Buyers Guide to Concealed Carry Holsters

All holsters are not created equal.

The first rule of concealed carry is simple: carry your gun. And I don’t mean carrying when you feel like it, I mean carrying daily. Will there be times you want to carry in a non-permissive environment? Of course, so you’re going to need deeper concealment gun and holster combos from time to time. That means you need more than one holster – more than one handgun would be good, too – and you’d better be familiar with various carry methods.

Brief sidebar. As responsible gun owners, we carry to defend not only our lives but the lives of loved ones. If you aren’t training with your carry gun, you may not be up to the task when lives are at stake. Let’s be realistic: if you’re not training with your carry gun and holster it could be a fatal mistake. Why risk lives by blowing off training? Take the time to train like your life depends on it because it does. Training also helps you figure out if you’re using the right holster for the job. Gear matters.

Holsters are available in a wide range of materials and styles.

MATERIAL THINGS

There are a ton of different holster materials to choose from ranging from leather to Kydex to hybrids to nylon. What do you need to know before investing anywhere from twenty bucks to a couple of hundred dollars into what amounts to belt real estate for your handgun? Turns out there’s more than you might think to choosing a holster.

A lot of long-time gun owners prefer leather and they’re not wrong. Quality leather holsters tend to be more comfortable, a lot more durable, and nicely versatile. A good leather design should be molded to your gun, not simply sewn or glued into a vague gun-like shape. Retention is going to vary, so pay attention to your needs and what the holster you’re eyeing can do. When considering retention, remember this: one major pro of leather is it typically does not break or otherwise self-destruct during a fight for control of your firearm. During handgun retention and force-on-force work I’ve had Kydex holsters torqued and snapped right off my hip (yes, it hurts). Then again, I’ve also snatched handguns away from guys who far outweigh me thanks to sloppily-shaped leather holsters. All holsters are not created equally, regardless of material, manufacturer, or marketing strategies.

Kydex is the current hotness of the gun world thanks to how it can be shaped. Add in the fact it has serious longevity capabilities and can take a lot of damage – usually – and it’s easy to see why it has quite the following in the gun world. Good Kydex not only covers the trigger guard but firmly secures the slide and frame. One of the coolest things about it is how precisely it can be molded to any gun and whatever lights, lasers, or sights you throw on. The downside? Well, Kydex can and will break, usually at the most inopportune times. There’s a collection of fatally damaged Kydex holsters in my house but at least I find out what will and will not work.

Nylon can be a hard one to say anything nice about. Buying a soft, formless holster-that’s-really-a-sleeve because it’s super comfy and dirt cheap is a mistake most new gun owners make early on. The real question is, do you learn from your mistakes and convert to well-made holsters or keep on using formless pockets-for-guns? It’s true, there are a few different types of soft holsters but when you get right down to it, soft is…soft. Some have clips; some are billed as somehow sticking in position. Some are thick; some are paper-thin and flimsy. Does nylon ever work? Yes, but not for safe concealed carry (I have a couple of stiff nylon scabbards for hunting, though). Do you really want to shove a handgun wrapped in your pants? Probably not.

Hybrids seem to be either loved or totally despised. Typical hybrids have leather backs and Kydex faces held in place with pins or screws. Before going straight for this type of holster you’d better be familiar with its pros and cons. Sure, hybrids can be comfortable and offer good retention. But a kind of big strike in the negative column is how fast they can crack or otherwise fail rather dramatically. If you’re going to use a hybrid holster make sure it’s high-quality and take the time to pay close attention to wear because it’s going to wear out, possibly faster than you think.

It’s true. Belt lives matter.

Sidebar on belts: they matter. That floppy nylon belt from Walmart and the super-narrow leather dress belt from wherever aren’t made to hold up the weight of a holstered gun and spare mag. Don’t make the mistake of wearing a lousy belt. A lot of supposed problems with holsters can be fixed by using a good belt (and vice versa). Best case scenario, a lousy belt is uncomfortable and annoying; the worst-case scenario, it’s dangerous.

OWB carry.

THE HOW-TO

OWB (Outside the Waistband)

OWB is often thought of as the realm of open carry (OC), but it isn’t. Carrying with a holster on the outside of your waistband rather than the inside means you need a cover garment for concealment. It does not mean you’re automatically OCing.

Concealing your OWB holster is done by grabbing a cover garment. I favor loose sweatshirts and hoodies but baggy t-shirts work, too. One thing. Please do the gun world a favor and don’t go around wearing a “shoot me first” vest. You know the ones. They’re usually – but not always – khaki and have a bunch of pockets. Shoot-me-first vests are the cargo pants of the vest world. Good vests to wear off the range don’t look tactical, they’re just plain fleece.

IWB (Inside the Waistband)

IWB allows for tons of variety. It would take more space than we have here to discuss every carry location on your body, so let’s keep it brief. IWB is ideal for concealed carry because…it’s concealed. There are some small drawbacks to IWB like the possible need to change up your wardrobe so you can fit an object in your waistband. It seems like this affects women more, probably because our pants are form-fitting, frequently making it impossible to add a few inches of a gun without moving up in size.

Well-made IWB holsters don’t print – meaning there won’t be a stark outline of the gun through your clothing – and they’re comfortable. Yes, really. IWB usually holds your gun higher on your waist than OWB. As with any and all holsters, choose an IWB design that delivers good retention and protects the trigger guard.

AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband)

Yes, this is IWB but with a twist: it’s carried appendix. Carrying AIWB means you’re holstering your gun around the 1 o’clock position. Thanks to its pelvic placement this method draws either abject horror or worship from gun owners; there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Many years ago AIWB was first championed by the late instructor Todd Green and now it’s promoted by well-known gun guys like Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment and John Correia of Active Self Protection. Do I carry AIWB? Yes. Yes, I do. Don’t diss it until you’re familiar with how it works, why it works, and how it can be done safely. If you still hate it, fine, but try not to outright condemn it.

Galco Gunleather Corvus

Galco Gunleather Corvus

The Galco Gunleather Corvus is one of those designs that’s so awesome I have it on hand for multiple gun models. It’s one of the company’s Kydex designs and all of mine have held steady through extensive use. The Corvus is adjustable for cant and ride-height – nice features to have rather than hoping it just works in one spot for everyone out there – and it’s forward-molded. Features include a raised sweat guard and being cut low enough to work with a bunch of different carry-style optics and suppressor-height sights (red dots on carry guns are definitely A Thing right now). It ships with 1-1/2-inch and 1-3/4-inch belt slots so you can choose the fit you need and also has the hardware for IWB or OWB use. Carrier’s choice. Many Kydex holsters don’t sit close to your body but this one does, and it rocks. As expected, Galco did stellar work with the Corvus.

PHLster Classic Glock Holster

PHLster Glock Classic Holster

This is a fantastic AIWB holster and the model that made me love the PHLster line. The PHLster Glock Classic Holster is a carefully-designed, well-thought-out holster thermoformed from Kydex. It’s made as a minimalist holster for those among us who favor AIWB carry and because of that, it has a unique feature: a teardrop-shaped raised area where the holster touches your body. The teardrop alters the gun’s angle so it’s more pelvis-friendly and also improves concealment. This holster also has a grip-tucking wing strut and its shape facilitates movement so it moves better with your body (unlike many holsters). The PHLster Glock Classic Holster has a single belt loop and positive lockup. Don’t believe it’s excellent? I’ve done yoga inversions and arm balances wearing this holster and my gun hasn’t budged. If you’re wondering how yoga applies to your life, stop and consider the myriad ways your body is going to contort during an assault. You definitely need a holster made to stay put and hold your gun securely.

Crossbreed SuperTuck

CrossBreed SuperTuck

The CrossBreed SuperTuck is an IWB-style hybrid holster. This is another holster I’ve used at length with solid success. It has a leather backer with two metal belt clips, so if you don’t like messing with belt loops that’s a win for you, and its Kydex face is screwed firmly in place. There’s a sweat guard to save your gun from sweat and it’s an extremely comfortable holster. Perhaps best of all the SuperTuck can be worn with or without your shirt actually being tucked in. And yes, it’s adjustable: the belt clips are powder-coated, modular, and adjustable for cant and ride height. The backer on this holster is pretty big so it might take time to get used to it but the retention it provides is worth it. If you want a hybrid holster, CrossBreed is the manufacturer to check out first.

Blade-Tech Total Eclipse

Blade-Tech Total Eclipse

The Blade-Tech Total Eclipse is an OWB Kydex holster. It’s precision-molded so the Kydex is shaped carefully to your gun, meaning it retains well, and it’s versatile. The Total Eclipse has an adjustable cant and it’s made for ambidextrous wear. For comfort’s sake and concealment, the edges of the holster are round instead of being squared-off; that means a reduced profile and less risk of snagging, too. If you don’t want an OWB holster but like the look of this holster there’s good news: there’s an IWB conversion kit. The original OWB model has a pair of durable Kydex belt loops and a curved design for a closer fit over your hip. This holster stays in place, retains well, and doesn’t put unnecessary wear on your gun. Oh, and Blade-Tech makes it for everything from 1911s to Glocks and everything in between. It also fully covers your gun’s trigger guard and is open over the muzzle.

Galco Gunleather Silhouette High Ride Holster

Galco Gunleather Silhouette High Ride Holster

The Galco Gunleather Silhouette High Ride Holster is a beautifully-executed leather holster made from premium cowhide. For security beyond its molded shape there’s a retention strap and a reinforced thumb break. A snap closure holds the strap closed. The Silhouette High Ride has two 1-3/4-inch belt loops cut directly into the leather and it has a butt-forward cant (so be aware of that before you buy). This holster is forward-molded to more closely fit the shape of your hip. It’s also made to be super-durable which is a big plus. The holster’s mouth is stiffly reinforced to stay open after you draw which, in turn, facilitates safer re-holstering, and the holster itself doesn’t slip or move around, either. This is the perfect match for the Korth-Nighthawk Mongoose but it rocks for a bunch of other guns, too. As with any holsters that have thumb breaks you need to spend time training with the snap secured. Don’t fumble your way through drawing at the worst possible time. Train now.

Crossbreed Reckoning

CrossBreed Reckoning

The CrossBreed Reckoning is, of course, a hybrid. It’s the company’s solution to safe, secure AIWB carry (it can be worn strong-side IWB and cross-draw, too). Thanks to Crossbreed’s abundance of hardware conversions the Reckoning can also be worn OWB. Basically, it’s an AIWB holster that’s friendly to all carry preferences. It has the expected leather backer – with a relatively small footprint – a precision-molded Kydex holster, and a pair of sturdy metal belt clips to attach it to your belt. Clips can be nice because they mean you don’t have to mess with your belt excessively to get the holster on and off. The Reckoning allows for quite a few retention adjustments by tightening various screws and there’s a retention device located under the trigger guard. Speaking of the trigger guard, it’s totally covered and retention is great. This is yet another holster I’ve executed inversions, arm balances, you name it in with no problems whatsoever. The gun stays exactly where you put it. Bonus points to Crossbreed because the Reckoning has an attachable mag carrier that comes in handy (yes, you should be carrying a spare mag).

Learn to carry more than one way with different holsters.

Decisions, Decisions

You’re going to end up with more than one holster. Most gun owners are the proud owners of large boxes of cast-off holsters we might one day find a use for (maybe we’re all hoarders). Finding a good holster takes time. Don’t assume you can’t carry a certain way just because one or two holsters didn’t make it possible. Keep trying. And remember, your belt is vital to the holster’s success, so don’t skimp on good gun belts. Choose wisely, be patient, and please, train with your carry gun and holster.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Andrew Ling February 11, 2020, 8:45 am

    I am like most you seasoned CCW holders. I have at least 3 different ways of carrying concealed.
    The CCW carry largely depends on what I will be doing and where I will be going. I only carry concealed unless of course I am at the range on on a hunt. We have to learn to be totally comfortable with our firearms and the way we carry them. No matter what, one should always know that the firearm is there and ready. Never leave home without them. Defend what is ours.

  • russ February 10, 2020, 4:32 pm

    I tried a lot of holsters and they all ended up in the box in my closet till I hit on Bitterroot Gun Leather……the man is a true artist and gentleman

  • Will Drider February 10, 2020, 2:04 pm

    Several different materials listed but no mention of cleaning and treatments needed for upkeep! Most folks have hot summers and others have summer almost all year long. This means Sweat, salt and humidity a major issue for holsters and when fouled by the environment: it not only wraps your gun, it allows the nastiness to get ” into” the gun. So there’s a maintenance requirement on the holster and the gun. Anybody want to put a gun in a wet/damp holster? Drying time for leather can be several days as you must consider more then the surface. Use leather: you better have a backup holster!

  • The Bearded Pretender February 10, 2020, 12:31 pm

    I see you covered a bunch of junk holsters but not one mention of a maker that has been doing it for over 50 years and has set a standard for all these junk holsters to live up too. (and copy many times)
    Milt Sparks.
    Get a Sparks and get your last holster 1st.
    You only run the problem of getting more Sparks holsters at that point.
    I have IWB Sparks holsters that are 25 years old here in the Arizona heat and sweat that are still better than most new holsters.
    They hold up that well.

  • Bill hitt February 10, 2020, 8:37 am

    What about paddle holsters? I want to go from pocket carry to paddle holster carry when I’m driving a car, for access.in case of a car jacking!

    • SuperG February 10, 2020, 10:27 am

      I had this same problem/worry. So I took a “gun” magnet and mounted it under the dash, and put my LCP on it. Can’t see it looking in from any angle.

  • Michael February 10, 2020, 7:47 am

    Thank you for providing such an informative article. I like the various examples that you have provided, as well as, touching on the need for using a good quality belt. Many times quality goes hand-in-glove with premium prices, however, good sturdy belts can be found in the sub-30 dollar range. I have a Dickies work belt that is very good at carrying a full-sized pistol, along with a Buck 110 knife (quite weighty), with no sag whatsoever.

  • Mark Adcock February 10, 2020, 5:18 am

    You covered OWB, IWB and AIWB carry. What about Shoulder Carry. What is a good Shoulder Carry Holster?

    • RSConsulting February 10, 2020, 9:04 am

      I run a Galco “Miami Classic” (patterned after the Sonny Crockett/Miami Vice rig). I actually look forward to cold weather here in SoFla (or getting dressed up) so I can wear this rig.

      I’ve gone back to “old school”, and carry 1911’s. It does very nicely with a heavy metal gun. I DO use the “tie downs (that attach to the belt) as it stabilizes the rig to allow one-handed draw (and adds the benefit of acting like suspenders – LOL).

      Also – as noted in the article – A GOOD BELT IS A MUST. I wear 5-11 Tactical’s 1.75” Trainer. Keeps my pants up with all the crap I carry on my belt (1911, spare mag, flashlight), holds my OWB holsters stiffly so they don’t wobble around.

      I carried IWB for decades, and switched to OWB. Got tired of my guns rubbing against my belly/hip – and tired of them getting rusty from body sweat.

      YMMV…

      Rick

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