August 10, 2022

Man drawing a pistol from a leather OWB holster with a 15 degree FBI cant

As a firearms instructor, I recommended every prospective handgun buyer spend time researching their choices before making a purchase. I provide my students with firearms to try in my beginning classes. I advise them to visit a range that rents guns, so they can try additional models available locally (I’m in The People’s Republic of Kommiefornia) to select the right firearm for them. I stress that it is imperative that the firearm they select fits them.

It is equally important that their mode of carry fits them and their circumstances. Unfortunately, many students underestimate the importance of a proper belt and holster to carry a concealed handgun.  As a result, they don’t spend much time looking for the right combination. When it comes to selecting a belt and holster, it is often price that is the deciding factor.

Three picture series of a man drawing a revolver from a pants pocket
A good example of a pocket carry presentation of a J-Frame size revolver where the weapon is at once available, out of the way and while concealed does not pose a visible threat.

Belt and Holster Combo

Most simply assume their everyday belt is just fine. They could not be more wrong, because the belt and holster are the interface between your gun and your body. It’s a vital piece of gear. A poorly-designed or ill-suited holster will lead to discomfort, and more importantly, a compromised draw stroke —possibly even the loss of your gun. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a belt and holster but skimping on this important gear is ill-advised. Your selection of the belt and holster deserves as much serious contemplation as the purchase of the firearm that will reside in it.

A quality concealed carry holster must strike a balance between concealment, accessibility, and comfort. It should be comfortable enough to be worn 24/7. When choosing a concealed carry holster, remember to ensure your holster will support your ability to get your handgun into action — under the most intense and chaotic of circumstances, possibly in the middle of a fight, so don’t go cheap.

Hip Carry

Let’s look at the types of carry with the first and most commonly used being outside the waistband (OWB) on the hip at 3 o’clock (if you are right-handed). This is the traditional method to carry a handgun and has been used since handguns were invented. It also makes the most sense from an anatomical standpoint because it’s the most efficient (i.e. the distance of the draw from the holster to the point of fire requires the least amount of movement). A handgun on the hip provides a stable platform that allows for easy access and strong retention. In fact, this is the position that I require for all beginning and intermediate handgun instruction in my classes.

The most common holster orientations in this position are straight with the muzzle directly down or a 15/20 degree FBI cant. The FBI cant makes a hip-carried weapon more concealable, but it does slow getting the muzzle to the target from the draw because of the increased distance of travel. If your body type is one that requires as much concealment help as you can get, a canted holster would be a good choice. Just be aware that a zero cant will be faster on target.

In warm weather, when a firearm is worn under a T-shirt or light cover garment, hip carry will cause “printing” against the clothing. The term printing refers to the outline of the firearm being visible through a covering garment. To prevent printing, an additional cover garment should be worn such as a shirt, jacket, or vest. Weapon size also affects one’s ability to effectively conceal it. Carrying a compact or sub-compact as opposed to a full-size handgun will help with concealment.

Leather appendix holster with a revolver inserted
An example of a leather Appendix, Inside the Waistband style of carry.

Inside the Waistband

The next most common method of concealed carry is the inside the waistband style of carry which is very popular with many CCW holders. Inside the waistband, also known as IWB, means the holster rides between your undergarment and your trousers. A holster that rides inside the waistband of trousers can be an unobtrusive method of concealed carry.

Some argue that concealment is superior to that of an external belt or paddle holster, although some sort of coat/jacket or untucked shirt must still be worn. A short-barreled handgun and a stiff belt are required for best results. Pants and belts should be purchased in a waistband size that includes the gun and holster.

The three most common types of IWB holsters are straight pull, canted, and appendix carry. Only you can determine which might be best for you. IWB holsters are also made in all common holster materials and in countless configurations for concealment. Different types and levels of retention are also available.

pistol in a holster printing through a t-shirt
This is called printing and (in some locations it is considered brandishing) it is what you might look like without knowing it.

Retention level refers to the holsters type of retention device, friction, thumb-break, etc. The most important aspect of an IWB holster (besides safety and quality) is obviously comfort because the holster will be worn against the body. That requires the material to be somewhat flexible, durable, and sweat resistant.

Many prefer leather due to its flexibility and long-term comfort. Then there is Kydex which bends, making re-holstering difficult. Kydex is also uncomfortable against the skin. As for nylon/fabric holsters, the quality varies greatly, and the market is flooded with cheap fabric holsters that are little more than a sewn pocket offering no retention at all. I recommend avoiding fabric holsters.

Positioning of the IWB is an important consideration. If you do decide to carry IWB (if you can), it’s best to start your IWB in the same position that you carry OWB. This maintains as much continuity as possible with already established skills. If this does not work for you, holster positioning should be chosen based on efficiency. I personally do not care for IWB carry as I find it uncomfortable and difficult to execute when seated or in a vehicle.

Black leather shoulder holster with a semi automatic pistol inside
A shoulder holster showing the orientation of the firearm to the rear.

Shoulder Holsters

Bond, James Bond… The shoulder holster has been around for almost as long as the hip holster. It’s most commonly described as a type of harness worn over the shoulders that supports a gun under the support-side shoulder in either a vertical or horizontal position. This type of holster requires the user to reach across the body to draw the weapon with the strong-side hand and that’s a problem.

As stated in the rules of firearm safety: We do not want to point our weapon at anything we do not intend to kill or destroy. Yet when the handgun is presented from a shoulder holster, the muzzle covers a wide arc before the weapon gets on target. The shoulder holster can conceal the weapon better than most other types of holster, but it is a safety issue by design. It is also very slow because of the distance the muzzle must travel before engaging the target.

A straight line is always faster than an arc. Because of those points, I do not recommend a shoulder holster even though some might point out that the weapon is easier to access in a seated position than other holster types and that is true. Under limited conditions that is a very small advantage, and not worth the risk of a possible negligent discharge. Comfort and concealability should never replace safety.

Ankle Carry

I will now mention ankle carry as an afterthought, even though it is still a very popular method of carry for backup weapons. For ankle carry, a good holster is one that will protect the weapon as much as possible and be moisture resistant. Designs such as a leather/Kydex or a nylon/leather may be best. I would recommend ankle carry for a backup weapon but only if you are very flexible and don’t care how fast your presentation is. Any weapon that is concealable on your ankle is probably not going to be big enough for any sort of prolonged engagement. Since I don’t have a crystal ball, I’ll use an old adage; bring enough gun.

Man grabbing a revolver from an ankle holster
A shoulder holster showing the orientation of the firearm to the rear.

Pocket Carry

The last form of carry we will examine is pocket carry, which parenthetically happens to be my favorite type of carry. It was once considered only for small handguns chambered in calibers not recommended for personal protection such as the .25, .32, and .380 ACP.

“Pocket Guns” as they were called are now a wildly popular defensive handgun choice due to the advancements in projectiles. Many sub-compact pistols have joined the traditional snub-nosed revolver as the pocket guns of today. When you carry a gun in your pocket, you need a holster that helps mask the outline of your gun and keeps the gun’s grip oriented vertically for easy access.

My personal carry preference is the S&W 360PD carried in a pocket. It is light, handy, easily concealed, powerful, and I don’t leave home without it. More importantly and why it is my favorite concealed form of carry is because it allows me to make up the reaction deficit. Remember, as a CCW holder, you may not present your firearm until, and unless, you are in imminent threat of grave bodily injury or death.

Someone please explain to me how I can be in that state of fear unless someone has already started their assault on my delicate body. By the time I realize the attack has started, determine what action to take, and will my body to move, I have lost 3 to 5 seconds. If I have decided I need to respond with lethal force — depending on age, physical ability etc., add another 3 to 5 seconds… YIKES! That’s 6 to 10 seconds. OK, for argument’s sake let’s say you are highly trained, young, fit, and have lightning-fast reflexes, you are still 3 to 5 seconds behind the bad guy. That’s an eternity when bullets are coming at you.

Fade away view of a revolver in a vest pocket and a semi automatic handgun
A fade-away view of a hands-on grip of a 360PD pointed toward the threat or if you have the time present your Officer’s Model from the pocket.

So, let’s look at my solution. Assume I am in condition yellow considering orange because things don’t feel right. If I have my favorite ogre slayer in a pants pocket or better yet inside my “Shoot Me First” vest pocket, I can have my hand already positioned on my pocket Howitzer. When in the vest, I can even lay the battery in the direction of a suspected threat.

Now, who considers an old fat guy with his hands in his pockets a treat? No one, that’s who. If the bad guys attack, I don’t even have to make a presentation, I just point in their direction and unleash counter-battery fire. I’m now down to 1.5 seconds or less as a reaction time. As good as I can still get, this three-quarter of a century delicate flower to react on the range. Granted you can damage some clothing and maybe start a small fire, but hey, you are alive. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What’s your favorite carry position? Do you alternate carry positions by season or type of dress? How do you train for each? Share your answers in the comment section.

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