J Frame Holster Options: Choices Galore!

Given the popularity of the J-Frame-sized revolver, we thought it wise to give you a run-down on some of the various holsters available on the market. Note that this isn’t going to be a minute, in-depth review on each (that will come later). Rather, a quick overview—a guide to help you decide which one might be best for you. All of these holsters are geared for the J-Frame revolver.

S&W J-Frame 642 with Crimson Trace laser grips
Smith & Wesson’s J-Frame revolver is a solid choice for defense and has been used for decades successfully. This one is equipped with Crimson Trace Laser Grips.

Pull up a chair, grab a drink, and follow along as we peruse a variety of holsters for your snubby.

The Lineup of J-Frame Holsters

1791 Gunleather Open Top J-Frame OWB Holster

The first holster we’ll take a look at is the open-top J-Frame model from 1791 Gunleather. This holster is for outside the waistband (OWB) carry. At first impression, I was mildly shocked at how robustly the holster is made. To say the leather used is thick is the understatement of the year! Every single layer of leather is nearly 1/4-inch thick. The portions where they come together such as at the belt loops are 3/8-inch thick.

642 in 1791 holster.
The 1791 open-top holster is a solid choice that will last for many years. It will accommodate wide belts (up to 1 3/4-inch).

Since the leather is so thick, my holster required a short break-in period. I just wore it and did a ton of draws from the holster until it smoothed and loosened up. This is not a criticism, but rather it’s to be expected since the fit is achieved through wet molding, according to the company. The initial fit is very tight. Leaving the handgun in the holster even when it is not being worn is also a good way to loosen things up.

Mouth of holster.
Note the very thick leather construction. They were serious when they made this holster! The fit and finish are superb.

This holster’s finish is black, and it is very nicely done. It’s a good-looking holster.

The stitching is heavy, in keeping with the rest of the construction, and beautifully done. There is a reinforcing piece of leather at the outside portion of the mouth of the holster.

Side view, 1791 holster.
The holster has double stitching and reinforcement where needed. It is stiff at first and requires a little break-in period.

The holster has two belt loops, and when the holster is worn, it really pulls the handgun in tight to the body, which is stellar for concealment. It is also a comfortable holster to wear, and will no doubt become more so as it breaks in and loosens up.

The bottom portion of the holster is open. I carried a Smith & Wesson 642 with a 1 7/8-inch barrel, and there was space left over for more barrel length.

Weapons Retention with this holster seems to be extraordinary—there is no way on earth that the revolver is going to fall out of this holster by accident.

Wearing the 1791 J frame holster.
The pistol tucks in close to the body with this holster, making it very effective for concealment. Retention is also quite good.

Overall, the user gets a lot for their money with this holster. It is built to be bomb-proof, and 1791 achieved that goal, and then some! This is a piece of kit that you’ll pass down to your kids, and it will have many years of service left at that point. This is the first holster that I’m trying from this particular company, and I must say that I’m impressed! You get all of this for $51.99 at the time of this writing, which is a stellar deal.

Blackhawk A.R.C. IWB Holster (Appendix Reversible Carry)

The next J Frame holster on our list is the Blackhawk ARC for SW J-Frame revolvers.

Blackhawk Holster package.
The Blackhawk ARC comes complete with two clips for various belt sizes, along with mounting hardware.

When you unpackage this holster, the first thing you need to do is take a look at the belt clips and see which one most closely matches the belt you’re wearing. You then will need to grab a screwdriver and attach the belt clip. Rudimentary instructions are included, and it’s not a terribly difficult task. The clips fit 1.5 and 1.75-inch belts.

This holster can be set up for either right- or left-side carry, so its ambidextrous nature makes it versatile.

Once the belt clip is installed, ensure that the handgun fits securely in the holster. Make sure the revolver is unloaded, and insert it into the holster. Mine was extremely loose, so I needed to tighten the retention screw. I adjusted it so that there is adequate tension to retain the gun, but there is still some looseness between the gun and the holster. Mind you, it’s adequate to carry the handgun but looser than on many other Kydex holsters that I’ve had experience with.

Blackhawk ARC J frame holster profile.
The Kydex on the Blackhawk holster is somewhat pliable. Note the retention adjustment screw underneath the trigger guard (to the left in the photo). Adjusting it changes the tension holding the handgun in the holster.

The Blackhawk A.R.C. is made from injection molded polymer. It has a soft, pliable feel to it. I don’t mean soft as though you could fold the holster over; I mean it’s rigid, but a little pliable, which sets it apart from other holsters. The holster is grey in color, and the clip is black.

Rear of Blackhawk ARC holster.
A view of the back of the holster, showing the belt clip.

Overall, the holster is comfortable enough and holds the gun in place well. The trigger guard is covered, so it safely carries the revolver.

I’ll confess that this is not my favorite holster because of the slightly pliable nature of the Kydex and the slight looseness with which it carries the gun. This is just my personal preference and does not imply that it’s an inferior holster. Although one positive aspect is that, when you bend over, the Kydex doesn’t tend to stab you in the stomach like some of the more rigid Kydex holsters. This feature may endear it to some wearers.

Clip of Blackhawk ARC holster.
Side view of the clip. It is adjustable for height, and ambidextrous.

Because this is not an expensive holster, it might be attractive to some folks who are on the fence about trying IWB carry methods. Buy this holster, try out IWB and see if you like it. At that point, you can either continue to use it (it does function exactly as needed) or graduate to a different one.

This particular holster model fits the Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver. At the time of this writing, the retail price on this model is $21.99.

Bulldog Extreme Series Ankle Holster

The Bulldog Cases ankle holster offers a mode of carry that I’m not familiar with; an ankle holster. I’ve never actually used an ankle holster up until this point.

The concept is interesting, in that the handgun can be very concealed and difficult to detect. Obviously, though, it’s going to be somewhat slower and more difficult to access during an emergency.

This Bulldog holster is made of nylon and is very lightweight. The padding around the shell protects the gun and adds comfort for your ankle. The edges are stitched with Nylon hems. Overall, it appears to be a solid, robust design. The model that I’m reviewing is for right-hand use only.

Bulldog Ankle holster with revolver.
The Bulldog ankle holster securely holds the revolver.

To secure the holster to the leg, there is an elastic strap with hook and loop closures. The strap does a good job comfortably securing the holster to the leg, with no sign of it coming loose. Despite it being secure, I experienced no discomfort from the strap being overly tight. It’s a nice balance of security and comfort.

Finally, the gun is secured into the holster by a retention strap, which secures against the outside of the holster by hook and loop closure. It does a stellar job of keeping the revolver secured in the holster.

Bulldog ankle holster attachment strap.
The elastic strap that secures the holster is both comfortable and secure.

Unfortunately, it is not very quick to unstrap if I need the gun in a hurry. It doesn’t inhibit drawing the revolver, but it’s not extraordinarily fast either. To be fair, I guess the securing strap needs to be very strong, given the dynamic nature of being strapped to one’s leg. Should you need to run or engage in other physical activity, you can’t have the gun flying off the ankle, careening across the deck now, can you?

Security strap, ankle J frame holster
The retention strap holds the revolver securely in the holster. It is not a fast method of drawing the 642.

During the summer months, I wear shorts, so this mode of carry wouldn’t work for me then. And for those who wear skinny jeans, it’s a no-go as well. Regular jeans and pants work great for concealment, though.

For carrying a primary defensive weapon, I’d prefer something with more speed and accessibility. For a backup weapon, however, this setup is pretty slick. I think it would work very well.

Ankle J frame holster
Obviously, the holster would be worn under pants, but then you wouldn’t see it—which is the point of taking photos. This rig is not for skinny jeans!

At the time of this writing, the holster retails for $19.99, which is incredibly reasonable for the quality of the product.

Sticky Holsters Multi-Use Holster

This is the final option in today’s list of S&W J-Frame holsters. The Sticky Holsters pocket handgun holster (J Frame)  is intended to function as both a pocket holster or an IWB (Inside The Waistband) holster.

Not only will this holster fit the S&W J-Frame, but also the Kimber K6S, Ruger LCR, and the Rock Island Armory M206. We can already see that it fills a wide range of uses. The fact that it is ambidextrous adds to its versatility.

Sticky holster with revolver.
The outside of the holster is a sort of rubbery material that sticks to the inside of the pocket or waistband (depending upon how the user is wearing it).

It is advertised as having a “non-slip, rubberized exterior.” The exterior has an interesting feel to it; it feels almost like a rubber-ish sort of leather.

Sticky holster with S&W 642.
The holster does a good job of covering the trigger guard, making it safe.

The interior of the holster is micro-fiber and is designed not to mar the finish of the handgun. This also allows the handgun to be drawn quickly and easily. The holster has closed-cell padding, which adds to the comfort level

I tried carrying my J-Frame in both advertised modes of carry in this holster.

Inside the Pocket

It was very comfortable and the holster completely broke up the outline of the revolver in my pocket. It was completely impossible to tell that I was carrying a handgun.

Inside the Waistband

Again, this was very comfortable. Concealment was excellent—all I had to do was pull a t-shirt over the rig to make it disappear.

All in all, this is the simplest holster to write about because there’s almost nothing to it. At the same time, it’s one of the most useful and versatile because it carries in two modes (IWB and pocket) that are very effective for concealment and deployment. If a possible threat is perceived, you can have your hand in your pocket on the gun while appearing to be completely non-threatening. If necessary, you can draw the pistol in an instant.

The edges of the nylon on the holster are nicely finished and stitched. The construction of the rig indicates that it will give many years of good service.

Finished edge and stitching of sticky holster J frame holster
The Sticky Holster’s edges are nicely finished and the stitching is good.

As this is written, the price of the holster is $26.95, which is a really good deal, considering its quality. As an aside, this is one of my favorite holsters out of the bunch, for its simplicity and versatility.

J-Frame Holster Conclusions

We’ve taken a look at four different holsters here. There are overlapping modes of carry, which give a nice cross-section of how they can be used.

The prices, as you can see, range from extremely inexpensive to what’s probably considered average (or maybe slightly under average) for a factory holster. Either way, all are very affordable.

Quality ranges from lightweight to extremely robust. In fact, the 1791 holster is built like a tank! Most likely, there is something in this lineup that will appeal to a wide range of people. Try one out and let us know what you think!

One final thought: no matter which holster (or holsters) you’re using, you need to safe the weapon and practice your drawstroke.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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