Before choosing a holster for concealed carry, it is best to first determine how and where you intend to carry your firearm. Will you carry on your body or off of your person? Will you carry on your strong side hip, appendix, or small of the back? Will you carry inside your waistband or outside the waistband? Then, based on where or how you will carry, determine which make and model of firearm you want to carry concealed. Do all this before selecting a holster for concealed carry.
I’m going to try to be extensive with the article, touching on many topics you might not have considered when selecting a holster for concealed carry. This article is going to focus on helping you choose a holster for your preferred mode of carry, and not so much on helping you choose a mode of carry. Choosing a mode of carry is a highly personal choice based on many factors such as your body size, shape, lifestyle, working conditions, etc… There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to anything related to firearms.
Universal truths when choosing a holster for concealed carry…
Whether you choose to carry inside the waistband (IWB) or outside the waistband (OWB), or if you choose to carry your concealed firearm off of your body, there are some universal truths when selecting a holster for concealed carry.
Always use a holster.
This seems like it shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s not uncommon for someone to toss a handgun in their pocket or in their purse and call it a day. Not only is this unsafe, but it can also cause an unreliable firearm. No matter what your mode of carry, you need a holster.
Avoid many “one size fits all” holsters.
You can get away with one size fits all holsters some of the time, such as with a belly band type holster, off-body carry, or even a pocket holster. However for more traditional carry methods, you really should consider a holster designed specifically for your firearm which fits tightly.
Always make sure the holster covers the trigger guard (or it’s not really a holster).
Exposed triggers are a safety hazard and exposed triggers are a real thing. It is more common to have an exposed trigger with a one size fits all type holster than with a holster specifically designed for your firearm, but even so, always make sure the trigger is protected. This is also a part of the reason holsters are so necessary with pocket carry and off-body carry.
Training with your carry gear.
Let’s be honest. Buying gear is a theory. Taking your gear to a rigorous training class proves or disproves your theory. Don’t fall in love with your gear! It either works, or it doesn’t. If your gear doesn’t work, find other or better gear. You might end up with a few holsters which don’t work for you until you find one that does, and that’s perfectly fine.
Don’t carry with holster A, but train with holster B. If you carry holster A, train with holster A. For example. If you carry off-body every day, using a strong side Outside the waist holster during training is doing yourself a disservice. You need to know if your everyday holster works as you intend it, and you need to build muscle memory working with it.
What works for competition might not work for defense.
As we said before about training with your gear, I want to reinforce that if you’re training for defensive scenarios, competition holsters might not be your best choice to train with. It never fails that a student will bring their competition setup to a defensive pistol class. You really are cheating only yourself by doing this.
Now let’s talk about specific ways you can carry your concealed firearm and some of the nuances of selecting a holster for each type.
Tips for choosing a strong side IWB holster.
Strongside Inside the Waistband (IWB) is likely the most common form of carrying a concealed firearm.
I prefer hybrid options for my IWB holsters. Hybrid with a soft pad against my body, perhaps leather or neoprene, and with a firm outer shell, often Kydex or molded plastic. I find these to be the most comfortable with less poking or hot spots. Neoprene is often more comfortable right out of the box since leather requires some break-in. However, I find leather is slightly more comfortable once broken in. The added comfort of leather is especially true in warmer weather because the leather seems to react differently with body sweat and feel less sticky than neoprene. Going one step further horsehide leather may be even more durable and comfortable in humid climates.
Sometimes changing the clips on your IWB holster makes a big difference in keeping your holster where you want it. I’ve had holsters with poor clips causing the holster to move around in my pants, and that’s a big problem. Also concealed J clips improve concealability when tucking in your shirt. I prefer good-quality polymer clips, instead of metal, in most cases.
A key feature in the hybrid holster is to find a holster with what some call a combat cut. The combat cut makes it easier to grip the firearm. The combat cut is simply an area of holster pad that has been removed thus exposing more of the grip area against your body.
Tips for choosing an Appendix carry IWB Holster.
While I personally find the appendix inside the waistband (AIWB) uncomfortable, there is no denying the popularity of this carry style. Appendix carry, sometimes called centerline carry would be carrying at the 1 o’clock position for a right-hander and 11 o’clock for a lefty. If you choose to carry AIWB, follow the same tips as you would with a strong side IWB holster, however, look at holsters with 90-degree cant, or “no cant”. This means the firearm is straight up and down. Though some people prefer negative cant on their AIWB holsters meaning they lean back slightly. This negative cant is especially comfortable for a cross draw.
Two features on an AIWB holster that you might find you help better conceal larger handguns are a raised area which pressed against the belt from the inside, sometimes called a wing or a claw. The second feature you might find useful is a foam bump to press the lower portion of the holster against your body which then pressed the grip against your stomach. Third, and possibly most important when selecting an AIWB holster, is the adjustable ride height of the holster. However keep in mind while these features may add some concealability, they may also do so at a cost of comfort.
Tips for choosing an OWB holster.
Outside the waistband (OWB) holsters are often carried on the strong side hip. Paddle holsters are an option for OWB if you may have to frequently disarm. Belt loop attachments are a good choice if you only need to put on and take off the holster once per day. I prefer a holster with at least one level of active retention for OWB. This means that at least one button, snap, or lever needs to be defeated to draw the firearm from the holster. Having at least one level of active retention makes it difficult for someone to snatch your firearm from your holster.
Selecting a holster engineered and designed for your model of firearm is very important for OWB carry so the firearm doesn’t shake and rattle around within the holster.
Tips for small of the back carry.
Small of the back carry is comfortable, however, if you are seated it is nearly impossible to access the firearm efficiently. If you do choose to carry in the small of your back, holster cant is your friend. Proper cant makes drawing the firearm easier and more comfortable. Look for a positive cant, meaning the firearm is leaning forward. 20 degrees seems comfortable for me for the small of the back.
Avoid the dead center 6 o’clock position. 6 o’clock carry means the firearm is in line with your spine. To fall while carrying in the 6 o’clock position, could cause serious spinal injury, and also makes accessing the firearm impossible. If you choose to carry small of the back, instead opt for 4:30 – 5 o’clock.
Small of the back carry can be done IWB or OWB. The same guidelines apply for choosing a small of the back holster regardless if it is IWB or OWB.
Tips for pocket carry.
Don’t try to place the firearm into the holster in the pocket, instead remove the holster from the pocket first. Insert the firearm into the holster and then insert the firearm with the holster into the pocket.
Don’t carry anything in the pocket where you keep your firearm. Coins paper clips and even lint can much up the action of your handgun making it inoperable or may cause you to have to remove the firearm first to retrieve whatever item you kept in the same pocket. You have more than one pocket, use them.
Tips for off-body carry.
The first tip I can give anyone considering off-body carry is this: If you are the kind of person who forgets where they place their purse or can’t ever find your keys; Off-body carry may not be for you. Off-body carry would be carrying in a purse or a backpack, briefcase, or some other type of carrying device that you could easily put down. If you choose to off-body carry, think about how you will draw the firearm, and really go through the motions, and stage the firearm in such a way that it can be effectively and efficiently drawn. There are purses and bags specifically designed for carrying a firearm off-body. Get a holster to go inside the bag. In the compartment with your gun, it is probably best not to carry any other items.
What you don’t want is an exposed trigger. You don’t want the firearm moving around within the carry bag. You don’t want other items bouncing around with the gun. And you don’t want to EVER let the carry bag leave your possession. It might be called off-body carry, but never let the bag leave your person unless it is secured from unauthorized persons.
Velcro may help you secure your holster into your carry bag.
What are my personal holster choices?
There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to anything firearm-related. What works for me may not work for you. What works for you might not work for me. There is theory and practice surrounding my choices, which as previously stated is highly personal based upon my body and my lifestyle. However, I carry strong side hip, approximately 2:30-3:30. There are many fine holster manufacturers of comparable quality, so don’t be married to any brands. For outside the waistband, I use a Safariland GLS with active retention.