Man wearing a tactical belt with a gun secured in a holster on his hip

Holster Buying Guide for Beginners

Choosing a gun holster is an important decision, and your local gun show is a great place to find the best options for the range, duty, or everyday carry. Your gun holster keeps your weapon secure and ready for deployment. Not every pistol holster is created equally, however. Each one is built with different features, made for a different purpose, or rides the body in a way that makes it better for some use cases. With so many options, it can be difficult to make sure you’re getting a holster that’s right for you, but asking the right questions and planning thoughtfully can make sure you have a holster that meets your shooting and carrying needs.

Form Follows Function

Holsters are specialized gun accessories meant to hold your weapon in a specific manner. The form is built by the manufacturer around the function it’s meant for–how it will help you more effectively use your weapon to meet your shooting needs. Because there are so many different gun owners who purchase their weapons for a variety of reasons, choosing a gun holster means understanding what you want out of it and your weapon.

In order to meet all these various and very different needs, holsters come in different shapes, sizes, and with an array of options and accessories. 


The easiest difference to see when choosing a gun holster (or maybe the hardest) is a holster’s ability to conceal itself and the weapon or accessories it’s holding, often under clothing or in a purse. Pistol holsters are made to position your weapon almost anywhere on the body in positions that are adaptable for both comfort and a better drawing angle.


Your Pappy probably used a leather holster because that was what was available. While they look good in cowboy movies, they can harm the finish of your gun over time. Nylon holsters were better but lacked the form-fitting look of a well-worn leather rig. Modern materials soon stepped in with Kydex and other thermoplastic materials that could be shaped and formed to provide a custom-fit holster that was lightweight and durable.

Attachment Styles

Man drawing a firearm from his shoulder holster

An important part of how your pistol holster fits you and carries your weapon is how it attaches. When choosing a gun holster, you could go with a simple belt loop or a holster held to a belt, pocket, or other securing point by a clip. Some holsters are attached to shoulder straps, while others use a large disk or weighted flap that sits on the opposite side of a waistband to secure and counterbalance the whole rig. Others may not attach at all, instead simply protecting the firearm in your pocket or purse.

Carry Position

Beyond concealability, the position your holster carries your handgun in can impact how you draw and use your weapon. Some holsters will position your weapon high for rapid deployment and increased security, and others may have it ride lower for easier drawing or across the body for drawing your weapon while seated. There are even holsters that are meant to fit inside waistbands, on the leg, or in between the seat and console of your car or truck.


When choosing a holster, you have to consider retention. The last thing you want is to lose your gun–either by accident or to an assailant. While straps have long been a common feature on duty holsters, modern trigger retention devices can feature molded features like snaps or trigger guard clamps that require a specific drawing movement or angle for release.


You also need to consider both the accessories installed on your weapon, like lights or reflex sights, and the accessories available for the holster itself. Magazine pouches and clips, speed loader holders, and pouches to hold additional tactical or duty equipment are available in matching styles and materials to give you a rig tailored to meet your needs.

Popular Styles

While that’s a lot to take in, there are some popular styles that many shooters start with when choosing a holster. This starter holster comes as close as you can possibly predict to the pistol holster you need while keeping the basic requirements of gun safety in mind, but in many cases will give way eventually to another model that fits just a little better. Far from being a wrong choice, think of this first holster purchase as the first step on a journey that will evolve as your shooting needs change over the years. 

Inside the Waistband

Inside the waistband holsters are designed to carry your gun on the inside of your pants, usually on the hip or in the small of the back. Usually, these clip to the belt or the top of the waistband, riding high for an easy draw that still fits well under a t-shirt, jacket, or vest. You’ll need to choose pants that have a slightly larger waistband, wear your belt a bit looser, and make sure any tailored clothing has a bit more room across the back to avoid bulging. These holsters are popular because they are some of the easiest-to-hide options out there for concealed carry, making them both tactically sound and less likely to concern passers-by who are gun-phobic. 

Outside the Waistband

Another popular option when choosing a holster for concealed carry, outside the waistband holsters clip to the belt or waistband in much the same position but ride outside the pants instead. This makes them more comfortable with your existing wardrobe and fit but leaves slightly more of the weapon visible should your shirt or jacket ride up. They are so similar to their inside-the-waistband cousins, in fact, that many models are convertible, allowing you to switch between the two carry styles by changing the side of the holster the clip is attached to. Additionally, both of these styles have a clip that can work without a belt, making them popular for trips to and from the gym or as “pajama” holsters for home defense.

Paddle Back

When you need a concealed carry option with more support than a clip can provide, paddle backs can be a good option. Featuring a large paddle-shaped counterbalance or panel that fits inside the waistband and a holster that sits outside, they’re available in nylon, leather, and Kydex. Perfect for grab-and-go convenience, they’re a great option when you’re tucking your holster into garments without a supportive belt or waistband.

Pancake Holsters

A traditional belt-carry concealed carry holster, these carry your weapon high on the belt and often feature two or three belt loops to adjust the carry angle from a straight up-and-down profile to one canted to allow for easier drawing. While they used to be primarily made of leather, nylon became more popular as a modern choice that was less susceptible to sweat and body heat.

Side Arm Holster

This traditional style of holster has served cowboys, law enforcement, and everyday gun owners for generations. That doesn’t mean it’s a one-trick pony, however, while it keeps your pistol by your side and ready for action. It’s available in almost every material, with belt loops or clips, molded or universal, and in high-rise options that sit at the top of your hip, low-rise styles that drop the gun down to your upper thigh, and everything in between to fit your personal preferences. 

Pocket/Purse Holsters

Particularly useful as a subcompact pistol holder, these small pouch-like holsters often don’t have a clip. Rather they protect your gun and its trigger from loose pocket change, pens, and hands in your pocket, purse, or sling pouch. 

Clip Holster

The smallest option when choosing a gun holster, these clips screw directly into the frame of the weapon allowing it to be clipped to a belt and carried inside the waistband of your trousers. Care should be taken to retain the weapon, and it should always be carried “safe”–either unchambered or with all active safety features engaged.


A style of inside or outside waistband holster, this style has an almost 90-degree tilt to position the gun almost horizontally. This makes it more comfortable when sitting or driving, and front cross-body carry is often the preferred concealed carry position for drivers as it allows you to clear the steering wheel more easily in a self-defense situation.

Ankle Holster

The hold-out favorite, ankle holsters are popular for civilian concealed carry and concealing backup pistols in a holster that is out of the way. These are usually held on with a stretchy sleeve, straps, or a clip for your boot. These are usually small, meant for no bigger than a subcompact pistol or snub-nose revolver. They keep the gun in close to your leg, but you’ll still need to lose the skinny jeans if you plan on sporting one.

Gun Holster Accessories

Choosing a gun holster also means looking at the accessories made either for or to go with it. These add-ons let you customize your rig with options that help you carry the tactical gear you need, make your pistol holster better, or give you tactical flexibility. When choosing the right accessories to support a gun holster, consider how you’re carrying your gun. Someone interested in ultra-low-profile concealed carry has very different needs than a first responder carrying a duty weapon.

Gun Belts

Regular belts may not be ready to support the weight of a weapon. That doesn’t mean a gun belt has to look like you’re ready to step into an old west saloon. Duty belts prioritize support over style, giving you a more structured option, but there are plenty of belts designed to give you the right blend of style and support for concealed carry. While they may look like your normal, everyday belts, they’re made for better weight distribution and easier carrying.

Magazine and Speed Loader Carriers

Additional ammunition is a common carry whether you’re concealing your weapon or open carrying. Magazine pouches and holsters are available to match most holsters in both materials and styles. More ammo gives you more rounds at the range or when needed in the field. 

Knife Scabbards

Woman wearing a belt holster for her knife

Tactical knives are excellent utility tools as well as self-defense weapons. From knife scabbards that are meant to hold your folders to sheaves for fixed-blade knives. They can be oriented for both vertical and horizontal carry to match your holster style. These accessories keep your blade secured and out of the way but close at hand should it be needed.

Cell Phone Carrier

Your personal communication device is an important tactical tool for both calling in backup and documenting evidence (even if it’s only at the range). Rugged cell phone cases and carriers not only look good, but they can also help draw attention away from your concealed carry weapon. 

Utility Pouches

Wallets, keys, first aid kits, and more can be carried easily in a pouch you choose alongside your gun holster. A unified look gives you a sharp EDC option that you can count on in the field, at the range, or when you protect and serve.


Just as you can customize your firearm to better fit your shooting needs, you can also customize your holster and accessories for better carry. The ULTICLIP system upgrades the clips on most holsters, easily replacing the included clips with a more secure option that’s perfect in most cases for belt and beltless carry. This clip design adds additional flexibility to holsters, pouches, and more.

Choosing Your Gun Holster at the Show

We may be a gun show, but you’ll also find one of the largest selections of pistol holsters and other accessories, including gun holsters sold by vendors from across the country. That makes it easy to find just what you’re looking for.

  1. Do Your Research – Determine what holster characteristics fit your needs the best and learn about the brands offering them and the particular features they build into their products. That way, when you arrive at the show, you know exactly what you’re searching for.
  2. Plan Your Budget – During your research, you’ll get an idea of what price points you’re looking at. Setting the money aside beforehand means you’re ready to make a deal the day of the show.
  3. Get Your Tickets Early – Make sure you order your tickets online to guarantee your admission on the day of the show. 
  4. Get To The Show Early For The Best Selection – Our vendors are ready to sell as soon as the door opens, so getting there early gives you the widest selection to choose from. Once you get there, do a full circuit of the sales floor, scouting out the deals on the holsters you’re considering.
  5. Make A Deal – Once you’re done choosing the gun holster you want to purchase, talk to the vendor. They may have additional insight about the holster or other pieces you may not have considered. Once the sale is made, your new pistol holster is yours.

Get Ready for Your Local Gun Show

Now is the time to start planning your gun show visit. Get to work choosing the gun holster you’re going to look for and order your tickets. Our safe, family-friendly exhibit halls are comfortable, well-lit, and have paid security on hand. Order your tickets online to your local Eagle Shows Gun Show today.

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