CCW 101: A Concealed Carry Holster Buying Guide

So you’ve recently made the decision to start carrying a concealed handgun. Maybe you’ve gone so far as to choose a gun.

But you’re just getting started. Now comes the hard part: deciding exactly how you’ll be carrying it. Even small guns can be bulky and heavy, and tossing it in your pocket (in most cases) just won’t do.

There’s quite a bit to consider…

  • How important is everyday comfort?
  • How important is concealability?
  • Do you value comfort over fast access? Do you value fast access over safety?
  • What level of retention do you need?
  • How much of your day do you spend standing? How much of your day do you spend sitting at a desk or in your car?
  • How does your body type affect your options?
  • What state laws do you have to abide by?

These are just a sample of the important questions you have to answer before you commit to choosing a method of everyday carry. Each and every holster has its own unique blend of comfort, concealment, retention, and access—and no single holster excels in all areas. To help you get started, let’s take a look at some of the most common holsters and examine the pros and cons of each.

Shoulder Holsters

Shoulder Holster

Shoulder holsters consist of two straps connected in a manner similar to a backpack, with the holster itself mounted on either the right or left side (depending on your dominant hand). Shoulder holsters are among the most comfortable of all methods because your back and torso are supporting the weight of the gun—not your belt. Additionally, the opposite side of the holster can be used for additional magazines, etc. Shoulder holsters work with a wide variety of body types and with larger guns, and are comfortable in all climates, but are among the most difficult to conceal. In addition, drawing your pistol from a shoulder rig often involves sweeping the muzzle past your arm (and any bystanders). Plus, if you want to keep a shoulder holster hidden, you pretty much have to wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket.

Pros at a glance:

  • Among the most comfortable carry methods
  • Fast draw
  • Can fit larger guns
  • Easy to carry extra mags
  • Works with a wide variety of body types

Cons at a glance:

  • Among the most difficult to conceal
  • Requires you to dress a certain way
  • Drawing often involves flashing yourself and any bystanders
  • Depending on the angle of the holster, you might be flashing people walking behind you

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Ankle Holsters

Ankle Holster
Pro-Tech Nylon Ankle Holster

The ankle holster is one of the traditional methods utilized by Law Enforcement to carry backup, but is also a totaly viable CCW method for civilians. Ankle holsters are comfortable and highly concealable—especially if you wear cowboy boots—but are slow on the draw. To get to your pistol, you have to bend over, lift up your pant leg, undo the retention strap, stand up straight, and hope to engage your target in time. You’re also limited to micro-compact pistols, so no Glock 19 or similar.

Pros at a glance:

  • Highly concealable
  • More comfortable than other methods when sitting, standing still, and walking

Cons at a glance:

  • Very slow on the draw
  • Uncomfortable (maybe even impossible) to run with
  • Limited to micro-compacts and snubbies
  • Pants with a looser fit and/or wider leg are a must

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Outside the Waistband (OWB) Holsters

MFT Ruger LC9 OWB Holster

OWB holsters are designed to be worn on your belt, normally between 3:00 and 4:30. OWB holsters are hugely popular and available in a wide variety of configurations and materials—from universally sized leather holsters to Kydex holsters designed for specific models. With lots of options for attachment and retention, you’re very likely to find an OWB holster that’s perfect for you. OWB holsters are most often worn for open carry, but a long, untucked shirt or jacket will keep one concealed in a pinch.

Pros at a glance:

  • Faster on the draw than IWB holsters
  • Available in a huge variety of configurations, cants, and materials
  • Lots of attachment options
  • Multiple retention options
  • Fit most body shapes and sizes

Cons at a glance:

  • Difficult to conceal
  • More exposed than other carry methods

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Outside the Waistband / Small of Back Holsters

OWB/Small of Back Holster
Guide Gear 4-position Holster

Small-of-back holsters place the handgun directly over the center of the small of your back. This is one of the more comfortable carry methods (as long as you aren’t sitting for long periods), and SOB holsters accommodate larger guns. They’re fairly easy to conceal with a longer shirt or jacket, but can be very uncomfortable if you spend a majority of the day in a car or at a desk. The draw is fairly slow, and there’s a good chance you’ll be sweeping bystanders. Re-holstering is even more of a pain, especially because you can’t see what you’re doing.

Pros at a glance:

  • Comfortable for walking around
  • Can carry larger guns
  • Fairly easy to conceal with a longer shirt
  • Keeps your gun out of your way

Cons at a glance:

  • Slower to draw
  • Not very comfortable to draw
  • Requires blind re-holster
  • Potential for injury if you should land on your back

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Inside the Waistband (IWB) Holsters

CrossBreed MiniTuck with M&P Shield

Among the most discrete of all carry methods, inside-the-waistband holsters clip or mount to a belt to allow you to securely conceal a weapon inside your pants. IWB holsters typically sit at the side or rear, and allow for a fairly quick draw. They generally stay out of the way and won’t interfere with sitting or standing—but your placement options might be limited depending on body type. They take some getting used to, and having a holster rubbing up against your skin all day isn’t that fun, but IWB holsters offer a nice blend of comfort, concealability, and accessability.

Pros at a glance:

  • Highly concealable
  • Fairly fast on the draw
  • Won’t interfere with sitting or standing

Cons at a glance:

  • Printing is still an issue
  • Takes some getting used to
  • Might not work with all body types
  • Shirt can interfere with draw

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Appendix IWB Holsters

Alien Gear Appendix Holster with Glock 43

Appendix carry has become something of a controversial topic for reasons that might become clear just by looking at the above image. Appendix holsters are typically located between your belly button and your strong-side hip (your right hip if you’re right-handed), allowing for a very fast draw and easy, visual re-holstering. And because there’s more space down the front of your pants than in the hip or rear areas, appendix holsters accommodate larger guns while keeping day-to-day interference to a minimum. Of course, appendix holsters do come with one teensy downside: their proximity to a rather…sensitive…area (not to mention your femoral artery). Oh, and sitting isn’t the most comfortable.

Pros at a glance:

  • Very fast on the draw
  • Easier to conceal than IWB holsters positioned at the hip or rear
  • Can accommodate larger pistols
  • Easy, visual re-holster

Cons at a glance:

  • Proximity to sensitive area
  • Sitting is uncomfortable
  • Might not work with every body type

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Belly Band Holsters

Belly band with 2 mag pouches on opposite side

A belly band is a wide elastic belt that features an integrated holster on the front or side. Belly bands keep your firearm tight to your skin for better concealment, and because they ride higher than waistband holsters, they’re typically a lot more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. That said, waistband holsters offer a more natural draw, so belly bands can take some time to get used to. But all in all, belly bands strike a pretty good balance between comfort, concealment and accessability.

Pros at a glance:

  • Keeps your gun tight to your skin for better concealment
  • Probably the most comfortable option on this list aside from the shoulder holster
  • Can be twisted to adjust position on your body
  • Doesn’t weigh your belt down

Cons at a glance:

  • Draw is not as quick or natural as with a waistband holster
  • Wearing a tight elastic band around your midsection in the middle of summer can get uncomfortable
  • Re-holstering is a two-hand process

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Pocket Holsters

The Bulldog Super Grip Holster

Pocket carry is perhaps the simplest and most convenient of all carry methods. Pocket holsters are typically more comfortable to bear, and won’t interfere with sitting or driving like some of the other types will. This alone is a huge advantage over waistline holsters—if it’s more comfortable to carry, chances are you’ll carry more often. That said, pocket carry has its shortcomings, too. You’re limited to the smallest micros and snubnose revolvers, and because you’re drawing out of a more confined space, hang-ups have the potential to slow you down. Also, pockets are dirty, and pocket pistols have a tendency to collect lint. All in all, some good, some bad. If comfort and convenience are high on your list, pocket carry might be for you.

Pros at a glance:

  • Among the most comfortable and convenient of carry methods
  • Pocket holsters won’t interfere with sitting or driving

Cons at a glance:

  • Slow on the draw
  • Limited to the smallest microcompacts and snubbies
  • Gun gets dirty

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I hope you found this helpful. Just remember, each and every style of carry has its advantages and disadvantages, and no single holster checks all the boxes. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

Whichever style you ultimately choose, the most important thing to do is to get proper training and practice, practice, practice. Oh, and don’t forget to check your state laws.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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6 Responses to “CCW 101: A Concealed Carry Holster Buying Guide”

  1. Avatar

    John Hilburn

    Concise, to the point, & excellent synopsis of highs & lows – go right to “pro’s & con’s summary for all that you need to know.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Gary Hartter

    Very nice article. Thankyou Bryan and SG. I carry appendix IWB and OWB. I position the zero-cant holster between the belt loops, often using the belt loops for stability. Another pro of the appendix carry is that it is more difficult for someone to steal the gun from your holster. I hope SG will continue to send us these informative articles.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Steven Mark Stafford

    I like the belly hoster best. With magazine departments

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    David March

    Thanks for the post; good for us Newbies. I got a belly band before I’d even made a final decision to go ahead w CC training. An Act ive Shooter training session @ work prompted me to proceed with that. I recommend getting hold of a BLUE GUN replica of your chosen firearm, maybe even before you buy it. It’s a weighted molded plastic copy w ALL the little projections, buttons, & levers. You can try it in a holster, carry it around to see how it feels BEFORE you purchase the actual firearm for 8-10 times the cost. Also good for practicing your grip/ aim/ address/ presentation/ holstering. (link for more info:www.bluegunstore.com/) I don’t get any kickback; cost seems to be about $50 @… I just want to be sure I know what I’m doing. Started NRA instructor training. I’d only fired a handgun a few times in my life before. Caution: If you CC w a replica, BG or a replica PELLET GUN, someone – a citizen or a LEO – may assume it’s a REAL GUN under your shirt, so you want to think about it. Replica Pellet Guns using CO2 cartridges can be good for practice.

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    wayne lane

    Very good and informative article. I have been carrying for 25 years or so and have carried primarily IWB, OWB with smaller hand guns like the Walther PPKS i carry most of the time. I do sometimes carry a 1911 in 45 ACP and usually in the small of the back in leather position. None of these positions are what i would call comfortable, but carrying concealed is supposed to be comforting not comfortable. Great article SG please keep them coming.

    Reply
  6. Avatar

    Sarah Packer

    My husband just bought a gun and after getting his concealers’ license, he wants to get a holster. I didn’t know that with inside the waistband holsters, you won’t be uncomfortable sitting or standing with it on and it’s still fairly fast on the draw. My husband does a lot of sitting and standing all day with his job, so that would be the best fit for him; I’ll make sure to look around for a holster with that in mind, thanks to this article!!

    Reply