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by Mark Freburg

Okay, you've identified features that you know make for better carry, now you start shopping in earnest. An inside waistband is the most concealable holster. Straps that don't sit on top of the holster itself are more concealable and usually more comfortable as well. You check the custom holster makers like Milt Sparks. Someone has recommended them to you and you find them seemingly perfect designs, like the Versa-Max, Criterion, or Nexus. You may not want to spend the freight for these, as they are all around $125. (Here I recommend you bite the bullet and do buy a custom holster if you can, but not everyone will, thus we have an article.)  At this point you've identified the perfect features, now to find them in a less expensive rig, if that's what you've decided. What do you need to look for? What are you giving up?

Let's take the last item first. One thing you are giving up is hand construction, resulting in the highest quality possible. Not only does personal attention to every holster and the leather that goes into it make for a longer lasting holster, it makes for a better-looking holster. A machine can make a pretty nice holster, but when you make holsters by the hundreds they will never all be perfect. Fact of life. Nor will the leather they buy in great bulk dye as nicely nor be as good-looking or as workable, nor be able to be used to make repeatably perfect holsters of the same model. But you don't care enough about that to pay for it, so on to the other things.

You can still get a pretty nice holster for less money. Look for the straps to be on the sides not on the holster body, as previously mentioned. I say straps, as leather straps are the most secure, though often holsters are offered with hooks or clips of various types, made of plastic, usually. I have tried almost all of these and none are as secure as straps and all can break.  An example.  Comp-Tac is considered one of the top makers of holsters these days, and I've had their clips break. If the straps are replaceable you can get new ones from a reputable company if they wear. Standard snaps are still the most commonly seen securing method of straps, though high-end makers like Sparks are going to neodymium magnetic snaps (awesome). You won't find them from cheaper holster makers for now, however.

Look for a reinforced holster mouth--normally that means a second layer of leather at the mouth. Sometimes a maker will sew a strip of steel in between the inner and outer layer of holster to keep the mouth open, though many holsters are just one layer, requiring the extra band of leather at the mouth.  (My advice, don't get steel reinforced holster mouths, they can be crushed together if you fall on the holster, as you may do while in a fight, then you no longer have a place to holster your gun once the fight is over and you are waiting for the police, who really dislike seeing guns being waved about when they arrive.)

Something I consider critical is a low ride height, and the shorter the barrel the more important this is. All carry guns naturally expose the butt as the frame and barrel/slide are held in the holster but today's large capacity carry guns are especially butt-heavy. A holster that allows more rather than less of the gun to hang out exposed means the gun will actually flop around while being carried. If you can get more rather than less of the gun deep into the holster, flopping is eliminated and comfort is increased. You'll note the Milt Sparks holsters listed as examples offer a good low ride height. As a rule of thumb you should look to have the trigger guard starting to disappear into the waistband. Also, cant effects this as well. Let's discuss cant.

Folks tend to like more forward cant in order to conceal the butt of their handgun, which is a good thing. However, too much forward cant and you either bury the grip in your waistband, or you pull the trigger guard, and the rest of the pistol, up too high, causing wobble again. I'll say that about 15 degrees is the maximum practical forward cant. I like about five degrees, but that's a personal choice. When deciding on cant, remember that you are also deciding several things--ease of draw, concealment of your gun butt, and degree of firmness with which the holster holds the gun in place beneath your waistband.

There are some less expensive holsters out now that have copied the high end custom makers. One is DeSantis, with their Mad Max (right).  I don't have personal experience with this holster but it looks pretty decent.  The straps are widely placed and they are replaceable.  The holster mouth is reinforced.  I'm concerned it might ride slightly higher than I'd prefer so this is one I'd like to try before I buy.  I also am curious what those spots are on the wide flats below the straps--they appear to be rivets.  What the heck?  If so, that is a cheesy approach.  What really bothers me about this holster is that it isn't really a bargain at $90, not when you can buy a Milt Sparks for $35 more.  Let's keep looking.

Here's a much better alternative, the Border Boss from El Paso Saddlery.  EPS used to be a true custom maker.  I believe today they are what I'd call semi-custom.  I don't know that everything is handmade but they are not a large factory operation like Galco, either.  Their rigs are definitely first quality even in 2019.  Here is the Border Boss shown below left; note it is sewn and uses screws and snaps--no rivets as with the DeSantis offering.

I scoured about twenty-five or more leather shops. (We know leather is 
far more comfortable when worn inside the waistband, and easier on various gun finishes, so kydex isn't even under consideration.  If you're looking for a plastic holster for your plastic pistol, Galco used to offer a design similar to the ones under discussion called the Doubletime.  It's $75.  For a plastic holster.  But everyone should be able to buy what they want--now back to the main topic, which is quality leather holsters

What I found was that the best designs are offered by custom leather makers.  Besides Milt Sparks, 5 Shot Leather makes a great rig called the Uncle Lou, a bit of homage to great holster maker Lou Alessi.  In design it is comparable to the three Sparks designs shown above.  It's also $135, as a true custom holster.  Along the same lines is the M11 Ultimate C.C.H. from Brigade Gunleather, another $130 holster. While these are likely great holsters, it doesn't help the person looking for something less expensive.  Keep in mind that with custom makers, you pay their asking price, as you cannot buy these holsters from other sources, as you can your Galco, Bianchi, Safariland, Don Hume, and other widely distributed, machine-made holsters.

Yet, there are some alternatives.  While the double strap holster as I've illustrated here is nothing short of excellent, as it holds the pistol and rig in perfect position all day long, there are other choices.

One I've used extensively myself for some years is the Galco N3, which instead of two straps has one sewn strap located at the rear of the holster.  While this allows some vertical movement of the holster at the front, it is only enough to move slightly with your body, and not enough to reposition the holster.  The 1.5" belt slot stays secure on your belt, and a snugly adjusted belt keeps the rig in place as well.  This is a well-designed and well-made holster for a mass-produced product.  Note that the strap appears to be attached via screws in this image, but I own two of these rigs and both have a sewn down strap. 

A benefit of the N3 (at right) is that being made by Galco it is available from retail resellers and thus can be had for far less than Galco's MSRP.  If you simply can't pay for a custom holster, the N3 is the best I've tried.  Another almost identical product is the C-Force from El Paso Saddlery (shown at the bottom of article).  I have one of these and while it isn't boned like the Galco N3 it is another high quality holster.

I repeat that I highly recommend avoiding the IWB holsters that feature straps that cover the holster body itself.  They add completely unnecessary bulk under your garments.  That means anything that copies the famous but outdated Sparks Summer Special holster is to be avoided--Galco Summer Comfort, Royal Guard, very etc.)

If you have previously stayed away from IWB holsters but intellectually understand that they are far the best for concealment, I believe you just need to get used to wearing a properly designed, leather IWB made of good leather.

 El Paso Saddlery C-Force:


Uploaded: 9/4/2015