Written By
Published Oct. 5, 2021

We realize that stepping into the online world of guns and gear is asking for trouble. Spend five minutes on any forum, and you’ll find out that everyone has an opinion, and everyone else is wrong. A search for any given caliber will result in one person telling you it’s completely useless and another who swears it’s the only round in the world worth using. Iron sights are obsolete and optics are cheating. You get the idea. The same goes for gear. Nevertheless, we’re ready to open Pandora’s box in the service of our readers. So, what is a shoulder holster, and should you use one?

Shoulder holsters look either like suspenders or a backpack, except they don’t hold your pants up or store gear on your back. Your pants actually hold the holster down, and the firearm (and maybe a magazine pouch or two) are placed under your arm. This style of carry is very popular in Hollywood because it lets actors appear to be undercover while also making it very clear to the audience that they are armed, dangerous, and very handsome

It’s also one of the go-to options for U.S. service members who sit behind a desk or the wheel of a vehicle, where reaching a drop holster or waistband holster is difficult. Shoulder holsters are also useful in the backcountry. Anglers who wade into rivers like to keep their sidearms dry, and a good shoulder holster is a great solution. Materials are typically nylon or leather, and your environment will dictate which is better. Holsters themselves are often built for one specific type of firearm (especially leather ones), so you’ll want to pay attention to how it fits your weapon, not just your torso.

We’re firm believers that any piece of gear is only as good as the way it’s used. Shoulder holsters don’t work very well with body armor or backpacks. They’re also not the most accessible concealed-carry option. On the other hand, they can be very comfortable and do a great job of keeping your sidearm out of the way, especially if you plan to carry while seated at a desk or in a vehicle. Of course, the fact that they make you look like a Prohibition-era gangster isn’t bad, either.

The Galco Miami Classic shoulder holster is fit for a secret agent; if you have the means, we highly recommend picking one up. The traditional harness wraps snugly around each arm, eliminating the need for belt loops. The resulting holster placement is high in the underarm area with the muzzle pointed backward. The holster is open-ended to accommodate barrels of different lengths. On the opposite side, two magazine pouches with snap closures face down for easy access. Comfort is due in large part to the swiveling connections on the four-point harness that allow natural, unencumbered movement. This one is designed to fit 1911s, and versions for other popular models are available. It’s the most expensive option here, but the noticeable improvement in build quality is worth the price.

This shoulder holster from UTG makes the underarm carry affordable for the masses. Instead of leather and metal hardware, this product uses polyester and plastic buckles. It doesn’t have the visual panache of a leather rig, but the design is functional and leaves plenty of money left over for time on the firing line to improve your shooting. The holster and double-magazine pouch can be disconnected and switch places with buckles. Straps are adjustable and incorporate shoulder panels to help spread the weight more comfortably. Drop-down belt loops help keep everything in place and reduce movement when you’re on the go. Universal fitment means this holster is compatible with most handguns. We’re fans of gear that’s affordable enough that you don’t feel pressured to baby it.

This deep concealment holster from Aikate is the most discreet option on this list. It’s useful for people who want to conceal a handgun while exercising, thanks to the low profile and flexible harness. The large, elastic band secures high around the ribcage with just a single adjustable strap over the holster-side shoulder. Three sizes are available in both left- and right-hand configurations. The holster is universal, but we recommend keeping weight down with a compact or subcompact pistol. No magazine pouches are included. Depending on your attire, this might not be the most readily-accessible way to carry, but it’s easy to keep out of sight and comfortable for running and other outdoor activities. Part of being a gun owner is collecting holsters; for the money, this is certainly one worth including.

The Aker 101 shoulder holster strikes a desirable balance between price and features. With the money you’ll save, you could buy several boxes of ammunition and you’ll still get to enjoy platform-specific fitted leather and a spider harness without belt loops. Holsters are available for a variety of models from manufacturers like Beretta, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, and Springfield. Since the holster is open-ended, barrel length will not affect compatibility. Two magazine pouches feature a pair of snaps to help you secure magazines of different sizes. Adjustable shoulder straps let you find a comfortable fit up to a chest size of 62 inches. Black and tan leather are available. If you want a high-end feel without a high-end price, this is a great option to consider.

This shoulder holster from Cardini Leather isn’t the least expensive pick on our list, but it is the most affordable leather option. That doesn’t make it cheap; Colombian leather maintains a high quality control standard but costs less. The result is a product that punches above its weight (and we always appreciate that). Many shoulder holsters also use a horizontal carry, which is easy to draw from but limits the size of handgun you can carry. Full-size pistols are likely to protrude and blow your cover with that kind of setup. This holster is vertical, so you can carry a longer barrel. Two magazine pouches are provided on the shooter’s weak side. Holsters are formed to fit either a 1911 or Springfield Armory XD. Left- and right-handed options are available in brown or black. Cardini Leather products are hand-made and carry a satisfaction guarantee.

Some of you prefer revolvers, and Federal has you covered with this shoulder holster. People who need to carry a large-caliber self-defense weapon in the backcountry or at the range don’t need to prioritize concealment, they just need to keep their big old wheel gun accessible. This holster’s vertical orientation is well-suited to larger firearms that can’t reasonably be carried in the traditional, horizontal underarm configuration. The belt loop contributes to a smooth draw, while a large shoulder strap on the holster side of the harness supports heavy handguns. Adjustable straps allow you to customize your fit and carry position. Nylon construction is durable and easy to clean. This particular model is intended for use with medium- and large-frame .38 and .357 revolvers with six- or seven-shot cylinders and barrels up to four inches.

Why should you trust us

The Task & Purpose staff is full of shooting enthusiasts. Our collective experience includes civilian and military training, casual range days, marksmanship competitions, and overseas deployments. Hookups in the firearm industry, military, law enforcement, and private security keep us up to speed on all the latest innovations and best practices. We won’t try to force opinions about what we think is best on you (although every red-blooded American deserves to fire a 1911 at least once); we just want to help you find the gear that works for you and encourage you to train responsibly with it. 

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.


Most holsters, including shoulder holsters, are compatible with a wide range of firearms and magazines. Some, though, are designed for specific platforms. This is especially common among high-end leather holsters. Premium holsters are often molded to fit tightly around your particular model of handgun. This attention to detail creates a secure hold and reduces wear from rubbing, but it also limits what you can carry. 

Because of revolvers’ distinct shape, they can sometimes be a challenge to fit into standard holsters. Larger revolvers commonly used by hunters in the backcountry can also be quite long, meaning that they need to be carried vertically rather than horizontally. If you carry a wheel gun, don’t waste your money on holsters designed to fit slim pistols.


Shoulder holsters aren’t the most tactical method of carrying a sidearm to begin with, but some do a better job than others. A snug fit will be more stable and build muscle memory by placing your firearm in the same location every time you reach for it. Features like belt loops can hold the holster and magazine pouches in position while you draw. Leather is very durable and long-lasting, but synthetic materials might handle wet environments better.

If you’re looking for a tactical way to carry a handgun for work or competition, we’d recommend looking at a traditional or drop holster. Chest mounts can also be effective, especially when mounted on a plate carrier.


Shoulder holsters gained popularity at least in some part thanks to movies and television. Fictional detectives, spies, and gangsters commonly carry their weapons under a jacket or suit coat. That makes sense because shoulder holsters do a great job of keeping a handgun accessible and secure without making it visible.

Modern approaches to the shoulder holster concept make your concealed carry even more discreet. Padded holsters obscure a firearm’s recognizable profile, and form-fitting materials provide a comfortable and secure fit even during vigorous physical activity. As always, think about what you need your gear to do. USA Carry conducted a poll to find the most popular carry locations, and there are probably a few on their list you haven’t considered.

What to look for when buying a shoulder holster

Various shoulder holsters differ from one another in materials, fit, features, and concealability. Your budget will partially narrow down the search; leather shoulder rigs tend to cost about four times what you’d pay for a synthetic alternative. They can be more comfortable, and almost always look better if you plan on using an open carry. The fit will depend on your body type and personal preferences. Some shoulder holsters use basic straps, while others disperse weight across your shoulders with broad fabric panels. Others wrap tightly around your torso and use a single shoulder strap for secondary support.

Most shoulder holsters feature one to two magazine pouches. This style can be concealed under a jacket, but aren’t nearly as discreet as most concealed carry techniques. For a more subtle setup, look for a minimalist shoulder holster that reduces your firearm’s profile and eliminates unnecessary features.

The advantages of owning a shoulder holster

Shoulder holsters remain popular because of their versatility, comfort, and style. The design is something of a jack-of-all-trades, and has been used by private citizens, military personnel, police, and private security for decades.

Underarm setups can be used for open or concealed carry, though they aren’t necessarily what we’d consider ideal for either. One major advantage of moving your pistol from your waist to your underarm area is taking weight off your belt and improving your mobility. Most carry methods in the waist area are uncomfortable and impractical in the seated position, but shoulder holsters stay within easy reach. 

Last but not least, shoulder holsters do have a stylish appeal that some people prefer. Even if you’re just enjoying a range day, they can be a great way to carry your sidearm with a little personality.

  • Comfortable to carry
  • Room for additional magazines
  • Easy to reach
  • Concealable
  • Gangster as hell

Pricing ranges for shoulder holster

  • Less than $50: Entry-level shoulder holsters may not be much to look at, but they get the job done. Synthetic materials and universal fit are practical and functional.
  • Between $50 and $150: Midrange holsters typically come with higher-quality materials and are compatible with a range of platforms. At these prices, leather becomes available.
  • More than $150: High-end shoulder holsters feature quality leather, metal hardware, and are custom-fit to specific handguns and magazines.

How we chose our top picks

We would love to get our hands on all the products in our gear guides, but that isn’t always an option. We’ve come to rely on the next best thing: the wisdom of crowds. We scour hundreds of Amazon reviews for dozens of products to let you know what consumers think of the products they buy and use every day. Then, our team carefully analyzes all the information available to separate the cream of the crop for you, the reader.

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