for the Smith & Wesson Model 60 357 Magnum revolver. The design, we think, works well for lighter handguns, especially those that are worn in the appendix position. The offset works fine as a standard IWB, but it comes into its own as an appendix-carry holster. The holster does not feature a holstering welt; however, the hard-waxed body work well enough for re-holstering. We like this holster for day-to-day carry, and it is affordable.
Nightingale Krestel, $125
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Order this from NightingaleLeather.com. This holster is more expensive than some, but it is a complex design that features a sweat guard and steel reinforcement in the standard offering. The holster features a wrapped-over section with sewing and snaps that mate the twin belt loops to the holster body. The belt loops allow easy-on-and-off positioning. The holster features a proper cant for the IWB draw; however, it may be ordered with a neutral cant for appendix draw. This holster is molded for the 1911 Government Model. The long, slim Government Model easily concealed with this holster. Note: A modest break-in was required. This holster is a good take on the classic IWB holster.
Sideguard Dual Clip, $95 as tested
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Available from SideguardHolsters.com. We spent ten bucks extra for the reinforced holster, up a bit from the base price of $85 dollars. The molding of the holster is excellent. Boxing of the trigger guard in this example, specified for the Glock 17, is very good. The holster is a pancake IWB type and demands a lot of stitching. This stitching is well done. Dual belt attachments with strong clips keep the holster secure. The belt attachments are very well sewn. An advantage of this holster is that the holster features a strong holstering welt, yet the holster body itself is also rigid, making for excellent retention. The body shield is curved a bit and is hard waxed. This is an interesting holster that all of the raters liked. It was tight as delivered but quickly broke in. We find this to be a good example of the maker’s art and a viable inside-the-waistband holster.
Urban Carry Revo Holsters Shell, $30
Back Plate, IWB, and Appendix, $30 each
GUN TESTS GRADE: B-
These combinations, at $60 each for the shell plus any one of the options, are well designed and executed. The leather is of first quality, and the backing is well made. The backing features either two belt attachment points for the IWB or a single attachment for the appendix holster. They fit to the belt well and offer real comfort by use of a mesh backing on the leather component. The backing features two snaps that hold the holster securely. In addition, the Velcro component of the backing mates with Velcro on the holster to make for a further attachment. This allows excellent adjustable angles. The user may purchase any number of shells for the individual backing. The idea is good, the holsters are very well stitched, and the fit of the holsters is good.
There is a real problem with the Revo holsters, however. They are larger and bulkier than any other holster tested. We tried every conceivable means of wearing and concealing the IWB and the Appendix backing, including using trousers a size or two larger for the raters. One rater asked if we were mistaken and if the holsters were intended as OWB types, with the backing inside the trousers and the holster out. This isn’t the case. The holsters did compress to an extent when worn under the trousers. The Revo holsters are innovative, well made, and not as well suited to concealed carry as other types. We rated them down on bulk and weight. To learn more about these unusual holsters, check out UrbanCarryHolsters.com.
Jason Winnie J121, $90
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Available from JasonWinnie.com, the J121 is a pancake-type IWB with opposing wings and belt loops sewn in. The J121 features a sharp cut on each wing that allows the pistol to ride relatively low in the waistband while the wings are in the ideal position for attachment to the belt. In other words, a low drop is accomplished while the loops are higher in relation to the holster body itself. This design doesn’t compromise the draw angle and makes for excellent concealment. We were impressed by the stitching of the holstering welt. The body of the holster is double stitched, an attention to detail that we appreciate. While the holster features a welt that makes for easy reholstering, the holster body itself is hard waxed. This holster was molded for the J-frame 38 Special in one example and the SIG P225 9mm in another example. Both gave excellent results.
Wright Leather Works Banshee, $108
GUN TEST GRADE: A (Our Pick)
This is available from WrightLeatherWorks.com. The Banshee is what Wright calls a pancake-style IWB. Pancake holsters are designed to hug the body and offer excellent concealment. Adding reinforced spines and IWB belt loops to the pancake results in a viable IWB holster. The Banshee features a high sweat guard or body shield and a reinforced holstering welt. The holster features good stitching and easy-on-and-off loops, but it may be ordered with tuckable deep-concealment straps. The Banshee isn’t as tightly molded as some holsters, so the holster has a flat profile. Retention is good, yet the holster offers a fast draw, with a minimal break-in period. There are three holes in each holster wing that allow a wide range of adjustment for angle and cant. A neutral to severe angle is possible with these adjustable belt loops. We tested the holster in several renditions including examples for the Government Model 1911, Commander 1911, Browning Hi-Power, and Smith & Wesson J-frame 2-inch-barrel revolver. The design worked well for each handgun.
Wright Leather Works Cobra IWB/OWB, $134
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
For those living in a four-season climate, the pancake-style Cobra may be worn under a covering garment. This holster is the same holster as the Banshee, but with belt loops in the wing for use as a standard belt holster. You could remove the belt loops for standard OWB carry, which isn’t difficult. So, for $26 more, you have a holster that does the work of $200 worth of custom holsters, more or less. The concept is tried often but seldom works as well as this design. If you need a combination of OWB and IWB for carry in your four-season climate, this is a good example of economy. If you need only an IWB, the Banshee is more compact.
Wright Leather Works Cruiser IWB Clip Holster, $98
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
This holster is fairly light and compact and features a heavily-sewn-in belt clip. The holster features a solid holstering welt, so there are no worries on reholstering the handgun. The example we tested came molded for a rater’s Colt 1903. It seems ideal for the PPK and small 1911-style 380-type handguns. It is an easy-on-and-easy-off style, and the belt clip is secure. The holster offers a good fit; it was tight as delivered. We executed several dozen draws and found it to be a very fast holster, but one with a good balance of speed and retention. The holster is a neat trick, and while belt loops have their place, the spring-steel loop seems well suited to this application.
Our Team Said
The holsters tested were well made. There were no dogs. We give both Lobo and Nightingale high marks for true custom-grade holsters. Jason Winnie’s double-stitched holster earns him the same accolade. In off-the-rack custom holsters, Galco offers excellent gear. We really liked the DeSantis Flex-Tuk. The Flex-Tuk and the Lobo rear clip were standouts, and difficult to choose between for holsters carrying light revolvers. The Jeffrey Custom Leather holster impressed us for its utility and workmanship. The Revo holster offers innovation in design, but none of the raters would use this holster system over the others tested. The most versatile type, we believe, was the Wright Leather Works holster with its wide range of adjustment. The pancake-style holster seems comfortable according to all raters and accommodates a wide range of tilts and cants and even drop. That is versatility.
Also, be certain you have the holster properly cinched to the belt. With the dual-loop holster this isn’t as easily accomplished as with a single loop or belt clip. However, when properly worn, the dual belt loop spreads the weight of the holster over a larger area. We also like the Galco N3 and find that it and the Lobo rear clip are sturdy designs with excellent weight distribution without dual loops.
Written and photographed by Gun Tests staff.