Thoughts on Concealed Carry and Comfort


by R,K, Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

July 15, 2006




Despite all of the information we receive on wonder holsters, smarter than average holsters and holsters softer than a baby’s backside, the fact is the best we can hope for is a carry system that is tolerable. Handguns are comforting, not comfortable, to carry. There are certain carry modes that are miserable for persons of certain builds, but with careful thought and research we can find a carry mode to fit every lifestyle and dress style. Some compromise in dress and behavior may be necessary, but you are a serious gun handler aren’t you? Some may ask, ‘Why go through the discomfort at all?’ Well, the answer is simple and should have been addressed by the reader long ago. We have made the decision to be armed. The decision not to be helpless before our enemies is not made lightly. 

When it comes to holster design, some are more comfortable than others but none are featherbeds. All represent a compromise in comfort, speed, and concealability. The standard strong side belt holster works often enough for many of us, but the bulge that is seen under light clothing cannot be tolerated. We have to leave behind point of hip carry and move the pistol to the kidney position just over our right rear jeans pocket.  We may have to move to a holster type that offers more concealability but less comfort. Sometimes, we have to compromise on the handgun. The full size Glock or a Government Model 1911 pistol is easy to shoot well and darned easy to handle well. But a compromise is in order for concealed carry. I do not like the Baby Glocks or Micro 1911s, but the Glock 23 and Colt Commander are excellent compromises. Minor compromise on the face of it, we aren’t giving up serious hit potential or wound potential but making a qualified adjustment.

The fit finish and quality of a holster may not be important tactically but are the obvious means of choosing a quality holster. Attention to detail, even stitching, and a holster properly fitted to the individual handgun are important.  I am certain that most of you have the proverbial closet full of holsters that have not made the grade for some reason. And some have tried small guns but not been comfortable. Oh, the drag on the bag is not so bad but that .32 just doesn’t look so good when the likely threat profile is considered. Quite a few gun writers tell us how easy it is to carry a full size handgun, two spare magazines, their favorite brand of ‘combat light’, and perhaps a can of spray that is not going to qualify as nasal inhalant.  I have been going in harm’s way for over thirty years, in high level security, police work, and as a recovery agent, and have never carried that much gear off duty - and don’t know anyone who has. And I run with some pretty big boys.

This doesn’t mean that I allow compromises to undermine my security. During the winter months, I easily conceal a full size .45 auto. Sometimes, I carry a magnum revolver but only if I am close to grounds that offer an opportunity at a meat animal. Hey, my handguns are all-arounders and while personal defense is important I have taken game cleanly with quite a few, including the .40 caliber Glock. With any type of jacket, carrying the big ones isn’t much of a problem. When the weather turns hot and sultry, I have a problem. This is when the dedicated and the hardly serious part company. First time CCW holders grow frustrated and leave the piece at home. They need to remember why they carry the handgun in the first place. Protection from muggers, thugs, and the ever growing threat of roving gangs. You will be conducting business, eating, and shopping, often with a family in tow. I think that a little effort is worthwhile to offer your family and your person a certain level of protection. For some, this is a whole new lifestyle, for others, it is old hat. But even the old hat needs to be dusted off from time to time.

Your new lifestyle evokes certain changes. Light belts and lightweight clothing may not support your hip holster effectively. The full size Government Model or the Glock Model 22 will be left at home. Never mind the guru who recommends two handguns at all times, we will cross that bridge when your ID reads LAPD SWAT.

You will not be facing organized robbers or terrorists in all likelihood, but you will need a piece that will reliably handle one or two threats. A medium frame handgun such as the Kel Tec P-11 or the Glock 19 is ideal; the snub .38 will do but is increasingly seen as light for anti personnel work. Still, anyone who goes in harms way on a regular basis usually owns at least one snub .38. They are light, handy, stronger than the .380 in the real world and always come up shooting.

A strong side belt holster can work for such choices. They are compact enough that a proper holster will conceal either under the jacket. A five inch barrel revolver or semi auto may protrude beneath the jacket lip; a 3.4 to 4 inch barrel pistol is another matter. Not just any old nylon or fabric holster will work. The holster must be made up by someone who knows the proper relationship between concealment and speed of the draw. An excellent example of a good combat holster is the El Paso Saddlery Street Combat #88 holster.  This holster is impressively stitched of first rate cowhide. The lip or holster mouth is reinforced to insure the holster does not collapse when the pistol is drawn; the pistol may be reholstered with one hand. The belt loops are offset in order to shift the weight of the handgun and support this weight on the belt. This is a variation on the popular pancake style, and a good one. 

A style that is also well suited to concealed carry is the scabbard. The vertical scabbard by Kramer Handgun Leather is among the better examples. This type draws the handgun close to the body but also features a reinforced tunnel loop that offers real security for a rapid draw. The Kramer holster features a reinforced holster lip and strong double stitching. The Kramer does not feature a closed bottom; a closed bottom adds perhaps an inch to the length of a holster. But unlike the majority of open bottom concealment holsters, the Kramer is pressed together to an extent in the bottom, offering greater security.

A belt holster that I appreciate more each time I use it is the Vampire from Ken Null. This is a first class holster designed to fill a narrow niche - it is the archetypical driving holster. This is a special purpose holster that allows quick and easy access to a snub .38 revolver while seated. Null offers a wide variety of excellent holsters, but as far as a specialty holster of the best type, this is it.

An interesting holster that fills a middle ground between the belt holster and the inside the waistband holster is the Beltster by Scott Key. Scott’s original concept has been copied, but there is nothing like the original. The Beltster is a well made belt of high quality leather. The Beltster features a built in belt slide type holster. This allows the user to simply press his handgun into the holster and go about his business. A simple but effective concept, the Beltster is available in crossdraw and two-gun configurations.

The inside the waistband holster is the ideal concealment holster for most of us, but among the most uncomfortable until a certain period of acclimation is undergone. The most intelligent thing to do is to study different carry modes and carefully consider your choices. Keep the mission of the handgun in mind. Personal defense involves the need to quickly present the handgun from concealment, and that the handgun is secure until that moment. The less slop in the system, the more comfort. If the holster flops around, you will be miserable. More than that, the handgun will not be stabilized for the draw. The holster must mate properly to the belt, and the holster should be designed to retain its position. Some inside the waistband holsters have a foot that keeps them stable, others rely upon a strong spine to maintain position. The IWB holster does not extend past a jacket line; it cannot because it is inside the pants. As such, a good sized handgun can be concealed under relatively light clothing. But remember, no matter how comfortable the handgun seems in normal attire, when we engage in movement the pistol may make itself obvious. The holstered handgun may poke and prod at our clothing when we bend, stoop, or sit. Here the compact pistols shine. A full size Government Model will pinch your butt when you sit, but a Commander will not. The Glock 23 is more comfortable than the Glock 22. At combat distances, either will place all of their shots in one hole, and the differences in control are purely conversational. Just the same, to carry these handguns discretely, we must modify our movements. We don’t have to walk like a zombie but we can avoid amateurish flashing of the handgun.

A relatively new holster that is affordable and well designed comes from the world’s largest holster maker, Uncle Mike’s.  This is among the most comfortable IWB holsters I have used. Early Kydex holsters were very uncomfortable and while impervious to oil, solvent, and contamination, were sometimes unwearable by many individuals. The Kydex holster cannot be boned to fit a handgun, but holds the piece in place by the long surfaces of the handgun and locks into the trigger guard. The characteristic SNIK as the pistol is drawn is no more offensive than the WHOOSH of a handgun drawn from a leather holster. The Uncle Mike’s holster features two reinforced belt loops and definitely will not collapse after the pistol is drawn. With an inferior type of IWB, the holster collapses and the trousers must be lowered to reholster the piece. The Kydex IWB from Uncle Mike’s has much to recommend.

Michael Taurisano offers several designs in leather for those preferring the supple comfort and quality appearance of leather.  My favorite design features a strong spine for support that keeps the pistol in place, and a single loop set over a reinforced welt. The holster is soft enough for comfort, but the holster mouth is prevented from collapsing by a reinforced welt. Also, a sweat guard rides behind the handgun, between the pistol and the body, for additional safety and comfort. This prevents the safety of a 1911 from wiping off and also prevents the pistol from gouging the body. The holster is produced rough out. In other words, the holster body is not highly waxed or polished. This makes for greater adherence to the holster's position, and keeps the holster in place during rigorous effort. But the inside of the holster is waxed in order to facilitate a rapid presentation. Overall, this is a great holster from a distinguished maker.

A holster that I often use is the Blocker ST 17. The ST 17 features a strong metal belt clip that works. Inexpensive belt clip holsters should be avoided, Blocker uses one of adequate strength and dimensions for predicted long term use. The holster is finished in the trademark Blocker pine tanned finish. A strong welt marks the holster mouth and the stitching is well executed. The ST 17 has stood the test of time, serving American professionals for over a decade.

A rather interesting holster from Josh Bulman has passed its test. This holster demonstrates Bulman’s trademark ability to produce thin but strong leather. A real problem with modern handguns such as the Glock and the SIG are the blocky contours of the pistols. This makes concealment difficult, and space and comfort are at a premium. Bulman has managed to treat his leather holsters specifically for concealed carry. I have tested an IWB holster for the SIG P 220, a difficult handgun to conceal. The Bulman holster features a strong but abbreviated spine that proved adequate for stabilizing the handgun. The two belt loops offer good security and the holster mouth is properly reinforced. The holster is properly boned for the pistol. Concealing a large handgun such as the SIG P 220 is a daunting proposition but the Bulman holster proved to be up to the task.

When looking for concealed carry comfort and protection, compromises are inevitable. But we cannot compromise our ability to defend ourselves. Too little, too little gun, too little in a holster, and we will be caught short when the ball goes up for real. Consider your options and choose well.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Compromise in concealed carry is often necessary. The Ruger revolver at top offers six .357 Magnum rounds while the Smith and Wesson at bottom offers five .38 Special rounds. The .38 weighs half what the .357 does, this is an Airweight revolver. Be honest - which would be your choice?



The author often carries his Glock 23 in this El Paso Saddlery Street Combat holster. This is a fine choice that conceals well under a light jacket.



Scott Key’s Beltster is quite a concept, offering a combination of a strong belt and belt slide holster in one package.



The Kramer Vertical Scabbard is simply a great holster, well crafted in premium horsehide by one of our master leather smiths.



The Null Vampire. Crafted by an artisan working in shell horsehide, this is a favorite of professional bodyguards.



The Uncle Mike’s IWB holster offers two strong adjustable belt loops, an excellent design feature, and is affordable as well.



The Uncle Mike’s Kydex IWB has clean lines and makes for an excellent all around concealment holster.



The Author’s satin nickel Series 70 Colt Commander often rides in this Taurisano IWB. Note the solid reinforced spring and holster mouth welt.



This is a spare magazine holder for the Taurisano IWB, an excellent accessory for serious handgunners.



This is the Blocker ST 17. Note the smooth lines of the side of the holster that actually rides against the body. This is a well designed holster that is more complex to craft than its appearance suggests.



The Bulman Gunleather IWB offers excellent design and an original adaptation of quality but light weight leather.