The proliferation of concealed carry has introduced the ability to carry a firearm on one’s person to people otherwise quite unused to doing so. While police and military are intimately familiar with the daily carry of pistols both exposed and concealed, the average citizen really isn’t.
If you’re like most new concealed carriers, chances are you have no idea what kind of holster to carry your gun in. Conversely, if you are like most seasoned concealed carriers, you have a dozen or so holsters in your closet that you don’t use anymore – essentially, failed attempts at purchasing what you thought was the right holster for concealed carry, but in actuality, was uncomfortable, didn’t secure the weapon properly, concealed really poorly – or all of the above.
Since this article is primarily about concealed carry holsters, we’re going to focus on the two main types – Inside the Waistband (IWB) and Outside the Waistband (OWB). This is not to say that these two are the only types of holsters – there are other kinds of concealment holsters (shoulder and ankle holsters come to mind) but primarily, most people will naturally gravitate toward a waistband holster as it’s one of the most natural places to conceal a handgun.
The number one feature most people fail to account for when purchasing a holster is comfort. Carrying around several pounds of steel close to your body, often with serrations and other protrusions that poke and prod you is something people dismiss as trivial when they’re looking for a holster. Retention, concealability, and the ability to properly grip and draw the weapon are all important considerations, but they don’t matter a single bit if you never wear the holster because it’s so uncomfortable – keep that in mind.
Inside the Waistband
IWB holsters are designed to conceal a handgun in your waistband, between your pants and your underwear. Regardless of the actual position of the gun (i.e. small of the back, 3 o’clock, 1 o’clock, etc), they all have similar features – a mechanism to hold the gun in place, plus a method of securely affixing the holster to your belt or pants. These holsters have the following pros and cons.
- Unparalleled concealability, even for relatively long barreled guns.
- Allows the wearer to dress in the lightest manner possible; it’s entirely possible to conceal a large frame handgun while wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
- Has more flexibility for placement around the waistband; can be positioned literally anywhere around the circumference of your waist.
- Prints very little.
- If improperly designed, the holster can allow the butt, grips or slide of the gun to chafe against the body.
- Stretches your waistband, making your pants or belt fit uncomfortably tight, because now you have a gun and holster jammed in there. May require alteration of clothing depending on the model of gun you carry.
- Tough to get a firm master grip on the weapon since it fits so close to your body.
Outside the Waistband
OWB holsters are related to their exposed duty holster cousins, except they are slimmer and usually pack fewer features into their designs than their exposed counterparts. OWB holsters usually require a belt of some sort to hang the holster from and tend to be located on the strong side, with very little placement variation.
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- Far more comfortable than IWB holsters since nothing about your pants/belt combination changes – there’s no fat gun in your waist to stretch things.
- More secure than an IWB since an OWB is usually secured by a belt, and an IWB usually by a clip (there are exceptions to both).
- Easier to get a positive grip on the weapon since there is more room between the gun and your body.
- Less concealable than an IWB, especially since with a long barreled gun, the bottom of the holster tends to poke out from under a hanging shirt.
- If you like to wear your shirts tucked in, then an OWB holster will be fully exposed similar to how a detective or federal agent carries.
- Prints more than an IWB.
Overall, which model you choose is going to be a reflection of how you dress. If you favor longer T-shirts or Hawaiian-style shirts, then an OWB holster will conceal just fine, and provide a more comfortable carry. If you must wear a shirt tucked in, or are seeking the maximum amount of concealment, then an IWB makes more sense. What’s the one choice that most shooters haven’t considered, however? You’ll probably need both! Both types of holsters have a specific function and mission, and both totally make sense for you, the concealed carrier, even if the percentage of time you wear one versus the other might not be equal. The biggest takeaway we can give you, however, is to try these holsters before you buy, or shop from a retailer that has a generous exchange policy. You’ll find that some holsters – even highly rated ones – might not suit your tastes, mode of carry, or comfort level. At the end of the day, holsters are a highly personal choice – choose wisely.