So, you want to start carrying a gun, but want to know what the best concealed carry holsters are. That’s a good thing to wonder about, to be sure. Not enough concealed carriers give enough thought to the right holster.
Let’s start with the absolute basics. There are a lot of brands out there, so we won’t get too deep into that, but rather what you want to look for, basic designs and terminology, that sort of thing.
While talking about guns and bullets and shooting and so on is fun, a truth about concealed carry is your concealed carry holster, gun belt, clothing and how those things wear ON YOU matter more than the gun.
What should you look for in a concealed carry holster? There are a few key attributes that it must have.
It must be comfortable enough for you to wear for extended periods or else you won’t do so. It must be custom-molded for your make and model firearm,. It must provide a good fit of the pistol and adequate retention whilst carrying. The trigger guard should be fully covered.
Adjustable passive retention is very good to have, and you should have a belt clip that works with your belt and style of dress. The holster mouth should be designed so that reholstering can be done one-handed. On leather holsters, look for a reinforced mouth.
Belt clips come in a few varieties. Hard plastic or steel clips are quite common; some are slim and some are narrow. More minimalist concealed carry holster will usually have a single wide clip. Additionally, some holsters will have belt loops with snap enclosures instead.
The holster should be of sufficiently high quality to last a goodly amount of time. Now, lifetime of a holster depends on wear and tear, but a good few years if not a decade from any holster should be expected. It also helps if a holster has a lifetime warranty just in case, as such a warranty can keep you in a working CCW rig for many years to come.
Disclosure time: I work for Alien Gear Holsters. That, combined with my experience with our products makes me a little bit biased towards our products. Go ahead and rip me for it in the comments if you like, but I’m admitting it up front.
The standard for concealed carry holsters are inside the waistband designs, usually referred to shorthand as IWB holsters. You wear them (gasp) inside the waistband. The standard IWB will be worn somewhere between the hip and the wallet for most people; you’ll have to find where it sits best for you.
Materials and designs vary. There are streamlined sheaths of leather, thick nylon cloth or hard plastic with one or two clips on the top. The other popular format is the hybrid design, which features a holster base of leather or a multi-layer construction to which belt clips and a holster shell is attached. Said shell is usually made of a polymer such as Kydex (a brand name variety of PVC) Boltaron (same thing, just made by a different company) or injection-molded nylon.
I’ve used leather, Kydex holsters and hybrid holsters. In my experience, hard Kydex holsters are not the most comfortable but I appreciate how easily they go on and off and how durable they are. The hybrid design, in my opinion, tends to be more comfortable for carrying all day, so that’s what I prefer.
A related design is the appendix carry holster, which is an IWB holster of more minimal design worn on the front of the waistband, often close to the location of the human appendix. (The liver and intestines are there too, but “colon carry” has some rather unpleasant connotations.) Designs are similar (leather, hard polymer and hybrid designs) but are typically much more streamlined.
Your mileage will vary as to what type of IWB (standard, appendix, cross-draw) as well as material you prefer.
Since I do work there, Alien Gear Holsters specializes in hybrid holsters, with both appendix carry and traditional IWB holsters available. We have leather and modern multi-layer holster base designs in our Cloak Tuck series. The ShapeShift line includes more advanced, modular touches.
You can also use outside the waistband or OWB holsters for concealed carry, though holster selection and how you dress make a difference. For effective concealment, you need a holster that rides high on the belt and tight to the body.
The old leather pancake and Askins holster designs were preferred for many years for this purpose and are still very viable options. Kydex/plastic and hybrid designs of OWB exist as well.
Clothing will matter. Some folks find OWB concealed carry requires a jacket, others find an untucked shirt is enough. Some folks find a tall-size shirt can conceal a pistol worn outside the waistband. You have to experiment with it to find out for yourself.
Shoulder holsters, a niche item until James Bond movies and “Miami Vice” popularized them, use straps and a harness to hang the gun off the shoulders. These are tricky, as they conceal well on the right body type but are terribly obvious on the wrong body type.
Great care must be made with shoulder holster selection as even the ones billed as such are not “one size fits all.” Look for a shoulder holster that has adjustable straps. Also, many carry pistols horizontally under the arm. Not only do you flag those behind you, it’s also uncomfortable to carry a pistol much larger than, say, an M&P Shield.
A precious few allow you to alter the shoulder holster to the degree necessary to get the right fit. One of the few I’m aware of – cry foul if you like – is the Alien Gear Holsters shoulder holster. Sure, I work there, but it is one of the few quality shoulder holsters that has anywhere near the amount of features. Galco makes some very decent models as well.
Ankle holsters are rarely used as a primary carry method; most people use them to carry a backup gun. Look for one that offers sufficient support, as many aren’t capable of carrying a pistol much larger than a J-frame or pocket .380. Most Glock or XD pistols are a bit too heavy for many ankle holster designs.
Belly band holsters, usually made of spandex or similar material, are basically an elastic girdle that you wear a pistol with. These are popular for women, though some men wear them when a belt and holster set up is impractical or impossible to wear.
With that all said, you need to find what works for you. It might be an Alien Gear Holsters’ IWB, it could be a different product from a different company. Your mileage will vary. Don’t be discouraged if you go through a few that don’t work out. I have a holster drawer of my own, too.