As the number of concealed-carry permits issued in this country continues to grow, so does the demand for subcompact semiauto pistols. These lightweight guns, usually chambered in .380 ACP, are easy to conceal and can effectively stop an attacker at close range when paired with modern defensive ammunition.
One reason these semiautos are so popular is they are extremely convenient. Many subcompact .380s weigh less than 15 ounces and have slides under an inch wide. And while you would never dream of toting a full-size 1911 Government or a Glock 17 in your pocket, the current class of .380 pistols is light enough and small enough to carry in the same compartment as your keys and cell phone.
But there's a problem. Having a subcompact handgun loose in your pocket is not an effective or safe carry method. The gun could rotate and become inaccessible or — worse yet — if you decide to carry a round in the chamber holster-less pocket carry is inviting a negligent discharge since the trigger is unprotected. To remedy this, many holster manufacturers have offered up a variety of different holsters designed specifically for those who prefer the simplicity of pocket carry.
Over the course of several weeks I tested five of those pocket holsters, and I've compiled a list of my impressions of each model. My loyalties changed throughout the test period, favoring one and then another of these holsters, but in the end all of them were effective for concealed carry.
Sure, a pocket holster isn't ever going to provide the rapid access or stability of a Kydex outside-the-waistband holster, but pocket holsters make day-to-day carry- traveling to the supermarket, the hardware store or a restaurant- much more convenient.
The gun used throughout the tests was a Remington RM380, a bread-and-butter compact .380 pistol with no external safety and basic sights. As far as clothing, this proved important because all the holsters performed better when paired with the right garment. A durably constructed pair of jeans or khaki pants with relatively roomy pockets allowed me to draw the pistol far more quickly and effectively than a pair of baggy jogging pants or shorts. A good belt that held the pants firmly in place made drawing from all these holsters simpler as well.
Two points reinforced to me during this test were how important it is for the holster to be positioned properly in the pocket and how crucial it is to practice until you learn the proper draw stroke that will free the gun from the holster and the pocket each time.
What follows is a rundown of all five holsters tested complete with my impressions on each one. In the end your choice will ultimately come down to your budget- although none of these holsters is particularly costly- and your tastes.
The Nemesis from DeSantis (DeSantisHolster.com) is a good place to start this examination of pocket holsters because it combines many of the best features in this class. The design itself is rather basic, with an open top and textured exterior surface that helps the gun stay put in your pocket. The interior is made of pack cloth and is relatively smooth for a low-friction draw, although if you jam the gun into this holster very hard it can be tough to draw smoothly, which was a common feature with all the test holsters.
The Nemesis has a stitched border to help reduce wear, and all the stitching is heavy and durable, which means this holster will last. The overall design gives the impression of a rectangular object in the pocket, such as a phone or other mobile device, and the extended lip is effective at catching on the pocket to allow the gun to come free during the draw.
The Nemesis' well-padded design protects the firearm, and it is comfortable in light clothing. Overall the DeSantis impresses with its robust design and well-thought-out features.
Uncle Mike's Inside-The-Pocket
The I-T-P (UncleMikes.com) has a layout that's more of a pouch than a holster, but it's lightweight, functional and affordable. It features an open-top design and comes in general sizes to fit whole classes of firearms.
The one I received was a size 2, and while it fit the Remington fairly well, the holster's mouth was too narrow to allow the trigger guard to slide all the way into position. The trigger was covered, but there was extra space at the front of the holster- much like wearing a shoe that's a couple sizes too large.
The stitching is solid, and the border around the edge of the holster's open mouth is robust while the interior of the holster is sleek and smooth for a fast draw. However, the model I tested didn't have a lip to help it stay within the pocket, and the non-slip band didn't hold the holster in place as well as some other models. Still, the I-T-P holster is an effective if somewhat basic pocket holster that is lightweight, comfortable and easy to transport. It's also the least expensive holster in the test, costing about $10.
CrossBreed Pocket Rocket
Crossbreed (CrossBreedHolsters.com) shunned conventional pocket holster design with the Pocket Rocket. Rather than an open-top design, the company instead went with a Kydex shell fastened to a leather backing plate- which is the firm's stock-in-trade design.
When the holster is in your pocket the leather backing plate faces out and gives the impression of a mobile device or a wallet in the pocket. In fact, when I had my Android phone in the opposite pocket of my khaki shorts it was impossible to identify which pocket contained the holster, so there's no need to worry about printing. The Kydex shell fit the RM380 perfectly, locking the gun securely in place while still allowing for a smooth, quick draw.
Initially I wasn't so sure about the CrossBreed, but by the end of the test it was one of my favorite holsters. Security was beyond question- the gun was firmly planted and trigger covered- and since there's no chance this gun will print it's a great option to wear with clothing or apparel that doesn't offer a lot of pocket room (like some styles of jeans). Additionally, if you want to carry a pistol with an extended magazine grip it's less likely to print in this holster than any of the others.
The downside is the holster doesn't allow a quick and simple draw stroke. You can reach in the pocket and pull the gun from the holster with your thumb while holding the backing plate in place with the friction of your four fingers, but that takes time, and it's not fast. Still, if you want a simple way to safely carry your gun and don't want to worry about it printing- and that covers a huge majority of CCW permit holders- the Pocket Rocket will work for you.
Galco Pocket Protector
The engineers at Galco (GalcoGunLeather.com) put plenty of thought into this one. For starters, the metal reinforcing at the mouth prevents the holster from biting down on the gun when you draw. The oversized leather hook on the bottom of the holster helps keep the Pocket Protector from printing, and it does an effective job biting on the lower edge of the pocket when drawing.
The holster is made from premium center-cut steer hide, and it has a rough outer texture and a smooth interior for an effortless draw. The Galco was the shortest holster in the test, measuring just 4.5 inches top to bottom.
There were no problems with printing, and this holster's design made it the simplest from which to draw. The holster sits upright in the pocket, and with each draw the Pocket Protector remained in place while the gun came free with very little effort. The smooth interior leather provides a snag-free surface, and there's no need to worry about how deeply you set the gun in the holster.
The quality of both the stitching and steer hide is excellent. Overall, the Galco was a superb holster that was easy to carry and allowed rapid access to a secured firearm.
Blackhawk TecGrip Pocket Holster
At first glance the austere TecGrip Pocket holster (blackhawk.com) looked like a tan pouch and little else. But upon closer examination I quickly realized there's more to this ultra-simple holster layout than meets the eye. For starters, the body of the holster is made from thermal-bonded three-layer laminate, which makes it durable while cushioning the gun. The construction also makes it affordable.
The interior surface of the holster is extremely sleek and doesn't grab the gun when you go to draw. The exterior TecGrip surface does an excellent job of gripping the interior fabric of the pocket, holding the holster in place on the draw. The high-density closed-cell foam design is comfortable, and as long as you don't have a large finger extension on your pistol there's little chance this holster will print.
Like some of the other holsters listed here the TecGrip is not gun-specific. The size 2 I received fit the RM380 perfectly. Early in the test I was sure the gun would come out of the pocket still wearing the holster, but by the end I was impressed by how effectively the TecGrip surface held the holster in place.
The real question about that gripping surface is longevity, and to that end I tried to carry the holster as much as possible and draw the gun hundreds of times to determine if, over time, that TecGrip surface will wear down.
After several weeks I saw no signs of fatigue. When you arrive home at the end of the day the TecGrip is an easy holster to simply pull from your pocket and toss in the safe, a convenient, low-cost and effective carry option.