This guide to choosing a concealed carry holster contains multiple parts. Five questions you need to ask yourself, popular holsters and carrying methods, and a section about the benefits and drawbacks of various holster materials.
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and exercise your 2nd Amendment Right the way it was always meant to be exercised – great! You’re about to join a growing minority of Americans who no longer wish to be vulnerable, who don’t want to count on how quickly first responders can come after something bad happens.
But before you pick up your handgun of choice and strap it to your person, there are important, life-or-death considerations to weigh and tips to know.
We’ll keep it simple here, guys and gals: You should keep it simple, too. Carrying a handgun shouldn’t be an experiment. Consider whether you’ll be able to keep your weapon concealed comfortably all day with your holster of choice. Once you pick a holster, test it out around the house. Walk around, sit for a bit, do some basic activities like bending over, picking things up, twisting, and reaching. You’ll quickly find out whether your holster is comfortable, concealable and fitted well.
Take a peek at the questions below to help narrow down your holster of choice. We’ve also included a nifty holster breakdown at the end to summarize what might be best for you!
- 1 5 Questions to Answer about your Concealed Carry Choices
- 2 Popular Holsters and Carrying Methods
- 3 Holster Materials
5 Questions to Answer about your Concealed Carry Choices
1. Where on your person will you carry?
This is the million-dollar question, and there are plenty of concealed carry holster types to help answer that. Holsters and carry methods vary in a ton of ways, and the kind of handgun you pick, the environment where you’ll be carrying, your body type, the level of desired comfort, and the level of concealment you require will all dictate which holster is best for you.
The most popular carrying methods are: In-the-waistbands (IWB), outside-the-waistbands (OWB), chest rigs, ankle rigs, pocket carrying, hidden-in-sights (purses, pouches), and more exotic methods like carry clothing (integrated chest rig undershirts, integrated pocket carry holster pants).
2. How long will you carry?
Will you be carrying at work? Are you going to carry while you hike, walk the dog, see a movie or grab a bite to eat? Carrying for an hour while you run some errands is a helluva lot easier than carrying for ten hours – the morning commute, the day at work, and the drive home included. If you’re carrying for longer periods of time, comfort will obviously become more important.
Concealment may become more important, too. To answer this question with the right holster, we recommend going for a solution that’ll let you carry for long periods of time, even if you don’t plan on it. A comfortable holster or carry method will be more intuitive and let you carry confidently.
An uncomfortable holster that you can only wear for short periods of time will be distracting, cumbersome, and difficult to maneuver – which can result in an injury-or-death situation.
3. How quickly will you need to draw?
This isn’t a trick question, but the answer isn’t just “fast” or “slow”. The correct answer is: As quickly as you can without making yourself a target and without compromising your safety or the safety of those around you. A situation that requires you to draw will likely not be like the OK Corral.
If you’re a target, you’ll need to be able to draw efficiently. If you find yourself walking down dark streets at night and someone singles you out with poor intentions, then speed will be a key factor, and you should go with a holster that provides quick access. If you spend a majority of your time in a sensitive environment surrounded by many other folks, then concealment and the ability to draw subtly, without much noise or crazy movement, will be the way to go.
4. What kind of clothes will you be wearing?
This is a question often not considered by folks who pick a holster or carry method because the answer changes – and so may the holster. If you’re sporting a tailored suit all day, your carry options will have to take this into consideration. You might need a holster that provides more concealment and less speed. Once you’re outside of that business environment, your carrying requirements may change. You may need to switch to a carry method that provides easier access and thus less concealability.
As the seasons change, your carry method might, too. You may have to go from an ankle holster or OWB in winter to a chest rig or IWB in the summer.
5. What kind of weapon are you carrying?
The handgun you choose will influence what holster you decide to go with. A revolver or double-stack handgun will require a larger holster that has a more telling profile, ultimately providing less concealment – especially if you’re a smaller shooter. A single-stack or subcompact will provide the most concealment options and the most comfort.
You’ve likely already chosen your handgun, so we’ll keep this question’s breakdown brief: Just consider how easy or difficult your particular handgun may be to conceal and draw based on its size, magazine length and configuration, barrel length, and where you want to put it on your person.
Popular Holsters and Carrying Methods
With the equation known (Where x When x How x Dress = X Holster), we’ll break down each of the most popular holster types, their benefits, and their drawbacks:
Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters are perhaps the most common holsters for concealed carrying. They provide plenty of concealment with an un-tucked and un-fitted shirt and offers a quick draw. However, they can be the least comfortable depending on the handgun you’re carrying, your belt and pant choice, and your size. If you’re a smaller guy or gal and decide to carry a double-stack handgun or revolver, the annoyances can quickly mount. IWB holsters work well on the side of your hip if you’re running a smaller handgun. If you’re running a larger frame handgun, an IWB holster that sits near the front of your person, closer to the crook of your inner thigh may work better.
: Outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters are a close 2nd in popularity to IWB holsters. They provide more comfort because they, as the name implies, sit outside your waistband. They generally offer the least concealment, especially if you’re wearing a simple, fitted t-shirt. They allow for more comfortable carrying and work well with larger frame handguns. They also provide the quickest draw of any concealed carry holster and if concealment isn’t a concern, their hinted presence or subtle showing can be a deterrent in itself.
Chest-tucked, underarm holsters provide a good balance of comfort and concealment but is slow to draw, especially if you’re wearing business casual attire or layers of clothing. A single-stack handgun will conceal very well with a low-profile chest rig, even if you’re wearing a plain tee. Chest rigs often come with two pouches – one under each arm – making them great for carrying extra magazines. If you’re in a public environment or an environment requiring business dress and a quick draw isn’t so much a concern, this might be the way to go.
If you can get away with it, ankle and leg holsters arguably offer the most concealment and comfort possible. It’s simply against human nature to size up someone’s lower half as long as you’re not wearing anything too revealing or provocative, so if you can fit a holster there, expect few second looks at your pants or shorts. Ankle holsters tend to work best with single-stack handguns or subcompacts. If you’re singled out as a target it can become a race to draw, so consider the environment you’ll be carrying in and the speed and physical movement required to use an ankle or leg holster if the time comes. Beyond this consideration, an ankle or leg holster is a great out-of-the-way method of carrying for long periods with casual wear.
Hidden in Plain Sight
This method is pretty self-explanatory. Carrying with your weapon hidden in plain sight usually means carrying with a purse, backpack, waist pouch, or large pocket book. For the lady, tourist, hiker or runner hitting an isolated trail, this is an excellent carrying solution. It provides guaranteed concealment and comfort. If you’re ever singled out by an aggressor, bluffing to their demands makes for easy retrieval of your weapon – just be ready to go the distance once you’ve committed to drawing. This will likely be a surprise to the aggressor and their response to your weapon draw can never be guaranteed. You’ll find plenty of carry-designed accessories that make retrieval easier, including purses with quick-access handgun pouches and handgun waist pouches designed to look like cellphone cases.
Also a self-explanatory method of carrying. We don’t recommend pocket carrying unless you’re wearing clothing that can keep your handgun snug, without making its profile obvious. This balancing act is difficult to accomplish, making pocket carrying a hasty and improvised option at best. Your handgun will likely shift and flip in your pocket, making retrieval awkward. Using a snug pocket may keep your handgun positioned well, but its shape will be made apparent and concealment will be minimal. If you ever have to encounter law enforcement while carrying, know that they like to see you using some sort of actual carrying device. Rolling around with your handgun “chilling” in your pocket will usually not win any points, especially if a search is requested.
A holster’s material matters just as much as the holster itself. We’ll quickly summarize the benefits and drawbacks of each:
Leather is generally the go-to choice for concealed carry holsters. Leather has plenty of benefits and few drawbacks. It’s comfortable, slick, won’t snag on fibers, and over time it will mold to your body’s profile and placement, improving comfort and concealability. Leather can get loose over time, but with simple conditioning and care, your leather holster will last for years, maintaining shape and comfort.
“Plastic” holsters come in a variety of materials, but they all share the same attributes: They’re rigid, lightweight, and resistant to damage and sagging. They won’t get loose like a leather holster might, but their level of comfort will stay the same. They won’t change shape or conform to your body more than they will the first time you use them, so it’s important to make sure they’re comfortable the first time you try them on.
Plastic holsters are usually the only options that will come with retention and quick-release systems, so if you’re actively moving, running or hiking, or you need something that’ll keep your weapon held tight, this is the way to go.
Cloth holsters are similar in their features and drawbacks as leather holsters. Cloth holsters can generally be made slimmer and less revealing than a leather holster, but over time their fibers may stretch and they may become loose. They may not retain as much shape or rigidity as a leather holster, but they can be manipulated a bit more to ensure comfort. Cloth holsters will likely wear out the quickest and loose fibers may snag on your handgun’s sights, so bear this in time when trying one out for the first time.
With so many factors to consider, getting the right concealed carry holster can be a challenge. Keep the questions, holster types and materials in mind – but most importantly, try out different ones in the real world. Test them out in practical use. Draw your weapon as quickly as you can while being safe. Perform all your daily activities without modifying any of your behavior.
Your holster should mold to you, not the other way around. Get with someone you trust and ask questions: Does it fit well from an observer’s perspective? Can it be seen easily by those around you? Does it look like you’re walking funny when wearing it? It may seem silly, but it’ll help you decide what’s best for you.
Armed with knowledge, go try some holsters out! Be confident with your holster and enjoy carrying! There’s a lot to consider, but this is a positive step in the direction of guaranteeing your safety and the safety of those around you, so be cautious but be sure in your decision.