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For most of us, getting into the world of concealed carry can be scary on many levels. With every step being important and with your life on the line.
I get it, I’ve been there. With hundreds of holsters in the world, this step might be the most overwhelming — but I’ll make it easier for you.
From pocket holsters to AIWB to everything else, we’ve here at Sniper Country have reviewed the best of them all!
Before We Get Complicated…
There is a LOT to talk about when it comes to the world of holsters. With so many people carrying so many different guns for so long, there is a lot of innovation and new designs that have come and gone in the last 50 years.
If it seems overwhelming, don’t worry about it. Skip to the recommendations and pick what sounds good to you.
Will it be perfect? Maybe, maybe not. But it will give you a starting point. Use it, learn what you like and dislike, then come back and look at other options to see what solves the things you dislike about your current holster.
Holsters take some trial and error for new shooters and especially people new to carrying.
Almost all of us end up with at least a shoebox full of holsters we’ll never use again.
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This is a term you will hear used a lot in relation to how a holster retains the gun it carries. It could range from just friction fit to two or three levers, straps, etc. that you have to disable in order to draw the gun.
Why does retention matter? Because losing your gun is a bad thing. If you can’t bend over without it falling out, that is a major problem.
There are two basic types of retention:
Passive, where the gun is held mainly by friction, and all the wearer has to do in order to draw the gun is to pull it out of the holster.
Active, where there is some feature that has to be manipulated or disabled in order to draw the gun.
For concealed carry, by far the most common holster retention type is a level 1 friction fit. Nothing actually stops your gun from coming out, it’s just strongly encouraged to stay put because of the friction and fit between the gun and the holster.
Level two holsters are often seen if you carry outside the waistband. These have a paddle or lever that actively locks the holster in place or has a strap that clips over top to keep the gun in the holster.
There are lots of ways to carry a gun, here are the basics:
- Belt Carry â Inside the Waistband
- Belt Carry – Inside the Waistband, Appendix
- Belt Carry â Outside the Waistband
- Ankle Holster
- Shoulder Holster
- Pocket Holster
- Belly Band
What works best for you depends on the type of gun, your body shape, what you like to wear, and the balance of concealed Vs. easy to draw that you want.
We’ll go into details in a moment…
Pros & Cons Of Each Type Of Holster
Belt Carry: Inside The Waistband
This holster usually features one or sometimes two clips that fit over your belt with the holster body itself hidden between your pants waistband and your skin or undershirt.
It is a very good way to hide the fact that you are carrying a gun, given the right gun and holster combination.
The main advantage of an IWB holster is that it doesnât take a large coat or jacket to conceal it. The holster is like an iceberg â most of the gun is âbelow the surfaceâ of your beltline and hidden, so a button-down shirt or large T-shirt can be all thatâs needed to hide the gun.
Belt Carry: Inside The Waistband, Appendix
The same idea as a normal IWB holster, IWBA is always carried so to cover your appendix.
IWBA is a great method of carrying and gives you a lot of options for your draw. Being central to your core, it’s fairly easy for both strong and weak side draws.
It also makes sitting easier and comfier as you don’t have anything handing off the side of your body.
The downsides are that you need a specific body type and you’re aiming a loaded gun at your family jewels. That second part can be highly disconcerting for many people.
Belt Carry: Outside The Waistband
The OWB holster has a lot going for it. The gun is exposed, with the full grip ready for your hand. If you are wearing a larger cover garment such as a big hoodie, jacket, coat, etc., then an OWB holster may work for you.
People who live in colder climates tend to wear this holster more than those who live in more temperate zones as a cover garment can be worn all year (in some locales).
Where I live, in the Midwest, I could utilize an OWB holster for about four months out of the year.
Downsides include it being harder to conceal, thus needing an outer layer. It can also leave your weapon more exposed to accidents like falling out. This can be solved by using a higher level of retention, but can also make your draw a bit harder to perform.
An ankle holster is a specialized tool for a specialized job.
These holsters strap to your weak-side ankle by the use of some sort of strap. New designs tend to use Velcro or other fastening agents, while some are made of strapless elastic that pulls on like a sock and are held in place by friction.
Some of the more expensive ones will have a garter-style upper strap that âlocksâ the holster in place, not allowing slippage. These holsters tend to be made for small backup-type guns and are sometimes carried in that role â backup.
They usually are not employed to carry the primary CC gun (unless youâre going someplace where fashion dictates the use of an ankle holster).
Due to how unnatural a draw is required to even get to an ankle holster, we don’t recommend this unless there is no other option.
Having fallen out of favor in the last 10 or so years, shoulder holsters are a classic option that still works if you want them to. If you’ve ever wanted to get the perfect Dirty Harry or James Bond look, a shoulder holster is where it’s at.
They are super comfy, easy to wear, and place your weapon in an easy-to-draw place.
But… it comes with a lot of negatives. First, shoulder holsters are expensive. $200+ is normal.
Second, they are actually harder to hide than most people think.
The classic look of using a suit jacket works well if you have a jacket that is cut for it. With the “slim” cut being far more popular these days, it’s hard to hide a gun in it.
They come in two basic styles â either a vertical or a horizontal draw. The vertical draw (Dirty Harry) carries the gun muzzle down and is favored for longer-barreled hunting revolvers, as it keeps the barrel out of the way by its muzzle pointing down.
The draw is usually accomplished by unsnapping the safety strap (if present) and pulling the gun down and out through the open front of the holster.
The horizontal position (James Bond, normally. Some iterations of Bond have him using a vertical holster) is usually used for short-barreled guns, usually semiautos but not always. The holstered gunsâ barrel is parallel to the floor with the muzzle pointing to the rear.
To draw, simply unsnap (again, if it has a safety strap) and pull the gun straight forward. Both have their uses, with the horizontal one being used more for the smaller semiautos that tend to get carried for protection.
The problem with a horizontal shoulder holster is safety. It’s difficult to draw your gun without flagging yourself and a 180-degree arc around you. It’s also not unheard of for people to ND with the gun in the holster during the draw, either from stress or lack of training.
A pocket holster is a great way to have a gun with you without a lot of preparation and bother… just stick the gun in the holster, then in the pocket.
If you want to pocket carry, just make sure you do two things:
First, use a holster. Donât just stick the gun by itself in your pocket. The holster does two things â it covers the trigger and orients the gun with the grip up for an easy draw.
Second, donât carry anything else in the pocket that carries the gun. There should be no change, pens, etc. In that pocket that could get stuck in the holster and possibly cause an unintentional discharge by getting trapped against the trigger. Keep the pocket reserved for only the gun.
This ties into the main two downsides of a pocket holster — you lose one of your pockets, and you’re committed to only the sub-compacts when it comes to gun size.
Belly Band Holster
The belly band (so-named because it is a wrap-around band made of a synthetic material that fastens around your mid-section, under your shirt) is one of the most concealable ways of carrying a gun.
I think some writers have this type of holster in mind when they talk about âdeep concealment.â With the band under your shirt (unless your body shape is not conducive to such a rig), hardly anyone can spot the gun you are packing.
These types of holsters have grown in popularity over the years, especially for women. Due to things I’ve never had to deal with like hips and a lack of good belts, belly bands are a solid option that many women choose.
I strongly recommend this method over anything off-body like a purse.
Best IWB Holsters
This holster is a perfect fit for me. Even though I have a âMichelin-round-my-middle” body style, this holster slides onto and off my belt easily and the clip is securely fastened.
It is one of the easier IWB holsters Iâve used to put on and take off my belt. It fits my Taurus G2C like the proverbial glove. The wide belt clip holds securely to my belt from the inside and keeps the holster in position.
I have no problem tilting the holster a bit, grip-forward, without adjusting anything.
The craftsmanship is excellent, with all surfaces and edges polished to a high luster. There are no rough spots. As you look at the photos, notice the wide clip.
I prefer a wider clip on my IWB holsters â theyâre just easier for me to manipulate with my arthritic-prone hands, plus they hold the holster in place very well.
Thereâs nothing wrong with a narrower clip (as is mounted on the holster described below), but I like a wide one.
Another feature about both Concealment Express holsters that I like is that they both give you an adjustable retention screw.
This is nothing really new, or rare â it’s just that some makers of lesser-expensive holsters omit this valuable feature.
If youâve had the holster a while and find that itâs not holding like it used to, simply tighten the screw.
On the other hand, if it takes two men and a boy to pull your gun out of the holster, loosen it a bit. You have control here.
Dara is a pretty large name in the holster world and has a huge line of great options.
Their MTO (Made To Order) AIWB holster is one of their best. Pick the kind you need based on your gun and click order, it’s that easy.
Normally, a custom holster takes forever to ship. Not with Dara. These ship in 2 days or less!
A lifetime warranty, simple construction that includes hardware for both the belt clip and the “claw”. This is an affordable, high quality, and just a solid option.
What is the “Claw”, you might have asked. The Claw is a little arm that comes off of the holster and braces against the inside of your belt. This helps keep the holster in a better orientation and helps to flatten the holster so it doesn’t print.
Not for the faint of heart, the PHLster Floodlight is a strange beast but also one of the most useful if you have multiple firearms.
While most holsters are built for an exact model of gun, the PHLster Floodlight is a universal design that fits most compact and full-sized guns. That is, as long as they have 1 of 3 weapon-mounted lights on them.
Instead of locking on to the slide or trigger guard like most holsters, the Floodlight is designed to friction lock onto the mounted light instead.
This makes it easy to change guns, but also requires that you have the right kind of light.
My editor has this one paired with a Modlite PLHv2-PL350. His Glock also has a Holosun green dot and Magpul magwell.
Is it a lot to fit in your pants? Yes. But it’s worth it.
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The Best OWB Holsters
I got one of their OWB BCA (Bravo Concealment Adaptive) holsters for a Glock 17 since that is a popular gun to carry OWB.
The phrase âBravo Concealment Adaptiveâ is only used with their OWB holsters and (as far as I can tell) means that the holster is molded in a slight curve so the belt âloopsâ will hold the gun closer to your body â see the photos.
This allows the belt loops to be spread further apart which helps hold the gun closer to your body. Nice.
One modification that immediately grabbed me on the web page that describes this gun is the availability of specialized belt clips, called âpaddle attachments.â. You replace the original belt loops with these. They make it a bit easier and quicker to put the holster on and to take off your belt, as allow the holster to function as a traditional paddle holster.
The holsterâs outside is a pleasing dark gray color, with a softer touch than plain Kydex. The inside of the holster is shiny black. It looks like they might have molded a separate protective film to the outside of the holster in order to help guard the holster against the elements and UV exposure.
Speaking of belt loops, you can move them in order to adjust the cant, or tilt, of the holster. I like a pretty pronounced forward cant with my holsters as that aids in hiding the gunâs grip.
Try as I might, I couldnât find anything to complain about with the Bravo Concealment holsters. They seem to be very well-designed, with sharp mold lines and no rough edges. You can tell that they are very finely finished and edge-buffed before theyâre shipped off.
Their Quality Control must be great. If you are looking for a good OWB Kydex holster thatâs adjustable, look at this one. Plus, you have the advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee…that says something about the company. I liked these holsters.
Safariland is a company that has made holsters for longer than I can remember, and I’ve been around for a long time at this point.
This company is known for its law enforcement holsters and also for the sheer variety of holsters it makes.
From leather to plastic, Safariland has it.
Safariland makes a zillion OWB holsters, so I had to narrow it down. I chose the 578 GLS for two reasons…first, it is a paddle holster (easy on, easy off) and second, it comes in a left-handed version.
I got one to fit a Springfield XDM .45, as I have a compact version of that gun. Alas, they donât make a âshortyâ holster for the 3.8-inch barrel of the compact, but they do make one for the 5-inch-plus barrel of the full-size gun.
The trigger guard is positively locked by the release lever – and, since itâs an OWB holster, I donât mind a little more holster than gun on my belt.
Worst case, I can always cut it down if I felt it was needed.
Level 2 Retention?
Not too many concealed carry holsters go to that level, as most makers consider friction and molded trigger guards enough to keep a gun in place.
This holster is definitely a candidate for concealed carry (especially in the winter, when coats cover the gun) and also for backyard or informal wear around my property.
Another use that I see for this holster is for those folks who want a definite âlockâ on the trigger guard.
Do I like the holster? Yup. Was I a bit leery of the single “hook” that catches your belt instead of a more standard ledge? Yup.
But…after wearing this thing and then trying to get it off, you just about need to remove your pants to get the hook loose. It’s the most secure paddle I’ve ever worn.
Best Ankle Holster
Why ankle holsters? Some people wear them regularly and like them a lot. With an ankle holster, you donât have to worry about your gun âprintingâ, as you wear it on your belt in some fashion.
Ankle holsters are a mixed bag and are generally not recommended for most people. Keeping your gun by your ankle is usually awkward and usually not great.
Having to get on one knee to draw puts you in a bad position if someone is trying to hurt you. The draw is also much slower because of the extra movement.
That said, if you spend most of your time sitting down, this can be comfy and easy. It also gives you better access than some carry positions. And lastly, it can be a good place for a second gun.
Best Shoulder Holster
The X-15 holster is something of a legend. I remember back in the early 1980s seeing this holster advertised in gun magazines and wishing I could afford one.
It is not inexpensive, but you do get what you pay for, Bianchi holsters are known for their quality and value for the dollar. Many police agencies use their duty holsters and have for many years, and their X-15 shoulder holster has been part of that collection.
When it comes to shoulder holsters, this is a Cadillac. Big, heavy, well made, and cannot be imitated.
You can also pack some big iron in it…
Why in the world would anybody in their right mind want to carry, concealed no less, an 8 3/8″-barreled S&W Model 629 .44 Magnum?
Well, I think the most common answer to that is “because you can”.
This holster makes it easy to hide a pretty large hand cannon. I see it more as a hunting holster, but I’m sure there are those out there who would carry this just to say they did.
Heaven forbid you’d ever have to use this in a defensive situation, but the look on the bad guy’s face would be priceless, I’m sure.
We’ve all seen the “Dirty Harry” movies, with Clint Eastwood’s character pulling a 6″ Model 29 from a similar holster from under his suit jacket. This just takes it a step further.
This holster will set you back a bit, but it’s completely worth it and incredibly well made. If for no other reason than for the craftsmanship, this holster kicks ass.
Best Pocket Holster
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. A bit of Kydex, a bit of leather, and some thread — and poof, here we are.
The Pocket Rocket is simple, well made, and protects your gun. That’s really all a pocket holster can or should do.
What makes Crossbreed any different from the hundreds of others? Well, the Kydex for starters.
Most pocket holsters are neoprene or leather. While these are fine, it doesn’t protect your gun as much as I would like.
It also makes reholstering harder.
The Kydex shell Crossbreed uses changes all of this. This is proper protection for your gun and makes getting your gun back into the holster much easier.
Best Belly Band Holster
One of the few brands that are making women-focused CCW gear and doing it well, Tactica Defense Fashion has some awesome options.
Their Belly Band Holster is extra nice because it positions the gun for the easiest draw possible. It’s also much more breathable and easier to wear.
Plus, they have all of their gear modeled on real people. No more rolling the dice when you buy something, with Tactica you get to see it on a real person first.
The only knock I have against them is the lack of mounted light options. If you run a stock firearm, you’ll be in luck. But if you have a white light or optic, it gets tricky.
If I was going to use a belly band, I would choose Crossbreed. Why? Well, it’s well made, it’s not a horrible price, it’s easy to use, it has tons of options for lights and lasers, and they use some Kydex in their design.
Many belly bands just have you make do with sticking your gun between a couple of pieces of elastic or cloth, but not Crossbreed.
Crossbreed gives you an actual holster to put your gun in. This piece of Kydex might seem minor, but it makes a big deal in how secure the gun is, and how easy it is to draw or reholster.
The downside of that is this is a less universal design than most belly bands.
Here you have it, our favorite holsters.
There are a lot more options out there and some of them are pretty great, but these are what we here at Sniper Country have found to work best and we love most after years of use.
Just remember that you might need to try multiple options to find that perfect fit. Once you do, you’ll know it!
Iâd like to hear about your experiences with CCW holsters or with any of the companies mentioned. Please feel free to leave a comment below.