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ccw holster guide

Alien Gear Guide To Concealed Carry Holsters

What do you need to know about concealed carry holsters? Everything you need to know will be right here. We'll go over what you need to know about the various types of concealed carry holsters and methods for concealed carry.

We'll also go over the features, designs and materials you can expect to encounter. We'll go over the pros and cons of every type as well, so you'll know what you're getting into.

Remember, though, that a concealed carry holster is merely a tool. Each type is suited to a particular job, so you may end up wanting a few to do all the jobs you might have for them.

The Types Of Gun Holster For Concealed Carry


There are a number of types of gun holster, though not all are a gun holster for concealed carry. There are specialized types of holster that are well-suited for concealment. Some, of course, can actually do both, though some compromise is involved.

Here are the types of concealed carry holster that most people carry with:

IWB holster or inside the waistband holster. These tuck into the waistband, with the shirt draped or tucked over the holster and gun. Designs of IWB holster are fairly diverse, with a great degree of variation in materials, design and construction.

Appendix carry holster: a subset of IWB holsters, these are minimalist holster designs for carrying in the appendix position, on the front of the waistband.

OWB holster: outside the waistband holsters carry the gun on the waist and are normally open carry holsters, but OWB holsters of the right design can be concealed though some layering is needed.

Shoulder holster: a shoulder holster takes a holster and supports it by means of a strap or straps on the shoulder. While concealable, usually a good amount of layering is required.

Ankle holster: the holster straps to the ankle, and the holster is covered by the pant leg. Very concealable, but access is impeded for obvious reasons.

Pocket holster: a holster that goes into a pocket, the preferred method for pocket carry.

These are the dominant forms of concealed carry holster that people carry with. Some people choose to conceal and carry in other ways, but these are the most popular forms and for good reason: they work best.

Holster Designs

holster designs
There are two dominant holster designs, regardless of where one carries them. They are:

Pancake holsters, which are made by attaching two layers of some material to create a pouch the holster sits in, often molded for the exact make and model pistol or at least so close that it fits only a few different guns. Typical materials are leather - which is block-formed and stitched to fit the gun - and polymer, such as glass-filled nylon or Kydex that's custom-molded for the gun in most cases. There are also pancake holsters made of some sort of durable cloth such as woven nylon.

Hybrid holsters, the other dominant form, are made by attaching a retention shell - usually molded for a specific make and model firearm - to a holster base platform. Leather is a popular holster base for hybrid holsters, but leather hybrid holsters have given way to other materials, including layered hybrid holster designs that tend to be much more comfortable.

These designs are made for nearly every type of concealed carry holster listed here. Leather and kydex or other pancake holsters can be worn inside or outside the waistband, depending on the belt attachments, they can be fitted with straps to be worn as a shoulder holster or ankle carry holster and so on.

Holster Belt Clips And Attachments

holster belt clips and attachments

Holster belt clips and attachments are also varied - again, varying a lot by manufacturer and by holster design - but fall into four distinct categories. In the broad strokes, you have belt clips, loops, belt channels and belt tunnels.

There are also paddle attachments which naturally are found on paddle holsters. However, paddle holsters are not always the best option for concealment. Many paddle holsters don't ride high enough on the beltline nor close enough to the body for easy concealment. Some do, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Belt clips are most common, being installed on most IWB and appendix holsters. They slide over the belt or over the waistline of the trousers. Older designs were simple metal clips, usually spring steel or other metal strong enough to last. Or, they'd eventually bend out of shape and the holster would need to be replaced. Polymer clips have become more common, as they are in many cases as strong (if not stronger) and less pliable, leading to a longer service life...if well-made.

Clips can be narrow or wide. Wide clips are usually installed on appendix carry holsters or other minimalist IWB holsters. IWB holsters can also have leather belt loops, with snaps to enclose over the belt.

Loops are also found on some OWB holsters, though they are installed on the back of the holster. Often enough, OWB holsters will have hard plastic loops on the back of the holster or directly on the sides.

Belt channels cut into the holster material, threading the belt through and behind the holster, holding the holster tight to the body. This is common in older designs of OWB, such as those of the scabbard style. Some modern hybrid holsters are made with belt channels cut into the leather, giving the wearer the choice of wearing the holster in or out of the waistband.

Belt tunnels are basically large loops but are more or less exclusive to OWB holsters. Leather holsters will have a strap sewn on the back of the holster that the belt is threaded through. Holsters made of hard plastic will have a tunnel on the back likewise made of plastic.

Occasionally, some holsters will have more than one type of belt attachment. For instance, the Askins Avenger holster design - an OWB design popular with plainclothes police, competition shooters and civilians - has a belt tunnel and a belt channel cut into a trailing piece of leather, pulling the holster tight to the body.

Some holsters can be fitted with the belt clip of the wearer's choice, with some designs allowing for IWB or OWB attachments. This gives the wearer the ability to wear the holster in either fashion. A modular holster system can also give the wearer the ability to change holster base systems as well.

Retention, how the gun is held in the holster, comes in two flavors: active and passive. Active retention means some sort of device, like a thumb break, hammer loop or trigger guard lock, that has to be deactivated to draw the pistol. Passive retention is the fit of the holster holding the gun in place. Some holsters have adjustable passive retention, which lets you tighten or loosen it at will.

A good concealed carry holster has sufficient passive retention to work well. Active retention can be good, and in some cases is desirable, but should only be worn if the wearer desires. Bear in mind that the needs of a civilian carrier are different than that of the uniformed officer. The latter must-needs have active retention for obvious reasons; the former...not so much.

Now that we have this out of the way, let's go over each type of holster. We'll go over each type, as well as the pros and cons of each.

IWB Holsters

best iwb holsters

IWB holsters are worn inside the waistband, which makes them the easiest to conceal and carry on a daily basis.

Granted, there are many designs of IWB holster. Some are very easy to put on, easily sliding inside the waistband, over the belt in seconds. Others, such as the classic winged IWB hybrid holster, take a little more ceremony as two belt clips have to be fastened to the waistline.

IWB holsters are fairly intuitive to use, and - depending on the gun and the person wearing it - usually very easy to conceal to the point that other people are unaware of the gun which, of course, is the point of concealment. The wearer has to experiment to find the ideal carrying location, ideally a spot that is comfortable to carry in and doesn't create an imprint of the holster or pistol through the shirt.

IWB holsters can be made in the pancake or hybrid fashion and from many different materials. Some are as simple as a thick nylon cloth pouch with a textured outer surface and a metal clip, others are a hybrid design with a comfortable backer and adjustable belt clips. Others are a leather or hard polymer pancake with a clip or a couple of close-spaced belt loops, such as the "Summer Special" holster design.

All inside the waistband holsters tuck inside your pants. Not all, however, make it easy (or possible) to tuck one's shirt over the holster and gun. If you must have your shirt tucked in and don't intend on wearing a suit to cover the holster and gun, this is something you must pay attention to. An untuckable holster won't be of any use to you.

Additionally, comfort is of paramount importance. Hybrid holsters are very popular in this respect, as a soft backing to the holster base makes for an easier carry. Some compensate by wearing an undershirt; others choose more comfortable holster designs with this in mind.

If your holster isn't comfortable, you will find an excuse not to carry and will cease doing so.

As to materials, leather makes for a strong holster but can develop hot spots, which will make a difference if you live in a state with a hotter climate. Rough-out leather, rawhide and suede can be good substitutes, but absorb sweat and can start to eventually stink. Hard kydex or other polymers can be comfortable enough, but often requires an undershirt to be comfortable enough to wear.

Hybrid IWB holsters with a sweat-absorbing backer are ideal, as they cushion while helping to keep the wearer cool and dry.

Appendix Carry Holsters

best aiwb holsters

Though technically a class of IWB holsters, appendix carry holsters are designed to be carried in the so-called "appendix position" on the front of the waistband. These holsters are necessarily smaller in overall dimension than many other types of IWB holster.

They are offered in the same configurations, meaning pancake or hybrid. Many appendix holsters have just a single belt clip. They are much more quickly donned as well, usually sliding easily onto the waistband, anchoring to the belt with greater ease than a traditional winged IWB. For that reason, a good number of people purchase a holster nominally for wear in the appendix position but wear them elsewhere.

The same ideas apply as well as to comfort, as some materials are better than others. However, there is something to be aware of in terms of concealment.

A gun wears on everyone differently. A specific pistol and holster will easily conceal on one person, yet can't be concealed at all on another; it just comes down to whom is wearing it. Therefore, make sure that the appendix IWB you select will work will for you.

Additionally, some people find appendix carry just isn't for them. As a result, you would do well to find a holster company with a generous returns policy, such as a 30 day return period.

OWB Holsters For Concealed Carry

owb ccw holsters

OWB holsters are designed to wear on the outside of the hip. Some are easily concealed, others are not. Typically, what determines the concealability of an OWB holster is how high on the beltline and how tight to the body they ride.

The higher the gun rides, the less it protrudes past the beltline. Therefore, the less draping is needed to cover it. The tighter to the body a gun rides, the less it "sticks out" and therefore imprints through clothing.

That is what made leather OWB holsters such as the scabbard and Askins holster designs so popular; they ride high and tight, allowing for easy concealment with a jacket. In some cases, an OWB holster can be perfectly covered with an untucked, unbuttoned flannel shirt.

How much layering is necessary for OWB concealed carry, however, depends on the gun, the holster and the wearer.

OWB holsters are made from a variety of materials, but generally come in either pancake or hybrid designs and the latter are a little more rare. Belt loops behind or to the side of the holster are common, though tunnels and belt channel slots being cut into leather or plastic are common as well.

There are also paddle holsters, which put a hard plastic or leather paddle inside the waistband or under the belt. Some are concealable, others are not; it depends on the design of the OWB holster.

A good OWB holster is made for the pistol it carries, and thus offers good retention without the need for a thumb break or active retention device to carry well. Carry with active retention if desired, but you shouldn't have to rely on it.

Some OWB holsters are also modular holsters, as they are able to be converted to IWB use as well as OWB use. Sometimes, a quick change of hardware is called for and others merely require a rerouting of the belt, depending - of course - on who made the holster and how its designed.

Shoulder Holster Concealed Carry

best shoulder holsters

You'll either like shoulder holsters or you won't. A lot of people buy one thinking it's a good idea, only to find they don't like it and toss it in a holster drawer. Others find one they like and carry it when they have the occasion to.

That said, shoulder holsters consist of a holster and a strapping harness that suspend the holster when the straps are put on the shoulders. Typically they are made of leather, though some are made of other materials or with leather AND other materials for greater comfort.

How the straps are put together can matter. If stitched together, it should be tailored to the wearer so it fits correctly. Otherwise, adjustable straps and some sort of articulating harness are necessary.

Make sure to consider the gun that you'll be carrying. The reason this matters is that some orient the gun horizontally, and others are vertical shoulder holsters. If you are going to carry a full-size pistol, the latter are all but required. Not only do you avoid flagging anyone standing behind you, concealment will be much easier and you don't have a goiter hanging under your armpit.

Retention often comes from a thumb break strap, though some may not have this feature.

Also look for other features such as belt hooks, which can anchor the holster to the belt. This tucks the gun in tighter and keeps it from flapping as one walks. Some sort of padding for comfort is also a desired feature for a leather shoulder holster or one made from a different fabric.

A jacket or some other layer is needed for concealment. How much will be needed for you depends on the shoulder holster and on how it wears on you. You'll have to see what works for you and what doesn't, but you may find a little less is needed than you think. Some find a roomy untucked button-up with a straight hem at the bottom is sufficient, others have to wear that sport coat.

If you wish to keep carrying in this fashion in warm weather...good luck. If you can't carry under a button-up shirt, linen or seersucker jackets can be lived with in hot weather. Heck, Don Johnson wore one on "Miami Vice" with a linen suit (with the sleeves rolled up and carrying a Bren Ten!) and that's the reason a lot of people got interested in shoulder holsters anyway.

Ankle Holster

best ankle holsters
ankle holsters

Ankle holsters affix the ankle or lower leg, with concealment being by virtue of the pant leg. It's a popular method of carrying a backup gun - back in the day, a lot of cops used to have a snubbie strapped there and a number of people still do - or, if desired, just for deep concealment when carrying elsewhere isn't feasible or otherwise desired.

The stereotype is that ankle carry is only for subcompact or micro pistols. As mentioned, this is a very popular way to carry something like an LCR, J-frame, or small .380 pistol, as it's difficult for most ankle holsters to properly support anything larger.

The classic ankle holster is a leather strap with velcro, though plenty are out there made of nylon and other synthetic materials. You holster the gun, cinch down the wrap and off you go. Anything bigger than a tiny gun would bounce around terribly, and even small guns travel a bit with many ankle holster designs.

A few have been devised over the years with a garter system for support, though it only makes the ankle holster a little more stable.

A good ankle holster is at minimum horizontally stable, and ideally will be vertically stable as well. The ankle holster with both will be able to carry more than just a mouse gun, if called upon to do so.

Materials must be comfortable, as hard leather or nylon can chafe the wearer. Ankle holsters are liable to get quite warm, so some sort of sweat-wicking material would make it a whole lot easier. It also helps if ride height is adjustable, should you sometimes wear boots instead of lower-riding footwear.

Many are universal holsters that require use of a thumb break to retain the pistol, so you'll want to find one that's custom-molded for the gun you'll carry for the best hold.

Pocket Holsters

pocket holster

If one must pocket carry, it should be done with a pocket holster. Not doing so is failing to protect the trigger, which is contrary to best practices of gun safety.

This is especially important in this era, because the most popular pocket guns are often lightweight micro poly striker guns. The inherent problem there is all that needs happen to produce a discharge is a trigger pull and the trigger can be easily snagged riding inside the pocket, and a number of people have had a discharge happen in exactly this fashion.

Pocket holsters are usually a pouch, sometimes of leather and sometimes of other fabrics. They often have a stabilizing wing of some sort or a clip that helps anchor the holster in the pocket should the pistol need to be drawn.

Like any other holster, a pocket holster should fit the pistol that it carries. It should be comfortable to wear, as you will probably find excuses not to if it isn't.

What's The Best Concealed Carry Holster For Me?

whats the best iwb holster

You'll have to do some experimenting to find the right concealed carry holster for you, in terms of design, materials and so on. However, there are certain attributes that you'll want to look for.

First, the holster must be comfortable. Some people say wearing a gun is supposed to be comforting not comfortable, which is wisdom from the floor of a horse stall. You absolutely CAN find a holster that's comfortable, and furthermore you need to. While some people will grimly set their jaw and carry if it doesn't feel good, the truth is that you will find excuses not to carry or just say "to heck with it" and leave the gun at home if your carry holster isn't comfortable to wear. Why bother having a carry gun if this is the case?

Second, you have to be confident in the retention. If a holster doesn't adequately hold the pistol, you will not have confidence in it and - just like with the comfort issue - you will stop wearing it.

Third, consider the use of the tool itself. This tells you which of the holster types are best-suited for you to wear. Granted, you could get multiple holsters so you can use one how you want, when you want; a modular holster system can be a great help in this respect.

Do you just want a concealed carry holster that works all the time? An IWB or appendix holster is going to work best. Want to conceal at times and wear openly at others? A high-ride OWB holster is well suited for this, though you'll probably want to switch to a different method come summertime. The same sentiment applies to shoulder holsters; they're great if you are going to be wearing layers, but are less appealing once the mercury rises.

Ankle holsters are perfectly fine unless you want to wear shorts, though they can get a little hot at times and they - rather obviously - impede access. Pocket holsters are great for a backup gun or for deep concealment. They also take at least one pocket out of commission but are otherwise good for the person who doesn't want to carry anything larger than a micro gun or snubbie revolver.

Consider what your intended use is, as that will tell you a lot about what the best concealed carry holster for you is. You'll then be able to select one accordingly.

About The Author

Writer sam hoober