Once you have figured out what type of defensive handgun is right for you as well as gone to classes with a reputable instructor, the next thing to look at is what goes into your carry system. I will be talking specifically about a concealed carry system, as it has the most misleading information pertaining to it. You should break down the system into three main categories, the handgun, the belt and the holster. All three must be top quality with a reputation behind them. If you decide to forgo the “cheap” route, there is a high probability that the entire system can fail. Seeing that we’re talking about a concealed carry system here, failure may mean injury to yourself and/or those that you care about.
This can be a tricky topic as sometimes with females especially, the way you dress may not be “belt friendly.” There are other options if your lifestyle doesn’t support the wearing of a belt which I will go into later. For simplicity purposes though, I will focus on the down and dirty of the variety of belts that are out there for you to choose from. For the most part there are two major types of materials that will support the carrying of your pistol, nylon and leather. Nylon is what you will easily find in many gun stores or websites. It can be less expensive, durable and can be modified for the customer depending on the manufacturer. Leather on the other hand can be more expensive due to the material and time involved, can break down over time due to sweat and use, as well as is pretty straightforward to the variety of options to choose from at the time of purchase. When it comes down to it, leather still exists due to a customer base that wants aesthetics and handmade craftsmanship.
Regardless of the material, you want to look for a belt that won’t collapse when you squeeze the sides together. You should look at the belt as the foundation of your carry system. If you have a “Walmart special” belt that has your holster sagging and falling out of your pants every time, it may be time to start looking at a quality gun belt. The level of stiffness is completely up to the end user. I’ve worn some belts that were combined with scuba webbing that were so stiff it cut into my sides. On the other hand, I used to just wear my issued nylon belt from the Marine Corps and it offered zero support. The end goal is finding a happy medium. Along with the stiffness level, you should look at a belt with a minimalist, yet durable buckle. The larger the buckle, the more of a chance you’ll have to “print” when carrying. Printing is a term used to describe when someone is carrying concealed, yet you can clearly see what they’re carrying either due to too tight of clothing or an incorrect style of holster for their body type. Find what works for you and your foundation should last you a lifetime.
This can go in many different directions, but I’m going to keep in the context of the support of your handgun. Specifically a spare magazine and blade. These two aren’t necessarily a priority, but definitely something to take into consideration when carrying a pistol in the defense of yourself or others. To put it bluntly, if you can carry more ammunition than what’s already in your gun, why wouldn't you? Especially in some states that restrict the amount of ammunition in your magazine, having additional ammunition on your person can’t hurt. Criminals usually act in pairs, so understand that you may need to put multiple rounds into multiple assailants if need be. Carrying it on the opposite side of your handgun will facilitate a much more effective reloading procedure.
Carrying a small fixed blade or folding pocket knife is another vast topic. Yet again for simplicity purposes let’s look at it in a utility and self-defense use. Folding pocket knives are as common to see nowadays as a carabiner clipped to a belt loop. From opening boxes, cutting twine to prying staples a basic pocket knife has a variety of uses. I can’t tell you how many times I use my Benchmade daily. From a self-defense standpoint though, it must be a constantly trained skill as it can and will fade over time. Due to the dynamics of an entangled fight, depending on your skill level going to a pistol may not be the best solution. Truthfully, it may do more harm than good as you might get the gun taken away or at best get one shot off but in the process induce a malfunction. Having a simple and robust edged weapon skillset is extremely vital when you think about the vastness and constantly changing kinetics of violence.
Along with belts, holsters are either commonly made out of leather as well as what is known as “kydex.” It’s a form of thermoplastic that can easily be either hand or vacuum molded to a specific shape and/or need. Just like nylon, it’s usually less expensive than leather and for the most part has a quicker turnaround time to get to the customer. Depending on the quality and brand, it also lasts longer than leather as it’s resilient to sweat, heat and other environmental factors. Leather on the other hand may be aesthetically pleasing by its looks and “hand boned” to fit the handgun; yet may not be as durable and offer as much retention when you think about the realities of having to fight with your pistol.
Either way, get a holster that is specifically fitted to your handgun. If you’re serious about concealed carrying, than you should be consistently carrying the same type of handgun for ease of use and application of skill. The inexpensive “multi-fit” holsters that are out there offer virtually zero retention of your pistol as well as usually collapse once you remove them. This in turn makes re-holstering one-handed (if necessary) almost impossible. Along with proper fit, look for a holster that has either a closed kydex loop or mil-dot snaps that can be screwed down. Many folk look for the on/off ease capability when it comes to concealed carrying. Once again, think realistically when it comes down to a fight. If you can get it off easy, what does it mean for the assailant that may be trying to go for your gun? Threading your belt through a closed loop may get tiresome, but knowing that it’s staying on your waistline puts your mind much more at ease.
Earlier I was talking about the holster having positive “retention” of your gun. What that means isn’t necessarily an active locking mechanism on the holster that prevents a gun grab, but more means having a positive and audible “click” when either drawing or re-holstering the gun. If you’re truly concealed carrying a pistol, there isn’t any logical reason to have active retention on your holster which in turn means more steps you need to go through to draw the gun. For me, good passive retention on my kydex holster means being able to put my pistol in my holster and shake it moderately upside down without it falling out.
When it’s all said and done figure out what’s feasible for you to afford and obviously what’s comfortable for you. Just know that this is a costly endeavor, but like anything else is it a priority for you? In the next entry I’ll go into the various holster positions and the pros/cons of each.