What is a Shoulder Holster?
In the most straightforward, uncomplicated, and simple way I can think of, shoulder holsters consist of two straps connected to the actual holster with straps on the right or left side of your body.
Shoulder holsters are designed to position the gun in two basic positions and three barrel-pointing directions.
In the vertical position, the barrel can be pointed towards the ground or upward. In the horizontal position, the barrel is generally pointed behind the wearer.
Arguably, shoulder holsters aren’t for everyone. Matter of fact, there are countless downsides which feed a large community of critics that boisterously oppose these types of holsters.
That said, however, there is a mystique about the shoulder holster lacking in virtually all other holster styles.
The fact that most gun owners, at one point in time or another long to own a shoulder holster regardless of their ill-famed reputation, is an oxymoron testament to their appeal – sustained, I contend, by their typically high price tags.
To understand the shoulder holster’s mysticism, you need not become a Freudian analyst, but you do need, however, to peek back in history, as doing so may, in fact, help you make some sense of it all.
Let’s just say, the shoulder holster popularity comes courtesy of Hollywood’s big screen movies.
From as far back as the days of black and white films, virtually every cop, every private eye, as well as every bad boy, were all featured carrying their guns in a shoulder holster.
While maybe not quite as high-up as apple-pie and Coca-Cola, shoulder holsters did earn a deserved place in the collection of Americana symbolic products.
Fast forward to the late 1980’s and just about everyone wanted to be detective “Sonny” Crockett, the fictional character in NBC’s television hit-series Miami Vice portrayed by actor Don Johnson, who’s image wearing a shoulder holster became synonymous with that of a cool modern-day gunslinger – persons noted for their speed and skill in handling and shooting a gun.
And yes, many of us did want to be “Sonny.”
Advantages of a Shoulder Holster
Right at the top of the list in the advantages of shoulder holsters is comfortability for the wearer.
The straps crossing over on the shoulders and back are definitely a plus for good weight distribution as opposed to their waistband counterparts.
Some, however, on the other side of the aisle, often condemn shoulder holsters for designs that detract from their comfort.
Carry and Concealment
You may say that a well-designed shoulder holster works great for heavy handguns.
When well-fitted or well-adjusted shoulder holsters make for an easy carry with virtually no effort, especially so if you are one who is into long-barreled handguns.
If concealment is your thing, even with lengthy barrels, shoulder holsters are, probably, the best practical means of concealing your gun.
While many will argue that shoulder holsters are part of the times when drive-in movies, diners, and jukeboxes were the “in-thing”, I say the truth is, when properly adjusted, the shoulder holster offers added-value benefits not typically found with other concealed weapon carrying alternatives.
Matter of fact, the shoulder holster is probably timeless in its concept and design.
Disadvantages of a Shoulder Holster
I dare say that most of the reasons cited by critics of shoulder holsters all begin and end with the word “safety.”
The reason: during the draw, the gun will be pointing away from the side of the shooter, so a negligent discharge may, in fact, have a bullet landing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Same applies to competition venues because of the closeness of range officials and/or passive bystanders.
Before leaving the “safety” zone issue, I need to also make mention that, almost all shoulder holsters share in their reduced safety requirement criteria only because of the ease with which your handgun will point at parts of your body as you complete your draw.
The next negative of shoulder holsters is their slowness in draw-stroke.
As compared with most IWB and OWB holsters, the draw-stroke of shoulder holsters is comparatively slower, which may in fact pose a serious drawback in situations where drawing your gun may be detrimental to your protection and welfare.
While many proponents of shoulder holsters would want to sell you on their “quick-draw” trait, this is, simply said, a fallacy – their design and concept is just not meant for ease of draw.
Assembly and Price
Last in my list of drawback contentions I find in shoulder holsters is their obvious fitting and assembling requirements.
Typically, shoulder holsters do require much attention-to-detail in terms of proper fit.
When purchasing a shoulder holster, you should always bear in mind that their concept and design are not for the ready-fit style found in hip holsters.
You, more likely than not, will have to work at making sure the one you picked fits comfortably and, yes, do remember shoulder holsters popularity have, throughout time, managed to make them climb up in the price-point ladder, making them somewhat out-of-reach for many prospective buyers.
What Are The Best Shoulder Holsters?
1. Galco Jackass Shoulder Rig
At the No. 1 spot in my list of best shoulder holsters is the Galco Jackass Shoulder Rig.
Made of Premium Center Cut Steerhide designed as a diagonal, butt-down carry.
The leather harness has the trademarked clover-shaped Flexalon name with a swivel backplate featuring very comfortable 1.5” wide straps, for virtually every body shape.
This holster provides for a horizontal position that can be adjusted for a more diagonal carry than that of Galco’s Miami Classic and MCII models, attaching to the harness with swivel connectors.
This one is streamlined for comfort and comes with an ammo carrier.
It conceals well.
The only drawbacks I found was the break-in time needed and the fact it is somewhat pricey.
2. Galco Miami Classic II
At a close 2nd in my preferences’ list comes the Galco’s Miami Classic II.
This one, you may say, is one of the best CCW shoulder rigs on the market today.
This is the quintessential shoulder holster if yet not cheap.
Made from Premium Steerhide it also has a horizontal double magazine carrier.
It fits chests up to 52” inches and orients its spare ammo carrier in a horizontal position allowing for a faster grasp when reloading.
All four points of the harness pivot with Galco’s unique cover shaped Flexalon™ swivel back plate.
Their 1 ½” harness straps distribute weight evenly without compromising its concealability.
This one and its Miami Classic twin were named in honor of their role in the Miami Vice T.V. series.
Will last for years thanks to the excellent leather retention.
The only drawback I can see is their limitation in accommodating most electronics sighting systems.
Their long breaking-in time and high price tag may also be listed as drawbacks, however, do not let these minor shortcomings deter you from your considerations in buying this one.
3. Galco Classic Lite
At No. 3 in my list comes the Galco Classic Lite 2.0.
Got to be honest though, my love at first sight with this one started with an uncontainable attraction to its price tag – a relatively lower price point as compared to other Galcos if yet offering quite a lot for my money.
Made of Galco’s signature Premium Center Cut Steerhide, the Lite is a horizontal carry with vertical double magazine carriers.
It boasts Galco’s 1.5” wide harness straps with their Flexalon™ backplate that accepts tie-downs/cuff case/accessory attachments and fits chests up to 52” inches.
The Lite is comfortable, versatile and, the fact that it one the most copied systems in the world just like the rest of Galco’s shoulder holsters, speaks volumes of this brand name.
This one is available for right- and left-hand draw and was made for semiautomatic pistols and revolvers.
My only qualm about this one is that it is not suitable with red dot sights; it is only available in the steerhide leather’s natural color.
The fact that this one is budget-friendly makes up for the little inconveniences.
4. Galco Vertical Holster System [VHS] 4.0
Ranking in the 4th place in my preferences list is the Galco Vertical Holster system.
Made of Premium Steerhide, this vertical carry has an outstanding contoured leather retention.
This one was field proven across the globe by U.S. military personnel and many others in the law-enforcement community.
The VHS 4.0™ provides a good option for those who want the concealment of a Galco Miami Classic but still prefer the vertical carry style.
This one boasts their 2.75” wide harness straps which were redesigned to enhance both comfort and concealment as well.
As expected from the Galco family, all four points of the spider type harness pivots independently and connect to each other by way of the clover shaped trademarked Flexalon™ swivel back plate.
The VHS4 .0™ is ambidextrous, and it is especially compatible to hunters and outdoorsmen who thrive on carrying a full-size handgun under a jacket.
On the downside of this one, it may not properly accommodate magazines with exterior sleeves and will only fit OEM-length.
5. Aker Leather 101 Comfort Flex
At No. 5 in the list, I did not remain loyal to Galco.
My divergence respondent mostly to a price-point which I could not just bypass offered by the Aker Leather 101 Comfort Flex, to wit, a price-point which I just could not pass for a full-grain leather shoulder holster that sells for a hundred dollars less than most of the Galco counterparts.
Figure you cannot go wrong with this one.
Its upward pistol angle provides for extra comfort.
It features a double mag pouch for both capacity and balance.
There are swivel points for movement and comfort.
The one major objection I had to this one is the fact that the strap leather may wear out faster than others.
Then again, the price-point is such you may want to overlook any downsides on this one.
6. Galco Parabellum
You can say the Galco Parabellum, perhaps, offers the best of both worlds in terms of material construction as it is a hybrid that combines the given benefits of Kydex with top Premium Center Cut Steerhide leather.
This one carries the pistol and magazines horizontally with a passive retention device at the trigger guard.
The Parabellum’s wide comfort harness with a full 2.75” inches maximize wearer comfort while fitting chests up to 52” inches.
The Kydex holster and mag carrier bodies afford capabilities for a very fast firearm drawing and reloading.
Retention is achieved with a passive retention device at the trigger guard as well as a pivoting hood that can be swiftly released by the thumb to draw the pistol.
The Galco Parabellum features especially good concealability when used with an open jacket.
Their improved key-hole fastener system results in greater security, ease of assembly and greatly reduced chances of losing the fasteners.
Just about my only contention on the Parabellum is the pricey tag.
7. Bianchi X15
At number 7 in my preferences, I have the Bianchi X15.
This shoulder holster is a rather comfortable option for those of you who prefer a vertical carry.
Available in full grain leather, I must say it sells at a rather competitive price, if yet offering quite a few amenities such as its wide X-style harness which supports and distributes the weight quite evenly on the shoulder.
The Bianchi X15 has dual spring closure providing for good firearm retention and stability.
It also features a fully detachable retainer strap and fully adjustable soft leather harness that can fit chests up to 48” inches.
It is half-lined with full grain leather which allows for a smooth draw.
While boasting a universal fit, I personally see this as an infringement on the snugness on some handguns.
Why So Many Galcos?
About the Galco Tradition
Once you are finished going through my list of preferred shoulder holsters, I believe you can readily depict my obvious and undeniable bias for the Galco brand name.
As such, let me be very clear in the fact that I do not sponsor, represent, or in any way derive any benefits from Galco and/or any other manufacturer for that matter.
Just thought it would be prudent to make that caveat as, otherwise, it would defeat the very objective I am trying to accomplish here, namely, to give you a fair, equitable, and conscientious evaluation of the best shoulder holsters available in today's marketplace.
Having said that, nevertheless, there are good reasons for my leaning so heavily in favor of the Galco brand. Simply put, Galco happens to make some of the best shoulder holsters I know.
Founded in 1969 by Richard Gallager, Galco, is today, a name synonymous with one of the world’s leading manufacturers of shoulder holsters.
Back in the day when it all started, then known as the famous “Jackass Leather Company'' – the name Jackass relative to Mr. Gallager’s obsession with the highest standards of quality which propelled his leather-manufacturing company to new heights as it changed its name to Galco International LTD in the 1980’s, at a time when Galco’s notoriety expanded even more as their shoulder holster system became ever so widely popular in the iconic T.V. series Miami Vice - which led to Galco holsters being featured in dozens of other hollywood movies and shows.
While there are today other shoulder holster manufacturers making reasonably good products, whenever discussing shoulder holsters, the name Galco is inevitably associated with the one best in this industry.
Summary and Conclusion
Yes, as you probably have guessed by now, shoulder holsters are unique in many ways.
For all the abundant criticisms which surround these types of holsters, there is yet a rather extensive and loyal fan-club which may, in fact, disavow and refute the critics, thus giving these holsters their deserved place in the Americana tradition.
The fans boast about shoulder holsters’ comfort as critics knock-it down.
In the end, I think, it is pretty much your call.
I personally happen to coincide with the supporters and bid to differ with the critics, most of them to be found among range trainers, instructors and organizations that offer action-oriented competition.
Their beef safety, as they claim all shoulder holsters can be subject to a negligent discharge only relative to their draw positions often pointing to the surrounding environment including but not limited to one's own body.
As to the positive vantage points I see on shoulder holsters, other than their obvious aura of Hollywood’s romantic heroism and courage, I am personally sold on the comfort offered by the well-fitted designs, often, affording to safely carry a concealed weapon.
In summary, once again, shoulder holsters are timeless in their unique style and design.
As such, most gun advocates out there like me, will strive to own one at some point in their life.
Perhaps that time has come for you now.
Go for it.