How To Choose A Concealed Carry Holster
Choosing your first concealed carry holster can be daunting. You want to make a good choice, pick a holster that's going to work...but how do you?
Well, you start by understanding what a holster does, what it needs to do, and what you intend to do with it. A concealed carry holster, by definition, needs to be concealable, comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods, secure enough to retain the pistol, and functional so that if the moment arrives that you need to draw the gun, you can do so.
Of course, it's also a good idea for your first concealed carry holster to have a reasonable price point.
That's what a holster has to be able to do. But how do you know if it's right for you? Let's flesh that out a bit.
Make Sure A Concealed Carry Holster Is Comfortable
A concealed carry holster that isn't comfortable to wear is one that you will find excuses not to use. This happens to a lot of people with their first one; they buy something from a gun store as an add-on purchase, only to learn later that they hate it.
So, how can you tell if a concealed carry holster is comfortable? By wearing it.
Test 1: Put on your concealed holster and firearm of choice. Go jump in the car and go for a thirty minute drive.
Test 2: Try wearing your concealed carry holster throughout a work day. If that involves moving around and lifting things – great. If it involves sitting at a desk – just as good.
A good idea is to buy a holster that has a return period from the manufacturer, so you can send it back if needs be. You should know in the first couple of weeks, so something like a 30-day return period is about perfect.
The Best Concealed Carry Holster You Can Afford: Know Thyself...And Thy Budget
What's "affordable" to you may be outlandishly expensive or just out of reach to someone else, so make sure that you understand what you can reasonably afford to spend on a concealed carry holster. It should be enough to invest in a quality item, though not so much that it will be detrimental if you end up not liking it and having to start all over again.
The good news is that you don't have to part with too much to get a functional holster.
However, you also need to address your needs within those confines. If you just want a holster that you can cover up with your cover garment for the one carry pistol you have, that's easily done and for a relatively affordable price point; just get a decent IWB holster on you're good to go.
If you anticipate concealed carry and open carry both, or at least needing an OWB for range day, you could either get a high-riding belt slide OWB (which is easily concealed) or perhaps find a 2 Holster Combo that lets you bundle and save a bit.
However, if multiple pistols with minimal gear is your end goal...you're going to need a modular holster that lets you change holster shells. You'll need to purchase the additional holster shells to use with the mounting platform. While a bit more expensive - and finding an actually good modular holster takes some doing - that gets you a lot of bang for the buck, so to speak.
A Holster Needs To Be Secure
Are you flagging the guy behind you in the grocery line? Do you find your holster jostles about or dangerously grips the wrong parts of the firearm? If you do, you need to find a secure holster that keeps your concealed carry firearm secure.
You want to know when you reach down to your inside the waistband holster, the pistol grip will be located exactly where you put it when you loaded it in. No movement left or right, no up or down – right where you want it.
Test 1: Put on the inside the waistband holster and look in a full length mirror. Is the weapon facing a dangerous direction?
Test 2: Unload your firearm and put it in the holster. Jump up and down while wearing your concealed carry holster. Do a couple jumping jacks or star jumps. Your weapon shouldn't go anywhere.
Lastly, Your Holster Needs To Be Concealable
It's a concealed carry holster. That means it ought stay as far out of sight as possible. If it is big and bulky, unwieldy or awkwardly positioned, then it isn't hidden. If it makes you uncomfortable, thereby causing you to fidget or adjust, it's inevitably drawing attention to you.
Test: Put your concealed carry firearm in its most ideal position, i.e. where you practice your draw from. Now put on a polo shirt or covering layer. If you aren't printing, your holster is doing something right.
Basic Categories of Holsters
Traditionally, there's four basic parts of the human body where a holster is commonly attached: ankle, torso, waistline, and thigh. Each one has its particular advantages and disadvantages and we'll briefly go over each.
Ankle holsters first saw common service with off-duty police officers looking to keep a low-profile and keep a small revolver or pistol on them at all times. It has since been adopted by a lot of concealed carriers who have trouble putting a holster in either their waistline or cannot conceal it in a shoulder rig.
Advantages: Very concealable.
- Design flaws can let the gun slip out unnoticed.
- Issues with running.
- Complications with drawing and reholstering effectively.
A universal holster is a lower-cost option, but tread carefully: some are better than others! A universal holster is essentially a holster made with some sort of thick but durable cloth, usually something like thick nylon or hard neoprene, that's made to fit just about any pistol you can shove into it.
Good examples are made to fit a specific size range of guns such as single-stack subcompact or double-stack compact pistols. The closer the fit, the more secure the holster is. A good example will also add a protective layer that ensures the trigger guard and therefore the trigger is protected. For actual use, it's also best to get one that has at least one belt clip for a secure connection inside the waistband.
However, they don't necessarily have the same level of function as other holster styles, especially when it comes to training. You can draw the gun, but you won't be able to reholster it as the holster will collapse too much. That said, it's a holster type that will work for everything else.
- Can fit multiple makes/models of guns
- Well-made examples have good retention and trigger guard protection
- Not as functional as custom-molded holsters
- Passive retention is not adjustable
Shoulder holsters come in far more variety than the ones traditionally seen in the movies. The gun typically rests on or about the ribcage of the off-dominant hand-side. Typically, these holsters are more ideal for those who are in the car for long periods of time because traditionally, other methods have been far less comfortable.
Advantages: Very accessible for drivers.
- Unintentional flagging and safety issues with some designs.
- Concealed accessibility can be difficult.
- Complications with drawing and reholstering.
- Requires jacket to conceal; not a good all-season holster option
Thigh holsters can also be known as “drop leg” holsters because they are connected to the belt and rest on the thigh of the gun carrier. These holsters come in many variations – from law enforcement tactical to traditional “Old West” style. They can be extremely effective and comfortable for both vehicle and land. Because they usually feature a retention strap over the top, the gun carrier can run and maneuver easily. However, because of the position, there's almost no way to effectively conceal it without wearing a long coat.
- Easy maneuverability
- Good retention
- No issues drawing or reholstering safely.
- Little chance of effective concealment of the firearm.
Appendix Carry Holsters
Appendix carry holsters are designed to be worn inside the waistband, but are more compact so that they may be worn in the appendix position. It is so named because the gun is typically inserted in the front of the waistband on the strong side, often near the strong side pants pocket near the appendix.
The pistol is easy to access in the appendix position, should it be necessary. However, it has to fit and ride in the right spot, otherwise sitting can be uncomfortable and access can be impeded. Appendix carry tends to favor certain people more than others; it tends to either fit well for you or it doesn't.
Granted, some of these holsters can be worn at any location inside the waistband. Plenty of people carry elsewhere with an appendix carry holster; they just prefer the smaller design.
- Easy to conceal
- Easy to access
- Holster is less invasive
- Less comfortable when sitting for many people
- Gun barrel points at sensitive areas
- Doesn't fit all body types well
Focus: Waistline Holsters
In the above video, Shawn from CCTV spent a lot of time discussing waistline-based holsters. And there's a pretty good reason – it's arguably one of the best methods of carrying. The biggest complaints for both inside the waistband and outside the waistband concealed carry holsters usually revolve around two basic factors: comfort and safety.
The third is longevity.
Waistline holsters tend to take more of a beating because the waistline isn't a straight line. It's constantly moving, has curvature, and adjusts. That means the right inside the waistband concealed carry holster has to be able to move with you.
Two major factors for addressing this is finding the right gun belt that keeps your waistline and lower back supported and the second is finding one with a comfortable neoprene liner and backpad that distributes the weight of the gun. This makes inside the waistband concealed carry a lot more viable for most concealed carriers.
Advantages: With the right inside the waistband concealed carry holster, you get:
- All day comfort – whether driving, sitting, standing, or running.
- Adjustable retention
- Absolute concealability
- Lifetime guarantee. With the right manufacturer, you can find an IWB holster that promises to last as long as you do.
- Shell trading – a high retention concealed carry holster will likely have a plastic shell that keeps pressure on the gun. If you switch guns or somehow manage to break the shell (good luck), there are companies that will offer a free exchange program.
Every concealed carrier has to determine which style is ultimately best for him or her.
It's always best to keep your gun within the domain of your physical control -- not in a purse or bag. Even if you have a tight budget, you can generally pick up a great inside the waistband holster for a great price. Comfort, reliability, and a lifetime warrantee are all excellent reasons to consider an inside the waistline concealed carry holster.
Are you a first time buyer of a concealed carry holster?
What are some definite things you're looking for in a holster system?
Tell us in the comments section below.
About The Author
James England (@sir_jim_england) is the contributing editor for Alien Gear Holsters. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and private defense contracting in Afghanistan.