We all know self defense is the driving force in the firearms industry: The continued popularity of the AR platform, as well as the steady flow of compact and subcompact handguns, shows that the average consumer is motivated primarily by concern for their personal safety. As the expansion of concealed carry continues — both in the states that allow it, and the people that are doing it —pistols are increasingly likely to be carried, which brings us to the next item most customers need: a holster.
In examining the current trends in concealed carry holsters, we looked in three different places — holster makers, the Internet and retail stores — and tried to answer three questions: which models were popular, what styles were popular (shoulder, belt, inside-the-waistband, ankle, etc.), and which pistols people are buying holsters for.
When Shooting Sports Retailer contacted several of the major holster makers, the responses we received gave us information consistent with what we found in other places. It is important, however, to consider that their sales are likely to align with the products for which they are best known, so the answers create something of a mosaic.
According to Jim Wall from Milt Sparks, his customers primarily gravitate toward inside-the-waistband holsters, which is unsurprising considering the enduring popularity of Milt Sparks’ iconic Summer Special IWB. After more than 30 years in production, the Bruce Nelson-designed Summer Special is “still a popular holster (and) still carries well,” and remains one of the proven standards against which concealment leather is measured.
Unlike many of the other smaller custom shops, Milt Sparks holsters aren’t a direct-sale-only item — Brownells, for example, stocks them. While the M1911 and Glock are the most popular models (the Glock 19 in particular has a “solid following,” Wall says), the newly introduced Glock 42 .380 and Smith’s compact Shield “have been really popular.”
Galco, the Phoenix-based holster maker whose early claim to fame was its horizontal shoulder holster as popularized on the television show “Miami Vice,” told us that by far the best seller is the King Tuk “tuckable” IWB.
A relatively new holster genre, the tuckable IWB allows the shirt to be slid into the pants in front of the holster, where a traditional IWB still requires an untucked shirt or other cover garment to conceal the pistol. Galco’s Mike Barham also told us that, “year in, year out,” for the last decade or so, the Ankle Glove has been one of Galco’s top 10 sellers.
This year, Galco introduced the Hornet, which can be worn either crossdraw or in the popular appendix position. They’ve been seeing increased demand for appendix carry, likely as a result of the method’s being popular with some defensive shooting trainers. While Galco’s HALO, which is designed to carry a pistol with a light attached, has been a middle-of-the-road seller, the idea of concealing a lighted pistol is still a niche proposition.
Diggin’ The Crossbreed
CrossBreed Holsters, which is based in Springfield, Missouri, got its name from its founder’s Christian faith and from his unique combination of leather, which is relatively comfortable against the body, with Kydex, which often does a better job of actually holding the pistol. The resulting holster is generally worn IWB and has belt clips fore and aft of the gun to maintain the lowest profile possible (a feature also found on some Mitch Rosen leather holsters), and has created something of a revolution.
The concept has caught on, and many similar models are now made both by larger competing manufacturers and smaller custom makers. The Super Tuck Deluxe tuckable model, which is adjustable for both ride depth and cant, is the most popular model. CrossBreed attributes that success to its adjustability, hand molding and the “tuckable capability, [which] allows you to conceal comfortably in a pair of shorts with an untucked shirt as well as your best business suit with a tucked-in dress shirt,” the company says.
Following the Super Tuck in popularity is the Mini Tuck and Appendix carry, as well as the SnapSlide and SuperSlide belt holsters. The pistols for which CrossBreed sells the most holsters are five different Glock models (the 17, 19, 26, 27 and newly introduced 42); three Springfield XD variants (the XD, XDM and XDS); Ruger’s LCP and LC9; Smith & Wesson’s Shield, Bodyguard and J-frame, and SIG’s pair of mini-M1911s: the 238 and 938.
Serpa Still In The Game
While Blackhawk! offers a wide range of tactically oriented products, they also make one of the best-received nonsnap retention devices found on concealment holsters. Product Manager Liam Yarbrough told us it “is one of the fastest-selling holsters in the market” and “provides solid retention and positions the hand in the full master grip when drawing.”
Named the Serpa after its inventor, Michael Serpa, the pistol is held in place with a pivoting lock that’s released by the trigger finger when the user takes a firing grip on the weapon. While its top sellers are likely all different variants of the Serpa holster, Blackhawk! broke down its top performers by style, with the Serpa CQC Concealment Holster as its best injected-molded holster, the similarly priced Speed Classic (which fits most short-barreled revolvers) as its best leather holster, and Blackhawk!’s introductory-level Nylon Inside the Pants model as the best-selling nylon holster.
Blade-Tech is an industry leader in the use of Kydex and is largely responsible for its popularity in the holster market. In addition to that material, Blade-Tech has increasingly expanded into molded technology as well.
When we spoke with founder Tim Wegner, he referred us to two of their newer models: the Ambidextrous Eclipse and the Klipt Appendix. The versatile Ambi Eclipse is adjustable for left- or right-side carry and can be worn IWB or on the belt, and (by the time this hits print) it will be adjustable for either the butt-forward FBI rake or straight up. It was initially introduced for the M1911 and Glock; other models are forthcoming. While the Eclipse is focused more for the larger autos, the Klipt Appendix is available for Glocks and the Shield, as well as Ruger’s LC9, SIG’s 238 and 938, and the Springfield XDS. Blade-Tech also offers a tuckable hybrid holster that combines a leather foundation with a thermal formed plastic shell to hold the gun.
Bianchi and duty-gear powerhouse Safariland maintain different products lines but are part of the same company, and Category Director James Dawson provided us with a thorough analysis of the concealed market.
Of the pistols that are being carried, “an equilibrium seems to be approaching where size and concealability meet, with the very slim single-stack 9mms being the perfect CCW gun,” Dawson says.
The company has seen demand track the maturing of the CCW market, which in the 2000s trended more towards the .380, which is often a beginner’s carry pistol, to the modern 9mms such as the LC9 from Ruger, the Springfield XDS, and the popular Smith & Wesson Shield, which appeared on the list of most people we talked with. That said, there’s still a steady demand for the J-frame revolvers and the M1911, particularly in the shorter-barreled variety, and the company regularly adds models for those guns.
Although many CCW holders will have multiple holsters and styles of holsters, Bianchi has found belt and IWB carry to still be the most popular. For the “traditional buyer … still looking for simplicity, ease of on/off access, something basic and easy to use,” the low-profile Professional Model 100 IWB, with its premium cowhide and heavy-duty spring steel clip, is one of Bianchi’s top go-to models, the company says.
It has recently been joined by a tuckable variant. For the customer more interested in holster technology and newer features, the Model 135 Suppression is a tuckable IWB crafted from leather laminated to a molded synthetic, and the Model 57 Remedy, a classic leather open-top design, is one of the most popular belt holsters.
Considering Safariland’s strong presence in the law enforcement community, it is unsurprising that its holsters are popular for concealed carry off-duty, and that many of its holsters incorporate some sort of retention device. The recently introduced Model 5378 GLS concealment model builds off the intuitive draw of the 6378 duty-oriented holster, but with a lower profile and worn much closer to the body.
Because of a continuing trend in retention concealment holsters, Safariland is introducing another model, the 537, that includes the same retention device. A long-standing favorite, however, is the Model 27, a tuckable IWB that has surged in popularity lately as a result of the introduction of versions to fit the slim 9mm pistols that are so popular in today’s market.
So Who’s Buying What?
Delving into the Internet in an attempt to find which holsters have the most buzz is something of a futile endeavor: a Google search with the terms “best concealed carry holster” brought virtually nothing but various manufacturer’s websites for the first three pages or so. Instead, we gave a quick review to various holster posts on the concealed carry forums. With the broad variety of opinions expressed, especially considering the wide-ranging levels of expertise of some posters, it’s difficult to draw hard-and-fast conclusions, but some surprising trends did emerge.
Both Kydex and leather were still well-represented, with many posters recommending holsters from the tried-and-true companies such as Galco, Milt Sparks and Alessi, as well as newer companies such as CrossBreed, Fobus and Alien Gear. An online poll conducted by USA-Carry showed that a staggering 39 percent of the 762 members that voted preferred the CrossBreed Super Tuck Deluxe, with the next most popular model another CrossBreed model.
Other highly ranked models were from Galco (the King Tuk), Blackhawk! (the Serpa), the now-defunct Kholster, Milt Sparks, N8Squared Tactical and Smart Carry — the majority of which are IWB designs. While online communities can tend to become fairly insular, still, there are lessons to be learned.
Considering the effect the Internet has on retail in general — and working on the assumption that those who frequented the ’net were more likely to purchase online as opposed to a brick-and-mortar store — we were interested to see that in online discussions, many users recommended local makers or chose to make their own holsters.
In addition to the interest in working with someone local, the popularity and availability of Kydex, which requires significantly less investment and skill to work with than leather, appears to have made it possible for more people to get into the holster business, even if only on a very small scale. The availability of local craftsmen also leads to another business opportunity for the firearms retailer like Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The largest independent gun shop in the U.S. with more than 7,000 firearms in stock, the family-owned Hyatt Guns has been in business since 1959 and is now in its third generation. We spoke with Mitch Hyatt, grandson of the founder, who told us that he typically sells a holster either with a pistol or to the owner within two weeks of the initial sale.
The majority of demand is for appendix carry or IWB, with tuckable models accounting for the bulk of those. Far and away the best-selling holster is Galco’s Tuck and Go; its tuckable feature and wire-reinforced mouth (which keeps the holster from collapsing when the pistol is drawn) make it attractive for concealed carry, Hyatt said.
While the Glock 19 and M1911, generally in the 4-inch barreled variants, “are always popular,” Hyatt has also seen strong demand for holsters for the Glock 42, Smith & Wesson Shield and Springfield XDS, which he describes as well-engineered and reasonably priced (similarly, Whittaker Guns, the largest gun store in Kentucky, told us the Shield and XDS were its top two concealed carry pistols).
Although his store does sell on the Internet, Hyatt has found that between upwards of 60 percent of its online holsters sales result in returns.
“What looks good on the shelf isn’t always what feels best,” he told us. “Everybody’s body is a little bit different.”
Even in a world where online sales tend to crowd those with a physical storefront, the ability to get your hands on a product prior to the purchase is an advantage for an item as personal as a holster, which is worn close to the body for hours at a time. Another aspect of the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all nature of holsters is that Hyatt has partnered with local craftsmen whose holsters they stock, and who also make holsters to Hyatt specifications.
With the prevalence of small, local makers, retailers can give customers an added tie-in to the community (analogous to the “locavore” movement in the foodie world) since they’re buying something made locally, as well as providing products tailored to fit the needs of their particular customer base, something that often varies from shop to shop even in areas with fairly uniform demographics.
An important part of the cultural preferences of a shop has to do with the training it makes available. Even as training is largely responsible for the demand for appendix carry holsters, retailers who offer on-site instruction and have holsters made to its (or the instructors’) specifications have the opportunity to provide a product that will fit the way customers will be taught to shoot and conceal, creating a more tailored experience.
Even for retailers who choose not to pursue that route, having at least one member of the staff who is highly knowledgeable on holsters and grasps the nuances of body type, clothing requirements, and other needs of carrying customers is a big help. This ensures the customer is most likely to wind up with something that serves his particular set of needs, rather than winding up in a drawer while he shops elsewhere.
An employee who is well-versed in the field can also explain the need for other related products, such as a CCW-specific belt to spread out the weight of a gun and avoid the back problems that often plague those who carry professionally, or how a mag pouch not only gives you extra ammo, but also helps balance out the weight of the gun.
Finally, while it’s easy to focus on major holster makers, a surprising number of other companies in the firearms trade make holsters. Gunmakers such as Nighthawk Custom and Wilson Combat traditionally offer leather for their guns — although they will, of course, fit other similar models. And other companies such as match barrel maker Bar-Sto and spring maker Springco also offer holsters, some of them made on unique patterns that provide a bit of variety alongside more familiar designs.