Paddle Holsters: Do They Have a Purpose?

Paddle holsters are a hot topic of debate for many folks in the gun world. While I’ve been outspoken against their prolific use and misuse, the constant debate behind them forced me to take a second look. After all, contempt before investigation is bound to prevent us from learning, right?

For the last 15 years and change, I have carried a firearm daily for personal and professional applications. Over the years, I have learned a lot of the dos and don’ts of concealed and open carry. As times changed, and so did my experiences, I’ve learned there’s a time and place for carrying a paddle holster. Furthermore, there are a few things to keep in mind, as well as techniques for safely and competently carrying one.

What is a Paddle Holster?

Holsters attach to the body through a large number of methods and means. Shoulder holsters loop through the arms and occasionally secure to the belt like suspenders. Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters clip or loop through the belt, while outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters normally loop through the belt. However, some OWB holsters utilize a paddle-style device to secure to the body.

Different types of paddle holsters and carriers
Paddle holsters come in many forms and variants. From left to right: Blackhawk SERPA, Fobus paddle mag carrier, and Safariland ALS.

A paddle holster conveniently attaches a holster for OWB carry. The paddle typically attaches with several hooks that secure to the belt while the paddle’s curvature distributes the gun’s weight across the body. There’s no question about it: paddle holsters are comfortable if worn properly. Furthermore, paddle holsters afford easy on-and-off for those who need to disarm and don’t want to walk around with an empty holster. On the negative side, many paddle holsters aren’t worn properly with poor retention. Even if worn properly, a paddle holster could potentially be separated from its owner. These issues cause some immediate condemnation from those vehemently against their use.

What’s the problem with paddle holsters?

Retention is the biggest underlying issue with paddle holsters. Most paddle holsters that I’ve encountered feature some kind of retention device to secure the firearm in the holster. While other variants exist, the most common styles are the Blackhawk SERPA and Safariland ALS. While I won’t delve into the controversy surrounding the SERPA’s design in this writing, it features a push-button style retention lever, while the ALS has a “thumb-drive” style retention device.

Retention devices on ALS and SERPA
The Safariland ALS retention device (left) is extremely fast and safe for any level of shooter. The Blackhawk SERPA retention (right) has a controversial history with many due to where it places the trigger finger during the draw.

While retention devices help secure the gun in the holster, the issue isn’t so much with the retention device as it is the paddle securing the holster to the body. With any holster, the weakest security point fails first during a disarming attempt. For example, screws securing the holster clips, loops, or paddle strip or break with enough stress. With a paddle holster, the paddle hooks defeat relatively easily compared to a belt loop design.

Belt loop versus paddle designs
With a paddle holster, the hooks securing the holster to the belt are easily defeated to remove the holster and gun from the belt. To defeat a holster with belt loops, the loops or mounting hardware must fail to remove the holster from the person.

More often than not, paddle holsters aren’t properly adjusted or secured to a belt. Furthermore, some users open carry with a paddle holster and don’t exercise proper situational awareness. Consequently, many within the gun community argue disarming someone with a paddle holster is exceptionally easy. When compared to most other holster-to-belt retention designs, they’re unfortunately right.

But they are Useful

Paddle holsters definitely have some benefits. First, they’re comfortable. The paddle generally contours to the body and does a great job of distributing the firearm’s weight compared to single mounting points. While some may disagree, paddle holsters inherently carry more comfortably. Where holster mounting loops for a belt occasionally produce pinch points or hard edges, the paddle eliminates these with a rounded paddle resting against your body.

Gun and mags
This setup is nice for office work when public interaction is limited. If the author needs to disarm or switch to a duty belt, it’s done in seconds without removing his belt and dropping gear everywhere.

Somewhat ironically, the biggest complaint against paddle holsters is also a positive — how easily the holster removes and attaches. There’s no free lunch with any design choices. However, some circumstances help the benefits outweigh any drawbacks. If your activities require entering non-permissive environments, a paddle holster assists with quickly disarming to enter those environments. Furthermore, some of my work requires climbing underneath vehicles or structures. In those instances, the environment may be so tight that I need to drop my gear quickly. Paddle holsters allow for quick removal and storage, whereas traditional mounting methods require removing my belt. Call me lazy, but it’s definitely convenient in some circumstances.

Addressing the Paddle Holster’s Pitfalls

Earlier, I touched on some of the common complaints directed at paddle holsters; the biggest of them pointed at their poor retention and security between the holster and body. Unfortunately, their design doesn’t guarantee the same retention as a belt loop or slot-style holster. However, a few simple considerations and some situational awareness go a long way in improving the paddle’s biggest drawbacks.

Use a belt — and a quality one at that

Not all belts are equal. While a nice dress belt makes for a fashionable statement, appearances don’t translate to practical concealed carry. A quality belt enhances comfort, stability, and security when carrying. For example, many average consumer belts are a single piece of leather. This type of leather doesn’t have the strength, stability, or durability to carry a firearm daily.

Belt looped through paddle
The author’s Crossbreed Crossover Belt is approaching 10 years of nearly daily use. While a bit rough in appearance, this belt has held up well to all varieties of daily concealed and open carry. A quality leather gun belt goes a long way, especially with paddle holsters.

Conversely, heavier-density leather, stiffeners between layers, and/or multiple layers of stitched and glued leather produce a durable gun belt. I purchased my first Crossbreed Crossover leather gun belt almost 10 years ago. With occasional maintenance, the belt continues to maintain its quality and durability despite daily use and abuse. The belt’s additional thickness and rigid structure also improve paddle holster carry. The paddle’s hooks remain engaged with the belt’s extra thickness while the belt is sturdy enough to pull tight without worrying about a broken fastener or buckle.

Inspection Before Carry

Before donning your concealed carry or duty loadout, you should always inspect your equipment. Screws work loose on belts and holsters. An optic’s lens and gun’s action collect lint, dirt, and grime. While just a few broad examples, inspecting your gear could save your life. For paddle holsters, this practice is especially important. Plastic and polymer stress and crack over time with use. The screws mounting the holster to the paddle can strip or work loose. Most of all, once mounted to your belt, check the paddle and holster for proper connection between them. I’ve seen some folks put the paddle portion that goes against the body between the belt and their pants. Don’t do that — the paddle goes inside the pants, not outside.

Maintain Situational Awareness

Despite taking the appropriate steps to carry a paddle holster, proper situational awareness remains critical. Burying our heads in a phone or other distractions negates any effort taken to ensure our security or that of our firearm. While concealed carry draws less attention, some of us choose to open carry. After all, this right is most certainly endowed to us by the Second Amendment. However, our rights don’t absolve us of the responsibility that exists in doing so.

Gun grabbed from belt
Inattentiveness can lead to dire consequences. With paddle holsters, that inattentiveness can mean your gun and holster are separated from you before you can act.

When publicly carrying with a paddle holster, your attention shouldn’t be on your phone or other tasks with an exposed firearm. By no means should you be paranoid. However, blading your body from persons who could access your firearm in a paddle holster is a small step, like the ones listed above, to ensure you retain the firearm in the event of a criminal miscreant’s misdirected decision.

Paddle Holsters Have a Place and Time

There are a wide variety of concealed and open carry holsters currently available to the responsible gun owner. However, every one of those options has individual pros and cons, some more than others. Paddle holsters are no different in this aspect, except the challenges are slightly different. With proper equipment, practice, and situational awareness, you can safely carry with a paddle holster. Ultimately, this holster style may not be for everyone, but with proper education and training, it has a role in arming the responsible citizen.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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