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Updated May 17, 2022 9:58 AM

We’ve all seen someone use a shoulder holster, but most of the time it’s on TV. It’s the preferred carry method of international spies, private investigators, and tough .44 magnum-toting cops. During my time in Afghanistan, shoulder holsters were also a badge of honor for SNCOs and officers with serious swagger. Most of the time, though, shoulder holsters get dismissed as a gimmick — and I’m not convinced that’s fair.

There are plenty of reasons shoulder holsters aren’t just for movie stars. They’re very practical for anyone who needs to carry while spending a lot of time behind a desk or in a vehicle. They do a great job of concealing full-size handguns. If nothing else, they look undeniably cool and feel great to draw from.

Having established that there are situations where shoulder holsters are warranted, we took it upon ourselves to bring you some of our favorites. Bring on the old-school leather, cutting-edge synthetics, and underarm accessories. It’s go-time.

Best Overall

The Falco D603 is one holster we got our hands on for testing, and I was curious to see how it measured up to the expectations I had based on the relatively high price. The cut of the harness, metal hardware, and rotating holster looked great on the website but, since I wasn’t able to connect with anyone who has experience with the brand, I had to see for myself.

Out of the box, the fit and finish were impressive. The leather was soft and well-cut. I’m five-foot-nine and 190 pounds; almost exactly average for men in the U.S., according to Healthline. After adjusting the harness for proper fit, the metal screws were in the middle of the adjustment range. The belt tie-downs can also be adjusted, so you have some flexibility to match your torso’s length and circumference. The holster sits vertically, but once the thumb strap is unsnapped, it rotates forward for an easier draw. This approach is particularly useful for full-size pistols that might be too long to carry horizontally.

There are some considerations you should be aware of when shopping for a leather holster. Initially, the fit was so tight that I had to work the pistol in, a little at a time, using both hands and some force. By the next morning, the fit was vastly improved. Remember that leather stretches over time, so a perfect fit on day one will turn into a sloppy fit in short order. The tradeoff for extra care and maintenance is a handmade product that’s built to your exact specifications. Before building the holster, Falco asked me for not only the make and model of the handgun it was for, but also any accessories that would be attached and how many rounds would be carried in each magazine. When necessary, they add ballast to the weak-side magazine pouch to create a balanced load that’s more stable and comfortable to wear. That kind of service isn’t cheap, but if you appreciate craftsmanship, paying a little more is worth it.

Product Specs
  • Orientation: Vertical (roto)
  • Material: Leather
  • Retention mechanism: Thumb-break strap
PROS

Incredibly detailed customization to your specific firearm and accessories

High-quality leather looks fantastic and can last a lifetime

Tight tolerances for a snug (read: safe) fit

Adequate range of adjustment for different body types

CONS

Expensive if you aren’t going to use shoulder carry regularly

Long lead times due to intensive manufacturing process

Leather will require proper care and upkeep

Safariland is one of the better names in modern pistol holsters, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see them land at this spot. This holster offers excellent materials, build quality, and features without breaking the bank. It isn’t for everyone in the market for a shoulder holster, but it’ll be a hell of a buy for some.

The business end of this setup is the holster itself. That’s where your pistol will reside, so nothing matters if the holster can’t hold up its end of the bargain. Safariland’s 7053 holster uses the manufacturer’s proprietary SafariSeven material, which is a nylon blend that maximizes durability in all real-world conditions. Hot or cold, submerged or baking in the desert sun — this holster is built to handle it all. The automatic locking system (denoted on Safariland products with ALS) secures pistols in place but allows a quick, smooth draw once the thumb paddle is depressed.

So, how can something so advanced be so affordable? Remember that the other half of the shoulder holster equation is the harness. In this case, there’s just a single strap with a thin cord to wrap around your torso. This cost-saving measure still gets the job done, but it’s probably not something you’d want to wear all day. It also doesn’t accommodate tie-downs or accessories like magazine pouches. If that doesn’t bother you, there’s a lot of money to be saved with this holster.

Product Specs
  • Orientation: Horizontal
  • Material: SafariSeven nylon blend
  • Retention mechanism: Proprietary Automatic Locking System thumb paddle
PROS

The same Safariland quality we know and love

Saves money in the right places

Excellent weapon retention and safety

Minimalist harness is light and easy to get used to

CONS

Not enough support for heavier pistols

Lack of counterweight creates an imbalance

Harness design will be hit-or-miss depending on your preferences

Editor’s Choice

Half the appeal of shoulder holsters is their timeless style, and it’s hard to do better than the Galco Miami Classic II in that regard. It isn’t perfect, but we get the appeal and understand the top-shelf price tag.

This American-made shoulder holster uses saddle leather, which provides a sturdy platform to work with. The harness uses tapered shoulder straps that are wider across the shoulders to help distribute weight and are thinner everywhere else to keep a low profile. You can make adjustments with the metal hardware to get an ideal fit and add accessories like tie-down loops to this modular system. The horizontal orientation of the holster allows a smooth, natural draw that’s more efficient than what you’d get from a vertical holster.

That horizontal orientation is also one of the Miami Classic’s drawbacks. You’ll be limited to handguns that have an overall length that’s shorter than your torso is from front to back. You’ll also incur the wrath of those who think horizontal carry is unsafe because you end up flagging everyone around you — don’t expect to use this at the range. Those people have a point, but they’re probably flagging their femoral artery while they criticize you, so take it with a grain of salt. Lastly, the thumb-break strap works great with striker-fired weapons but might not be ideal for cocked hammers.

Product Specs
  • Orientation: Horizontal
  • Material: Leather
  • Retention mechanism: Thumb strap
PROS

Natural draw from the horizontal holster

Two magazine pouches included

Built using saddle leather and metal hardware

Modular design accepts Galco accessories

CONS

Horizontal carry has its haters

Prices out many potential buyers

No retention straps for magazines

Best Synthetic

Are you surprised to see another Safariland make the list? You shouldn’t be. We’re big fans of the way Safariland’s holsters perform — they have some of the best fit, retention, and safety features out there.

This one is another winner. The 7053 holster is made from a single piece of SafariSeven nylon blend folded over and fastened to create an extremely rigid holster. The material is unaffected by water and maintains its structural integrity from temperatures as cold as minus 50 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This one comes with Safariland’s automatic locking system that holds your pistol firmly in place and releases with a thump paddle that keeps your trigger finger away from the trigger throughout the draw. It’s designed to accommodate pistols from a dozen of the most popular manufacturers, so it’s likely to work for you and can be a great cost-saving option for anyone who might want to carry different firearms with the same holster. The harness is straightforward and relatively basic. It’s light, adjustable, and doesn’t require tie-downs.

We love the utility of this synthetic holster. If you’re active outdoors and want a shoulder holster that you don’t have to worry about damaging, it’s the one to have, plain and simple. Still, some people might be put off by the appearance and prefer a leather holster. The two materials are intended for different purposes, so pick whichever works for you.

Product Specs
  • Orientation: Horizontal
  • Material: SafariSeven nylon blend
  • Retention mechanism: Proprietary Automatic Locking System thumb paddle
PROS

Safariland’s excellent holsters in a classic shoulder carry

ALS thumb paddle is one of our favorite retention mechanisms

Compatible with a huge range of pistols

Surprisingly affordable offering from Safariland

CONS

Accepts very few lights and optics

Lacks the feel of a traditional leather holster

Made-to-order; usually ships in 30 days

Best Excessively Alpha

SHUKA stands for shoulder holster universal knife accessory, but we prefer to think of it as the ancient name of a knife-wielding group of explorers that roamed the world in search of adventure, because that’s what we imagine it feels like to strap this bad boy under your arm.

This accessory can be added to Galco harnesses opposite your shoulder holster. If you shoot right-handed — meaning your holster sits on your left side — this accessory would be on your right with the handle of the knife pointing down. It’s available in black or tan leather. Holes are pre-punched, allowing you to mount Kydex sheaths directly or leather sheaths with separate straps and hardware of your choice. It’ll be up to you to mount your sheath, so only buy this accessory if you’re comfortable with your handiwork.

This sheath would be too much for a holster you plan on wearing under a sport coat, but if you spend a lot of time in a vehicle or on an ATV and want to keep your firearm and fixed-blade knife accessible, it’s surprisingly practical. It would probably be incredibly useful for hog hunting. Part of me wants to make crocodile jokes but part of me really likes the idea of having a full-size pistol and knife so accessible. Consider this our guilty pleasure pick.

Product Specs
  • Orientation: Vertical
  • Material: Leather
  • Retention mechanism: N/A
PROS

Legitimately practical, especially for larger fixed-blade knives

Easy to add to or remove from your harness

Compatible with a wide range of sheaths

Possibly the best crocodile-hunting accessory we’ve seen

CONS

Expensive way to add a mounting point

You’ll have to mount the sheath yourself

People will have opinions

Why should you trust us

Our staff includes a tremendous amount of shooting experience, and we’re always chatting with each other about gear we like and gear that’s let us down. The opinions can get pretty spicy, but the result is a very honest understanding of which items have earned our trust. We also work hard to get our hands on gear we haven’t used, so we can see how it performs in the real world. When in doubt, we spend hours researching specific products so you don’t have to. We have no problem spending all day reading about how various manufacturers treat their Kydex to resist heat deformation if it means you can cut straight to the good stuff. 

Types of shoulder holsters

There are several styles of shoulder holsters, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. The obvious task is narrowing your search to options that are compatible with the weapon you plan to carry. Next, decide if you’re more likely to wear a shoulder holster for open or concealed carry. Finally, think about your body type and consider which option will be the most comfortable in real-world use.

Horizontal vs. vertical vs. angled shoulder holsters

The main difference that separates shoulder holsters from one another is the orientation of the holster itself.

Horizontal shoulder holsters are a long-time favorite because they work well for concealed carry. Keeping the barrel of your handgun parallel to the deck results in a smooth draw that’s relatively fast. Just remember that you can only conceal handguns with an overall length that’s smaller than the depth of your torso. Another drawback is flagging everyone behind you the whole time you’re carrying. This hasn’t stopped people from successfully using this method for decades, but it’s a consideration you need to know about. Expect to have a chat with the safety officer if you use this style of holster at the range. 

Vertical shoulder holsters eliminate the flagging issue by pointing the muzzle down, and they also accommodate larger handguns. If you want to conceal a big wheel-gun like the ones people carry in bear country, this might be your only option. While vertical shoulder holsters are better than their horizontal counterparts in those aspects, they’re also slower to draw from. 

Angled shoulder holsters strike a happy middle ground. Roto holsters that pivot once unlocked are popular because they allow you to carry your handgun vertically but draw it horizontally. This is all subject to personal preferences, but you can get a pretty solid understanding of which will work best for you by considering the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Leather vs. synthetic shoulder holsters

No self-respecting TV detective would be caught using anything other than a leather shoulder holster. Leather is still the most popular material for modern shoulder holsters and harnesses because it’s comfortable, firm, and can last a lifetime if you treat it right. Harnesses, in particular, tend to be leather because of the way it feels. Leather molds to your body over time to create a fit that’s second to none. That breaking-in process is critical when it comes to holsters because it means that the day you buy your holster is the tightest it will ever hold your firearm. Be patient and don’t overdo it. If you have any slop, the fit isn’t ideal. When properly formed, a leather holster will be very forgiving to your handgun’s finish and will provide a smooth, quiet draw.

Synthetic holsters are gaining in popularity because they don’t require a break-in period or maintenance. They’re also affordable to mass-produce with incredible consistency. Several of our staffers won’t use anything but a good Kydex holster. We chose reputable brands for this gear guide because not all Kydex products are built to the same standard. Never try to modify your holster to fit better, and — in the name of all that is holy — don’t try to make it fit a handgun it wasn’t designed for. 

Nylon holsters and harnesses are available at very low prices — there’s a reason for that. They tend to be less durable and less comfortable, so we prefer to stick to leather and Kydex. 

Key features of shoulder holsters

The features that separate good shoulder holsters from bad ones are the same you might consider for other styles of carry. In short, you need to consider what the holster is made of, how it sits on your body, and how it keeps your firearm secure while you’re on the go.

Holster

The holster itself is obviously the most important part of your setup. Fitment is key because you can’t afford to struggle with your handgun when it’s time to draw or holster it. As I mentioned, leather has traditionally been the most popular material for shoulder holsters. It works, it looks great, and people know what to expect. Besides, there’s a good chance that style is playing at least some role in your purchasing decision if you’re shopping for shoulder holsters, and leather just looks good.   

Kydex shoulder holsters have been gaining in popularity because manufacturers can design a great-fitting holster and mass-produce it with incredible accuracy at relatively little cost compared to working with leather. Because of this, customization is much more affordable. If you run a weapon light, red dot, or suppressor-height sights on your pistol, your best bet is probably to find a Kydex holster that was built for that kind of setup.

Harness

The harness you choose will ultimately affect how eager you are to wear your shoulder holster. Bargain-basement rigs are tempting, but they’ll likely leave you sore and cranky in short order. Leather straps are the most comfortable and extra width can be helpful in distributing weight evenly. No matter which harness you choose, make sure it’s adjustable so you can fit it to your torso. When sized correctly, you should barely know it’s there. 

Horizontal holsters often come on harnesses that look like a figure-eight and span your shoulder blades like a backpack. Vertical holsters, on the other hand, need to be worn low to create enough room to draw without hitting your weak-side arm. To prevent the holster from sticking to your handgun, they come with tie-downs that attach to your belt. These create a more rigid structure and allow a smooth draw.

Shoulder holster rigs may use metal or synthetic hardware. We found quality options with each, so that doesn’t need to be a deciding factor unless you have strong preferences one way or the other. 

Security and retention

As with any holster, retention is key. Your weapon should come out when you draw it — period. Leather holsters typically have a retention strap that loops around the back of your slide or hammer. Before drawing, simply flick it loose with your draw-hand thumb. This may not be the fastest or most secure approach, but it’s worked for a long time and can be very effective if you train with it. 

Kydex holsters are likely to use a paddle release just like you’d find on other styles of holsters. We like the Safariland approach of using a thumb paddle rather than one that puts your trigger finger over the trigger while drawing. Again, everyone has their own preference and the important thing is gaining proficiency with the gear you choose.

Accessories

Since shoulder holsters are rarely worn in kinetic environments, your odds of needing to reload in a hurry while wearing one are low. Still, magazine carriers are readily available and come with many higher-end shoulder holsters. This is convenient, but it also adds weight to your weak side that helps counterbalance the weight of your firearm on the other. Most can store two magazines, but I worked with a particularly awesome master sergeant in Afghanistan who carried four spare magazines. If you want to channel that kind of energy, be my guest. There are also carriers for individual rounds and speed loaders for you revolver aficionados.

If your style of carry is less Magnum PI and more Crocodile Dundee, you can also get sheathes that integrate into your shoulder holster’s harness. Is that necessary? Probably not. But who’s going to judge you (out loud and in person, anyway)? 

Benefits of shoulder holsters

Critics of shoulder holsters have some valid points, but we have to give credit where it’s due; shoulder holsters do a few things very well. In the right environment and with the right handgun, a shoulder holster can be a fantastic choice.

Weight distribution

One of the biggest advantages shoulder holsters have is weight distribution. There’s a reason we carry gear in backpacks rather than pouches on our belt — it’s just more efficient. This doesn’t matter a whole lot if you have a compact or subcompact polymer gun, but a full-size, steel-framed pistol or revolver is definitely more comfortable in a shoulder holster than your average belt-mounted holster.

Spreading the load across your shoulder is great, but having all the weight on one side can still be uncomfortable and take a toll on your back over the course of a day. When we talked to Falco Holsters about building a setup, they took into account every aspect of the firearm I’d be using right down to the number of rounds in the magazine. That’s because they add a calibrated counterweight to the other side to make sure the harness is balanced. That level of service isn’t cheap, but it’s one of the things that makes high-end holsters a worthwhile investment. 

Compatibility with larger handguns

We’ve all gotten a little spoiled by having access to a seemingly endless selection of pistols that are reliable, accurate, affordable, and easy to carry. Even full-size pistols can be slim enough to carry inside the waistband relatively easily. That isn’t always the case, though, and shoulder holsters can still be the best option for larger handguns.

Revolvers, in particular, can be difficult to carry (especially concealed) because of their width. Fitting one under your arm is a lot easier than letting it jut out from your waist. Think back to one of the most famous shoulder holster users of all time — if Clint Eastwood could conceal a massive .44 magnum on his thin frame, you can probably find a setup that works for you, too.

Accessibility

One of the biggest criticisms of shoulder holsters is that they’re not particularly easy to access. Reaching across your body and likely moving a cover garment out of the way isn’t as quick as many other styles of carry that place your firearm closer to your hand’s resting position. That’s true — until you sit down. If you spend a lot of time behind a desk or in a vehicle, carrying at the waist can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to access. Even a drop holster on the thigh can be problematic, especially if your hands are elevated. Shoulder holsters offer a significant advantage in these situations because everything happens above the waist.

Shoulder holsters have also been favored by hunters and anglers who might be seated in a blind or standing in deep water most of the day. Keeping your sidearm high and dry is key, and a shoulder holster can be just the ticket.

Shoulder holster pricing

With a few exceptions, a good shoulder holster is going to cost more than $100. Our favorites generally range from $100 to $200 at the time of writing. By the time you add up quality components in the harness, holster, retention system, and hardware, it’s very difficult to achieve a two-digit price tag. Considering the personal attention offered by manufacturers like Falco Holsters, Safariland, and Galco, the prices we’ve seen are very fair.

The one exception on this list is our value pick from Safariland. In this case, the holster is outstanding (as we’d expect from Safariland). Cost is cut in the harness. That will result in a less comfortable overall package, but it is a way to save money without compromising on safety.  

How we chose our top picks

If you’re in the market for a shoulder holster, you might be pickier than you would be for another style of carry. In addition to how the holster itself fits your handgun, you need to take into account how the rig fits your body. We looked for diverse options that can satisfy a range of needs. We looked for all-leather options, Kydex options, those with and without magazine storage, and even attachments for shoulder holsters. We included different styles of retention so you can find something that works with your draw. Unfortunately, there are a lot of shoddy products out there that shouldn’t be trusted with securing a firearm. We limited our picks to the manufacturers and systems we trust, so you can buy with confidence. 

FAQs on shoulder holsters

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

Q: If shoulder holsters are so great, why are they so uncommon?

A: Shoulder holsters are an acquired taste. In most cases, they wouldn’t be the first option we recommend. Other styles of carry are just more efficient. There are circumstances, though, when a shoulder holster makes a lot of sense. If you’ve found yourself in one of those, we have you covered. 

Q: Are shoulder holsters good for concealed carry?

A: Yes and no. Ultimately, you need to find what works for you. There are definitely times when shoulder holsters thrive, and others when they struggle. It all depends on what and where you’re carrying. 

Q: Is there a shoulder holster that fits my [insert the very common pistol that you think is a special flower here]?

A: Probably. Holster manufacturers profit from catering to a wide consumer base, and materials like Kydex make adapting to different pistols more cost-effective than ever. If all else fails, universal options are out there.  

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.