By Daniel T. McElrath
Absurd and useless. Those are the words I would’ve used to describe ankle holsters—before I started rocking one. If you are inexperienced with them, you probably imagine having to drop to your strong-side knee, pulling up your pant cuff and drawing the pistol. That doesn’t sound terribly efficient and it’s difficult to envision many scenarios where you’d have that kind of leisure.
In point of fact, though, an ankle holster is very often the best way to carry in a variety of scenarios, particularly those in which you’d be seated.
Let’s say you have an office job in which you’re sitting at your desk all morning. Then you drive to a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. Afterward, you hop back in your car and return to work. Nothing strange or infrequent about that, yet it demonstrates the utility of a good ankle holster. Seated at a desk, the holster can be accessed without your getting up or rocking or having to worry about clearing your chair’s armrest. (Also, if seeking to maintain discretion while carrying in an office, few carry methods are as discreet as an ankle holster.)
In the car on the way to and from the restaurant, if needed you can access your gun without having to lean hard to the side or worry about clearing the seatbelt. Assuming you drive an automatic transmission, an ankle rig is also a faster draw than from a glove box, console or onboard gun vault, one you can make without taking your eyes off the threat or the road.
At the restaurant, the ankle holster is practical in a chair and a Godsend in a crowded booth. Should the balloon go up, you don’t have to rock to your weak side in order to access a pistol on your strong-side hip. And that’s assuming you’re not packed in so tightly that you can’t lean to the side. With an ankle rig, it doesn’t matter if you are pressed in from both sides by lunch companions. In fact, if you even suspect trouble, you have only to cross your legs with your weak-side ankle perched atop your strong-side knee. With your hand beneath the table, the gun is literally at your fingertips.
The other locale where I always utilize an ankle holster is a movie theater. (Remember those?) Again, you’re seated and hemmed in, this time by a hard, unyielding armrest. An ankle holster is a ready solution.
The Comfort Factor
One of the factors that dissuades people from trying an ankle holster is the belief that it won’t be comfortable. That really depends on the gun/holster combination you choose. Ideally, you want a holster that rides low but doesn’t put pressure on the knob of the ankle bone. It should be heavily padded with felt, wool or other cushiony material. In the old days, some attached with buckles, but today everything uses hook-and-loop fasteners or is made from stretch fabric that firmly grips the ankle or lower leg.
New adopters of ankle holsters usually make the mistake of going too heavy or too light when selecting a handgun. Carrying any weight on your ankle causes a pendulum effect that can mess with your stride until you get used to it. The heavier the gun, the more pronounced the effect. Carry a big, powerful gun for awhile and you’ll end up unarmed—because it’ll be such a pain that you’ll stop carrying. On the other hand, going too light and/or small means you’ll be carrying a gun in a less-effective caliber and/or a gun that you may not shoot terribly well. Nothing is worse than being unarmed when you need a gun, but being undergunned probably runs second.
I try to always bear in mind that everyone is different, with different body types, sensitivities, medical conditions, lifestyles, job requirements, wardrobes, etc. Nonetheless, people still ask me for concrete recommendations. OK, here’s what I use, offered with the caveat that something else may work better for you.
Best Ankle Holster Rigs
The best ankle holster design I’ve found was made by a guy named Lou Alessi and offered by his eponymous company. The bad news? Both he and his successor passed away and the business went with them. The good news? Alessi’s protégé, Skip Ritchie, has his own company (ritchieholsters.com) now and offers the same high-quality, felt-backed, vegetable-tanned leather holster (among others). What makes this design so great is a substantial hook-and-loop-faced leather strap and slender metal slot that allow the holster to be cinched on the ankle. It works like a charm, and is both snug and comfortable. Moreover, the gun compartment is closely boned, creating a friction fit that is secure and doesn’t require any retention straps or snaps. Several other holster makers offer decent ankle rigs. Look for models that ride low, are well-padded and allow an easy draw.
The gun is a Kahr Arms PM9 9 mm semi-automatic with XS Big Dot Express sights. It’s just big enough for me to shoot well, but light enough to carry almost effortlessly, once I got used to ankle carry. I now sometimes have to think about it to realize it’s there. Yet, it’s in a serious chambering and, loaded with Federal HST Micro, I have a good deal of confidence in the little blaster. Granted, it’s often paired with a Glock G48 on my hip, so that I never find myself in the kneeling scenario described at the outset. On a tight budget, though, I might’ve opted for a just the Kahr and two holsters, an ankle and a belt model, and moved the gun as the situation warranted. However, that would constitute an awful lot of handling of a loaded pistol.
Depending on how much weight you can tolerate on your ankle and what you’re comfortable shooting, there are several good candidates for ankle carry. I think a good-quality, single-stack, polymer-frame pistol weighing under 20 ounces is ideal, though an aluminum- or polymer-frame .38 Spl. revolver can work, too. In 9 mm, the Glock G43, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 and Walther PPS M2 fit the bill. Pistols chambered in .380 ACP are lighter still. Among viable offerings are the Glock G42, Ruger LCP II and Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380. The chambering offers what’s regarded as the minimum level of muzzle energy for self-defense, and I’d be most comfortable loaded with Federal Hydra-Shok Deep.
As a final tip, if you wear jeans and want to carry on your ankle, opt for boot-cut jeans. I buy all of mine in this style now, even though I wear oxfords or sneakers most of the time. The larger cuff obscures the gun better, doesn’t restrict your rig and makes for a faster, cleaner draw.