After obtaining your concealed carry permit or license to carry, it is natural for your thoughts to move to what type of handgun holster you should use to carry your weapon safely and comfortably. Although you should have made this determination early in the process through training, etc., I understand. I have a box full of holsters and I always seem to be trying new models.
There are nine main types of concealed carry gun holsters. These are shoulder, inside-the-waistband, outside-the-waistband, ankle, thigh, belly band, concealment bag, pocket, and bra type holsters. Each provides different levels of accommodation in terms of comfort and concealment.
This article will explain the different characteristics of each type of concealed carry holster, in no particular order. It will also expand on the advantages and disadvantages of each one. This will allow you to make a proper determination regarding what concealed carry holster is best for you.
A shoulder holster is designed to wrap around your shoulders while the actual pocket for the gun hangs off the harness bands and rests on the side of your rib cage. Made popular by Hollywood, think James Bond and others, it is an option most folks are aware of.
For some, this can be a comfortable way to carry even larger sized handguns. However, the actual concealment of the weapon when using this type of holster requires you to wear a jacket over it. Otherwise, the weapon will be in full view and you will appear from behind as if you were wearing a harness.
The Galco Miami Classic II is an example of a shoulder holster that comes with a popular addition. This being the inclusion of two magazine pouches on the opposite side of the holster. This allows you to have additional ammunition on hand for reloads. It a very popular style popularized by TV appearances.
Pros of Shoulder Holsters
- Allow for additional accessories, such as magazines, to be carried along.
- Can easily carry larger handguns.
- Ease of access to the handgun even while sitting.
- No extra weight added to the waist-line.
Cons of Shoulder Holsters
- Require a jacket, coat, or another outer garment to be worn for concealment.
- The draw is slower than drawing from the hip.
- The draw requires a 180-degree sweeping motion of the barrel.
Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) Holsters
An inside-the-waistband holster is designed to clip, or otherwise be attached, to your belt or pants so that it can be carried inside your waistband. Your slacks, pants, or shorts perform the task of concealment and your belt provides the support. The ANR Designs Master Blaster holster is an example of a pistol/mag combo, which I have been using for quite some time. Mine is actually one of the earlier designs.
In terms of concealability and detection, larger guns may result in a visible print or be more uncomfortable. Guns with smaller profiles will be less noticeable and typically more comfortable.
The fact that the gun is being holstered inside your waistband can create accessibility issues. It can require additional effort to get a proper draw on your weapon if the placement isn’t ideal. Practicing drawing your weapon from your IWB holster can help you mitigate that.
Pros of IWB Holsters
- Very oncealable even in casual attire.
- Clothing can ride higher and still conceal the handgun.
- The holster can be easily removed when not in use.
Cons of IWB Holsters
- Can be uncomfortable when worn for extended periods.
- The draw may be slower compared to outside-the-waistband holsters (up for debate).
- Usually requires wearing pants 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) larger than your normal size.
Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) Holsters
OWB holsters include two subset categories of holsters known as paddle holsters and belt holsters. Both are designed to be worn outside the waistband of your pants—usually attached to a belt. In terms of actual concealment, these types of holsters are typically the least effective in terms of concealmentd\. However, if climate and conditions permit, wearing a jacket, overcoat, or even a long sweater, can provide some level of concealment.
What OWB holsters lack in concealment capability, they make up for in accessibility, comfort, and speed of draw.
A paddle holster attaches to your waistband or belt utilizing a paddle-shaped, flexible mechanism. This allows the entire holster to be detached when necessary, such as when driving. While convenient, this can also be seen as a vulnerability in the event of a close-action struggle. They are not the most secure method by any stretch of the imagination.
Since paddle holsters are designed to be removable, they are manufactured with a concave backing that also allows for the weapon to be kept away from your hip. This gap, while resulting in a more detectable print—even when wearing a thick overcoat—does allow for an easier and smoother draw. Most models allow you to adjust the cant of the holster for even easier drawing.
The Safariland 6378 ALS is a good example of a holster that can be worn as a paddle holster or belt holster (as described below).
Unlike paddle holsters, belt holsters—even though both can be worn on your belt—are designed to have a smaller form factor making them easier to conceal when wearing a jacket.
This smaller form factor is accomplished due to the holster being attached by loops to the belt. This also makes them more secure in close-action struggles. To remove a belt holster, the entire belt has to be removed.
If cant is important to you, make sure you buy one with adjustable cant or be sure to buy the proper “fixed” cant when ordering. I really like using
Pros of OWB Holsters
- Among the fastest draws compared to other holsters.
- Can accommodate all gun sizes.
- Can accommodate additional accessories to be carried.
Cons of OWB Holsters
- Concealment requires wearing an overcoat, larger shirt, or other covering. Requires partially removing your belt to take it off.
- Belt holsters can be uncomfortable when driving or during prolonged sitting.
An ankle holster is strapped to your ankle. This provides the benefit of being highly effective in concealment provided that your pants are not cut to be worn too tightly.
Some of the limitations of ankle holsters include the size of the handgun that they can comfortably accommodate. For many, it is cumbersome and uncomfortable to carry a large handgun in an ankle holster. Not to mention, you have to wear pants large enough to accommodate the size of the weapon on your ankle.
Another issue with ankle holsters involves the degree and the ease of accessibility you have for your gun. The fact that it is attached to your ankle and that you must reach down to draw it can be seen as a negative. This is why some prefer to use ankle holsters as a method to carry a backup weapon to their every-day-carry.
Pros of Ankle Holsters
- A convenient way to carry a backup gun on your person.
- Not obtrusive.
- Easy to conceal
Cons of Ankle Holsters
- Accessing the handgun can be cumbersome and slow.
- Larger guns can be uncomfortable and hard to conceal.
- Requires pants with looser leg cuts for best concealment and accessibility.
Concealed carry thigh holsters are strapped to your thigh. This tends to limit their use to women who are wearing dresses or skirts. The concealment comes from those particular pieces of clothing. The fact that dresses and skirts can easily be lifted to access the weapon makes reaching the weapon relatively easy.
These types of concealed carry thigh holsters should not be confused with a tactical thigh holster. The latter is designed for both men and women; however, it is intended to be worn over your clothing and is therefore not considered a concealed carry holster.
Being attached to the thigh—a highly contoured part of the body—concealed carry thigh holsters can sometimes experience slippage. This is because they lack the strap and attachment mechanisms of their non-concealed tactical counterparts.
When selecting a thigh holster, it is important to choose one that conforms well to your thigh to prevent such slippage.
Pros of Thigh Holsters
- Ideal for when women need to wear a dress or skirt.
- Effective concealment.
- Ease of access to the handgun.
Cons of Thigh Holsters
- Can experience slippage.
- Not suitable for larger guns.
- Not as robust as other holsters.
Belly Band Holsters
A belly band holster wraps around your abdomen and your upper clothing provides the concealment. It is important to note that the term “belly band holster” is best applied to those meant to be worn high on the abdomen—above the waist. The Unity Tactical Clutch a solid example of the above the waist fit.
Belly band holsters provide effective concealment when worn by individuals wearing a loose-fitting shirt or another garment. Some people might find this type of holster uncomfortable and the concealment profile might be reduced.
Some may find an issue with true belly band holsters as it relates to the accessibility to your weapon when drawing. This is because it requires you to reach under your shirt or blouse or unbutton it—to draw. It is pretty much the same draw technique as IWB, which I don’t personally find cumbersome or slow.
Pros of Belly Band Holsters
- Effective concealment with casual attire.
- Some models allow for additional accessories to be carried.
- Accommodates all sizes of guns.
Cons of Belly Band Holsters
- Above the waist models not well-suited for those who are heavier.
- Can irritate or chafe the skin after prolonged use if not designed properly.
- Sweat could be corrosive to your firearm over time.
Just as with thigh concealed carry holsters, the bra holster is a category that is designed for women. As its name implies, a bra holster uses a woman’s bra to keep the holstered gun firmly against her body in a comfortable and concealed way.
These types of holsters are designed for handguns with smaller profiles. The Flashbang Women’s Holster, for example, can only accommodate a Taurus 85 with a 2-inch (5 cm) barrel. However, when combined with a top that is not too form-fitting, the level of concealment can be very effective. Keep in mind, Flashbang makes these for a variety of handgun models.
Concealment Bag Holsters
Not all holsters for concealed carry require that they be worn directly on your person. Concealment bag holsters are designed to be incorporated into routine carrying accessories.
Concealment bag holsters are integrated into utilitarian carrying bags, such as:
- Women’s purses
- Fanny packs
- Shoulder bags
- Leg bags
- Belt pouches
- Sling bags
The level of concealment provided by concealment bag holsters is extremely high. This is because you can carry your handgun inside an item that people routinely carry during the day. It does not bring attention to your weapon.
It is important to note that concealment bag holsters, even though they are meant to be fully functional as the normal bag counterpart that they are emulating, are specifically designed to carry a weapon and have accommodations for such. In other words, it is not simply a regular bag where you happen to slip your weapon inside.
Concealment bag holsters have special compartments designed to be quickly accessible while also safely and discreetly carrying your handgun while you go about your day.
Pros of Concealment Bag Holsters
- Very effective at concealment.
- Suitable for subcompact and large guns.
- Different bags accommodate casual to formal situations.
Cons of Concealment Bag Holsters
- Reliance on a carryable device to conceal your gun instead of directly on your person.
- Slower drawing times.
- The potential risk of leaving such bags unattended.
A pocket holster is designed so that you may carry your handgun in your pocket. While it may seem simple enough to place your gun in your pocket without a specially designed holster, there are several reasons why using a pocket holster is important.
First is safety. By having your handgun in a pocket holster, the trigger is properly protected. This prevents negligent discharges. Second, pocket holsters are designed to help conceal the outline of the handgun. This results in a less noticeable print while the gun is in your pocket, aiding in the concealment.
An additional benefit to a pocket holster is that they help maintain your handgun in place while it is in your pocket. This makes drawing it easier. The Blue Force Gear UltraCompact Pocket Holster is an example of a pocket holster that provides all of those features.
Pocket holsters are more effective at concealment when they are used in pants that have a looser drape.
Pros of Pocket Holsters
- Very convenient.
- Ease of access.
- Good at distorting your gun’s print.
Cons of Pocket Holsters
- Not suitable for larger guns.
- Slower draw compared to other holsters.
- The holster can shift while the person moves.
Materials Used in Concealed Carry Holsters
Within each category of concealed carry holsters, different models are manufactured using different materials. This can affect the level of comfort for the user and is a key factor to consider.
For the most part, the materials are chosen because they offer the strength and rigidity requires for a safe and effective holster. Materials commonly used in concealed carry holsters include:
- Leather. Historically, leather has been one of the most popular materials for holster construction. It combines the right combination of flexibility and stiffness for comfort.
- Molded plastic. This material provides greater rigidity and has the benefit of being very lightweight. Kydex is a thermoplastic that is used frequently in holsters.
- Ballistic nylon. Being durable, resistant, and light in weight, ballistic nylon is popular in holsters such as belly bands. Neoprene is also used due to its similar properties.
Considering the Functionality of Concealed Carry Holsters
No matter what type of concealed carry holster you choose or the materials used in its construction, the bottom line determinant of whether it is right for you comes down to functionality.
What can be defined as functional for a holster depends on a handful of qualities.
For a holster to be safe and reliable, it must provide proper retention of your gun while it is holstered. The handgun should never slip out accidentally. Most concealed carry holsters have an adjustable mechanism to permit you to achieve the right amount of retention. Your gun should only be able to be upholstered when you pull it out on the draw.
As it has already been covered, each type of concealed carry holster offers its degree of concealment. This is why it is important to take into account the situational and environmental conditions of when and where you will be carrying your concealed handgun.
You need to strike a balance between what is practical, convenient, and comfortable when selecting a specific holster. This will ensure that you maximize the amount of concealment for your weapon as possible based on your use parameters.
Just as retention is key to safety, so too is having adequate trigger protection when your gun is holstered. This is what provides the best protection against negligent accidental discharges.
This is why it is best for safety to choose a holster, regardless of type, that keeps the trigger covered. The sturdier or more rigid the material over the trigger, the safer it is. Of course, this also needs to be balanced with how it impacts your comfort when wearing the holster.
A general rule for choosing the right concealed carry holster is to seek one out that offers you the best options for adjusting the cant—the angle at which your handgun rests in the holster.
The holster cant is what contributes directly to the speed and ease of the draw that you will experience when reaching for your handgun. Granted, some concealed carry holster types are more limited in the amount of cant adjustment that can be offered by their manufacturers due to their form factor. Belt holsters are a good example of this.
Nevertheless, when the option is available for an adjustable cant, it should be taken.
With nine main categories of concealed carry holsters available and countless different models manufactured within each category, the variety in holsters is tremendous. Much as your choice in size and caliber of the barrel of a handgun, the choice in holsters is highly subjective.
By keeping in mind the qualities that constitute the best functionality of a holster and having a clear notion of the level of concealment and ease in accessing your weapon that you are comfortable with, you will be able to select the type and model of holster best for you.