Pros and Cons of Shoulder Holsters

I think shoulder holsters have gotten an unfair reputation over the past few years. Holsters in general, such as those used for Glock guns like the 26, 17, or 19, can be very useful – but shoulder holsters are a bit more polarizing than standard holsters. Generally, when you ask veteran gun owners about the utility of the shoulder holster, you’ll get reactions ranging anywhere from belittling comments to Hollywood references. Praise, though it exists, tends to be few and far-in-between. The shoulder rig is often viewed as a less professional mode of carry, one that is usually chosen by new and inexperienced gun owners who are influenced by television cop shows and action movies. The detractors will tell you that the shoulder rig violates muzzle safety, is slower to draw from, that you always need a cover garment for concealment, and that you’re far better off just sticking the pistol onto a belt holster, in or out, where it belongs. The truth is obviously a bit more complicated than that, and the shoulder holster has advantages and disadvantages, just like any other holster mode of carry. The suitability of this particular mode is mainly determined by the personal circumstances and preferences of the user. Like handguns, in holsters there is no “best”, only a “best specifically for you.” In this feature I will examine the main pros and cons of shoulder holsters, take a quick look at vertical VS horizontal VS 45- degree carry, and then look at some of the best-selling inexpensive shoulder holsters available currently on Amazon.

holster1

Shoulder Holsters

Pros of Shoulder Holsters:

  • While you are seat-belted in a car, a shoulder holster offers fast access to your gun. Getting to a strong-side holster is a difficult task when you’re strapped into a car seat, but it is much easier to get to a shoulder rig. This is why a large chunk of the shoulder holster-wearing population is made up of pilots, drivers who spend a lot of time behind the wheel, and bodyguard/security personnel. This same feature could benefit those who work at a desk.
  • Concealed carrying in cold weather can be tough, as clothing layers can slow you down. A shoulder holster will generally only be under one layer, not multiple layers like a belt holster.
  • This style of carry offers more space and better weight-bearing ability required by a heavier gun. The weight of your gun and spare ammo will be taken off your belt (and your lower back) and distributed evenly across your shoulders, negating the need for a belt entirely. If you have back problems, you might prefer the shoulder rig for this reason, and quite a few female gun carriers use the shoulder rig because they don’t need to wear pants or skirts with the belt loops required to accommodate a sturdy gun belt.
  • Especially with horizontal holsters, you will be able to get your hand on your weapon in an inconspicuous manner. When you spot approaching trouble, it’s easy to just cross your arms in front and get a firing grip on your weapon without alarming anyone or giving yourself away.
  • Your gun and spare ammo are combined in one convenient portable package. It takes a lot longer to thread a holster and ammo carrier onto your belt than it does to grab your shoulder rig as you head out the door. Also, when everything is combined, you’re not likely to forget anything. To balance out the gun you can carry extra magazines, or any combination of magazines, flashlight, knife, etc.
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Shoulder Holster Complications

Cons of Shoulder Holsters:

    • It is very easy to have your draw blocked or pinned completely by an adversary who manages to grapple with you or back you against a wall. The gun is then easily accessible to that assailant.
    • It is very difficult/ nearly impossible to draw if your chest is pressed against a wall or the ground.
    • You will need to wear a cover garment at all times. A belt holster will require that as well, but with a belt holster it is easier to conceal, and you have a wider range of clothing concealing options.
    • Our hands are normally relaxed and at our sides, making it much faster and easier to locate and draw a gun from a belt holster. Reaching back under the arm can be a more difficult maneuver to learn and execute properly. That is why, a shoulder rig offers a slower draw, although this con is somewhat mitigated by the ability to access and grip your gun in a covert manner. Still, it does generally take more time to get the muzzle pointed at the target.
    • Some might find the weight trade between the belt and shoulders to be uncomfortable.
    • The reason most people consider these holsters a gun safety problem is that with shoulder holsters, you’re inherently sweeping bystanders to get on target. No one is claiming that people are often being killed because of shoulder holsters, but it’s a highly specialized holster with some specific training requirements needed to master its use, and not everyone puts in that effort. This safety concern can be addressed with the proper training, but people shy away from it because you never know what the level of training the person next to you wearing it has.
    • If the shoulder holster becomes your default concealed carry option, be aware that virtually all shooting schools prohibit their use in class, few ranges allow them on the shooting line, and I know of no shooting competition which will allow them. Unless you have access to outside rangers, you’ll be getting much less practice time with them.

Horizontal VS Vertical VS 45-Degree Carry:

horizontal

Horizontal Shoulder Holsters

Horizontal Shoulder Holsters:

These are the most commonly available, and they are certainly the easiest to draw from. The gun’s butt is in a position to afford a very natural grip and draw stroke, and the butt is carried the furthest forward of any style. This point, however, makes them the most problematic for concealment, as the gun is carried with its longest dimension cutting across the body’s shortest dimension. The cylinder width is on the midline and pushes both the butt and the muzzle away from the body. This tends to cause the muzzle to poke out at the rear and the butt in the front, making it more obvious that the wearer has something under their clothing/coat. It is also the only shoulder holster with which it is impossible to draw without sweeping the muzzle across an unintended target. These holsters are most suitable for handguns with shorter barrels and smaller frames.

vertical

Vertical Shoulder Holsters

Vertical Shoulder Holsters: 

There are two kinds of vertical holsters, the first of which feature the muzzle pointing upward and are generally referred to as upside-down holsters. They are very easy to conceal, but because the butt of the gun is pointing toward the back and is on the backside of centerline, they are the hardest with which to achieve a good firing grip. They are also limited in terms of the barrel length that can be comfortably accommodated, as your armpit acts as an upper limit. The second type are the holsters that carry in the opposite direction, with the muzzle pointed down. These are excellent choices for larger framed guns with longer barrels. Muzzle down holsters are relatively easy to draw from, but do sacrifice a bit of concealment, especially with the longer barreled handguns. To draw from a vertical shoulder holster (just as with the horizontal holster), the user quarters away from the threat with the gun arm while reaching across the body to get a firm grip on the gun. At the same time, he or she raises the support arm to be out of the gun’s path as the user draws the gun up and across the body to quickly get the muzzle on the intended target.

45 degree

45-Degree Shoulder Holster

45-Degree Shoulder Holsters: 

A workable compromise between the two styles above is to carry the gun at a 45-degree angle, with the muzzle pointing up. With this kind of holster, the grip is easier to access than an upside-down model, and the configuration of carry makes the gun easier to hide. The 45-degree also works with slightly longer barrels than the horizontal types. The draw though can be a bit tricky for anyone who is not flexible, and women tend to find this style easier to use than men (especially bulky or muscular men). To compensate, broader chested men start the draw by snagging the handle with the middle finger to pull the holster forward enough to obtain a grip. However, extreme caution must be taken to keep the finger off the trigger when drawing from this type of shoulder holster since the muzzle is angled up toward the armpit and the brachial artery.

A Selection of Top-Selling Shoulder Holsters on Amazon:

Though the quality of these top picks is a little higher than that of other cheap models, they will usually not withstand the years of abuse that a leather holster can. Still, the fact that they are about 1/3-1/4 the price (or even less) makes them very attractive to those on a budget, or those who want to first try out a cheaper shoulder holster to get comfortable with before investing in a more expensive, quality model.

utg deluxe

UTG Deluxe Universal Vertical and Horizontal Shoulder Holster

The UTG Deluxe Universal Vertical and Horizontal Shoulder Holsters:

The UTG Deluxe Universal Vertical and Horizontal Shoulder Holsters are two of the most purchased on the market today, and it is easy to see why.  They generally cost under $30.00, and their padded shoulder universal design fits most popular pistols and revolvers, and the holsters’ soft lining protects your gun’s finish. The light weight components are all fully adjustable for a custom fit, so they can be adapted to both left- and right-handed users, and Velcro straps attach to a web belt for optimum holster and pouch tension. Both models, which have quick-release retention straps, come with two magazine pouches on the opposite side of the firearm, but these can be utilized to carry other items as well. Something to watch out for – while it can still be done (with practice) in one movement with one hand – keep in mind that this is a tactical holster. That means that there is not only a thumb break, but some Velcro to get through before the gun comes out. This makes for a slower draw, but a very secure holster hold.

Condor Tactical Vertical and Horizontal Shoulder Holsters:

condor tactical

Condor Tactical Vertical and Horizontal Shoulder Holsters

Both of these padded shoulder holsters, like the UTG pair above, are popular for many of the same reasons. Though the vertical holster is beige and the horizontal one is black, their features are otherwise essentially identical. They have padded holsters with double snap retention traps and a modular design which allows for left and right handed usage. The holster and magazine pouch can be switched around to accommodate lefties without sacrificing design, comfort, and function. They are universal holsters, so they will fit most popular handguns, though some will fit better than others (they are better suited to medium and large frame pistols). Both have double magazine pouches on the opposite side and come with fully adjustable straps.

northstar tactical

Northstar Tactical Right Hand Shoulder Holster

Northstar Tactical Right Hand Shoulder Holster:

This M.O.L.L.E compatible, multi-use, lightweight, horizontal, right hand, crossdraw holster comes with a magazine pouch attached to the holster itself and double magazine pouches on the opposite side. It also comes equipped with an adjustable belt loop strap to easily attach to any size belt for a secure holster-to-body fit. This fully adjustable rig will accommodate mid to large-range handguns, but the magazine pouches are clearly made for double stack magazines, and are accordingly large. The retaining straps on the double mag pouch have difficulty keeping single stacked magazines in. A little jiggling and the butt of even a large magazine can slip out without the strap having been undone in any way. Also, the area in which the muzzle of the weapon rides when it’s seated is very roomy, so your weapon moves around a bit. The magazine pouch on top of the holster itself works well though, as the stiffness of the holster, even when the weapon isn’t in it, keeps the magazine from moving. The retaining strap for the weapon itself is also unique. It appears to have been designed to allow the user to choose either a thumb break style snap closure or a Velcro closure. This is a little more expensive than the holsters listed above, but you do get an extra magazine holder.

King Holster’s Tactical Horizontal Shoulder Holster:

king holsters

King Holster’s Tactical Horizontal Shoulder Holster

The most “expensive” of these featured holsters (at around $22), there are several versions, all fitted to different guns, so make sure you buy the right size for your firearm (though they will usually fit more guns than what is officially stated). Otherwise they all have identical features: They are fully adjustable to fit small or large body frames and are reversible for right or left hand cross draw. The gun holster switches just fine, but the magazine pouch is facing backwards or is wrong side out when reversed for a lefty. It would have been better if the holders were vertical and not horizontal. It also comes equipped with an adjustable belt loop strap on either side to easily attach to any size belt for a secure holster-to-body fit. This is not a padded shoulder design, but it still manages to support the holster and double magazine pouch pretty comfortably. Despite the slightly more expensive price, this is a no frills simple design meant for as little imprinting as possible.

crosman airsoft

Crosman AirSoft Shoulder Holster

Crosman AirSoft Shoulder Holster:

The cheapest among this article’s group, this fully adjustable horizontal padded shoulder holster, which can carry actual small to mid-size firearms, features quick-release retention straps and a double magazine pouch. This holster is really great not only for Airsoft, but as a costume holster as well.  This is not as comfortable as the others, nor as flexible vis-a-vis which guns it can carry, but it is very cheap and ambidextrous.

Summing up:

All things considered, the shoulder holster is not the most suitable carry method for many gun owners, but it does offer a unique set of advantages to the user, and it has its uses. Assuming that you’re already cleared to conceal carry in your state, you will want to find a holster that will be functional and made with the highest quality possible for the price.  Finding the right shoulder holster, as with any holster, will not only depend on the gun you have – personal preference will come into play when it comes to both look and feel. Try out different holsters if you can before purchasing, but if you that’s not possible, the cheap holsters listed above will all deliver pretty good quality for their very affordable price.. As with all holsters, devote enough time and practice to learn how to carry it correctly. Become proficient at your draw before carrying a shoulder holster in public places and at home.

Thanks for checking out our Shoulder Holsters feature – be sure to check back for more on all things guns here at Gunivore!

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