There are many different options for carrying your handgun in a concealed manner. Body type, clothing selection, firearm, holster type, and mission all mandate different styles of carry. It ultimately comes down to personal preference, but here are a few hints and guidelines to help you make your decision. If you are new to carrying concealed firearms, this resource will help you make some important decisions and save you a lot of money.
The Outside-the-waistband holster
We’ll start with the most common way to carry a pistol, the belt holster. This holster is mounted to the belt (with loops or slots) or uses a paddle that makes it easier to remove. I generally prefer the belt loops over most paddle holsters because they stay on the belt better in a struggle. They also conceal better because most paddles tilt the butt of the gun inwards and the barrel out, making a strange-looking bump on the hip.
Here are some examples of belt loops, slots and paddles:
Belt holsters are generally made of either leather, kydex (a type of plastic) or nylon. All materials can work well. Nylon and kydex are generally cheaper and a little bulkier. Leather usually conceals slightly better. Leather may also require a short “break in” period. If you find that your new leather holster is too tight, place your unloaded gun inside a plastic zip-lock bag. Put the bagged gun into the holster overnight and the leather will stretch a bit.
Leather may loosen up and lose some of its retention abilities as it ages. Kydex can get brittle and break as it gets older. There are strengths and weaknesses for both materials.
There are many different ways to keep your gun in the holster. Some of the methods include the thumb break, tension screw, Serpa lock, ALS lock, and rotating hood. For concealed carry, I would generally avoid open topped Kydex holsters that have no retention other than the friction fit of the gun. In a fight, a bad guy will take your gun away so quickly that you won’t be able to implement your weapon retention strategies.
This advice applies even more to the FOBUS PADDLE HOLSTER. Don’t use it! I haven’t had one make it through any of my high intensity fight scenarios. Don’t believe me? Watch this short video. The holster breaks completely off of the paddle. Save the Fobus paddle and open top Kydex holsters for the range only. Don’t use them to carry your defensive guns.
Open-Top outside-the-waistband Kydex holsters by CompTac, Raven Concealment, Blade-Tech, JM Custom Kydex, and Sidearmor are of very high quality, but still don’t hold the gun in well during a struggle.
The Blackhawk Serpa offers good retention, but there have been several accidental discharges when drawing because of the placement of the release button. It has been banned at several police academies and shooting schools. I would stay away from it. Want more information about this poor choice? Read my Serpa Compendium or Watch The Serpa Holster is Hot Garbage for more details.
I like the Safariland ALS as an open carry belt holster. It comes with both belt loops and paddle attachments and has a very fast security lock. They cost around $75.00. The only downside is that they are slightly bulky and can’t be concealed under light clothing. They are great for police officers working desk duty or plainclothes assignments where concealment isn’t really needed.
If you like the leather holsters, get one with a thumb strap rather than one with an open top. It offers better retention if you are rolling around on the ground or fighting with an attacker.
Stay away from the small of the back holsters. The drawstroke is difficult to do in any position but standing and is easier to stop in a fight. There is a greater chance of spinal injury if you fall while wearing one. It also prints horribly if you bend forward. For more information on this type of holster, read Don’t Dig The Rig Part 9.
One final thing to consider is ride height. Each manufacturer places the gun differently in relation to the belt line. If the gun is too high, the grip is up near the armpit. That makes a difficult draw for shorter-waisted people and those who lack flexible shoulders. On the other hand, a gun that rides too low doesn’t conceal well. I would stay away from both.
Good quality outside-the-waistband belt holster brands that I use are:
Blade Tech- http://www.blade-tech.com/
Raven Concealment- http://rcsgear.com/
JM Custom Kydex- https://www.jmcustomkydex.com/
Simply Rugged Holsters- https://www.simplyrugged.com/
Inside the Waistband (IWB) Holsters
For those of you wanting more concealment than the belt holster provides, your best bet is an IWB holster. You can get them made from leather, kydex, and nylon. The kydex is fastest, but least secure. Leather is more secure, but slower. Unlike the belt holsters, I don’t think you need a retention strap on an IWB holster. The IWB holds the gun lower and closer to the body, making disarm attempts difficult.
There are a couple of things to look for in IWB holsters:
1) Make sure the gun grip sits high enough above the belt that you can get a full hand grip on the gun. Many sit too low and cause you to have to re-adjust your grip as you draw. That’s a recipe for a fumbled gun.
2) Make sure the mouth of the holster is reinforced so that it stays open. Otherwise, you cannot re-holster one handed.
3) Avoid most spring steel clips. They often allow the holster to be drawn with the gun. One notable exception is the DCC Monoblock style clips. They work very well.
4) Pick a holster that is made for your specific gun. The one-size fits many approach generally doesn’t work very well except in the instance where the holster fits multiple weapons because it tensions on a standardized weapon-mounted light.
IWB holsters are mounted on the belt using loops, clips, or J-hooks. As I mentioned earlier, avoid the cheap plastic and spring steel clips. The clips made by Discreet Carry Concepts and Galco tend to work well.
J-hooks fasten underneath the belt and also work well. Some will even allow you to tuck in your shirt.
Loops and some clips work well as belt attachments. The holsters that have the loops or clips directly over the gun are less concealable than those with offset loops and clips.
Some good brands of IWB holsters are:
Raven Concealment- http://rcsgear.com/
JM Custom Kydex- https://www.jmcustomkydex.com
Henry Holsters- https://www.henryholsters.com/
Bawidamann Shenanigans- http://bawidamann.com/holsters/
Appendix Carry IWB
Most people carry their IWB holsters just behind their hip on the strong side. There are some (myself included) who like to carry them in front of the hip on the strong side in what is commonly referred to as the appendix position. Any IWB holster can be carried in Appendix, but some people find that specially-designed holsters with a slightly different cant are more comfortable. They allow the gun to be carried without being poked as much.
There are both speed and retention advantages to carrying your gun in the appendix position. If you are interested in this mode of carry, read my article Thousands of Thugs Can’t Be Wrong.
One caution: Be EXTRA CAREFUL WHEN REHOLSTERING while carrying appendix IWB. If the trigger snags on something (like your shirt or holster edge), a very painful gunshot wound result. It’s one thing to have a bullet crease down your butt cheek or the side of your leg if you squeeze the trigger while reholstering in a holster behind your hip, but getting shot in the junk can’t be any fun.
My favorite appendix carry holsters are made by Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment. I carry his Keeper, Keeper Lite, Cornerstone, or Errand holster nearly every day.
If the Keeper holster isn’t for you, I’ve also had very good luck appendix carrying the Raven Eidolon. I also like products from Bawidamann Shenanigans, Dark Star Gear, and PHLster for appendix carry. If you like leather holsters, I’ve used the Tucker Gunleather “Coverup” as well. All are quality rigs.
Other ways to carry IWB are by attaching different grips or clips directly to the side of the gun. This way, you don’t even need a holster. I think the Clipdraw is the best option for revolvers. I don’t really like it for most semi automatic pistols however, as the trigger movement is so short that I’m afraid of an accidental discharge. You can find it at www.Clipdraw.com
One other option for those of you who carry small revolvers is the DeSantis Clip Grip. It rides very low and I find it to be less secure in the waistband than the clipdraw.
Another common way of carrying a smaller concealed pistol is to use a pocket holster. Rather than just throwing your gun in your pocket, buy yourself a good holster. Pocket holsters:
1) Keep the gun oriented correctly so it doesn’t turn upside down in your pocket
2) Cover the trigger guard to reduce accidental discharges
3) Keep dust and debris out of your weapon
4) Reduce the silhouette of the gun in your pocket
Make sure that your pocket holster stays in your pocket when you draw. You may not have time to rip the holster off of the end of your drawn gun in a gunfight. The best pocket holsters that I have found are listed below.
DB Force Option Pocket Holster
Simply Rugged Force Option (leather version of above)
Even though a lot of people use them, I’m not a big fan of carrying your gun in a fanny pack. The draw is just too slow and usually requires two hands. It’s also much easier to disarm a person wearing a fanny pack than it is when that person is wearing a “real” holster.
With that said, if you are going to carry in a fanny pack, at least make sure it’s one that has a built in holster…not the one your grandmother brought you back from Disney World.
It’s relatively easy to spot a “gun” fanny pack. Almost all have a loop of cord or fabric at one of the upper corners. That cord is pulled to open the pouch that the holster is in.
Decent fanny packs are made by Uncle Mike’s, Galco, and Desantis.
I generally don’t recommend carrying your primary gun on your ankle. It is a slow draw, usually requires two hands, and puts you in a bad defensive position. With that said, however, there are some cases where an ankle holster is useful. If you are spending a lot of time seated, it may be faster than a belt line carry. It is also a great position for a second gun.
Some people can comfortably carry ankle holsters and some can’t. You’ll just have to try it and see. Most people wear the gun on the inside of the leg opposite the primary shooting hand.
If you wear boots or taller shoes, you can wrap the holster around or on top of the boot if your pants legs are wide enough. It will make it much more comfortable to carry (but it may make a larger bulge in your pants leg). If you are wearing the holster with lower height shoes, try pulling your sock up over the bottom of the holster. It will be hidden much better.
There are very few high quality ankle holsters. Buyer beware.
The Wilderness Renegade ankle holster is a very popular option among knowledgeable gunfighters. It is very comfortable and incredibly durable.
Other good brands of ankle holsters are Bianchi, Desantis, and Galco.
I honestly can’t give you any suggestions for shoulder holsters. I’ve tried a few, but haven’t found any I like. In fact, I know very few firearms trainers who carry a gun in a shoulder holster.
I’m sure there are some good ones out there, but I’ve never found one I can wear for more than an hour or so.
Belly bands and The PHLster Enigma
There are several versions of elastic belly bands that carry handguns underneath the clothing without a belt. Many are extremely dangerous because the gun will fall out during physical exertion. Furthermore, most belly bands do not offer adequate protection to the gun’s trigger. Generally not recommended.
While some of these belly bands are OK, all have been completely eclipsed by the PHL-ster Enigma Chassis. It is so superior to any belly band that I can no longer recommend anything other than the Enigma if you are looking for a holster system that carries the gun under your clothes without a belt.
PHLster also offers an incredible resource page about setting up their products and how to better conceal firearms in general.
If you carry your gun on your belt or inside the waistband you need a good belt to support the load. Weak belts cause the gun to move and flop around more. They make concealed carry less concealed and less comfortable. Most holster manufacturers also make gun belts. These belts are reinforced with extra material where the gun is carried. It’s worth your money to buy a good quality gun belt if you are going to be carrying your gun regularly.
If you are carrying a gun, you should also be carrying spare ammunition. For revolver users, that means speedloaders or speed strips. For people who carry autoloaders, you need extra magazines and magazine carriers.
One of the first places you should look for accessories is www.brownells.com. They have a limited selection of holsters, lots of gun parts like sights, grips, and magazines, along with speedloaders. You’ll get them cheaper at Brownells than you will find almost any other place.
Another great source for magazines and grips is www.cdnninvestments.com. They have the cheapest factory Glock and Smith and Wesson magazines I’ve found.
Buy yourself a spare magazine carrier. One I really like is made by Comp-Tac. It isn’t the most concealable mag carrier, but is inexpensive and durable. I also like the newer Raven Kari reverse cant mag carriers. They make concealment a bit easier, provide an easier draw for injured shoulders, and hel keep the butt of the magazine from poking you in the belly when you bend over.
The magazine carrier I find myself using the most is the Bawidaman horizontal Uber CC mag carrier. It is incredible comfortable and conceals very easily. It’s also quicker to access from underneath an untucked shirt.
Other good magazine pouches are made by:
Galco- – http://www.usgalco.com/
Raven Concealment- http://rcsgear.com/
I haven’t had good luck with any of the mag pouches from Fobus or Uncle Mikes that you will likely find at your local gun shop or big box sporting goods store..
If you carry a revolver and want to carry spare ammo without using bulky speedloaders, consider getting a speed strip. The original made is by Bianchi. They are sold in sets of two for .38 caliber only. I like the ones made by Tuff Products better. They are available in multiple calibers and hold 5-10 cartridges each.
There is my best advice. Undoubtedly I missed some great gear, but the stuff I listed has held up for me during vigorous daily use for many years. You won’t go wrong in using it. Feel free to pass this article along to any new shooter who may find it useful.