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Published Jun 7, 2022 9:14 AM

The 1911 pistol is one of the longest-running service weapons in military history. It’s rugged, accurate, and packs a massive punch. Compared to modern duty weapons, though, it’s heavy and gets even heavier when you load it. So, if you decide to carry one, finding the best 1911 holster is an absolute must. 

Because the 1911 handgun has weight issues — even ones with a smaller five-inch barrel — any type of realistic concealed carry option is out of the question. Therefore, we focused on the top picks for paddle, belt, and shoulder carrying holster options so you can shop confidently knowing we did the real work. We’ll also explain how we found our choices and evaluated them against the competition.

How we tested

Over the years, I’ve carried and owned several 1911 pistols. In addition to my personal experience, I have had extensive military training and experience shooting and carrying the handgun. So, I have intimate knowledge of the pros and cons of the iconic design. 

The holsters picked for this review were selected based on their overall rating on popular ecommerce sites. I started with 1911 holsters with the most positive reviews and then narrowed it down to ones with ideal specifications and features. I looked for the best-rated leather, plastic, paddle, and shoulder holsters. 

Also, given that patents for the 1911 pistol are in the public domain, there are countless variations of the design. Therefore, I used three different 1911 handguns to test holsters. These include the Para 1911 with a six-inch barrel; a Springfield 1911 Milspec with a six-inch barrel; and a Sig Sauer 1911 with a five-inch barrel and rail. Each pistol had a turn with each holster (when applicable). 

I tested each holster for comfort, retention, and ease of use. For the former two, I wore them with jeans and a leather belt and I also tried them with a thicker military-issue Velcro tac belt during normal, everyday activities. I wore each one for several days and during hikes longer than a mile. And for the latter, I drew the gun from the holstered position some 20 times apiece to check for smoothness of pull and overall ergonomics. 
At Task & Purpose, we know and love holsters. We’ve written about everything from extremely popular designs like Inside the Waistband and concealed carry holsters to the very niche ankle holsters and even cross-draw holsters. If you’d like to learn more about our work, check out our editorial guidelines for our product reviews.

Best Overall

The Fobus R1911 is the minimalist solution to OWB carry. With a snug fit and low profile, it’s virtually invisible when you use a smaller barrel model 1911, and the rubberized paddle retention is extremely comfortable for all-day carry. Wearing both jeans and tactical pants, I was able to go about my yard work, walk the dog through the woods, and sit down to eat without any need to adjust my pants.

The only drawback I found with the Fobus is that out of the box, it was a bit too difficult to draw from. When you pulled, it tended to snag and drag the entire assembly up along with your pants and belt. However, you could correct the issue by adjusting the retention screw at the clasp of the holster with a Phillips head screwdriver.

Retailing at around $40, the Fobus was the best mixture of comfort, affordability, ease of draw, and firearm retention that was evaluated, and gets our rating for Best Overall holster. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Specs
  • Weight: 0.04 pound
  • Carry type: Outside the waistband, paddle
  • Release: Vertical shooting hand draw
  • Material: Plastic/rubber
PROS

Good concealment

Comfortable

CONS

Resistance on draw

While most of the larger brands focus on plastic and polymer options, the nylon Bulldog Extreme equals, and in many cases exceeds, the quality of its counterparts.

When I started putting all the options through their paces, I kept coming back to the Bulldog Extreme 1911. There’s nothing super sexy about a nylon holster with a belt loop option and metal belt retention clip, but when taken as a package, the Bulldog has it all. During draw tests, I found the reinforced snap button retention strap was perfectly placed for a quick thumb release that feels surprisingly robust for what it is. When secured, the pistol was seated deep in the holster and drew with a satisfying slide over and over again, without snagging.

I’d like to see the metal pants clip (Bulldog’s answer to the paddle) be a little longer for a firmer hold when carrying on the waistband, but the belt loop option worked just fine. Additionally, the flexibility of the nylon allows you to use the clip and wear it inside the belt for a concealed option (if you like carrying a three-pound brick in the small of your back), and the added magazine pouch ensures you’re getting the most value for your money.

Retailing for under $30, the Bulldog is without a doubt the best option that provides a bare bones solution for everything you need in a 1911 holster without breaking the bank.

Specs
  • Weight: N/A
  • Carry type: Belt open/concealed (clip or paddle)
  • Release: Thumb snap
  • Material: Nylon
PROS

Flexible for any 1911 model

Includes magazine pouch

Easy draw

CONS

Belt clip isn’t as secure as the loop option

Honorable Mention

The Blackhawk Omnivore is probably the most flexible plastic-molded holster I’ve ever tested. Large or small hand size, abnormally long fingers, none of that matters with the Omnivore. It has a unique press-thumb release that elevates the weapon directly into your palm as you press it and includes three different pad sizes to change the height of the push release so the holster perfectly matches your draw type.

The free-floating design, which allows you to draw, holster, and secure the weapon without metal or fabric dragging on the frame is a brilliant innovation. This is done by attaching a box-shaped plastic retaining accessory onto the lower accessory rail. When you slide the pistol into the holster, the bottom part of the frame clamps onto the box and holds it firm, while the rest of the weapon sits free. Before assembling the Omnivore, I was skeptical that the single box point of contact would be enough to secure a 1911 with a fully loaded magazine, but am happy to report that I was very wrong.

Once I had the thumb button sized properly, the Omnivore lived up to the hype of its reviews, and the draw was unlike anything I’d experienced with other brands. The 1911 practically leaps into your hand in a ready shooting position as a natural extension of the pushing motion.

If you prefer a belt loop carry to a paddle, no worries. The Omnivore belt loop attachment comes with sizing adjusters to change the width for normal belts all the way up to ultra-wide tactical rigs.

Reasonably priced, with a little setup time that is completely worth the effort, the Omnivore is an outstanding choice of holster for any 1911 enthusiast. The only reason it didn’t receive our Best Overall rating is because the holster can only be used with a 1911 that includes accessory rails, excluding a lot of popular models currently on the market.

Specs
  • Weight: 0.87 pound
  • Carry type: Belt/paddle
  • Release: Thumb press
  • Material: Nylon
PROS

Free-floating design

Customizable ergonomics

CONS

Long setup time

Must have accessory rail to use

The Galco Miami Classic II Shoulder Holster will surely impress the Miami Vice cosplayers out there. I’ve never been a huge fan of shoulder holsters, but I see why this was the highest rated of the options available. Once the straps are tightened, cut, and seated properly, it’s by far the easiest way to carry a 1911.

One negative was that the straps seemed to be missized out of the box. I’m six-foot-one and 185 pounds, and the leather straps that loop onto your upper back didn’t have enough holes to tighten the holster properly. When I used the smallest option available, the heavy weight of the 1911 dragged the left side of the rig down and pulled the opposing magazine holder uncomfortably into my armpit. This was easily corrected by using a nail to add an additional hole further up the strap, but I would have liked to have that option out of the box without extra modification needed.

However, once the straps were correctly sized and secured, the pistol rode very comfortably, much more than either a belt or paddle option. If you’re carrying the 1911 without two fully loaded magazines in the other pouch to counterbalance the weight, it can feel a little awkward as the pistol side makes the rig ride unevenly across your back. When properly balanced, the comfort is outstanding.

Another factor to consider with the Galco is that the hammer must be in the cocked position to completely secure the retention strap, which may make some people uncomfortable if they don’t like carrying a round in the chamber.

While shoulder holsters aren’t for everyone, and only provide a concealed option in colder weather where coats and jackets are regularly worn, if you’re in the market for one, the Galco Miami Classic is by far the best option available.

Specs
  • Weight: 1.50 pounds
  • Carry type: Shoulder
  • Release: Cross-body draw
  • Material: Leather
PROS

Looks great

Most comfortable way to carry a 1911

CONS

Limited applications

Long setup time

Must carry weapon in cocked position

For the holster connoisseurs out there, 1791 products are hard to beat. Thick, treated leather with an iconic stamped 1791 logo and a perfect fit, there’s not much on the market that compares. The 1791 Gunleather Ultra Custom is a belt loop-only holster, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices anything in comfort. The extra large flap on the top ensures that even a large firearm like a 1911 won’t come into contact with your skin while you’re carrying for long periods of time.

During the walk test, I found there was a tradeoff for the comfort of the oversized flap; sweat buildup where the holster was seated against my upper hip was noticeable. Nothing worth worrying about, but it may be a concern depending on what type of shirt you’re wearing.

Draw testing found the pull a bit tighter than other models, but the 1791 gets a pass, since with any leather product this will smooth out with proper treatment and seasoning of the material. We gave this holster an extra 30 tests, and by the end found that the release was no better or worse than the nylon and polymer equivalents we tested. Unlike many other leather options, the 1791 sets your pistol at a slight cant (handle forward), which helps the draw without tugging on the belt unnecessarily.

It’s a bit pricey (around $100 on the low end), but that’s what you get when buying high-quality leather. Plus, at a relatively whopping 1.3 pounds, the holster — when coupled with a fully loaded 1911 — means you’ve got almost five pounds hanging on your belt. If you’re looking for something durable that will last for years to come and turn heads when worn, the 1791 is likely your best fit.

Specs
  • Weight: 1.30 pounds
  • Carry type: Belt loop
  • Release: Vertical shooting hand draw
  • Material: Leather
PROS

Good concealment

Very Comfortable

CONS

Resistance on draw unless prepped

Expensive

Safariland’s ALS (Automatic Locking System) concealed paddle holster is a crowd favorite. Priced just over $50, it’s on the slightly higher end from similar models, but the ALS system means drawing your firearm has never been easier. Also called a thumb release or lever, the ALS uses an internal locking mechanism that secures the gun in all directions simply upon re-holstering. No buttons, levers, or catches. The weight of the pistol sliding into the holster triggers the mechanism, and the act of drawing it back out provides enough to release it.

It’s a nice piece of engineering. Only the Omnivore had smoother draw ergonomics out of all the holsters we field tested.

When first unboxing the Safariland ALS, it appears to be larger than similar offerings, but there’s a reason for that. Inside the holster are raised standoff surfaces which create an air space around your weapon, which means any dirt or moisture on the frame can dry or wick off while worn, instead of corroding and/or abrading your 1911. The molded paddle will also make your pistol practically disappear during waist carry, even with the boxier outer shell. The 1911 fans can’t go wrong with the Safariland ALS.

Specs
  • Weight: 42 pound
  • Carry type: Paddle/Belt loop
  • Release: Quick-release vertical draw
  • Material: Nylon polymer blend
PROS

Very smooth release

Good concealment with paddle

CONS

Non-robust holster material

ALS is loose with heavier models

What to consider when buying 1911 holsters

Most 1911 pistols follow the original design by using an all-metal frame, and while that extra heft helps you keep your sights on target, the heavy load makes concealed carry difficult if not impossible. Therefore, comfort and retention are the two top priorities and smoothness of draw is very close behind. If you’re going to spend more than a few minutes with a three-pound hand-cannon on your hip, you’d better have a holster that can provide the comfort needed, or someone is going to be sleeping on their back that night.

Types of 1911 holsters

Belt loop

Tried and true. Belt loop holsters thread your normal belt, or a tactical accessory, through loops on the holster for waist carry. The only limit is the thickness and strength of the belt itself. Issues with this begin to appear if your belt is too small or too loose, and you find your pants being pulled upward with the holster when you attempt a vertical draw.

Paddle

Instead of a belt loop, paddle holsters use a molded paddle, tightly angled to clip onto the waist of your pants, following the curve of your hip, providing the same physical placement as a belt-loop option with added comfort. These typically have a more forgiving draw vs a belt without the upward-riding pull.

Shoulder

A shoulder holster combines a left or right horizontally laid holster (depending on draw preference) under the armpit, with a counterbalancing ammo and/or accessory pouch to offset the weight. Often, these will include hook-and-loop assemblies for attaching each side to the waist of the pants, helping to prevent shift, especially with larger firearms like the 1911. They are usually made of leather and connected via an X strap in the upper back to keep the whole thing together and allow for custom adjustment.

Drop/leg holsters and concealed

Since this is an everyday carry holster review for the 1911, we didn’t address the military-style drop holsters, typically seen in three-gun competitions and military/LEO scenarios, or true concealed waistband options, since a full size 1911 isn’t really the proper firearm for that application. 

Key features of 1911 holsters 

Fit and retention

With such a heavy firearm, tightness of fit is critical. A fully loaded 1911 is much less forgiving if you have a loose strap or improperly seated holster. Beyond the safety aspect of dropping a loaded weapon on the ground, no one wants to be that guy having to explain to the gunsmith why there are gravel scratches on the side of your new Kimber 1911.

Comfort 

We keep coming back to weight as a theme. This isn’t the Wild West. That extra hundredth of a second draw time isn’t worth the trade if you end each day sporting a massive bruise on your hip where the gun bashed you. If it feels good to wear, it’s probably good to use.

Ease of draw

Simply put, if you can’t quickly retrieve your firearm from the holster, then it’s a useless holster. Make sure that any holster you buy can hold your weapon securely, and will release the firearm when you need it without pulling your pants up toward your belly button.

Pricing for 1911 holsters 

Budget 

This is the level you need to spend at when you’ve blown most of your money on a firearm, but still need to ensure you can carry it comfortably and safely. Expect to spend at least $30 to $40 for something decent. 

Mid-range

Once you’ve gotten a feel for what you like, mid-range holsters focus on additional comfort, better materials, and bigger brand names with added options for accessories. About $50 to $65 is reasonable for this range.

Premium 

Merry Christmas to yourself! At a certain point, there’s only so much functionality you can get out of spending more money on a holster. At the premium tier, you’re buying premium materials (leather, embossed designs, polymers, etc) and can expect the best the industry has to offer.

FAQs about 1911 holsters

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How safe is a 1911 cocked and locked?

A: Without sounding too flippant, a gun is only as safe as its user. However, if you do choose to carry with a round in the chamber, riding the hammer forward so it needs to be reset before a trigger pull can give you the speed you want in a self-defense situation while lowering the risk of an accidental discharge.

Q: What size holster do you need for a 1911?

A: Whatever best fits your model of firearm. Regardless of what you choose, make sure it’s comfortable and can hold your weapon safely with the hammer in either position.

Q: Can a 1911 fire with the hammer down?

A: No, it cannot. That’s why loading a round in the chamber for EDC, then riding the hammer forward, is a great added precaution if you feel the need to keep your weapon loaded in certain situations.

Q: Can a 1911 go off by itself?

A: No, however older frames with a lot of wear and tear could drop the hammer if the weapon falls to the ground hard enough and the catch mechanism is released. If you have a poorly maintained weapon, first, shame on you, and second, you may want to reconsider carrying a round in the chamber.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.

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