In Praise of the Paddle (Holster)

Many people who regularly carry a concealed handgun in street clothing find it necessary to take the weapon off and put it back on as part of their routine.  Some IWB and OWB holsters accommodate that rather well with snap closures (when used with a perfectly matching belt).  But, despite providing increased concealment and thus more choices in cover garment, not everyone likes an IWB holster, and the OWB snap closure holsters can be rather pricey and many of the sought-after makers have long turnaround time.

My approach has been to use the often maligned paddle holster.   I have used paddle holsters for concealed carry, training classes, and competition.  Naysayers usually have concerns with the paddle, including that it is bulky, does not provide a stable platform, comes loose on the draw, is susceptible to a “gun grab,” ruins trousers or underwear, or is uncomfortable when compared to an OWB belt holster.  After some 20 years running numerous paddle holsters as well as OWB and IWB customs, the only meaningful drawback I have found with the paddle is the likely increase in “print” when carrying concealed.  Many paddle holsters work well for belts of varying widths where a slotted OWB will not.  (I use 1-1.75 inches wide belts).

While a paddle holster is usually most secure and comfortable when placed precisely in the location where the designer/manufacturer intended, a real plus (to me) is that the paddle holster can usually be placed in my desired location irrespective of the location of pants belt loops.  Various brands of pants and shorts have differently space/configured loops, — compare any brand of dress pants to khakis to jeans to “operator,” “tactical athlete,” or “adventure” styles (for example, Triple Aught, Cabelas, RailRiders®, Galls, Kitanica, TRU-SPEC®, Under Armour©, Vertx®, 5.11).  That  can become an issue with placement of OWB/IWB holsters.  A second plus, some paddle holsters provide something akin to a mid-ride, if you prefer a higher riding holster.

Many of the paddle holsters I have used over the years are pictured above.  All provide  acceptable comfort and stability, including when driving.  Safariland has become my all-around non-leather favorite (top photo, models used for Glock 19/21/32 and 5 inch 1911).   In leather, I have carried extensively the Kramer Michigan State Police or MSP (horsehide, used for 4 and 5 inch (Wilson Combat version)1911s, shown in the second photo, there is a women’s version).  I also like the Comp-Tac integral and screw-on paddles (digital camo Glock 21, and 5 inch flat top slide 1911 shown, third photo), and yes, even the often vilified BlackHawk Serpa (5 inch 1911 and Glock 19/32, shown in the bottom photo, with a Safariland K/L frame 4 inch revolver holster model).

Except for the Kramer MSP, the paddle holsters pictured are usually in-stock items or if not, can be had within a couple of weeks, even for lefties.  An added feature of Safariland’s holsters is that the paddle can be removed and the holster easily converted to one or more other attachment modes.   Some of the Safariland holsters, including their latest models (one is shown above, the 7TS/ALS™ in FDE Brown), have retention feature(s).  See Tim Lau’s post on another one of the models.  If I were in the market for a full custom leather paddle, I would go to Tucker Gunleather, which sells a very reasonably priced, high quality holster with available options and a bearable waiting time.

For each style of holster — OWB, IWB, or paddle — the choices seem endless.  If you have to dismount and remount a concealed handgun and it is important that you can do so easily without having to fiddle with your belt, a paddle ought to be on your short list of tryouts.  The quality and variety available today make the paddle more viable than you think.  You might even come to agree with me that the negatives tossed around as accepted doctrine for paddle holsters are mostly not well-founded with today’s products.

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About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.

14 thoughts on “In Praise of the Paddle (Holster)

  1. Recently, while working at a gun shop, I started wearing a Safariland 6387 for my H&K USP, and have since started using it on a daily basis. Wearing it about 4:30, I was actually surprised how well it conceals under an un-tucked button-down. The paddle easily comes off if I have to go somewhere (i.e. post office), and just as easily goes back on.

    It’s obviously not the best for deep concealment, but for daily, “printing not an issue” carry, it’s great.

    I’ve always been a fan of Safariland, and they have yet to disappoint!

  2. My Comp-Tac paddle is by far and away my most favored holster. When holstered I can forget that it is there, maybe too easily because i can fall asleep with it still on.

  3. G-Code FTW! Plus with the RTI system you can have a holster that does paddle, belt slide, molle, and more. Rock solid stuff.

  4. Thanks. I’ve been wondering what experienced people do about the belt loop issues. Know I know.

  5. I’ve been a fan of the Galco FED paddle holster for nearly twenty years. Lately I’ve been getting away from holsters with a thumb snap, but I recently bought a Kahr CW9 and it came with a FED paddle. I still think it’s a great holster. Yeah, it’s not as concealable as a lot of other rigs, but it’s convenient, comfortable, well-made, and stable. In newer holsters, I’ve grown to like the Safariland ALS paddle holsters. They’re not as “nice” as the Galco leather and they’re a little bulkier, but that passive retention is great and it alleviates any concerns one might have about using the trigger finger to unlatch a retention mechanism (like on the Serpa) since the Safariland uses a thumb catch instead.

  6. I used to use a Safariland paddle holster until the paddle broke in the mall!. Never used them again!.

    • Was it the new style, or the old style paddle?

      I’ve heard of the old ones being prone to that.

  7. Not the biggest fan of paddle holsters but they do work under some circumstances.
    Flexibility of location and ease of donning/doffing are big pluses.

  8. Not generally a huge paddle holster fan, but for many years a Comp-Tac paddle rig was my range/hunting/need to put it on in a hurry holster and it worked perfectly well for when concealment was not as much of a priority. I still go IWB for concealment by preference.

  9. I’ve used two lines of paddle holsters for years-Kramer’s MSP and Safariland’s older 5181-and have generally been quite pleased with both. While I don’t use them regularly (it’s more of a specialty option, as I usually prefer an IWB). I’ve found they work well with an appropriate jacket.

    If fact, last year when I won a certificate from Safariland at our state IDPA match, I used a big chunk of it to obtain another 5181 for my Hi Power, which got used enough last year to justify being rewarded with another holster option.

    Best, Jon

    • Reference those Safariland courtesy discount cards. I believe IDPA is partnering again with Safariland . . . if you renew membership you get one. Discount is 50% off, no shipping.

  10. I’m approaching old phartitude status, but…

    “Donning and doffing” leads to plainclothes officers and other law-abiding pistol toters being in “doff mode” when the balloon goes up.

    Have seen this happen more than once with co-workers: blaster stuffed between the seat and center console, under the front seat because they’re uncomfortable in the car, or simply back in a desk at the office.

    Still, I’ve purchased or been issued paddles several times in the past 2+ decades. I’ve converted those that can be converted to OWB, the others are in “the holster box.”

    LIke Elmer Keith recommended, when your britches go on your pistol should be on that belt till you disrobe for the evening.

    • Full disclosure: I have been the guy with the blaster in the paddle between seat and console (summer ’03) when things went South. It is a bad feeling…therefore my permanent doctrine.

  11. Back in the vehicle, remount the holster and no gun on seat or between seats, console, etc. Lesson written in blood April 1986.

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