Paddle Holster vs Belt Holster: How to Choose Which One

Can’t decide whether to use a paddle holster or belt holster?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone!

I had the same problem recently and here’s what I found out.

Paddle holsters are typically more comfortable to wear and can be easily removed or repositioned on your body for better placement. A belt holster, on the other hand, has a lower profile and is locked into place with your belt for extra security.

If you want to learn more major differences between paddle holsters and belt holsters then simply continue reading below.

Paddle Holster vs Belt Holster

The purpose of a holster is safety. As members of the firearms community, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us. The wrong holster could contribute to accidental or serious injury. 

When buying a holster, consider your firearm make/model, accessibility, and your daily activities.

Below we’ll discuss the two main types of holsters, but there are many things to take into consideration before making a choice

Firearm Make and Model

It’s important to consider the make/model of your firearm so you can choose a holster with the most secure fit. The gun should fit snugly into the holster without being too tight. 

Make sure the gun slides smoothly from the holster without catching on the frame or the slide. You’ll also want to test that your handgun stays firmly inside the holster as you move.


When considering the type of holster to buy, you need to consider what activities you’ll be performing while it’s on your person. For instance, you’ll want a different holster if you’re just grocery shopping versus taking a morning run.

You want the holster in an easy-to-access position with enough stability that it and your gun stay in place during the range of activities you’ll be doing. You’ll also want to consider the gun’s accessibility to other people. 

Even if you’re concealed carrying, it doesn’t mean someone with ill intentions won’t know you have a gun. If you’re open carrying, you’ll want an extra level of protection from someone lifting it off your person.

What Is a Paddle Holster?

A paddle holster has a wide, concave plastic or leather spring-based clip shaped like a paddle on the backside. The holster fits over the waistband of your pants with the paddle inside your waistband next to your body.

A paddle holster is best for concealed carry because it stabilizes your gun for quick and easy removal from the holster. Grip retention is the most important element to keep firearms stable during activity. Many paddle holsters also have a shelf or teeth to help hold the paddle in place and grip your belt or waistband. 

Paddle holsters are the most comfortable to wear because they can be easily moved to any position around your waist to suit your activities. 

Pros of Paddle Holsters

  • Can be positioned anywhere on the waistband for comfort and accessibility.
  • Easier to remove or reposition when needed (e.g. getting in/out of a vehicle).
  • Easier to remove the holster with the gun when needed. 
  • The broad base of the clip sits up against your body making it smoother to draw.
  • Many allow the wearer to adjust the cant (the angle at which the gun rides in the holster) and grip angle of the gun.

Cons of Paddle Holsters

  • Not as physically secure as a holster held in place by a belt loop clip.
  • Not recommended for open carry because it’s easier to remove.
  • Sits away from the body so it’s easier to see the silhouette if you carry concealed.

What Is a Belt Holster?

A belt holster is secured to your belt by sliding the two loops on the back of the holster over your belt. This is the most secure type of over the waistband (OWB) holster because you have to unbuckle your belt and slide it off to remove it.

It’s the most common type of holster used for open carrying. It fits closer to the body, so it’s also easy to conceal under a jacket or shirt.

Pros of Belt Holsters

  • Fits high and tight to the body so it’s easier to conceal.
  • Incredibly stable and almost impossible to remove without removing the belt.

Cons of Belt Holsters

  • Not easy to adjust position and can be uncomfortable or make it hard to withdraw the handgun in tight spaces or while crouching.
  • Not all belt holsters allow the wearer to adjust angle and cant.
  • Must wear a belt for the most security. Thicker, stiffer leather or nylon is needed to hold the weight and vertical tension of the holster and the firearm.

Now that you know about the pros and cons of each holster, let’s look at retention levels before making a decision.

Holster Retention Levels

Both paddle and belt holsters are identified with a “level” designation by manufacturers that describe the ability to hold the firearm in the holster and prevent someone else from obtaining the gun. 

There are no real standards between manufacturers, but it generally refers to the number of retention mechanisms the holster has. There are 4 retention levels, but Levels 1 and 2 are the most commonly used for individual carry. 

Level 1 – Passive or Pressure Retention

A pressure retention holster is usually molded to the make and model of your firearm. This increases friction between the gun and the holster. 

Holsters made of leather offer natural resistance and obtain optimum retention after a breaking-in period. Since polymer doesn’t naturally grip a firearm like leather, these holsters use a detent screw to put pressure on the trigger guard to keep the gun secure in the holster. 

To draw the firearm from either of these holsters, it must be pushed or pulled to break the tension. There is no physical mechanism that needs to be disengaged to draw. This level is an acceptable level of retention for concealed carry.

Level 2 – Active Retention

Active retention holsters use at least one additional physical feature to ensure the firearm stays in the holster. 

The most common mechanisms for active retention are the hood, backstrap, or a finger/thumb-operated lever. These mechanisms “lock” the gun in place and must be deactivated on the draw stroke in order to remove the firearm from the holster. This is the most commonly used retention level for open carry. 

Holsters with active retention may prevent the gun from being taken by someone else. However, you could be less prepared to effectively draw your gun during an attack if you haven’t properly trained to disengage your active retention devices on your draw stroke.

Most, if not all law enforcement that open carry use a holster with active retention to prevent assailants from grabbing their gun. 

For those of us that do vigorous outdoor activities like hiking or hunting, an active retention holster will prevent dropping your handgun out of the holster if you happen to slip and fall, etc.

Other examples of active retention mechanisms are:

  • Thumb break/retention strap – a thin strap that goes over the rear of the gun (behind the hammer or slide) and must be disengaged with the thumb to draw the gun from the holster. These are common on OWB holsters.
  • Tension screw – found on both leather and Kydex holsters, these screws can be tightened to increase friction and improve the fit between the holster and the gun. 

Some have one near the trigger guard, and others have multiple screws in various locations to increase tension around the holster.

  • Trigger guard lock – locking mechanism built into trigger guard area on a polymer holster to prevent the gun from being removed until it’s released.
  • Altered draw stroke retention – these devices require the user to push down or rock the gun back and forth to release the mechanism and draw the gun.

Summary: Which Is Best?

The best holster really depends on the needs you have when you’re carrying your handgun. There are many models and styles to choose from. Remember that the main goal of the holster is your safety and the safety of those around you. Choose a type and buy the best quality holster for your budget.