A handgun is not necessarily the primary weapon of the survivor, but in a survival situation, it will be the gun that you usually carry. The old axiom from gun guru Jeff Cooper "the best gun for a gunfight is the one you have with you" applies here. The best handguns for survival use are those like the ones already in use by various military and police organizations as "service pistols", but they are only good if you have one with you when you need it. These handguns generally sacrifice some concealability for power and versatility. High performance target guns may tend to be less reliable than service grade guns that are built to deliver a lower level of performance but operate under more harsh environments while resisting abuse and requiring less maintenance. High performance target grade guns often require more meticulous care and maintenance than service grade guns. Professional grade service handguns that are popular with American law enforcement officers tend to offer the best of both worlds and are usually slightly better performers than those used by military organizations.
Obtaining a good balance of high accuracy and reliability will usually require the attention of a gunsmith. This is especially the case with gun based on the 1911 design. A persistent and industrious survivor can do most of the tuning at home, but most shooters will eventually turn to the services of an expert. This is by no means necessary to obtain a workable survival gun, but it will usually be necessary for those who want the best of all worlds with no compromise. That is a reason for such a wide variation in the costs of many handguns which may appear to be quite similar.
There are a few different philosophies that govern how someone is going to approach the handgun issue. It is viable to go with a smaller more concealable handgun if you plan to have your rifle or shotgun handy most of the time or the situation simply does not warrant more firepower. This can especially be the case if you carry your weapon concealed in a scenario one or two. In higher threat levels, your rifle will be the main weapon and the weight of a large handgun and ammunition could be a detriment. Either way, even the most powerful handguns are not as powerful as your average rifle. Social and legal realities will also determine what sort of handgun you might carry and how you will carry it. Generally, the larger and heavier the handgun, the less likely you are going to carry it.
This collection of handguns shows several valid options for a survivor, but owning this many enters into the realm of collecting beyond what would be a set of survival handguns. Many gun collectors will favor collecting handguns simply because the collections will take up less storage space. It is easier to secure and maintain handgun collections than rifle and shotgun collections. Handguns tend to retain value well enough that it is usually fairly easy for a savvy shopper to sell the guns for what he paid for them, or even at a small profit. Where the collector will often lose on the deal is in the upgrades and accessories that cost money, but will often have minimal value in the eyes of a used gun buyer.
No service handgun caliber will reliably penetrate common body armor. Even "fragmentation only" vests will commonly stop handgun bullets at moderate range. Most government troops and law enforcers wear body armor of some type. Irregular forces and criminals sometimes wear body armor. Remember that most side arms will only be marginally effective against these threats.
The sidearm should be in a moderate to powerful caliber no less powerful than .380 auto. .380ACP is the most powerful handgun caliber than can be fired indoors without serious risk of hearing loss but still offers an acceptable level of "stopping power". I recommend military and police calibers from the list below:
.380 ACP - (a.k.a. 9mm Kurz, 9mm short) Commonly found in compact automatics; produces low recoil and less noise than other calibers. Reduced power and noise insure a niche for this caliber for use indoors without hearing protection (it will still cause some hearing damage). Will not penetrate body armor and requires the use of hollow points if used for defensive or hunting purposes. Paramilitary FMJ ammo in .380 is often more costly than 9mm Parabellum because production costs are not offset by military contracts or high volume civilian sales. Suitable for animals under fifty pounds at close range. High performance commercial .380 ammo is also fairly costly, but the caliber is cheap to reload and high performance bullets are not that much more costly than standard bullets. This caliber is lethal but not a consistent one shot stopper. Donít be surprised if someone is not visibly affected by a single lethal chest cavity hit from a .380 pistol. Most guns in this caliber are very concealable but offer limited magazine capacity. Recoil is minimal in this caliber, although this may vary according to the pistols it is fired in.
9X18 Makarov (9mm Ultra) A standard in the old Soviet bloc, this caliber is almost exclusively available in compact auto pistols in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the pistols are of East European origin and are sold for considerably less money than comparable U.S. or West European made guns. Quality varies from gun to gun, but even the lower quality pistols can be improved by the determined tinkerer. The caliber is more powerful than the .380 but less powerful than 9mm NATO. Most of the ammo available in this caliber is surplus East European military or commercially made in ex-military factories and is sold very cheap. Some U.S. manufacturers are producing decent combat loads in this caliber, but the best would probably be produced by reloaders. Some compact sub machineguns are available on the world market in this caliber. Guns in this caliber tned to be about the same size as .380 pistols. Most are modified versions of the Walther PP (Police Pistol) and Soviet Makarov service pistol.
9mm Parabellum (a.k.a. 9mm Luger, 9mm NATO, 9X19) - The most common military caliber in the world. Ammo is easily and cheaply available in several varieties because prices are offset by high sales volume. Some 9mm para ammo will penetrate body armor but this caliber does not offer as much stopping power as other calibers without the use of costly hollow points or special ammunition. One should note that 9mm hollow points are rarely, if ever, capable of penetrating common body armor, although certain potent ammo that will penetrate armor is sometimes available. Some special ammunition offers considerable performance but cost far more than military/para-military FMJ ammo. Most ammo in this caliber is suitable for game animals up to 150 pounds at close range and smaller game at medium ranges. Many 9mm carbines and submachine guns will typically offer greater range and power than with handguns chambered in the same caliber. Most 9mm handguns utilize high capacity (usually 15 shot) magazines that can be costly. Standard ammunition (military ball) is usually cheap in this caliber because commercial production costs are offset by military contracts. High performance 9mm ammo is usually only slightly less costly than high performance ammo in other calibers, but this can be compensated for by reloading high performance bullets into the cases left over from target practice with cheaper 9mm military style ammo. Recoil is pronounced, but manageable in most 9mm handguns and most 9mm shooters can rapid fire fairly accurately.
.40 S&W (a.k.a. 10mm lite) Generally a police-only caliber that was invented as a compromise between 9mm Para and .45 ACP when 10mm proved too powerful for guns made from common materials. It will not reliably penetrate body armor although some police-only ammo types will reliably penetrate level II body armor. Statistics from police shootings have shown that .40 S&W will produce one shot stops most of the time. This caliber is rapidly growing in popularity as a defensive cartridge and is getting cheaper and more common. Most .40 cal shooters use hollow point ammo for combat and ball ammo for practice although there is little difference in cost. It pays to reload this caliber. Most .40 cal handguns are of high quality modern design and optimize gun size with the 10 shot maximum capacity magazines authorized for private purchase in the United States. Some hunters use this caliber for hunting small to medium game at moderate ranges, but mostly as a backup weapon for dispatching a wounded animal (large game at point blank range). The recoil of many .40 caliber handguns can diminish the practical accuracy of novice shooter. This means that people tend to need more training with .40 cal handguns in order to develop rapid fire proficiency, otherwise, in the hands of a less trained user, these guns are difficult to shoot accurately.
.45 ACP One of the more common auto pistol cartridges. It has a considerable reputation as a man stopper, but it does not perform well against armored opponents. Guns chambered for .45 ACP generally recoil more sharply than automatics in the other calibers. Recent laws concerning magazine capacity have produced a resurgence in the popularity of .45 ACP and there are some great new guns chambered for the cartridge. Although high performance hollow point ammunition is readily available for the .45 ACP, the stopping power of the standard military "ball" and target ammo is fairly good. This means that a person can stock up on target ammo and use the same ammo for defensive purposes. This caliber is not generally acceptable for hunting but would work for medium game at close ranges. The .45 ACP fires a rather slow moving bullet that does not carry as far as the 9mm or .40 S&W; this makes it difficult to aim a .45 ACP pistol at ranges over 30 meters. This ammo is generally cheaper and more easily available than .40 S&W but more costly than 9mm, one should note that .45 target and ball ammo is cheaper than 9mm hollow points and performs about as well as a combat loading. .45 caliber handguns usually hold fewer than ten shots, although some newer models hold more. Due to the rather wide bullet profile, .45 will almost never penetrate body armor. It is considered by many to be the ultimate short range combat load and some newer types of powerful .45 ammo will penetrate body armor. Recoil can be a serious issue with .45 caliber handguns, and it generally only recommended for use by well trained personnel who can handle heavy recoil in a handgun. Smaller, weaker people often have a difficult time learning to use the .45, especially with the more powerful modern combat ammo.
.38 Special This is the most common revolver cartridge in the world. It has been in use by police agencies since the early 20th Century. .38 Special will not penetrate body armor and has moderate stopping power. Ammunition in .38 special is cheap and commonly available. This cartridge is suitable for medium game at close ranges with a handgun, or medium ranges with a rifle. Some newer high performance ammo in this caliber can be costly. Many target shooters reload this caliber to save even more money on ammunition; frequently reusing cases a dozen times (they are rarely lost) and using home-made cast lead bullets. It is generally considered between the .40 caliber and 9mm in performance. Nearly all .38 special handguns are revolvers.
.357 Magnum This is a high performance version of the .38 special. Most guns chambered for .357 Magnum will also fire .38 Special ammo. It is a common practice to use .38 Special ammo for practice while using .357 ammo for combat and hunting. This cartridge will not reliably penetrate body armor but some hollow point loads offer remarkable stopping power. .357 ammo varies greatly in cost and is often reloaded by avid shooters of this cartridge since the casings can be reloaded several times and they are rarely lost one the shooting range (being fired from revolvers). This ammo is often used for hunting medium game at medium and short ranges. There are several good lever action rifles chambered for this cartridge that make a good companion gun to the .357 revolver. .357 Magnum rifles are usually considerably more accurate and powerful than .357 revolvers, but less powerful than rifles in regular rifle calibers. There are a small number automatic handguns available in this caliber, but they tend to be costly. Many, if not most .357 handguns are not easily concealable under light clothing.
.44 Magnum This is the most powerful handgun caliber that is commonly available. It has tremendous stopping power and will usually penetrate body armor at closer ranges. It can cause permanent hearing damage to anyone near the gun if they are not using hearing protection. This includes the person firing the weapon. The risk and severity of hearing damage are greatly increased in confined spaces. Ammo in this caliber is costly to produce, but reloading is common and can cut costs in half. There are revolvers, some automatic pistols, and several rifles chambered for this cartridge; a fact that could simplify ammo procurement for the survival arsenal. .44 magnum recoils heavily in handguns but reloaders can "download" ammo in order to get less recoil (the trade off is reduced power). This cartridge is used for big game at close range and medium game at medium ranges. Recoil and noise from .44 magnum handguns is seriously heavy. The noise alone can cause permanent hearing damage in small rooms. The recoil can be so heavy, that even well practiced users cannot rapidly fire accurately at targets more than ten meters away.
Other caliber handguns may serve you well, but the availability of ammo (your ability to stockpile and/or manufacture it) should be a major deciding factor in choosing guns that are chambered in calibers like 7.62X25 (a.k.a. .30 Mauser), 9X21, .38 Super, 10mm auto, .41AE, .357 Sig, .400 Cor-bon .41 Magnum, .44 AMP or .50 AE. While many self appointed experts get hung up on some particular caliber or loading as the "ultimate handgun cartridge" in the never ending quest for the "magic bullet", I do not intend to engage in such debate. Just get a caliber that you like and can hit a target with. If it seems that your opponent needs more than one good hit, then administer another. Also, try to get a good selection of ammo for your handguns. You will probably find that some types of ammo are better suited for some tasks than others. There are several good books dedicated solely the defensive handgun. I most highly recommend anything written by Massad Ayoob.
Again, there are guns out there that people will claim is the "perfect weapon". You may opt to get some high-end custom .357 Sig for your collection and carry it in a short term survival scenario, or even as your "street gun" but the real survival gun should be the one that is outfitted for the long term, with spare parts and plenty of ammo. It might be better to cache a separate survival handgun with the arms cache if you plan on carrying a high performance or "favorite" defensive handgun in your daily life. If it happens that you take a liking to a carry handgun that requires unusual ammo, then it is prudent to obtain larger amounts of that ammo so that you are not left short like so many owners of guns chambered for .41 Action express or .45 magnum handguns. I personally favor 10mm as a survival cartridge and stock up on 10mm ammo, but I also keep 9mm and .45 guns and ammo around for more compatible supplies with what I am likely to be able to obtain and barter with.
Action types vary widely, but generally fall into two categories; semi-auto and revolver. Trigger action may then be single action, double action or both. In general, modern automatics have an advantage over revolvers in the case of "firepower" being that they usually hold more cartridges and can usually fire them faster than a revolver. In the past, revolvers have had an advantage of reliability, accuracy and durability over automatics, but that is no longer an absolute. In many cases, modern automatics can sustain more abuse and perform better than revolvers.
In the late 1980's gun experts had just about written off the idea of the revolver for serious combat use. The reason was simple firepower. Now, revolver manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Taurus make 8 shot revolvers. This matches the firepower of the .45 ACP. 8 Shot speedloaders are usually cheaper than detachable magazines and just about as quick to reload.
Revolvers tend to have three trigger action types. Single action revolvers like the old Colt Peacemakers and modern Ruger Blackhawk [illustration] represent an older technology but are deceptively complex. You must cock the hammer before you pull the trigger in order to fire. Thus, the trigger performs only one action: it releases the hammer. Reloading these revolvers is also very slow, as the shooter must manipulate several mechanisms in order to reload each of the cylinders. These guns often cost less than other types and usually offer the lowest cost envelope for the deployment of the most powerful calibers. They also usually offer the best cartridge performance for the dollar. Used .44 magnum Ruger Blackhawk revolvers usually cost only a fraction as much as a .44 magnum automatic. Single action revolvers may also be the only repeating handgun available in the most powerful handgun calibers.
Double action revolvers are common in many parts of the world and were a mainstay of law enforcement for most of the 20th century. For the most part, revolvers have been considered simple and dependable form a userís standpoint. The loading and reloading process is fairly basic and simple, while the firing system, although mechanically more complex than the single action, is simple in use. Most of these revolvers can be cocked and fired as with single action revolvers, or the shooter may pull the trigger to both cock and fire the gun (double action) with one pull of the trigger. Single action firing is almost always more accurate than double action firing although it does take longer because of the extra step involved with pre-cocking the hammer. Some revolvers have been made or modified to fire "double action only" or DAO. These revolvers cannot be pre-cocked for firing; i.e. you must pull the trigger to cock and fire the gun. This makes possible for some fine tuning that usually results in a smoother double action feel of the trigger. It also eliminates some of the safety concerns inherent with single action shooting. In many cases, the lack of any other safety device or precautions on a cocked and ready to fire single action gun makes it possible for the gun to be fired unintentionally or prematurely. It is nearly impossible to unintentionally or prematurely fire a double action revolver. For this reason, DAO handguns have held some favor with law enforcement agencies. The elimination of the single action option also simplifies training, allowing the user to concentrate training efforts on other things such as fast draw and tactics.
I recommend for most people that you keep the handgun basically stock the way it left the factory. Fix-up gadgets like night sights, lasers and compensators are good for showing off, but really add little to the utility of a handgun. The exception is left-handed or ambidextrous controls as they can be a safety issue if you might need them. I am neutral on the use of a flashlight mounted on a handgun. The issue of muzzle brakes, compensators or barrel porting is hotly debated among combat handgun experts. Proponents maintain that improvements in accuracy far outweigh the cost and weight. Detractors maintain that compensators and porting damage night vision by directing flash upwards into the view of the shooter.
Some experts swear by tritium sights but I am not convinced of their necessity in low light shooting. They dim over time then need to be replaced by a gunsmith. About two thirds through their service life, they are too dim to be of real utility at night and can actually slow a shooter down. Nighttime gun fighting tends to be quick and at short range. This is the usually the venue of a point shooter anyway, not someone who is going to take the time for a precise aimed shot. As one retired cop told me an old rule "if it is too dark to see the sights, it is too dark to know what you are aiming at". I apply the same logic to the use of compensators on defensive handguns. Some experts are against it, mainly because the upward muzzle flash can cause momentary night blindness. Again, if it is really that dark, you will probably not be doing that much eye level aimed shooting anyway. In the daytime, the compensator (or porting) will help you keep the gun on target for faster shooting. Considering that a single hit with a handgun will not usually stop a determined attacker, it is important to be able to fire rapidly and accurately.
The supposed simplicity of the revolver has made it attractive to many survivalists. It is relatively easy to learn compared to the automatic, and revolvers are generally less costly than automatics. The cost differences however, are diminishing. Revolvers tend to be labor intensive to build but can be made with fairly low technology (although complex) equipment. Rising labor costs and improved manufacturing methods have made many new automatics price competitive with revolvers. Also, there are fewer hidden costs with the purchase of a revolver. There are no spare magazines to buy or lose (although you may want to get speedloaders) and spare parts are less of an issue (although some screws and springs are a good thing to have around). Revolvers can also be stored loaded much longer than automatics. This is because none of the various springs in a revolver are under tension when the revolver is loaded and uncocked. The gun can be left loaded and ready to fire for decades. An automatic on the other hand, has springs under tension when it is loaded. A magazine spring that is left compressed for several weeks while loaded may fail at the wrong moment. Glock magazine springs are notorious for losing their tension when left loaded.
Single action automatics have been a mainstay of military forces for most of the 20th century. One of the most popular among survivalists is the U.S. military .45 automatic or one of its copies. The traditional maker is Colt, but plenty of other similar guns, some of better cost and quality are made my other companies. The design has been around since 1911 but there have been several improvements along the way. This has made for an evolutionary progression of the single action automatic that will ensure its production indefinitely. Spare parts are common and readily available and single action autos are commonly customized. When fully loaded, the single action automatic is cocked and ready to fire. They almost always have some sort of safety lever that renders them incapable of firing when the safety is engaged. This is not to say that the safety systems always work as intended. Single action automatics can be a source of accidents when in the hands of untrained, inattentive, reckless or negligent people. The luxury of unhurried safety may not be available in high stress survival situations. While most survivors are trained, attentive and careful, the same cannot always be guaranteed while under stress, lack of sleep and running on uneven ground with a weapon in hand.
Modern double action automatics trace their lineage to pre-WWII Europe but did not come into their own until the advent of the "wondernines" of the 1980s that combined the best features of the Walther P-38 (1938 German military pistol)) and Browning Hi-power (of 1935) into a plethora of high quality reasonably priced pistols. Another aspect of this boom was the availability of high performance combat ammo for these guns. Prior to the 1980s 9mm had a reputation for being an ineffective man-stopper compared to available .357 magnum hollow point ammo. Even when 9mm hollow point ammo became available, few guns could reliably feed and fire the stuff. Eventually, newer 9mm handguns came on the scene that were more reliable than their predecessors. In the late 1980s, several of these improved designs were adapted for different calibers of ammunition like .41 AE, .40 S&W, .45 ACP and 10mm. Eventually, the .40 S&W ended up at the top of the heap, with surplus 9mm guns being traded around at bargain prices. As the 1990s progressed, .45 caliber double action handguns gained some market share over less powerful 9mm and .40 caliber guns and less advanced single action .45s.
The result was a plethora of designs which are mostly variations on one main theme; an automatic handgun with a trigger mechanism that could fire the gun double action if the gun did not happen to be pre-cocked. This had two purposes; first, an automatic handgun is considered safer to carry if it is not cocked. This leads to the second issue; an uncocked handgun is slower into action because one must make an effort to cock it before firing. The double action pistol can be carried uncocked but ready for fire since one pull of the trigger with both cock and fire the gun. The slide will then recock the gun so the next shot is single action. These guns are commonly equipped with a safety lever that will also act as decocking lever, thus not only will the safety lock the gun, but it will also decock the gun. These guns tend to be complex and thus well liked by the gadget minded. In some cases, as with the Sig Sauer pistols, there is no safety lever, but a decocking lever. This was designed in an attempt to simplify the operation of the pistols. Another simplification is the elimination of the single action mode and the safety lever. This makes the gun double action only (DAO). DAO autos are not very popular outside of law enforcement, but may be desirable for the survivalist. On these guns, the hammer returns to its original uncocked (or sometimes partially cocked) position each time the gun is fired. The trigger pull is the same for every shot.
An early DAO pistol, the H&K VP70Z, came and went with little success in the 1970s. It was followed by another 9mm that became a benchmark of performance and simplicity. The Glock pistol is neither a single action nor a true double action. The pistol has no safety lever outside the trigger mechanism which in theory is similar to a DAO, but is also partially cocked by the motion of the slide. The Glock has proven immensely popular among survivalists, law enforcement officers and recreational shooters.
Survivalists may want to opt for guns made from stainless steel because they tend to hold up well to long storage better than guns made from other materials. I have gotten more than my fair share of nasty surprises when I have opened up a case that contained a non-stainless gun which had been stored for a few months with no cleaning. Some new high tech finishes are available for non-stainless guns that will protect the guns almost as if the guns were made from stainless steel. The Glock pistols come from the factory with a finish on the metal parts that they claim is more corrosion resistant than stainless steel and will not scratch off, even in hard use. Several modern automatic handguns use plastic and aluminum in their construction. They tend to use these materials in the low stress parts of the firearm. Aluminum guns tend to have a shorter service life than their steel counterparts of the same design, but guns originally engineered to be made of aluminum are likely to last as long as any others. Modern polymers on the other hand, are unproved in the long run. Nobody has reliably predicted how long polymer components will last, but there are some older Glocks and H&K pistols out there which are still functioning.
The necessity of a backup handgun is an issue of much debate. The generally accepted type of backup is a small handgun that is more carefully concealed than the main sidearm and is meant to serve as a last resort weapon should you lose the main one to some sort of malfunction or it just plain gets lost. The backup gun can also serve as a short term "loaner" that can be given to a friendly (but unarmed) person in a tight situation.
One novel idea has been to carry two (or more) identical handguns, this means that you have no problem with carrying two types of ammunition, different types of magazines, or any of the difficulties that could be related to transitioning from your primary handgun to a very different handgun. Duplicate guns also can take the same type of holster (one right, one left). Of course, this might get heavy if you are choosing two full sized big bore handguns. A modified version of this approach is to carry two similar guns, one full size and one compact, that can use the same spare magazines (like a 1911 Government model and a 1911 Officer's ACP or a big Glock and subcompact Glock). You carry both guns with their standard magazines in the guns (thus, the small gun is still a small package), but only carry high capacity magazines as spares for both guns. Your higher capacity spare magazines will stick out the bottom of the compact gun but they would only be used in a situation when concealability is out the window anyway. This would arise if you have run out of ammo in the compact gunís standard clip and need to reload (you then reload with the larger magazine). You would have the concealability advantage going in and the firepower advantage if you need to change magazines. At that point, the firepower advantage will probably be more important than concealment.
Holsters are an important part of any handgun package. It is not unusual for professional handgunners (usually Law enforcement types and IPSC competitors) to spend hundreds of dollars on holsters, belts, and ammo pouches. There is a dizzying array of holster types and designs on the market and one can get confused as to what holsters to get and what oneís priorities should be. You may get away with stuffing some types of handguns in your belt or a coat pocket, but it is usually bad idea to carry a gun that way as a matter of habit. There are four basic types of service holsters; police belt holsters, leg holsters, military flap holsters, and sportsmanís holsters. Materials have traditionally been leather and nylon, although stiff plastics are now popular for police and sport holsters. Leather holsters are usually the most durable, comfortable and elegant, but they also wear the finish of the gun and promote rust if the gun is stored in the holster. On some occasions, a concealment holster may be of use and it is a good idea to have one for every handgun that you intend to carry for protection. Concealment holsters usually come in three types, shoulder holsters, belt zone holsters, and ankle holsters. Another type that has had some popularity in recent years is one variation or another of the bag. Whether it is a butt pack/ belt pouch holster, the purse or another bag or satchel of some type.
Police pattern service holsters are usually open at the top and retain the gun with a strap that snaps in place. Some more costly police holsters have special features that make it difficult to remove the firearm from the holster unless you know the "trick". This feature is meant to help protect the officer from a martial artist type attack where the attacker grabs the gun from the officerís holster and uses it on the officer or another person. This is a danger in situations where a person can suddenly become hostile or uses some manner of deception in order to lull the officer in to thinking that there is no danger. This type of holster may be of use to survivors who expect to have a lot of close contact with potentially violent people in situations where it would be inappropriate to always have a gun in hand and unsafe to have it accessible to a person who could snatch it away and use it. Police style holsters are usually made from leather or a stiff synthetic material and can usually be bought used at gun shops and gun shows. They will usually fit trouser belts but are best suited for police style "Sam Browne" belts. Few police style holsters will fit military pistol belts. Police style holsters tend to position the gun high on the waist in order to make them more comfortable for people driving cars.
Military pattern holsters tend to protect the gun better than police holsters but they also tend to be slower (it takes more time to get the gun out when the holster is fully closed). They "ride" lower than most police holsters and almost always have a protective flap that covers the top portion of the gun. With this in mind, the military flap style holster is better suited for almost all other survival activities except quick draw gunfighting. They tend to cost less than police holsters and older surplus ones cost even less than most sport holsters.
One of the best systems of this type is the Bianchi UM84 series of holsters used by the U.S. military. They are the most costly of the military type holsters, but they can be converted into several different configurations and can easily be converted for left handed use in every configuration. They fit almost any type of belt and can be used (with a conversion kit) as a belt holster, a shoulder holster (under the arm), a chest holster (on either side of the chest but not under the arm) a police style holster (remove the flap and add the thumbsnap) or in one of ten leg configurations using either a rigid or a soft leg extension kit that positions the holster on the wearerís thigh with the flap and or the thumbsnap retaining the gun in the holster. Bianchi makes several UM84 type holsters in a few different colors but they do not have UM84 type holster for every size and shape of handgun, so it would be wise to check compatibility before you buy. Consider this to be the best cost effective choice for one holster system to do everything.
Sport holsters can be costly or cheap, depending on materials and design. For the most part, they are a step below professional grade holsters and cost less. A good example would be the Uncle Mikeís line of ĎSidekickí holsters. They are made from nylon and foam and usually retain the gun with a simple nylon strap that is attached to the holster with a snap. They are open on top and do not protect the back of the gun from the elements. They make a decent starter holster for the person who is just getting the basics together, but expect to replace it if you are going to be carrying the gun regularly. Inexpensive sport holsters are useful for people who need a holster but cannot yet afford a better carry rig. Sport holsters usually fit common trouser belts and are available for almost any type of handgun. If you find yourself having to prioritize between a really good holster or a couple of spare magazines, get the magazines with the gun and wait for a good deal on a used professional grade holster while you use the sport holster in the meantime. Cheaper holsters are also adequate when worn under outer clothing, like a winter coat or snowsuit.
Some "speed" holsters use only enough material to carry and retain the gun and do not cover the trigger area of the gun and sometimes do not have a strap or spring retention device. While these holsters are well suited for urban combat or competition, but they can be a liability in everyday life and can allow the gun to be damaged in certain activities. For example:
A survivor is on the way to the retreat and hears some noise under the truck. She pulls off the road in a dirt lot and crawls underneath to check the muffler mounts, she then rolls to the back of the truck and finds that a bolt came loose from the spare tire carrier. She gets back out from under the truck to retrieve a wrench from the toolbox and discovers that sand and gravel have gotten onto the lockwork of the revolver on her belt. Now the gun is unusable until it is disassembled and cleaned...
Another survivor spends the day cutting wood with a chainsaw. He sees a nice four point buck run across the field. The rifle is too far away, safely nestled in a rack on the Jeep. He draws his pistol, along with about three ounces of woodchips, out of the holster. The gun misfires because a chunk of bark is lodged in front of the hammer. The buck gets away and the family must live another week on canned beans and crackers before the buck is seen again...
For these reasons, I cannot recommend a speed holster for a survivor and leave the sport holster as a second choice to the military holster, unless you know that a fast draw will be more important than utility. Some sport and concealment holsters can be pretty fast, but speed holsters almost never provide a level of protection and retention that you will need.
There are a number of bags and satchels that are also designed to carry handguns. Belt packs and butt packs have been popular for men and women alike. They allow for the semi -concealed carry of large handguns without necessitating hot or bulky over garments. A belt pack can be just large enough for the handgun or larger. Since they usually have a built-in quick release belt, larger belt bag holsters can be stored with the gun and enough ammunition to act as a grab-and-go package that is not readily recognizable to the untrained eye as a gun rig. The same goes for a purse or shoulder bag. Purses and bags that are made specifically to hold firearms tend to be better suited for concealed carry since they hold the gun in a better position for a fast draw. Handguns are almost always top heavy and will flip upside-down in an ordinary pouch or pocket, thus making them difficult to draw. It is even possible for the safety of some guns to disengage as they shift around in the bag. A revolver can be even be cocked as it shifts around. You reach in to pull it out and ...SURPRISE! Someone needs a doctor.
Concealment holsters vary in cost and quality. Shoulder holsters are less popular than they used to be with law enforcement circles. I find them to be the most comfortable and convenient for all day wear, but they are difficult to quickly put on and take off. This makes the shoulder holster a low choice for the survivor who may not be carrying their gun legally and needs to be able to quickly take the holster off and hide it in the immediate area.
The most popular concealment holsters are belt or waistband holsters that carry the gun close to the body so that it can be covered by a long shirt or medium length jacket. For the most part, you get what you pay for. One popular design is the "fed paddle" that uses a friction paddle to hold the holster in place rather than a belt loop. This type of holster can be quickly put on and taken off with the gun in it. Thus it can be easily removed and tossed before one is physically searched.
I suggest getting one concealment holster of some type for each defensive gun that you think you would carry at one time or another. If there is one particular pistol that you keep as the concealment gun, make sure it has a really good holster.
In general, a survivorís handgun package will include a service handgun with a minimum of four magazines (if an automatic) or three speed loaders (if a revolver). Half of the spare magazines are carried with or near the gun, the others are stored and rotated with the carry magazines every two weeks. You will need at least one holster, but usually two (a service holster and a concealment holster) You will need at least 200 rounds of combat ammo (you only carry what fits in the clips and loaders) but preferably 1,000 rounds (including any combination of target and combat ammo) per gun. If possible, find out what the most commonly lost or broken parts are for that handgun and get one or more of each. You will also need to find a way to store the gun safely away from unauthorized persons since handguns are easily stolen. If you chose to have a backup gun as part of your basic set, make the best decisions that you can depending on what you think you will need it for.
Related articles from this website:
January 2003, Handgun Training
Walther P22 pistol Stinger Pen Pistol The Kimber CDP EAA Witness pistol IDPA - Good fun and training for the survivor.