Re-Post from MDT
When I had arrived at my first unit assignment in the military, the handgun available for issue in that unit was the M1911A1 (Beretta M9’s had not reached us yet due to our old timers dragging their feet on turning in the 1911’s). Of course I was a youngster and thought more was better (ammo capacity) in the handgun dept, and it took a little while to find the reasoning behind not wanting the M9.
One of the first things I did upon my arrival was go to E7’s and E8’s, make an introduction, and ask them a few questions about various things and how they prefered doing it. One of those questions was “What personal handgun do you carry?” The majority chose the Browning Hi-Power P35, and about 1/3 said the 1911A1. The next question was “What holster do you use?”. The answers I received were everything from the standard full flap leather mil issue rig, to tanker/aviator holsters and other types of shoulder rigs.
I started out using a tanker rig for my Hi-Power and 1911A1, and always liked the convenience of it as a field rig. I have used the regular shoulder holster designs, both horizontal and vertical (carried a 6″ N frame Smith for a bit), and am a huge fan of the horizontal shoulder rig. I use the horizontal shoulder rig for my off duty carry guns, and have never had a reason to question that choice.
When it comes to holster selection, the deciding factors for most people are usually “Price”, “What fits you the best”, “Speed of weapon presentation”, and “Protecting the gun”, and usually in that order. Like my Belt holster post, I’m going to cover a few of these types of holsters that I have actually used in the field and on the street, and review the benefits and detriments of each.
First up, the lowly horizontal shoulder holster. As you can see from pics above, I haven’t just used it for my concealed carry needs, but I used it all the time in a combat theater. “Why am I such a big fan?” you ask. Well, it’s a simple answer, really. With a shoulder rig, I can have my weapon, extra ammo, and a fixed blade knife all together in one “pick up and go” package. No threading it on my belt, or putting my paddle holster on one side, ammo on the other, and putting the fixed blade knife wherever.
It is convenient to be able to pick up my rig as I get ready to go, or hear a bump in the night, and know everything I need for that weapon, as well as backup (a knife doesn’t need to be reloaded) to that in one easy to don package. The shoulder rig is easy to hide (well, actually it depends on your build and/or the size of your “energy reserve”), and as an example, if you are in the middle of a quickly escalating situation in let’s say a convenience store while waiting to pay, simply crossing your arms puts you in a position to have your hand on your weapon while not appearing obvious or threatening.
I’ve regularly carried concealed for 25 years, and in that time I’ve learned to appreciate the shoulder holster for a number of reasons. 1) It carries everything for the weapon together. 2) It will hide a fairly large gun well for me. 3) It is easily accessible while driving, and works even better in that role than the crossdraw, since the crossdraw is impeded by the seat belt at times (the crossdraw is generally only recommended by people with little or no experience in actual concealed carry, but it works well for long barreled handguns while hunting). 4) If I end up on my back in a fight (never happens, right?), it is easier for me to access the shoulder holster than any waist mounted holster I’ve tried.
What are the downsides to a shoulder rig? 1) If you are very thin, it doesn’t conceal well. 2) If your “modular food storage unit” is designed for “long term sustainment”, you probably can’t reach your weapon with your strong hand. 3) If you have to wear it over something (jacket, body armor, etc.), you probably will have to adjust the straps for a comfortable fit. 4) In certain instances, it might be slightly slower than a strong side holster, but of course this also depends on how much you practice your draw, and what garment is concealing it.
OK, now on to one of my favorite field holsters, the Tanker/Aviator holster. As I said earlier, I carried a Browning Hi-Power (then a Glock 17) for a number of years in a rig like this. One reason we used it was simply because you could put it under your BDU blouse if you did not want it to be noticed by certain administrative types who came out to the field, and were stuck on stupid when it came to practical field regulations and reality.
Advantages of the Tanker rig 1) It is up out of the way. 2) It doesn’t general catch on things while on patrol. 3) It’s easy to maintain positive control of your weapon. 4) It is concealable if necessary. 5) It is easy to adjust it to fit around different types of combat gear.
Disadvantages of the Tanker rig. 1) It is slower tha a lot of the holsters on the market today. 2) It doesn’t protect your weapon like an under the shoulder or flap holster will. 3) If you hit the ground hard on your chest, it gives you that “less than optimal” feeling (ask me how I know). 4) Low or high crawling with it can fill the holster with crap, but as a caveat, you can shift it around to your side to keep this from happening.
As I said above, a big advantage of these types of holsters (Shoulder or Tanker) is that they are not attached to your combat gear, and can be worn separately in camp, a vehicle, etc.
The Tanker style holsters pictured above have extra ammo attached to them. The Glock 21 rig has two 13 round mags, and the M29 has four 6 round speedloaders. The speedloader pouch I use is a surplus M1 Carbine 15 round 2 mag pouch. I have used these for about 28 years to carry extra speed loaders, The second speedloader in each pocket sits directly above the first speedloader.
Are these holsters perfect? Not hardly. But the longer you experiment with different types of gear, the more you come to realize that nothing is. These are my opinions based on decades of use. Hopefully, it has helped you understand not only the benefits, but the downsides of these different types of holsters, and helps you make a more practical choice.