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Does Concealed Carry Have to Be in a Holster?

If you are new to the concealed carry lifestyle, you may be contemplating what firearm will best suit your needs. However, it is even more important to know how you will conceal your weapon for everyday use. One method is concealing with a "traditional" holster, but is that your only option?
assorted concealed carry holsters

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Concealed carry does not have to be in a holster; holster mandates vary by state. However, it is highly recommended to do so as holsters provide safety, concealment, accessibility, and comfort for the everyday carrier. Additionally, today’s market has many solid options to choose from.

Read on to learn why holsters are the best way to conceal your firearm and how you can find the best product for you.

Why You Should Conceal Carry in a Holster

When sociologist, David Yamane, attended the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA)‘s Concealed Carry Expo (CCX) in 2016, he may have been surprised to discover that the most important part of concealed carrying is not what firearm you are carrying.

On the contrary, as a precondition for having a gun, a concealed carrier must answer these questions:

  • How to carry the gun safely?
  • How to keep the gun concealed?
  • How to carry the gun so that it is accessible?
  • How to carry the gun comfortably in everyday life?

Any quality concealment, whether on the body or off, should fit these criteria. While there is no perfect choice for everyone, holsters fit these requirements for many across the US. Below are the reasons why you should carry in a holster.

Security & Safety

Safariland ALS w/Paddle

A good holster will keep you, and the folks around you, safe. It is your responsibility to conceal your weapon securely to avoid any sort of negligent discharge or panic caused by an unconcealed weapon.

Because of being a mechanical device, a firearm is susceptible to any and all manipulation by the user (good and bad). In other words, negligent discharges can happen, harming yourself or someone else. 

Take, for example, “belt carrying,” or the act of carrying a firearm on your body using the tension of your belt against your pants (not a good idea). A belt has no trigger guard to protect “things” from getting into the trigger guard and contacting the trigger.

Pocket carrying causes a similar problem when done without a holster. Keep in mind, a lot of this depends on weapon types, etc., so don’t flame me on particulars. We are speaking in generalities for the most part.

Additionally, if you are concealing it in your pocket, the gun can be easily mixed up with its contents causing additional issues. Since there is no trigger guard in either scenario, it increases the chance of something bad happening.

However, the lack of security is not the only source of danger while carrying. If your firearm is easily identifiable it can cause additional issues. The element of surprise is never a bad thing when it’s on your side.

Erik Scott lost his life to improper concealment while shopping at a Las Vegas area Costco in 2010. Although he identified himself as a licensed carrier to the store manager, an unknowing employee saw his gun and contacted the police. A series of unfortunate events led to Scott being shot.

As evident in this example, exposing your weapon in public could not only cause panic and pandemonium, it may also start a chain of events that can easily be prevented by easy concealment.

Holsters are designed with these concerns in mind, using various methods to guard the trigger and reduce printing.

Concealment

AIWB Carry

Plainly stated, it would not be “concealed carry” if your weapon was not concealed. Being a law-abiding carrier means making your weapon as unrecognizable as possible if concealment is what you are going for. We are not talking about open carry in these scenarios.

Additionally, unless you are in an ‘open carry’ state, visibly carrying is a big no-no and you don’t want to go down that path.

Another concern is if your weapon is visible to the wrong person, it may be more accessible to them as well. Although these scenarios may not occur very often, you should still consider them when making decisions on how to carry.

When you are concealed carrying, you are really carrying the confidence of having an advantage, God forbid if you are forced to defend yourself or another. However, if your weapon is easily visible to everyone else, that advantage may be lost.

There are many holsters out there, made to fit various bodies that live and dress differently. You may think that a holster is too cumbersome for you. However, the current market is vast and constantly evolving to eliminate as much printing as possible while still accommodating your lifestyle.

Accessibility

As marine Jeff Cooper once said, “Remember the first rule of gunfighting … have a gun.” But what would happen if you had your gun, but you could not reach it in time? This is where accessibility comes into play.

Your weapon should be accessible enough to you that you can easily draw, if necessary. However, it should not be so accessible that another party can easily obtain it or that comes loose in some sort of physical engagement.

A bad example of an accessible firearm occurred back in 2014. Veronica Rutledge, a permit holder in Idaho, brought her children with her on a local trip to the Wal-Mart in Hayden.

She was concealing her gun in a concealed carry handbag gifted to her by her husband for Christmas. Unfortunately, while sitting in the shopping cart, Rutledge’s two-year-old son got into her handbag, found her gun, and accidentally shot her in the head.

While her gun was accessible, Rutledge’s gun was not secure enough from the hands of others, in this case, her children. Not picking on one particular incident, but this could have been prevented.

On the other hand, there are many examples of visionaries in the holster industry who are producing accessible holsters and holster systems that are still plenty secure, while being comfortable and concealed.

Enigma Live Reveal

One of my favorite examples is PHLster founder John Hauptman, who invented a “concealment chassis” that sits securely below the belt, under the pants, regardless of attire.

Check out how you can fine tune the rig below! 

Comfort

Comfort may seem like an unnecessary concern, but comfortably concealing your firearm can actually cause you to carry more regularly instead of leaving your firearm at home in the safe.

For instance, Tom Givens is renowned for having over 60 alumni succeed in gun conflicts. As of June 2014, he recorded 63 conflicts, tracking 61 wins, 0 losses, and 2 forfeits.

You may be wondering how a gunfight could end in a forfeit. However, Givens explains that these two alumni forfeited their right to defend themselves by deciding not to carry that day.

There is no way of knowing when you will be required to defend yourself. If you are not carrying it every day, you are doing yourself a disservice. That’s why it is important to find a concealment option that you can easily manage on a daily basis.

Otherwise, you could fall into the habit of leaving your firearm at home, making yourself vulnerable.

You may be surprised to know that comfort is a big concern for many carriers. In fact, there are quite a few women who are shaking up the holster industry with businesses dedicated to holsters that are more accommodating to the female form.

Considering the gun industry has focused primarily on male carriers’ in the past, this is a huge opportunity for female carriers to find something more in tune with their anatomy and carry style.

However, comfort needs are different from person to person. An outside-the-waistband holster may be perfect for someone who prefers wearing loose-fitting clothing.

However, if you mostly wear more athletic cut clothing, an inside-the-waistband holster, may be better for you.

Your goal as a concealed carrying citizen is to make self-defense a part of your daily life, like wearing shoes or brushing your teeth. It is important to look out for your own comfort and convenience by wearing a holster that will work with your body, not against it.

What Kind of Holsters Can I Buy?

You may be thinking, “now what?”. Luckily, you have a lot of options to choose from! Here are a few of the different kinds of holsters you can buy:

Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) Holsters

Outside-the-waistband, or OWB, holsters are holsters that lie on the outside of the waistband. While they are better suited for open carry, OWB holsters can be used for concealed carry purposes with the right body type, clothing, or combination of both.

Ideally, the person investing in an OWB holster is someone who would be able to hide the holster under looser fitting clothing or multiple layers.

There are a variety of OWB holsters on the market. Two common examples are the paddle holster and the belt loop holster. 

  • The paddle holster is made up of a paddle-shaped clip that can be worn easily with a variety of clothing styles. This holster is highly convenient since it is possible to attach it wherever it is most comfortable on the wearer’s waistband. Once placed, this holster can be easily removed for safe storage. However, they are not nearly as secure and the paddle can create a weak point in the system.
  • Belt holsters, on the other hand, are attached to the wearer’s belt by threading it through the holster’s loops. If you are looking for an added level of security, as long as the holster is properly threaded with your belt, it is not going anywhere. These types often lay pretty flat against the body and provide good concealment with proper attire.

Depending on your need, Safariland makes some great, high-quality holsters, including their ALS style of holster, which comes in a paddle/belt loop combo. The OWB Paddle attachment allows carriers to choose either a belt loop attachment or a paddle to fit their needs.

Full confession, I have carried this holster (and others) in a paddle format in the past and no longer recommend it. After training ground fighting with paddle holsters, I found they were frequently subject to failure when fighting over weapon retention. Use belt loops if you can!

Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) Holsters

Inside-the-waistband, or IWB, holsters are also appropriately named, lying inside the waistband, rather than outside of it. IWB holsters are better for concealment than their OWBs counterparts since they lie closer to the body.

However, highly fitted, tight clothing can still result in printing, so wearer discretion is advised. 

Every holster will have its drawbacks and advantages. While OWB holsters provide more comfort (not always), IWB holsters take advantage of security and concealment. Because of being so close to the body, IWB holsters conceal very well and are highly secure. 

However, they may require more practice for some users to get comfortable with. When using an IWB holster, be sure to practice drawing consistently to avoid getting caught on your own clothes. Clearing your garments is paramount.

One of my favorite IWB holsters is the Master Blaster by ANR Design. This holster has a sleek kydex design that carries well and has the ability to carry a spare mag to boot.

ANR Design Master Blaster

If carrying a “sidecar” style holster with the mag pouch integration is not your thing, you can save some space and trim down the holster by choosing a model without that feature.

Shoulder Holsters

via GIPHY

Shoulder holsters, while less common, “can” be used for concealed carry as well. They are designed to let you hang the firearm off the shoulder while still keeping it close to your body.

I’m not a fan of this style of holster for many reasons, but the main reason is the same for a lot of cross draw applications. The user typically has to conduct a large, sweeping arc with the gun from the point of unholstering to presentation on target.

Yes, risk can be mitigated by keeping your finger off the trigger, but I just feel there are better options out there in most scenarios. If you want to use one, go for it. Just get your reps in like you should with anything else.

Belly-Band Holsters

Unity Tactical Clutch Belly Band

Belly-band holsters are made to fit around your torso securely. They also allow you to carry without a gun belt. The best belly-band holsters are made from a heavy-duty elastic band that wraps around the midsection.

The band includes a built-in holster or “compartments” that allow you to holster or add a holster. At the end of the band, where the two sides overlap, there is typically hook and loop velcro to secure everything together.

This is a great option when you need something more flexible. It used to be assumed that belly-band holsters were only meant for more petit figures.

However, David Workman, points out, belly-band holsters are flexible and can apply to all shapes and sizes. The stretch makes it much more flexible than a lot of options, making it great for casual wear or workout sessions.

Amazon’s #1 best selling belly-band holster is the ComfortTac Ultimate Belly Band Gun Holster. The holster itself is compatible with most firearms. Additionally, there is a hard trigger guard for extra safety. Customer reviews cite the holster’s effective, comfortable concealment capability.

Unity Tactical Clutch Belly Band

My personal favorite is the Clutch by Unity Tactical. In the words of Unity Tactical, “CLUTCH is a modular, multi-purpose belt platform that hugs the body with a two-way stretch material for a custom fit. The inside surface is backed with a no-slip material to keep it in place.  Individual cells are lined with Velcro pile to secure any number of pockets, holsters, carriers, etc.”

Ankle Holsters

DeSantis Ankle Holster

Ankle holsters are another option that fall and rise in popularity over the years. My first experience with ankle holsters was utilizing one for carrying a backup weapon early in my law enforcement career.

I rarely ever utilize one nowadays, but there are still a viable option in certain circumstances. One thing to consider is that you are going to be giving up accessibility and speed of draw.

Depending on your needs you may be more concerned with concealment rather than access, and if so, an ankle holster may work for you. However, in my experience, I can have way faster access and equal concealability (Appendix Inside the Waistband) AIWB.

Holster Garments

What if you are looking for a holster that is more malleable to your wardrobe? This is a question that businesses like Dene Adams LLC and Incognito Wear IX have been seeking to answer. 

While holster garments are a unisex accessory, a lot of the biggest innovations have been made by female inventors. Until recently, there have been few on-body options for concealed carrying women.

On-the-waist carrying can be (not always) less comfortable for women. Other obstacles include less functional fashion designs.

However, these companies have made holsters that could easily pass for everyday wear. Incognito Wear IX, founded by Jan Wolbrecht, sells the Abigail, one of the few concealed carry dresses on the market.

Anna Taylor, the founder of Dene Adams LLC, named after her late grandfather, is a pioneer known for her invention of the corset holster. She also sells concealed carry leggings and bra holsters.

Take a look below to see one of Anna Taylor’s inventions!

Final Thoughts

In short, while concealing your firearm in a holster is not legally required in every state, it is still highly recommended. Holsters offer a secure, comfortable, and accessible way to conceal your weapons that off-body concealment simply cannot offer.

Your mileage may vary, but I like to pay special attention to retention, comfort, and concealability. The order of importance is also likely to change depending on my particular needs.

Additionally, the holster market is vast and inclusive. No matter your body type, lifestyle, or preferences, there is a holster out there just for you!

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