The worst part about buying a new gun… is the cost of all the accessories! It seems that your estimated amount you allot for the purchase of a new firearm doubles or triples by the time you’re finished getting everything you need with it.
If you buy a new handgun, especially one for serious purposes, a holster is a mandatory acquisition. The problem is, as seasoned handgunners will tell you, there is no such thing as “one holster to rule them all”.
Some holsters are optimized for concealed carry, others for open carry. Some emphasize speed and ease of access, others emphasize protection and security for the gun itself.
You’ll have holsters for different wardrobes, different situations and different modes of carry, and all of this variety is further compounded by an array of various manufacturers, materials and options.
This will definitely complicate things for preppers who are not going to be able to haul their “box of shame” full of unused holsters with them during an SHTF situation.
You might be able to use your typical everyday carry holster as your SHTF holster, but there are significantly more factors to consider before you can make that call. In this article, we will provide you with hard hitting tips, advice and considerations for picking the right SHTF holster.
Arriving at the Right Holster
While I may get in trouble here, holsters to one who carries are like shoes are to the ladies. Each holster serves a different purpose. While a single holster might (with effort) be marginally adequate for a variety of situations, selecting the right holster for the situation will get the job done better and more comfortably.
I usually end up with 5 to 10 different holsters for each model firearm. Body weights change. Climates change. Purposes change. Clothing changes (ever try a belt holster while wearing a flight-suit or coveralls?). And some I just tried, didn’t like, and tossed in a box.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every style of holster and that can be dictated by the situation for which you are wearing it.
If you’re a hunter, you have either carefully selected what holster will give you maximum comfort while protecting your weapon and having easy access to it….or you have suffered the pains of rubbing, weight, sore backs, etc.
The same for CCW holders who likely chose comfort, concealment and speed, whereas officers are looking for security, speed and comfort.
What area is often overlooked are the factors that go into considering a holster for TEOTWAWKI. We’ll unpack all the variables in the rest of this article.
Even before we select a handgun we need to know why we are carrying the handgun. This is not a trick question: Is this a daily packer self-defense pistol? A big revolver for hunting?
Is it a deep consumment pistol for personal protection inside sensitive or security-screened environments, environments where any detection will have serious consequences? Or are you simply carrying a pistol at a training course, competition, or some other shooting venue?
Nearly as much as the handgun itself purpose will dictate what mode of carry is best, and what holsters are best suited to the task. Don’t get ahead of yourself here: you might think that since we are talking about SHTF handguns the default answer is always going to be self-defense, duh, but that is not always the case.
Even an SHTF handgun might be nothing more than a tertiary weapon, or a special-purpose tool for hunting, pest removal or some other task. Never make the mistake of thinking you and someone else have the same value hierarchy for weapon selection.
If you are going to be carrying a handgun as your primary or perhaps only weapon for live-event SHTF mayhem your purpose is slightly different than a person who is carrying it as a backup weapon in the same circumstances, or even as a spare pistol that can potentially be handed off to a buddy or family member.
Before you can decide on a good course of action when it comes to carrying your pistol, you have to know what kind of pistol you’re going to be carrying. The overall size, weight, and shape of the gun will dramatically impact your selection process for holsters, and will even rule out entire modes of carry.
It should go without saying that larger, bulkier guns will be carried differently than little, flyweight guns. If you were carrying a monstrous full size .44 magnum revolver, say a Ruger Super Redhawk or something equivalently monstrous, you’ll only be able to effectively carry it in a handful of modes.
Conversely, a tiny holdout pistol, like a Beretta Jetfire, can be carried in all kinds of ways, many of them highly innovative.
If you don’t know what you’re going to be carrying, either because you don’t have a handgun or you are a rabid gun collector who likes to rotate his daily EDC guns out for “flavor” instead of purpose (which is highly idiotic, by the way) then you need to zero in on what your go-to gun is going to be for SHTF scenarios.
Once you have done that, we can start figuring out everything else.
Concealed Carry or Open Carry?
The eternal debate rages on even in the context of a society toppling event. Should you carry a handgun concealed or openly?
Without derailing on this topic too much, because it deserves several articles all on its own, suffice it to say that if you can carry your handgun concealed and still fulfill your purposes then you should. a concealed handgun affords you a significant tactical advantage whenever you’re dealing with strangers or unknown but potentially hostile contacts.
Depending on what you are going through as part of your shtf plan, this might not be viable, or at least viable in the traditional sense. Backpack straps and waist belts can make getting to a typically concealed handgun an absolute nightmare.
In such a case, it might be better to carry openly in a holster that can clear your waistline in order to afford on demand and unfettered access to the gun.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that open carry is ever a deterrent, it isn’t. an openly carried gun simply tips off people that you do, in fact, have a gun and if they want it more than you do they might try to snatch it right off your body, or just put you down with you unawares and then loot your corpse. If you do decide to carry openly you should seriously consider stepping up security for the gun using a retention holster.
Mode of Carry
Having the gun on you when you need it is a big part of the puzzle, but how you carry it is the other and significantly more complicated piece. There are all kinds of ways to carry most guns, and the way you choose to carry it should be dictated by your purpose, or mission.
If you are carrying a typical compact or full size handgun for defensive purposes chances are good you’ll carry it on or about your waistline, typically strong side at around 3:00 but appendix carry at 12:30 to 1:00 is making a serious resurgence.
Very small or very large guns change things, however, as the odd profiles of these guns might make typical modes of carry less effective or nonviable.
You could holster a tiny holdout pistol on your beltline in an adequate rig, but what would be the purpose of that when it will be more comfortable, far more concealable and just as fast to access in a quality pocket holster? Maybe you would prefer to conceal it as a backup gun in an ankle rig?
On the other hand, very large pistols typically demand slightly more specialized holsters for comfort and accessibility.
Chest rig or tanker-style holsters are popular among hunters for carrying very large revolvers, and both classic and modernized versions of these holsters are seeing increasing popularity for hikers, backpackers and even preppers since they allow easy access to the gun even when carrying a large pack.
Some modes of carry are not viable for certain guns or in certain situations, while others just plain suck. Classic crossdraw has very, very little to commend it and an entire host of disadvantages in the bargain.
Small of the back carry is slow, hard to defend, impossible to access if you are carrying a pack and worst of all dangerous as a fall backwards could result with the gun damaging your spine.
Let’s start with materials. The common holster materials out there are:
- Injection molded plastic
Leather is a traditional material for holster making, and undeniably one with some serious nostalgic and aesthetic appeal. It remains a viable choice for holsters today and a well-made leather holster is both a thing of beauty and a hard-wearing, functional piece of kit.
Leather is probably the oldest material out there for holster construction. Properly cared for, leather holsters seem to last forever. There are numerous holsters out there that are easily in excess of 100 years that still do the job when demanded of them.
Leather has much to commend it, but it has some significant disadvantages compared to more modern materials, namely the fact that it can rot and also its propensity to lose its retention or even dangerously lose its shape from wear, over time and with exposure to the elements.
There are plenty of stories that can be told by firearms trainers about leather holsters causing negligent discharges once they are too far past their decommissioning date.
The leather material around the trigger guard area of the holster can dip into the trigger guard on the firearm, impinging upon and actuating the trigger when reholstering is attempted.
With some basic leather working skills and tools, many can be repaired (usually snaps and stitching) with a little time and effort. In addition to usually a higher price, another downside to most leather holsters is that they usually only hold one type or model of firearm (or variations within that same model – i.e. 1911 Govt vs. 1911 Officers).
Frankly, the vast majority of nylon holsters suck. There’re good nylon holsters… and LOTS of bad nylon holsters.
The majority of nylon holsters out there seem like they were sewn at the end of a 60 hr work week by a half blind monkey using the remains of a used nylon duffle bag. While lighter than a lot of holsters, they seldom retain their shape well and unless reinforced, collapse when not filled with a firearm (making re-holstering one-handed a challenge).
The only ones that are viable are those that are molded from woven nylon into a rigid shell, these being typically designed for security or law enforcement use by departments that are trying to bang on a budget. Nylon holsters of this type are reasonably affordable but few and far between.
The remainder offer poor retention, poor durability, poor longevity and are generally just complete disappointments. Unfortunately this is the most common type of holster you’ll encounter at gun shops, gun shows and anywhere else that guns may be found.
On the plus side… they are usually inexpensive. They also dry out faster and require less maintenance than leather. Unfortunately, they’re also extremely ugly, though they can often be made to reflect and complement your choice of camouflage patterns.
Kydex & Injection Molded Plastic
Kydex and Injection Molded Plastic (IMP) are the “latest and greatest” in the world of holsters. Generally less expensive than molded leather, the majority utilize a friction fit. Often as light as nylon, they retain shape, shed water, are impervious to most chemicals, are low maintenance, low-proifile and (at least the quality ones) don’t move around much on your belt.
They are usually extremely fast for a weapon’s presentation and are highly favored by CCW holders and off duty cops. On the down side, despite their durability they can break. And when they break, they are usually NOT repairable. If they utilize a retention system other than friction (i.e. thumb break, SERPA button, SLS/ALS, etc.) those parts also wear out and break eventually.
Specific Considerations for SHTF and Survival
A TEOTWAWKI holster is different from other holsters. It has different requirements and as a result, different characteristics. While not all of characteristics may apply to your situation, please consider each individually and how it can or might apply to you.
First, the vast majority of preppers across all the many different scenarios that might occur will not have the luxury of carrying a big box of additional holsters with them to choose from should they desire a different mode of carry, a different handgun or something of that nature. As the saying goes you picked it, and now you are stuck with it.
This is something of a high stakes situation, as with the vast majority of handguns a holster that is designed for external carry will be very difficult to conceal meaningfully without substantial overgarments. This might not be viable at all depending on your region and the climate.
This is where you’ll have to make your first fundamental decision when choosing an SHTF holster: Do you want it concealed full-time or not? Holsters that are designed for concealed carry are typically of an IWB, or inside-the-waistband, configuration.
This makes them much easier to hide by simply draping a shirt or top over them, but they do give up comfort and are a little slower than OWB, or outside-the-waistband holsters, all things being equal. But it is possible to wear an IWB holster openly far easier than it is to hide an OWB holster.
Protection of Handgun
Something else you should consider is whether or not the handgun is your primary weapon. If it is, your holster must facilitate rapid access no matter what sort of gun, and what mode of carry you have chosen. But this must be balanced against security and protection for the gun.
An SHTF situation is not like a calm and sunny day on the square range and it still isn’t like a day in a tactical class complete with moving and shooting. There will be many hazards you’ll encounter on your journey, things that can possibly pluck your pistol out of his holster or just take it in mud or other filth that could affect your access to the gun or its function.
Since your sidearm is technically your backup, it should be protected so that when needed IT WORKS! While I love my Wilderness Zip Slide holster and Galco’s Yaqui Slide holster, they don’t do the greatest job of protecting the weapons from damage, loss, moisture, dirt, etc. Remember, this is TEOTWAWKI.
For those who bug OUT, you’re likely crawling through brush… not walking down a sidewalk. Crawling through brush and dirt is hard on gear, especially exposed handguns! There’s a reason a lot of the older military holsters had flaps. They were protected from weather and debris, and rarely “fell out” accidently.
Modern holsters of all sorts and all makes generally emphasize speed and access over security, and the only holsters that can provide you a reasonable degree of protection and a high degree of security while still allowing reliable, reasonably quick access are safarilands SLS and ALS holsters, long the darlings of military and law enforcement.
Avoid Blackhawk’s SERPA line of holsters at all costs, as their trigger finger-actuated release button is notorious for hard-locking when exposed to grit, dust and other debris, clutching the gun in a death grip, and also for facilitating negligent discharges. Additionally the mounting platforms for these holsters are very fragile and prone to breaking.
A lot of hard molded holsters are crushed (when empty) to the point of the firearm no longer being able to be slid in when the person is done rolling around on the ground, and certain brands are known for getting debris in the release mechanism and disabling the release, thereby not allowing you to take your pistol out of the holster.
One Gun or Stay Flexible?
One persistent question that comes up regarding the discussion of choosing a proper holster for SHTF scenarios is whether or not a prepper should go with a holster that is a modestly universal or “adaptable” fit, meaning it can reliably carry several different guns.
This notion is of course in stark contrast to what a proper fitted holster is, with the mindset being that if the chosen or primary handgun is lost a scavenged or “battlefield pickup” handgun could be placed in a holster that is not so strictly fitted.
This notion is reasonable, but the challenge is finding an adaptable or universal fit holster that is not a complete piece of crap.
Sad to say, that most of them are, and just like trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disappointing everyone, including yourself, choosing a holster that is suitable for all guns in a given size category means you’ll be giving up every desirable factor that a holster could possess.
However, there is a particular and some would say old school category of holsters that might uniquely commend themselves to this selection criteria. Modern nylon military flap holsters, particularly the United States holster designed to carry the Beretta M9 family of pistols, make excellent general purpose holsters that are certainly durable, secure and reasonably quick to access with significant practice.
They are especially commendable if the handgun is not the primary or even secondary weapon, since the onus for carrying the handgun at that point is on protection, security and keeping dirt and debris off of the pistol and out of its action.
hey also fit many pistols of similar size, though the Beretta is a particularly large handgun and you’ll be constrained to full size handguns or compacts at the smallest, and even the latter might be pushing it.
Who says you’ll be using your sidearm? What happens when you lose your sidearm (theft, misplaced, lost, confiscated, etc.)? You may acquire a new sidearm, but you might not be lucky enough to get the holster for it.
A holster that fits a variety of models and styles adequately may be better than the holster that fits one model perfectly.
Who says you’ll be the one using the gun and holster at all? While this may not affect everyone, it will certainly affect many. Not even going into the discussion of loaning a weapon to a “new” team member, or an extra handgun to a friend/member who lost theirs (again, theft, misplaced, lost, confiscated, etc), I’m talking about family! Especially the kids! While your 14 year old loves “his” .38 spl or 9mm, don’t expect that to last as they grow.
Consider carefully the attachment system you rely on for your SHTF handgun. As far as I am concerned, the handgun is a “first line” item in all circumstances, meaning it should be attached to you even when you ditch absolutely everything else you are carrying.
For this reason, think very long and hard before you incorporate your holster or other carrier into your backpack, vest, chest rig or any other piece of gear.
The holster itself might rely on a separate harness in certain circumstances, but it should always be donned in such a way that it will not be shucked along with other gear you might have to leave behind in a hurry.
Considering attachment systems also apply to standard holsters, in almost every circumstance you want fixed belt loops (for OWB) or heavy-duty snap loops (for IWB) that will secure the holster and the gun it carries to you no matter what you are doing, and no matter whether or not the holster gets snagged, bumped or scraped.
Popular quick-on, quick-off attachment systems like paddles are not durable or certain enough to stand up to the rigors of SHTF maneuvers, and whatever merit they might have for allowing easy attachment and easy removal are wasted when you’ll have to babysit them and make sure they don’t pop off you entirely.
Certain quick-attachment systems for large retention holsters, like those employed by the aforementioned safariland ALS and SLS holsters are rugged enough and secure enough to be considered for full-time use.
But, these holsters are correspondingly large and only work for outside-the-waistband carry, typically on a full-sized duty or gear belt so you’ll need to consider that in addition if you hope to make use of this convenience factor.
Holsters For Consideration
While there are numerous brands and styles out there, I can only comment on ones I’ve seen and used. I’m not advocating giving up your custom leather or Kydex rigs.
However, while I’m sure everyone has prepped with spares for everything, you might also consider getting a few spare holsters as well. For those on a budget, gun show discount bins, pawn shops, Craigslist postings, etc. are excellent ways to find new and used holsters FOR CHEAP!
Blackhawk makes several nylon tactical thigh holsters that carry a variety of models/sizes. They are reinforced to stay open for re-holstering and will last a lifetime even under harsh conditions.
One of my favorites is their “Special Operations Holster” with the protective flap, perfect for protecting the weapon when rolling around, while allowing easy access. The flap can also be fastened out of the way when necessary while still securing the pistol with a thumb break.
If you like the old military leather flap holsters, originals and reproductions will fit many of the current stock of sidearms. Just make sure that you care for and maintain the leather. Bianchi offers a nylon version of the leather military flap holsters.
Wilderness’s Safepacker will also completely protect a sidearm while allowing easy and fast access (with practice). In addition, the Safepacker holster is a “low-key” holster that doesn’t scream, “Hey! This guy is armed!”
The Zip Slide holster, also by The Wilderness, while it doesn’t protect the weapon very well, it is great as a backup/spare holster to stick in your pack.
Extremely small and light weight, you won’t even notice it. When I take a larger holster, like the Special Operations holster, I usually throw in a Zip Slide holster in the event that I need a CCW holster (or just am tired of having something strapped to my leg all day).
Condor’s Tornado holster is a great lightweight holster. It comes in a variety of colors (including Multi-cam). Not only is it adjustable to fit a LARGE variety of pistols, it does so without the “loose slop” of many of the other “one-size-fits-all” holsters.
Easily fitted to your specific sidearm, it can be also be adjusted for carrying a sidearm with, OR WITHOUT, a light/laser mounted on the weapon’s rail. It is an extremely versatile holster for a generally good price.
Lastly, because I’ve said too much already, is Safariland’s Model 567/568/569 “Custom Fit” holster. It comes as either a belt, a clip, or a paddle holster and can be adjusted for both strong side and cross draw. With just four different sizes, this holster will accommodate over 100 different kinds of handguns. More of a CCW style holster, it can cover the times when the larger holsters are excessive (those Sunday-go-to-meeting times for example).
A spare holster (and for that matter a spare rifle sling) can be worth its weight in gold! While I’m sure trading will be active during a TEOTWAWKI situation, and that numerous talented individuals will begin handcrafting products, it seems that more and more holsters are made for ONLY a specific model, and during TEOTWAWKI, the likelihood of happening to find your model holster for trade is right up there with finding free food sitting on the sidewalk. Prep now! Carry later!
last updated April 13th 2021