Holsters 101: What You Need to Know to Get Started
Whether you've been shooting for a while or are just starting, we know that dipping your toes in the world of gear can sometimes be overwhelming -- especially when it comes to concealed carry holsters. With a bevy of styles on the market and acronyms everywhere, sussing out what's available and its uses can seem rather daunting. That's why I'm here to help.
As your resident guide to all things concealed carry, and with a bin of holsters waiting to be put to use, I'm here to break down the ABCs of concealed carry holsters. From names to positions on the body and the pros/cons of each, let's take a walk through the holster park and get to know the rigs a little better.
Outside-the-waistband holsters are commonly associated with open carry and range days, but these versatile holsters also occupy a space in the concealed carry arena. Resting on the wearer's hip or just behind on the outside of the pants, an OWB holster secures to a belt via a paddle attachment, clips, or belt loops. OWB holsters are often made from leather or Kydex.
The advantage of an OWB rig is access. The gun's location on the hip means less clothing that could obstruct a draw. The trade-off, though, is concealment. Often OWB holsters are bulkier than their IWB counterparts, meaning that concealed carry in the summer months or with form-fitting clothes can be more difficult. That being said, OWB is a great option for the winter months when you find yourself in oversized sweaters, sweatshirts, coats, and jackets.
An inside-the-waistband holster fits on the inside of the pants, between the wearer and the clothing's beltline. Attaching to a belt via clips or belt loops, an IWB can be worn at the 3-, 4-, or 5-o'clock position as well as in a cross-draw position on the wearer's non-dominant side. IWB comes in the form of fabric, Kydex, leather, or hybrid -- that is, Kydex mounted to a leather or fabric backing.
IWB's greatest advantage is concealment. Resting in the pant line, the belt pulls the holster in tighter to the body. The addition of a blouse or shirt further reduces printing. While the IWB provides better concealment in a wider range of clothing, they can often feel a tad uncomfortable since they rest against the wearer's body. An undershirt can be worn to prevent rubbing, though. One of the most common styles of holsters, IWB is a good starting point for most people pursuing concealed carry.
An offshoot of IWB, appendix-inside-the-waistband blends concealment with quick access to the firearm. Positioned over the appendix or, sometimes, more centerline to the body, AIWB holsters are front and center. Still nestling inside the pant, these rely on belt loops or clips to stay in place. Like IWB, these holsters come in a variety of styles like leather, Kydex, and hybrid.
The benefit of AIWB is its location allows wearers to draw the firearm quickly. Not to mention, wearers can simply look down to see if there's any printing -- that is if the gun is showing through the clothes. Many proponents of this style also tout its comfort; like anything, though, your body shapes may play a part in the comfort level of AIWB. Also worth mentioning, opponents of this style of carry cite safety concerns as a deterrent; but when paired with good gun handling techniques, like the other modes of carry, this style is safe.
Not all fashion statements come with the ability to hang a holster on a belt, so for clothing items sans belt loops, belly bands can be used to concealed carry. These differ from previous holsters as they do not attach to the clothing; instead, wrapping around the wearer and attaching to the holster itself via hook-and-loop or clasps. Most often seen in fabric form, there are options -- like the Crossbreed Modular Belly Band -- that pair a Kydex shell with a fabric design.
Belly bands bring deeper concealment to the table and work well for those routinely sporting gym shorts, yoga pants, leggings, or skirts. The downside to this style is that they can migrate throughout the day, especially if you tend to sweat. With nothing anchoring these to the body, they can ride up or even twist, requiring users to run off to a bathroom to readjust. Belly bands work year-round, though, and offer a little versatility to those that aren't wearing jeans regularly.
Similar to the belly band, a thigh holster is one that wraps around the wearer and secures to itself, forgoing any attachment to clothing. Best when paired with mid-length skirts or kilts (not leaving you out, gentlemen), thigh holsters are convenient when a belly band simply won't do. While belly bands can accommodate even full-size pistols and revolvers, concealed carry style thigh holsters do best with small handguns.
Like the belly band, though, these holsters can see some movement throughout the day, so you might find yourself readjusting. Some companies, like Can Can Concealment, offer a garter attachment that secures around the waist and prevents significant movement. I recommend grabbing a garter, if you can, to make the thigh carry experience a little easier. There are thigh holsters, known as drop holsters, worn on the outside of clothing but these are better suited for range days and open carry, if you so choose.
Ankle holsters adopt the same approach as thigh holsters, just a bit lower. Worn on the ankle, these wrap around the wearer and secure the gun in a pocket. Best suited for small or micro guns, ankle holsters work best in long dresses or skirts, or pants with a bit of flare.
Again, like the thigh holster, these can sometimes move throughout the day. Not to mention, they also require a different draw. Because the gun is on the ankle, wearers must drop to one knee in order to retrieve the gun. This takes a little extra time, more so than an OWB, IWB, or AIWB, so you'll want to train accordingly. Additionally, the draw means that you cannot run from a threat and draw on a threat simultaneously. Ankle holsters are most notably used by those carrying a backup gun -- that is, a second, often much smaller gun, carried in the event the primary gun cannot be used.
Niche Holsters: Apparel
There are plenty of other holsters, like shoulder holsters and corset holsters, that cater to a variety of needs, but one that has grown in popularity over the years is the apparel holster. Combining clothing and an integrated holster, this style takes the guesswork out by bringing a dual-purpose option to concealed carriers. Undertech Undercover offers undershirts, leggings, and compression shorts while Alexo Athletica incorporates leggings, running shorts, and skirts -- all with integrated holsters.
While these can be useful, especially if you find yourself unable to carry with previously mentioned holsters, these do have their own set of limitations. Namely, as they are fabric, most do not offer a guarded trigger. When concealed carrying, it's safest to use a holster that protects the trigger from being engaged inside the holster. Fabric designs often are not equipped with measures to prevent movement of the trigger. You'll want to research and, if you can, check out one of these in person at the gun store before buying. Alternatively, some of these features enough space for a card or Kydex shell to be inserted to prevent anything from catching the trigger.
While I greatly encourage finding an on-body carry solution, let's be real, sometimes it's just not going to work. For situations where you want to carry but can't do it on your person, off-body holsters provide an opportunity to stay safe. Appearing in the form of backpacks, bags, totes, purses, and even fanny packs (the 80s are back, ya'll), this style does not place the gun on your body at all.
Though convenient in the sense that you aren't dressing around a gun, you will want to keep the purse/bag/backpack on you at all times. The CCW bag should never be placed on the ground or in a shopping car or backseat of the car with kids. If this style of carry appeals to you, invest in a dedicated off-body solution -- that is a bag that is designed for concealed carry. These usually come with a built-in holster or, at the very least, hook-and-loop for you to attach a holster. Either way, a dedicated CCW bag will keep the gun oriented for a good draw and will also prevent any materials from finding their way into the action or barrel, inducing a malfunction.
As with any mode of carry, you're going to want to practice and train, so you know how the bag will react when drawing, and you can accommodate for any movement.
There's no one magical solution to concealed carry. The unicorn of holsters, perfect for every situation, does not exist. So, the key to good concealed carry is finding a holster that fits your lifestyle and fashion and working within its limitations. This might mean adopting a few different holsters to accommodate the items in your closet.
Also, dry fire training and drill is a must with any holster option. Knowing how your set-up performs will ultimately help you perform better should a real-life defensive situation occur.