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HomeNew GearChoosing The Best Concealed Carry Holsters: A Beginner's Guide

Choosing The Best Concealed Carry Holsters: A Beginner’s Guide


the best concealed carry holster for beginners
Dan Z. for TTAG

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So, you want to start carrying a gun, and are wondering what to look for in a good concealed carry holster. That’s a good thing to think about, to be sure. Not enough concealed carriers give enough thought to the right holster for their gun or the way they like to carry it.

Let’s start with the basics. There are a lot of brands out there, so we won’t get too deeply into that. Instead, we’ll focus on what to look for, basic designs and terminology…that sort of thing.

While talking about guns and bullets and shooting and so-on is fun, a truth about concealed carry is your concealed carry holster, gun belt, clothing and how those things wear on you matter as much as or more than the gun.

What should you look for in a concealed carry holster? There are a few key attributes that you have to have.

First, it must be comfortable enough for you to wear for extended periods or you won’t do so. It must be custom-molded for your make and model firearm. That’s because it has to provide a good fit for your pistol and adequate retention while carrying. And the trigger guard should be fully covered when the gun is inserted.

Note the adjustable retention screw in front of the trigger guard on this Bravo Concealment holster.

Adjustable passive retention is a very good feature to have, and your rig have a belt clip(s) that works with your belt and style of dress. The holster mouth should be designed so that re-holstering can be done one-handed. On leather holsters, look for a reinforced mouth.

A Vedder IWB holster with a single adjustable steel belt clip.

Belt clips come in a few varieties. Hard plastic or steel clips are the most common. Some are slim and some are narrow and many allow you to adjust the cant or angle of carry. More minimalist concealed carry holster will usually have a single wide clip. Additionally, some holsters will have belt loops with snap enclosures instead.

Blackpoint OWB Kydex holster with belt loops and adjustable retention screw

The holster should be of sufficiently high quality to last a goodly amount of time. Now, the lifetime of a holster depends on frequency of use as well as wear and tear, but a good few years if not a decade of useful life from any holster should be expected. It also helps if a holster has a lifetime warranty just in case, as such a warranty can keep you in a working CCW rig for many years to come.

Disclosure time: I work for Alien Gear Holsters. That, combined with my experience with our products makes me a little bit biased towards our products, but there are lots of good holster makers out there.

The standard for concealed carry holsters are inside the waistband designs, usually referred to shorthand as IWB holsters. You wear them (gasp) inside the waistband. The standard IWB will be worn somewhere between the hip and the wallet for most people; you’ll have to find where it sits best for you.

concealed carry holster draw pistol
Shutterstock

Materials and designs vary. There are streamlined sheaths of leather, thick nylon cloth or hard plastic with one or two clips on the top. The other popular format is the hybrid design, which features a holster base of leather or a multi-layer construction to which belt clips and a holster shell is attached. Said shell is usually made of a polymer such as Kydex (a brand name variety of PVC) Boltaron (same thing, just made by a different company) or injection-molded nylon.

Crossbreed IWB holster
Crossbreed hybrid holster with a Kydex shell, leather backing and steel clips

I’ve used leather, Kydex holsters and hybrid holsters. In my experience, hard Kydex holsters aren’t the most comfortable, but I appreciate how easily they go on and off and how durable they are. Hybrid designs, in my opinion, tend to be more comfortable for carrying all day, so that’s what I prefer.

StealthGear Onyx hybrid IWB hoster
StealthGear Onyx hybrid holster with breathable backing

A related design is the appendix carry holster, which is an IWB holster of more minimal design worn on the front of the waistband, often close to the location of the human appendix. (The liver and intestines are there too, but “colon carry” has some rather unpleasant connotations.) Designs are similar (leather, hard polymer and hybrid designs) but are typically much more streamlined.

Safariland slide holster design that’s adjustable for cant

A lot of people who carry every day prefer to angle their pistol forward slightly. This can be both more comfortable and more concealable. If that’s you, make sure to buy a holster that’s canted or one that can be adjusted to an angle that’s right for you.

If you use a red dot sight like so many concealed carriers seem to these days — or even if you think you will in the future — be sure to choose a holster that will accommodate a RDS. More and more holster makers are designing models specifically for this as the popularity of pistol red dot sights skyrockets.

Your mileage will almost certainly vary as to what type of IWB (standard, appendix, cross-draw) holster you lean toward, as well as the material you prefer.

Bravo Concealment OWB holster
Bravo Concealment OWB holster

You can, of course, use outside the waistband or OWB holsters for concealed carry, though holster selection and how you dress make a difference. OWB holsters tend to be less concealable. For effective concealment, you need a holster that rides higher on the belt and tight to the bod and the right cover garment.

The old leather pancake and Askins holster designs were preferred for many years for this purpose and are still viable options. Kydex/plastic and hybrid designs of OWB exist as well.

Credit: aliengearholsters.com

Again, clothing will matter. Some folks find OWB concealed carry requires a jacket or vest.  Others find an untucked shirt is enough. Some use a larger or tall-size shirt can conceal a pistol worn outside the waistband. You have to experiment with it to find out what works for you.

Shoulder holsters, a niche item until James Bond movies and “Miami Vice” popularized them, use straps and a harness to hang the gun off the shoulders. These can be tricky, as they conceal well on the right body type, but are terribly obvious on the wrong body type.

miami classic ii shoulder holster
Courtesy Galco

Great care must be made with shoulder holster selection as even the ones billed as such are not “one size fits all.” Look for a shoulder holster that has adjustable straps. Also, many carry the pistol horizontally under the arm. Not only do you flag those behind you, it can be uncomfortable to carry a pistol much larger than, say, an M&P Shield.

A precious few allow you to alter the shoulder holster to the degree necessary to get the right fit. One of the few I’m aware of is the Alien Gear Holsters shoulder holster. I work there and may be biased, but it’s one of the few quality shoulder holsters that has anywhere near the amount of features. Galco makes some very good models as well.

Ankle holsters are rarely used as a primary carry method. Most people use them to carry a backup gun. Look for one that offers sufficient support, as many aren’t capable of carrying a pistol much larger than a J-frame or pocket .380. Most GLOCK, SIG, or similar pistols are a bit too heavy for many ankle holster designs.

Belly Band Holster
Courtesy ComfortTac

Belly band holsters, usually made of spandex or similar stretchy material, are basically an elastic girdle with a pocket for a pistol. These are popular for women, though some men wear them when a belt and holster set up is impractical or impossible to wear.

With that all said, you need to find what works for you. Lots of concealed carriers learn that settling on the “right” holster for their carry gun is more of a journey than a destination. Your mileage will most certainly vary. Don’t be discouraged if you go through a few models that don’t work out. Most of us do. I have a holster drawer of my own, too.

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