Inside, Outside, Upside Down: Choosing a Holster for Concealed Carry

 

Purchasing a defensive firearm is not a (pardon the pun) one-shot deal. You’re making the most adult decision you’ve ever made in your life, namely, taking personal responsibility for the safety of your loved ones. As Marty McFly might say, “that’s heavy.”

A firearm is not a talisman of self-protection: You don’t buy one and then leave it in a place of veneration in your home so it will somehow provide an umbrella of protection to all who dwell within. A pistol has to be readily accessible in order to be effective, and that means having it near you both when you’re inside and outside your home.

You’ll need to figure out how you are going to carry your gun. For beginners, I recommend carrying a defensive pistol on the waistline, either in an Inside the Waistband (IWB) or Outside the Waistband (OWB) holster. Why these two styles at first, and not something like pocket carry or off-body carry in a purse?

  1. They keep your gun near you at all times: I’m not that big of a fan of carrying a gun in a purse and day planner because doing so makes it easier for a crook to separate you from your firearm, especially when you might need it the most.
  2. They work for almost all sizes and types of pistols and revolvers: There are IWB and OWB holsters out there for almost every gun under the sun, so you start carrying your gun right away and not wait for a custom-tailored holster. Pocket holsters work well, and I use one when I’m carrying a smaller gun, but there’s really no way to hide a service pistol like a Glock 17 in a pocket.
  3. They’re easy to use: It’s a simple thing indeed to swipe away your cover garment, reach down, grab your pistol (with your finger off the trigger, of course), and extend it towards your target. Reaching around for a purse and fumbling with zippers, then drawing out your gun? Not so easy.

So what are the advantages of an outside the waistband holster versus an inside the waistband holster?

Reasons to buy an IWB holster

  • It’s going to conceal more of the gun. This is a no-brainer: The gun is mostly tucked into your pants, so less of it shows on the outside. Also, as it’s inside the shape of your pants, your body’s natural curves will help disguise the fact you’re packing heat.
  • It’s going to be more stable. This one is not-so-obvious. An IWB holster has three points of contact with your body: Two on the belt itself, and one where the holster presses up against your body

Reasons not to buy an IWB Holster

  • It’s harder to grip the gun. Your gun is a lot closer to your body in an IWB holster, which means it’s going to take a little more effort to wrap your thumb around the grip of your pistol when you’re drawing your gun.
  • You need new pants. A pistol is about an inch or so thick, revolvers much more so, and I don’t need to tell you what adding an inch to waistline means to your wardrobe.

Reasons to buy an OWB holster

  • Less change in your lifestyle. Aside from your gun belt (and no matter which option you chose, you need a good gun belt), you’re ready to roll.
  • It’s easier to grip your gun. Your pistol is further out from your body when it’s outside rather than inside your trousers, and therefore it’s easier for you to get a good, firm grip on your gun before you draw. This might not seem like much, but a good grip is essential to both accuracy and a fast draw.

Reasons not to buy an OWB holster

  • There’s two points of contact on your body versus three. This means that your gun can move around on your waistband if you don’t get a good gun belt to help hold it in place.
  • It’s further from your body, and therefore, harder to conceal. This can be overcome with a holster like a pancake OWB model that hugs the body that hugs the body a little more than other OWB models, so do research to find what works for you.

Which is best, an outside the waistband holster or an inside the waistband holster? I wish I could tell you, but finding the right make and model of holster is a very personal thing. What works for me probably won’t work for you, so look at selecting a concealed carry holster as a journey, not a destination. If you need a starting place, here’s an example of both holster styles I use on a regular basis.

IWB vs OWB Holster

On the left is a leather pancake “Combat Elite” OWB holster from International Handgun Leather for my CZ75. It’s a good holster, but after wearing it for a while, I’ve found it doesn’t extend far enough up about the beltline for my liking, so now I’m shopping for something around for yet another holster.

On the right is a hybrid Kydex/leather Minituck IWB holster from Crossbreed holsters for my Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. I’m a big, big fan of their holsters and own three of them. I prefer a hybrid holster for an IWB carry because it keeps the holster open when the gun’s not in, making it easier to re-holster when needed.

As you can tell, the process of a finding a holster you’ll carry everyday is indeed a journey, but it’s a journey with a destination, which is the security you have with the means to defend yourself and your loved ones from deadly force. The journey begins when you chose a defensive firearm, then choose to carry with you every day.

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Inactive

    Great advice. What I always tell people is “Don’t go cheap!” If you’re willing to lay down $500-1,000 for a gun, don’t go with a $10 holster. A decent one can be had for $50 or so.

    • #1
    • October 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm
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  2. Thatcher

    Thanks for the useful info. I’m an NRA member who became one for ideological reasons. However, I purchased my first firearm recently, and though the American Rifleman is full of products and types, I have a long way to go in my learning process.

    • #2
    • October 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm
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  3. Member

    Alien Gear has really good prices. I have a Comp-Tac for my H&K USP that is very comfortable if I wear my fat(ter) pants. For hiking I use an Uncle Mike’s super belt slide OWB. Not that I carry pretty much ever because I work on a military base and 95% of the time I leave my house I’m headed there and disarmed — for my protection, of course.

    • #3
    • October 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm
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  4. Member

    Women need to consider that they drop their drawers far more often than a guy and their clothes are often lighter, and without the belt, perhaps with elastic waste. This complicates things. There are wide, elastic bands with elastic pockets for guns and mags that eliminate that worry. One holster is not enough. You need different ones for different outfits and guns.

    • #4
    • October 3, 2015 at 5:07 pm
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  5. Contributor
    Kevin Creighton Post author

    Byron Horatio: What I always tell people is “Don’t go cheap!” If you’re willing to lay down $500-1,000 for a gun, don’t go with a $10 holster.

    And. Buy. A. Good. Gun. Belt.

    A good gun belt is stiff and doesn’t flex much from side-to-side and distributes the weight of your gun and what-not around your waist. A good work belt will do, but you should really buy the tool meant for the job.

    • #5
    • October 3, 2015 at 5:09 pm
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  6. Contributor
    Kevin Creighton Post author

    EHerring: Women need to consider that they drop their drawers far more often than a guy and their clothes are often lighter, and without the belt, perhaps with elastic waste.

    One thing I left out of the post was this gadget from Utilclip. I’m very intrigued, and want to try it out for myself.

    • #6
    • October 3, 2015 at 5:12 pm
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  7. Member

    That looks like a must-have little clip….for concealability and security.

    • #7
    • October 3, 2015 at 5:39 pm
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  8. Member

    Prefer OWB. Get a good belt. Use it. It is as important as a good holster. Position is everything if you ever need to use it. Practice with it often. Do it with your eyes closed. Move the side arm all the way up to firing position over and over. It’s like a golf swing. Practice and feel.

    • #8
    • October 3, 2015 at 7:39 pm
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  9. Thatcher

    EHerring, you are so right about the difficulties of on body carry for women. I have what I refer to as my “summer” gun and my “winter” gun. I’ve learned how to carry concealed on body, but it means I get some flack from the guys at the gun stores. In the warmer seasons, when clothes are tighter and lighter weight, I have to carry a 380. To get around needing a belt, I use a long, thin scarf in my belt loops, and that helps keep the clip of the holster from coming off when I draw. I also have to wear a lot of thin cardigans in order to conceal and stay fashionable looking. I dress kind of hipster, so you would never know, which is the point. During the winter, I can carry one of my 9 mm’s, because sweaters are heavy enough so it won’t print. I can still get around having the bulk of a belt by using long, very thin scarves.

    I’ve tried to explain the difficulties women face with on body carry to the guys at the gun store. Some of them get it, some of them still don’t understand why I have to carry a “wimpy” gun in the summer.

    My favorite holster is the Betty by Flashbang Holsters. It’s a super low profile kydex holster with one large steel clip for IWB.

    • #9
    • October 3, 2015 at 9:08 pm
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  10. Inactive

    We haven’t talked much about this, but 90%+ of deadly force engagements happen at night or in low light conditions. My personal choice is a weapon mounted light. There are very few holsters that will accommodate a handgun with a light source and still have decent retention.

    I’ve had 3 different people make holsters for me and the best is Sgt. Moose. Some of mine are in his photo gallery. The others make OK stuff, but once you go to weapons mounted light source they can’t compete.

    To have it done right I had to leave the weapons with him. It was a long process I went through with him, but very glad I did because the holsters are perfect.

    • #10
    • October 3, 2015 at 9:23 pm
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  11. Inactive

    Another item not discussed here are drop leg or thigh rig holsters. They are clearly not concealed carry holsters and tend to be a pain in the butt. If you are running around in full kit for any reason they are priceless.

    • #11
    • October 3, 2015 at 9:25 pm
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  12. Thatcher

    Or if you’re in a skirt…

    • #12
    • October 3, 2015 at 9:30 pm
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  13. Member

    Consider as well the natural range of your body movements which are instinctive. Call it built in muscle memory, come to know the fluid reponses your body responds to under stress.

    Then proceed with a suitable fit. Not as simple as it sounds. Learn to make it a simple as reaching for your wallet. Know how to do that, do you not ? Assume Nothing –

    • #13
    • October 3, 2015 at 10:54 pm
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  14. Thatcher

    Cool thanks. I find that it is something of a lifestyle change to get used to it

    • #14
    • October 4, 2015 at 5:02 am
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  15. Member

    Of course there’s always open carry…state allowing.

    • #15
    • October 4, 2015 at 5:07 am
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  16. Member

    I believe that the open carry guy is just the first target of the bad guy. Let’s let the bad guy wonder who has the heat!

    • #16
    • October 4, 2015 at 6:08 am
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  17. Member

    Thatcs exactly the way I carry most of the time for the past 8 years, KP. Seems to have saved me more hassle than it ever caused me. I use a nice leather Bianchi holster for my 2 usual carry guns and the leather blends just fine with the rest of my attire. Prior to the last 8 years it was more occasional open carry for me, although I do carry one hidden some even now.

    • #17
    • October 4, 2015 at 10:29 am
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  18. Thatcher

    Vicryl Contessa:EHerring, you are so right about the difficulties of on body carry for women. I have what I refer to as my “summer” gun and my “winter” gun. I’ve learned how to carry concealed on body, but it means I get some flack from the guys at the gun stores. In the warmer seasons, when clothes are tighter and lighter weight, I have to carry a 380. To get around needing a belt, I use a long, thin scarf in my belt loops, and that helps keep the clip of the holster from coming off when I draw. I also have to wear a lot of thin cardigans in order to conceal and stay fashionable looking. I dress kind of hipster, so you would never know, which is the point. During the winter, I can carry one of my 9 mm’s, because sweaters are heavy enough so it won’t print. I can still get around having the bulk of a belt by using long, very thin scarves.

    I’ve tried to explain the difficulties women face with on body carry to the guys at the gun store. Some of them get it, some of them still don’t understand why I have to carry a “wimpy” gun in the summer.

    My favorite holster is the Betty by Flashbang Holsters. It’s a super low profile kydex holster with one large steel clip for IWB.

    VC, you’ve talked before about the difficulty in finding worthy, marriageable men. If this comment doesn’t get you some marriage proposals from the single men of Ricochet, nothing will.

    • #18
    • October 4, 2015 at 10:50 am
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  19. Member

    This is the holster I use for the Glock 17 and 19. I use my index finger to release the pistol from the holster and my index finger than moves up the holster with the pistol. I chose this holster because the drawing and firing motion was identical was identical to my duty holster.

    • #19
    • October 4, 2015 at 11:27 am
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  20. Member

    “I’ve tried to explain the difficulties women face with on body carry to the guys at the gun store. Some of them get it, some of them still don’t understand why I have to carry a “wimpy” gun in the summer.”

    Vicryl Contessa, what wimpy gun do you carry in the summer? My wife and I have CC permits but do not carry. I keep a revolver at home and another in the office but would find it awkward to carry in an examining room.

    • #20
    • October 4, 2015 at 11:49 am
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  21. Thatcher

    Doctor Robert:“I’ve tried to explain the difficulties women face with on body carry to the guys at the gun store. Some of them get it, some of them still don’t understand why I have to carry a “wimpy” gun in the summer.”

    Vicryl Contessa, what wimpy gun do you carry in the summer? My wife and I have CC permits but do not carry. I keep a revolver at home and another in the office but would find it awkward to carry in an examining room.

    Obviously, I don’t carry at work. A fellow nurse friend of mine has an aunt (also a nurse) who not only was fired for carrying while she ran into the hospital on her day off to pick something up, but also had her nursing license revoked. I’m not about to let that happen.

    But when I’m not at the hospital or in the clinic, I carry a 380 during the summer.

    • #21
    • October 4, 2015 at 11:55 am
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  22. Member

    This 17 minute video is primarily for informing the public on the decision of police officer’s to use a firearm. There is some good information here for citizens that have firearms for self-defense. The District Attorney’s Office of Lane County, Oregon produced this video.

    • #22
    • October 4, 2015 at 11:55 am
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  23. Thatcher

    Randy Weivoda:

    VC, you’ve talked before about the difficulty in finding worthy, marriageable men. If this comment doesn’t get you some marriage proposals from the single men of Ricochet, nothing will.

    Still waiting!

    • #23
    • October 4, 2015 at 11:56 am
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  24. Inactive

    Vicryl Contessa:

    Randy Weivoda:

    VC, you’ve talked before about the difficulty in finding worthy, marriageable men. If this comment doesn’t get you some marriage proposals from the single men of Ricochet, nothing will.

    Still waiting!

    We are intimidated.

    • #24
    • October 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm
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  25. Thatcher

    BrentB67:

    Vicryl Contessa:

    Randy Weivoda:

    VC, you’ve talked before about the difficulty in finding worthy, marriageable men. If this comment doesn’t get you some marriage proposals from the single men of Ricochet, nothing will.

    Still waiting!

    We are intimidated.

    There is nothing intimidating about little old me.

    • #25
    • October 4, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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  26. Member

    This may be a strange question, but does anyone have a recommendation for a leg holster for .44? I only carry when backpacking in bear country, and my pack has too many straps around the waist to accommodate a hip holster. Since I usually have a baby on my chest, I’m thinking of trying out a leg holster. Any thoughts on that one?

    • #26
    • October 5, 2015 at 2:29 am
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  27. Member

    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but believe it or not the spacing of your belt loops where you’ll put the holster can affect whether you go IWB or OWB. I have a pair of shorts where the two loops are too close together, so the pressure against the belt and the OWB leather holster (CrossBreed) jackknife the whole thing outward. It’s totally unconcealed, even though under an overshirt. With those shorts, I have to go IWB.

    Just anecdotal, of course.

    One additional point on the “get a good gun belt” advice. I got one 6″ longer than my typical belt size, so that there’s plenty of extra length to cinch it tight regardless of the holster and/or pants I’m wearing.

    And finally, I’ve never understood the purpose of “open carry.” That seems as counterproductive as posting “Gun-Free Zone” signs for protection.

    • #27
    • October 5, 2015 at 7:55 am
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  28. Inactive

    Vince Guerra:This may be a strange question, but does anyone have a recommendation for a leg holster for .44? I only carry when backpacking in bear country, and my pack has too many straps around the waist to accommodate a hip holster. Since I usually have a baby on my chest, I’m thinking of trying out a leg holster. Any thoughts on that one?

    For that gun you may have to go custom.

    If you are Ok with leather check out El Paso Saddlery, I’ve seen them at some shows and they may do stuff like that.

    I have two thigh rigs out of necessity because they are generally a pain, even the high end ones, but it sounds like you have the requirement as well.

    • #28
    • October 5, 2015 at 8:01 am
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  29. Contributor
    Kevin Creighton Post author

    Vince Guerra: I’m thinking of trying out a leg holster. Any thoughts on that one?

    As much as I like the class of a leather holster, kydex is probably best in this application, and something that carries a little lower on the belt so it doesn’t get tangled in your straps. If you’re open carrying, make sure it has a retention device on it, as your body can wiggle around more in the back country than it does on the street.

    As for open carry, it’s not meant as a deterrent. If your gun needs to be shown in order for you to be safe, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I open-carried quite often in Arizona, and the best answer I can give you as to why is, “because I can”. Arizona’s gun culture is fantastic, due in part to the fact that open carry has been state law since before Arizona was a state. You want a state that trusts gun owners? Have gun owners acting trust-worthy out in the open, not hidden from view.

    • #29
    • October 5, 2015 at 8:20 am
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  30. Thatcher

    As one who appreciates all sorts of firearms and holsters, let me add a couple of observations.

    First, body shape is important. Secondly, the clothes you wear and the job you do are also considerations. Belly bands are very comfortable, versatile, and hold a wide variety of firearms. They tend not to print much, especially as I like a bit larger firearm. IWB can cause back strain if your pants or belt are too tight, though they are handy. Shoulder holsters are totally worthless and cause back pain. Ankles? Who wants to walk around all day with that weight on your ankle?

    Finally, you all know why you should carry a .45. Because they don’t come in .46.

    • #30
    • October 5, 2015 at 10:16 am
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