Holsters are like sewing machines. Needle goes up. Needle goes down. Gun goes in. Gun goes out. I probably don’t have a lot of sewers amongst my readers but I’m sure you get the drift and can follow along. You need to get a job done. You don’t want to spend a lot of money so you buy the cheapest you can get and discover that you got exactly what you paid for. It does the bare minimum and not much more. In sewing, as in holsters, you can do the bare minimum. You can hem pants and take in a seam here or there. But, in one as with the other, when you go further you find out there’s a whole lot more to it.

Before I go too far down the road of sewing analogies for non-sewing people let me bring it home for you.

Your holster sucks!

There. I said it.

You think it’s the cat’s meow because… Well, it holds your gun. As a bonus, it holds it pretty comfortably. It may even be pretty good at concealing it.

What else is there?

Access. Retention. Reholstering. To name a few.

When I got my first sewing machine my mother warned me it was a starter machine that I would outgrow if I ever got serious about sewing. I told her that was fine because who gets serious about sewing?

It took me just about six months to decide I needed a new machine.

Lots of people buy holsters and forget (or don’t know) that the average holster on the shelf at your local gun store is a starter holster. Meant to be ditched at the first possible moment or skipped entirely if you are serious about carrying.

Who, here, isn’t serious about carrying his gun?

I would hope that people who come to this blog do so with a seriousness in regards to the responsibility of carrying a lethal weapon. They want the very best gear that allows them the best chance at defending their lives and the lives of those they love. And here I am telling them their holster sucks. How the hell do I know? Who do I think I am?

You want to know when I knew that I needed a new sewing machine? When I tried to sew a dress. I’d sewn a hundred different projects and my machine had worked perfectly. I even went to a sewing class and the instructor said my machine was fine. I was getting a little cocky with my machine. What did my Mom know? She’d only sewn clothes since she was in high school and a couple dozen quilts and her own wedding dress. Surely my modern machine was as good.

I got all the pieces cut out. I laid them all out. Put my fabric in the machine to sew step 1 of my adorable dress for my 3 year-old little girl and my machine did a poor job on what, I assumed, was a very basic stitch. I later went to a friend of mine with a better machine and saw that her machine did that same stitch way better.

I found it lacking again on another project, and another and before long I was trolling craigslist and asking, “Mom, what features would you suggest I look for in my next machine so that I can finish this project and those like it?”

What does this have to do with holsters?

People start to get disillusioned about their holsters because they never go past drawing and holstering. They never attempt to sew the dress. They may get all the pieces cut and sorted. They may even set them all out together and get them all pinned in place but they never actually try to put them all together. In their mind, this idea of self-defense is like the picture of the completed dress on the front of a pattern. It looks pretty. It looks neat. It looks easy. But the tool they used to get from scraps of cloth to a finished piece of clothing is lacking.

Yeah, having that gun held up under your boob with the velcro loop adding retention and the grip tucked so far down it’s barely visible while holstered sure is comfy. It sure is concealable, too. But getting to that thing when your shoved up against a wall and you’re trying to keep someone from strangling you is a little different than standing on an empty range with all the time in the world and no pressure of death or disarmament.

It may seem like your firearm is retained very well, even when lying down or rolling around. But what about when you’re in the clench and someone knees the bottom of your gun and because the holster doesn’t cover it completely, it’s ejected like a jack-in-the-box, minus the funky music. POP!

Reholstering in that soft-sided holster sure is easy when you’re standing in your bedroom and can take your time to carefully open the mouth with your off-hand with no distractions and nothing else to do. It’s quite a bit different when you’ve just shot someone and have to put your gun away so that you can grab both your kids and move to safety. But your hands are shaking from the adrenaline, you can’t see straight from tunnel vision and you’re scared half to death.

You never tried to sew the dress. You never put it all together.

You don’t know how that holster will perform when it’s needed to pull off the entire package of self defense in a worst case scenario.

Even before the extreme close quarters gun fighting class and before the Krav classes that allowed me to bring my holsters and dummy guns so I could train like I fight, I was asking people to attack me. I’m strange like that. Ten years ago I told my husband I wouldn’t even get a permit to carry until I could train with the gun. I did not want to assume that the mere presence of a gun would immediately make me safer. From the first days of measuring out 21 feet in our one-bedroom apartment and telling my husband to rush me to see if I could get under my cover garment in time to now running matches with attack targets and force-on-force, I’ve constantly been updating my ideas on what it means to fight (really FIGHT) with a gun.

I’ve attended one close quarters gun fighting class and knife classes and hand-to-hand combat classes to learn exactly what it looks like when you have to put all of those little pieces together.  To sew the dress, if you will.

Those experiences have taught me that many, many people have no idea what a good fighting holster looks like or even how important it is. They believe just having it on their body is enough.

It’s a GREAT start. For sure! I’d rather have a gun on body than in my bag in my car or, worse, the center console.

*Shiver*

I get it. I REALLY do. You need to use deep concealment because you’ll get fired from your anti-gun work environment if you’re found out. You’re using the only holster you’ve ever found that’s comfortable and if you aren’t comfortable then you will leave your gun at home.

I agree! I would rather you have your gun on your body than at home or in a bag for your 2 year-old to find.

But, please, don’t settle.

Maybe you aren’t sure if your holster is up to the task. Maybe you genuinely don’t know how your holster will perform.

Here are some ways you can test it (with a dummy gun or appropriately disabled firearm).

1) Draw your gun on a clock.
Lots of people find their retention devices or poor molding make the gun hang up when things start jerking and moving.
2) Draw, on the clock, from concealment one-handed.
Here’s where people start to see cover garments and straps get in the way. Velcro catching on cotton, extra layers catching on grips.
3) Draw your gun on a clock, one-handed while someone is throwing soft hits at your face.
Add all the frustrations of the above with disorientation.
4) Draw your gun, one-handed while doing all of the above from the ground.
Some people are surprised to find that their holsters won’t even retain their firearms while they are laying down. Imagine getting knocked down and all of a sudden your gun is gone.
5) Draw your gun while moving.
6) Draw your gun while on your back and kicking, trying to be cognoscente of not sweeping your own body.
7) Try keeping your gun in your holster while someone tries to take it away from you.

How did your holster perform? How fast could you get it out? How many potentially lethal blows did you take before you gained access to your gun if you were able to access it at all? How quickly could you reholster safely? Did your draw stroke start falling apart? Did you find your gun start to hang up on areas of your holster or your clothing because of where you need to keep it with your chosen holster system?

If you’ve never tried to do any of those things you haven’t tried to sew the dress. You don’t know.

If you have done those things and your holster performed flawlessly. Congratulations. You may have a decent one.

If you’ve done those things, found your holster lacking and still want to carry it because it’s the most comfortable holster you own. That’s fine, too. That’s on you! At least you know. Knowing means you can plan accordingly!

I want you to carry your gun in comfort and concealment and I want you to feel safe with it. I also want you to be aware that in and out is only a very small piece of the puzzle and I don’t want you to find that out in a time of need.

The other day someone asked for a list of recommended holster makers. That could be helpful. But what’s more helpful is listing the features to look for in a holster. Some holster makers make more than one product or change their product and then end up with a bad product. A feature to look for (or avoid) is far more helpful than a list of “approved” holsters.

1) Trigger guard covered (DUH!)
2) Molded to the make/model of your firearm
3) Holster covers to the end of the barrel
4) Solid attachments to the body
5) Molded out of a solid material around the entire circumference of the firearm
6) Retention devices that work with the natural draw stroke and do not include the trigger finger
7) Allow full firing grip while firearm is still in the holster
8) Reinforced/solid open mouth
9) Carried in a location that minimizes the risk of sweeping the wearer

The people who disagree with me will come out of the woodwork and tell me their holster is spun gold. That’s fine. I don’t have to worry about it. I’m not responsible for them. I’m only responsible for me.

You are only responsible for you!

I picked on holsters today but I could have chosen any self defense tool to throw under the bus.

Test it. See how it’s really going to work in a time of need.

To illustrate this I’ll give you an example:

A group of firearms instructors (myself included) were asked to audit a new class and give our feedback before it was opened to the public. One of the instructors bought a new AIWB holster and was raving about how good it was. It looked comfortable. It had all of the things I listed as ideal features on a holster. He had put tons of draws through it at home before bringing it to the class.

We got up to the firing line and he went to draw while in a hurry and the gun completely locked up in his holster. He stood on the firing line for an extra 10 seconds just trying to get his gun out of his holster.

He had to jam the gun back down into his holster and rock it back before he could get it out again.

He kind of shrugged it off as a fluke and for a while nothing happened. Then it happened again. We did some investigating later and realized that the area around the ejection port was so over-molded, when he really yanked the gun straight up, the edge of his ejection port literally imbedded itself into the edge of the holster and completely locked it up.

This didn’t happen when he drew his gun gently, only when he was trying to get it out in a hurry. Had he never put that holster through the steps of drawing quickly under that mild of stress he would have never known until it was too late.

You must test your gear in a stressful environment. You must try to sew the dress. Put it all together and see what kind of garment it makes.