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Best Concealed Carry Holsters

Best Concealed Carry Holsters

With more US states and jurisdictions permitting legal concealed carry of firearms, there has been an explosion in sales of CCW style handguns (concealed carry weapon) over the past few years. But having a suitable firearm and the legal right to carry it are just part of the equation. You also need a good holster that makes it convenient, comfortable, and safe to carry your gun… otherwise, you simply won’t carry it.

Let’s go over some basics on what makes a good CCW holster, what different types of holsters are available, and some factors to consider when choosing the best-concealed carry holster for you in your situation.

What makes a good holster?

In the most simple terms, an ideal concealed carry holster will perform two primary functions. First, it should keep your gun concealed, secure, and ready for rapid access if needed. Second, it should minimize the discomfort and inconvenience of carrying a gun, so that you actually carry it every day. After all, if you’re out and about, your CCW firearm doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in your safe at home.

This may sound relatively simple, but anyone who has spent some time wearing a few holsters will tell you that there are a lot of nuances and personal preferences that come into play. This is why there are so many different types, styles, materials, and manufacturers of concealed carry holsters… and why most “gun people” have a “holster drawer” full of old, unused holsters that they just didn’t like.

It’s likely that the first CCW holster you buy might not be the last you buy. There are so many variations in body type, tolerance to discomfort, skin allergies, styles of dress, and desired firearm and method of carry that it’s literally impossible to tell someone what is the best for them. But we can provide some options and info to consider, so you can hopefully make a solid choice and minimize spending over and over trying to find a suitable holster.

Different types of holsters

In order for you to determine what type of holster might be the best for you, we’ll need to go over the main types or designs of holsters. Here are the main categories today along with some of our favorite examples:

OWB (outside the waistband)

OWB holsters are the “traditional” option, where the holster body rides outside your pants on your beltline, usually on your “dominant side” between the 2-o’clock and 5-o’clock position for right-handers. (If you view your body from above, with the front of your belt at the 12 o’clock position, 3 o’clock will be the rightmost point of the “clock.”) OWB holsters are usually either secured by threading your belt through built-in slots or loops on the holster, or by inserting an integral holster “paddle” between your body and your outer garment/belt. OWB holsters generally are easier to draw from than other types but are more difficult to conceal, as they require a cover garment like a jacket, vest, or untucked shirt. The Milt Sparks 55BN is an example of an excellent leather OWB holster.

Milt Sparks 55BN photo credit Milt Sparks Holsters

IWB (inside the waistband)

IWB holsters became very popular in the latter half of the 20th century for CCW purposes. In this design, the holster rides between your outer garment and your body, and is typically secured to a belt with loops or clips. Some IWB holsters are “tuckable,” meaning you can tuck your shirt or cover garment between the holster and the belt clip for enhanced concealment. IWB holsters are typically worn in the same position on the belt as OWB holsters, with the exception of “appendix” holsters mentioned below. IWB holsters are generally easier to conceal than OWB types, but reholstering safely can be an issue, and sometimes access to the gun can be slower. The DeSantis Sof-Tuk is an example of an affordable, tuckable IWB holster.

DeSantis Sof-Tuk photo credit DeSantis Holsters

AIWB (appendix inside the waistband)

LAS Concealment Ronin appendix holster photo credit LAS ConcealmentAIWB carry has become extremely popular with CCW permit holders over the past few years. “Appendix” carry means the holster is positioned much further forward than a typical IWB holster, at around 1 o’clock (near the person’s appendix, hence the name) or even 12 o’clock position on the belt. Advocates prefer the comfort and enhanced concealability, as well as the rapid access to the gun, holster, and any included spare magazine pouches with both hands. With practice, drawing from a good AIWB rig can be extremely fast. The primary downside of AIWB carry is the potential danger of an unintended discharge into your groin or femoral artery if you don’t reholster slowly and carefully each time and ensure nothing enters the trigger guard. Here’s a good video covering the issues. A firearm with a manual safety or safety/decocker can be a partial solution here. The LAS Concealment Ronin is an excellent example of an AIWB holster/mag pouch rig.

Shoulder holster rigs

Popularized by Miami Vice and lots of cops-and-robbers movies of the 1970s and 80s, shoulder holsters might seem like a good idea but almost nobody uses them for everyday concealed carry today. They are complicated to use, uncomfortable, require the use of a jacket or similar overgarment, are difficult to draw from/reholster, and good ones are pretty expensive. You can certainly try one, but we’re betting that the tradeoffs will discourage you from making this type of CCW rig your primary one. A popular example of a shoulder rig is the Galco Miami Classic.

Galco Miami Classic shoulder holster photo credit Galco

Pocket holsters

Vedder Pocket Locker photo credit Vedder HolstersPocket holsters are intended to be used inside a, you guessed it, pocket. Some people wonder why you would need a holster for a handgun carried in a pocket, but there are several important reasons. First, it’s safer to carry a loaded handgun when its trigger is protected by a proper holster. Second, the holster helps keep lint and debris out of your handgun’s action. Third, the holster can help break up the outline of a gun in your pocket for enhanced concealment. Fourth, the holster can help keep the gun properly oriented in your pocket for a faster and safer draw. Pocket holsters are made of nearly any material including leather, kydex, nylon, or other synthetics. Better pocket holsters have “hooks” integrated into the design to keep the holster in your pocket as you draw. Some have “grippy” material on the outside to help retain the holster in your pocket as well. Vedder’s Pocket Locker is a good example of a kydex pocket holster.

Deep concealment holsters

This category of unconventional CCW holsters is broad, and includes lots of gimmicks and frankly bad ideas, along with some possibly effective and useful holsters. Basically what we would call “deep concealment” holsters include things like ankle holsters, belly bands, bra holsters (yep, that’s a thing), fanny pack holsters, and concealed carry vests or jackets with purpose-built, snapped or velcro pouches intended specifically for concealing a firearm. There are always compromises when choosing these methods of carry, but they might be appropriate for you in some situations. BravoBelt makes various types of “belly band” holsters.

BravoBelt Belly Band holster photo credit BravoBelt

Off-the-body carry holsters and methods

Most experts recommend against “off the-body carry,” which means your firearm isn’t actually carried on your person, but rather in a bag, purse, briefcase, backpack, or similar. Ease of theft, possible loss of direct control over a loaded firearm due to forgetfulness, and slow access to the gun are just three of the downsides. But some people choose to carry this way, and there are purpose-built concealed carry handbags for women. Gun Tote’n Mamas makes several variants.

Gun Tote'n Mamas Town Tote Handbag photo credit GunHandbags

In addition to those mentioned above, here are some of our favorite holster makers for you to consider:

Pros and cons of different holster materials

Today, CCW holsters are typically constructed of one or more of the following: Leather, Kydex, injected molded polymer, or any of various synthetic fabrics such as nylon. Let’s examine the benefits and downsides of each material.

Pros of leather: Leather is classy, durable, and feels good against the skin. It also typically causes less wear on your gun than some other options. Many shooters prefer the drawstroke/release afforded by leather holsters. A well-fitting leather holster can be quite comfortable while providing sufficient gun retention for normal everyday use.

Cons of leather: Poor-quality leather can bleed color into your clothing or cause skin irritation, or even be corrosive to the finish of your firearm. If the leather gets wet, it can change shape permanently. When worn against the skin in hot/humid locales or during vigorous activity, leather can absorb sweat, oils, and bacteria, and can become smelly or even moldy. If dirt or metal particles become embedded into the leather interior of your holster, they can be almost impossible to remove and can cause abrasive damage to your firearm’s finish. Some leather holsters’ top openings collapse when the gun is drawn and don’t allow you to safely reholster your firearm without taking off the holster first. A good leather holster requires a knowledgeable holster maker and can be quite expensive.

Pros of Kydex: True Kydex is exceptionally durable and easy to work with. It’s also very light, thin, waterproof, holds its shape extremely well, retains the gun well, generally allows safe reholstering, and is slippery against clothing so it conceals well. Because it’s easy to work with, there are a lot of Kydex holster makers and even custom builds can be pretty inexpensive.

Cons of Kydex: Some people don’t like the “plastic” or “cold” feeling of Kydex. Kydex typically wears the finish of your firearm more compared to softer cloth or leather. If it’s flexed repeatedly, it can crack. It used to be pretty inexpensive, but good Kydex holster makers are asking more for their products today due to demand. And because it’s easy to work with, there are a lot of Kydex holster makers, as mentioned above. But this means many of them don’t really know what it takes to make a good, comfortable, functional holster, so you need to be wary of poorly designed or poorly made products in this market.

Pros of injected-molded (or 3-D printed) polymer: First, it’s generally cheap. You can find perfectly functional OWB-injected molded holsters for like 12 bucks. This type of holster is usually pretty durable, and if something breaks, you’re not out a lot of money.

Cons of injected molded polymer: The material needs to be thicker than Kydex in order to provide similar strength, retention, and durability, so holsters may be bulkier. Plastic against the skin bothers some people. Depending on the quality of the mold and the variances in your particular gun, the fit of the firearm to the holster and the retention can be a little “iffy” and it’s difficult to remedy.

Pros of nylon or fabric holsters: Nylon/fabric belt holsters are usually quite inexpensive. One “pouch” type holster might serve for multiple guns of a similar size. Elastic-type fabric holsters can allow concealed carry while wearing very light, athletic clothing, and can be very comfortable for some people.

Cons of nylon or fabric holsters: A pouch-type holster that fits a lot of guns “okay” doesn’t really fit a single gun well. Retention may be an issue. Nylon against the skin is an irritant for many people. The elastic properties of the “active wear CCW” type holsters wear out over time, and either the entire fabric loop can become ineffective/uncomfortable, or the actual gun pouch/retention itself can become stretched and allow the gun to fall out.

Which holster is the most comfortable to wear?

Different levels of tolerance, sexes, body types, skin sensitivities, modes of dress, and other variables will determine which holster is the most comfortable for a particular person. There are some tips that can improve the experience overall, however.

A good gun belt is a must if you want to maximize comfort when carrying OWB, IWB, or AIWB. A regular cloth or leather belt simply isn’t rigid enough torsionally to provide the necessary support and weight distribution for a CCW rig. If you don’t believe it, try it. There’s a reason why nearly every holster maker recommends using a belt specifically designed for supporting a gun and holster.

Another thing that can help a lot when carrying IWB or AIWB is a smooth, snug-fitting undergarment like Under Armour or similar. This can reduce abrasion against the skin, absorb moisture, and ease the clearing of the cover garment upon drawing the gun.

If you don’t wear an undergarment near your holster, some holster designs place a sheepskin, leather, or synthetic material against the skin, and depending on your skin type and allergies, these can be very comfortable. The Crossbreed Supertuck is a popular IWB design of this type.

Belly bands might be comfortable for you, but some people don’t like the feeling of the elastic nylon material against their skin all day. Consider what it would be like wearing an ace bandage wrapped around your torso day in and day out. Not ideal. However, the aforementioned Under Armour or similar garment worn below the belly band can help alleviate some discomfort.

As we mentioned above, many people are transitioning to the appendix IWB method of carry, particularly slimmer people and/or people who are on their feet a lot of the time. If you buy your pants a size or two larger than you typically do (to allow the extra room for the holster) you can carry even full-size service pistols in surprising comfort–if you tailor your holster purchase to your needs. Here’s an excellent video covering the pros, cons, and details of a top-tier AIWB rig.

Generally, the lighter and smaller the gun, the easier it will be to carry all day. However, this also means the gun will be harder and potentially more painful to shoot when practicing and if you ever need to use it to defend your life. You will need to determine what compromises you’re willing to make here.

Benefits of a good gun holster

Let’s go over some of the primary benefits of a good CCW holster.

Protects the gun itself

A good holster will help protect the firearm’s finish and mechanisms from wear and damage and keep lint, dust, and debris out of the action. It won’t accelerate rust or corrosion or retain excess moisture.

Enhances safety

A good CCW holster will provide a good balance of firearm retention (so it doesn’t fall out as you move around) and ease of draw (so the gun comes out smoothly when you intentionally remove it when needed). Additionally, a well-designed holster will conform to the shape and curves of your firearm, including any safety mechanisms, and help prevent them from disengaging as you move, bend, etc. Of course, any holster intended for CCW should also absolutely prevent the trigger from being moved while the gun is holstered.

Enables a rapid draw stroke

Of course, the point of carrying a firearm for defense is to enable you to defend your life (or others) from lethal threats. If you can’t access and present your gun in an efficient, smooth, and rapid manner, it’s not going to do you much good. Your holster choice should allow quick and safe drawing of your firearm, and you should practice regularly.

Provides effective concealment

Concealed means concealed, and in some jurisdictions, you can be fined or prosecuted for allowing your CCW firearm to be exposed to the general public. A good CCW holster will be designed to maximize concealment, minimize “printing” during typical movement, and keep your firearm hidden until you need it.

Comfortably supports the weight of the gun and any spare ammunition

A good holster (and belt/support method) will help reduce fatigue and irritation by properly supporting the firearm and any spare mags or speedloaders you choose to carry, and won’t abrade your skin if it contacts it. This can make a huge difference in your decision to wear your gun every day. You could even argue that a good, comfortable CCW holster is almost more important than the gun since an uncomfortable method of carrying will have you leaving your handgun at home more often than not.

Keep your CCW handgun and holster secure in a Liberty Safe

Whatever holster or carry rig you choose, make sure to keep all your firearms securely locked up when not in use. The best way is with one of Liberty’s home safes or handgun vaults. Check them out online, or see a dealer near you.


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