The topic of holster types and concealment can be a little intimidating to those new to concealed carry. Like any field of interest there is a lot of terminology to learn, and the same questions naturally come up again and again. After you've read this guide, you'll have a better understanding of what holster types and concealment methods appeal to you most, and what to start looking for.Concealment:
There is always a tradeoff between concealment and accessibility. The more concealed a firearm is, the harder it is to remove from that concealment. Your firearm needs to be holstered somewhere that it is not immediately obvious at a glance, but can be drawn and employed in no more than a second.
It is natural to assume, when you first start carrying concealed, that everyone will notice. A great exercise once you start carrying is to wear your gun and go walk around a store for awhile. You will quickly discover that members of the general public are in their own little world, absorbed with their own concerns and barely even noticing that another person is nearby beyond perhaps nodding an acknowledgement. It is so far off people’s radar that a non-policeman would be carrying a gun in their presence that it does not even occur to them to look for one. Even “open carry” proponents who carry openly on their belts report that probably 9 out of 10 people never even give them or their firearm a second glance. Almost all of the very few people who do notice the gun jump to the conclusion that the person carrying it is an off-duty police officer.
For this reason, I wear my carry gun on a holster attached to my belt (which I have found to be the most comfortable carry method for me), throw a loose button-up shirt or a coat over it, and find that it is concealed adequately.
Depending on your clothing style, some type of cover garment will likely be necessary. Shirts with irregular patterns (like Hawaiian shirts) are best at breaking up the outline of a protruding gun, but dark solid colors work fine too. Avoid patterns with stripes because straight lines accentuate the irregular outline of the gun underneath them. The most important thing, though, is to not worry about it too much!
The comfort of your chosen carry method is going to be the most critical requirement. If your gun is uncomfortable, you will be tempted to leave it behind every time you go somewhere. Obviously, a gun that isn’t with you is useless in an emergency. Emergencies have a decidedly strong tendency to happen whether you are prepared or not.Open Carry:
Open carry is the act of carrying a firearm without concealing it. This is primarily done by vocal right-to-carry advocates, though it is often done merely for comfort or convenience. In many states, (including Ohio) open carry is completely legal. This is a personal decision, and I'll stay away from the heated politics aspect: the only thing I’ll say about it is to always also carry a hidden digital voice recorder because once in awhile somebody will summon the police about “a man with a gun” to which they will definitely respond, and having a recording of the encounter might end up being your only protection. Most police officers understand that people with concealed carry licenses are the good guys and have no problem with citizens carrying guns, but a very small percentage are belligerent bully types. Know your rights well, and if confronted by a police officer it is critical that you stay calm and polite: do not allow the encounter to escalate into a shouting match, and try not to come across as smug or condescending because you may provoke the bully-type of officer into trying to knock you down a few pegs by arresting you and hammering you with add-on charges like "resisting arrest".
Additionally, many police officers mistakenly think that a concealed carry license requires that the gun actually be concealed rather than simply legally allowing a gun to be concealed (and in a few other states the law makes this requirement). An argument about a gun or about the law at the scene with a police officer is rarely in your best interest. If open carry does appeal to you, get involved online with the open carry community so you know what to expect and how to protect yourself. Visit and frequent the "Open Carry" section of these forums.Situational Awareness:
Your greatest defense to any threat is to be aware of it. Predators are searching for easy prey, and the easiest prey to a robber or rapist is a victim that is not paying attention.
To this end, Col. Jeff Cooper came up with the Color Code system of awareness:Condition White:
Completely relaxed and unaware of surroundings. Most people who die due to wrecks or violence were in Condition White: they never even knew they were in danger until it was too late. The only time you should ever be in Condition White is while you are behind locked doors at home. Cooper described it as, “If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.”Condition Yellow:
Relaxed alertness. You are paying attention to your surroundings and the people in them, without any anxiety and without any specific threat identified. You should be in Condition Yellow any time you are outside your home, and any time you are armed. Cooper classified this as, “you bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.”Condition Orange:
Heightened attentiveness due to some specific alert. You have identified a potential threat from his suspicious behavior, or something about the person or the circumstances does not feel right. Cooper described it as, “you have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.”Condition Red:
An attack is likely imminent from a specific identified threat, and you are mentally prepared to defend yourself. Cooper described it as, “you are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant."
Always trust your intuition: if something does not feel right, your subconscious has picked up on clues you are not consciously aware of. Do not ignore or suppress your intuition: it’s usually correct. Do not disregard your intuition because you are afraid of offending somebody: your safety is much more important than a stranger’s feelings. A fantastic book on this subject is The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker (though you have to ignore his anti-gun slant).
You should practice your skills of observation any time you are out in public. This is not paranoia. It is not, nor should it be, a state of anxiety: your goal should not be to imagine that every person you see is probably going to attack you. Rather, you should be open to what your senses tell you about your surroundings. You go about your life, relaxed but aware of what is happening around you. Besides, people-watching is fun.Spotting a Concealed Weapon:
This is a useful skill for picking out the rare bad guy, but it’s also fun practice to see if you can spot any other of the more numerous law-abiding concealed carry licensees or plain-clothes police officers. Hone your skills of observation, as well as becoming aware of the most obvious clues that give you away so that you can avoid them.Adjusting or checking:
Being a security device, people feel the need to touch the gun occasionally to ensure that it is still in place instead of lost or visible, and occasionally the gun’s position needs to be adjusted (especially after doing any movement that could have exposed or shifted the gun’s position). Watch for this especially after the person bends over or reaches for something, exits a vehicle, or steps off a flight of stairs.Blading:
When a person is aware that they are carrying a gun, there’s an almost subconscious movement to bring their arm in closer to the gun and to turn their gun-side away from other people when passing them or standing in front of them (such as in a checkout line), either to hide or protect the gun from them. This turning at an angle to the other person is known as “blading”, and the unnatural angle is extremely obvious to a knowledgeable onlooker.Holding:
When running across a street or through rain, people will almost always place one hand on their holstered gun to keep it from flopping around or falling off. Drooping clothes:
Since guns are heavy blocks of metal, if they are not well-secured by a belt they will almost always cause a noticeable amount of drooping of clothing. A gun in a pants pocket or waistband will shift the pants downward on that side; one in a jacket pocket will cause the jacket to hang down asymmetrically on the gun side; a gun in a shoulder holster will flop around with movement, and may protrude noticeably in the back or the front. Even a gun holstered on a good stiff gun-belt will pull the belt slightly down, and will have a tendency to catch any cover garment with movement so that it does not fall evenly about the waist.Uneven gait:
Walking with a weight attached to one side will typically alter a person’s gait, with a shorter stride on the gun side. They may also keep their gun-side arm closer to their body and avoid swinging it as far as the opposite arm while walking.Inappropriate clothing:
Cover garments that do not match a person’s style or are inappropriate for the weather are also big giveaways, such as a jacket or over-shirt in hot weather, or a winter coat in cold weather that is left unzipped (allowing easy access to the gun). Fanny packs also fall into this category: unless someone is a tourist on a beach or at an amusement park, a fanny pack is disproportionately likely to contain a firearm.How much ammo to carry:
It’s been said that you only have too much ammo if you’re drowning or on fire. At the very least, you should have one reload for your carry gun. If you’re carrying a semi-automatic and the magazine fails (bad spring, floorplate gets knocked off, etc), it doesn’t matter if it’s holding five rounds or fifteen because they will no longer be usable in the timeframe you need them. Nobody in the history of the world has ever survived a gunfight and then went on to say, “I wish I hadn’t been carrying that extra magazine!”Holster Selection:
Trainer Paul Gomez eloquently outlined the essential requirements of any holster. You will need a stout belt that is specifically designed to be a “gun belt”, as even the thickest leather belt from the department store will start to fold, bend, droop, and stretch. Many companies make gun belts, and almost all will serve your needs.
The holster must completely cover the trigger guard, to prevent anything from getting into it and activating the trigger. The holster must mount firmly to your belt. It must allow for a full firing grip on the gun while it is still in the holster (with your trigger finger indexed along the frame upon drawing), so that when you pull it out you do not need to fumble around with “getting a better grip”. The holster also needs to stay open after the gun is removed, so that it can easily be replaced quickly to free your hands or to allow for one-handed reloading if such should become necessary.
It is very important that the holster you choose be designed for the gun you want to carry with it. When it comes to holsters, the adage is that “one size fits all” actually means “one size fits none”. Any universal holster will not hold your gun securely, and will not be able to position any gun optimally for a fast draw. Additionally, universal holsters are cheap because they are poorly made and use cheap materials that will not stand up to long use. The holster needs to be of good quality and fit your gun well. Many holsters are mass-produced and available off-the-shelf, for a reasonable price, which were designed for specific handgun models. You could also spring for a custom-made holster once you know what your requirements are and how various holsters work out for you, but these can be expensive. A custom holster will be necessary if your carry gun of choice is very uncommon. You will find that a holster is not a one-time purchase: it’s common for guys who are into pistols to end up with a box or drawer full of holsters they don’t use anymore.Holster Types:Waistband (gangsta carry), no holster:
You should never carry a firearm like this. Not having a holster means your trigger can get caught by clothing, so it creates a huge risk of a negligent discharge into a very sensitive area (an occurrence that appears in the news at least once a year), not to mention the high likelihood of the gun falling out of your pants. Even if this does not happen at a particularly inopportune time, a dropped gun is never a good thing. An unsecured gun also requires frequent checking and adjustment, which makes it both uncomfortable and obvious on top of being inherently unsafe.IWB Holsters:
Inside-the-Waistband holsters are probably the greatest balance between concealability and accessibility. Most of the gun is down inside the waistband of your pants, with loops securing it to your belt. Many of these holsters are able to be removed without undoing your belt. To comfortably wear an IWB holster, it’s recommended to buy pants with a waist at least two inches bigger than what you normally wear. Many “tuckable” models are available which allow you to tuck your shirt between the belt clip and the holster, which make it easier to conceal while wearing formal attire. Belt Holsters:
Also known as “Outside-the-Waistband” or “OWB”, these offer secure placement and the greatest accessibility at some cost to concealment. Some type of over-garment is necessary if you wish to conceal it. Paddle Holsters:
This is another type of Outside-the-Waistband holster, so-named because of the paddle-shaped portion that slips over your belt and rests against your hip, spreading out the gun’s weight. Paddle holsters can be quickly donned or removed without undoing your belt, making them ideal for people who need to take off their gun throughout the day. Can be very comfortable, but for large and heavy handguns, a poorly-designed paddle might dig uncomfortably into your thigh. This is not something you’ll know until you try it.Pocket Holsters:
Suitable for small light handguns only (sometimes called “hold-out” or “backup” pistols), a pocket holster allows carrying a handgun in your pocket without the telltale outline or uncomfortable pressure points. Access can be quick and unobtrusive, especially if you carry it in your rear pants pocket where a mugger would expect you to be reaching for your wallet.Belly band:
A pocketed elastic band that wraps around your abdomen to hug the gun very closely to your body and break up its outline. This is a deep concealment method that works even under a slightly-loose shirt. You may love it, or you may find it very uncomfortable.Ankle holsters:
I find these to be extremely uncomfortable, but if you find they don’t bother you they can be a good way to carry a small light backup piece. You need fairly wide pant legs. Although concealment is quite good because people rarely look at your ankles, strapping a weight to one ankle will alter your gait. They are very good for accessing your pistol while seated in a vehicle with a seatbelt on, which is something most other carry methods cannot boast. For this reason, some police officers favor it.Shoulder holsters:
use shoulder straps, and require an over-shirt or jacket. The straps distribute the weight well, but the gun frequently flops around enough that they are fairly easy to spot (particularly from behind). If not well-made, the straps can be uncomfortable and require frequent adjustment. Drawing from a shoulder holster requires a somewhat unnatural angle, but practice will overcome this slight speed handicap. The main advantages are that the gun is easily accessible while seated in a vehicle, and is fairly easy to don and remove throughout the day.Off-body carry:
Total concealability is possible by having the gun in a purse, portfolio, briefcase, etc. This method works with any clothing style, especially professional attire when a suit coat is not practical and in very hot weather. The two downsides to off-body carry are the likelihood of having to set the gun down and possibly not having it right at hand if it’s needed, and the slower access time even when you are carrying it.Fanny packs:
Taking the off-body concealment advantage and strapping it around your waist is a great compromise, so fanny packs are a popular method of carrying a gun. They allow for comfortable carry that is essentially in plain sight. I just can’t bring myself to wear one…Vests:
A few companies make vests specifically designed for carrying concealed, many of which have holsters sewn into them. They act as a cover garment without making you too warm. Vests often look out of place, though, unless you have a camera strapped around your neck and/or are wearing a safari hat. Like fanny packs, a vest is a good tipoff to those in-the-know that the wearer is probably concealing a firearm. Holster Material: Leather vs. Nylon vs. Kydex:Leather:
Traditionally, holsters were made out of leather and they are still popular. Leather is a durable, comfortable material that is easy to work with and shape, as well as having that certain flair to it. It does absorb moisture (sweat), though, which will be a problem if you don’t keep up on your preventative maintenance.Nylon
is light, water-resistant, and reasonably durable. Unless the holster comes from a custom maker and/or has Kydex inserts, I recommend you pass on nylon. By all means check them out, but be very critical. Usually, nylon holsters are of the very cheap universal variety that do not hold the gun securely and have a needlessly loose fit to your belt.Kydex
is a hard, somewhat springy, durable polymer that is easy to mold closely to any shape by heating. By molding to the shape of the gun, a Kydex holster (or Kydex insert) will hold a gun with enough tension to prevent it from falling out of the holster, while allowing the gun to be drawn without having to manipulate a strap or release. The downside to this is that it wears down the gun’s finish at contact points faster than any other holster material. Also, being plastic, the holster will break if you ever find yourself wrestling with a bad guy for control of your holstered gun. Kydex is ideal for spare magazine pouches, and also works pretty well for knives.
Any gun that is repeatedly rubbed against any material (whether leather, nylon, Kydex, or anything else) will inevitably begin to show worn-down spots in the finish. These spots are known as “holster wear”. Don’t fret about them: they add character. If you love a gun so much that you want it to stay in mint condition, buy a different gun to carry and leave your “safe queen” in the safe!Holster positions:
Imagine your waist as a clock face, with 12 o’clock being in front at your belt buckle, and 6 o’clock being the middle of your back. This is used to communicate the various holster positions. Finding the best place for you takes a little experimenting. Whichever position you choose, practice your draw from concealment daily with an unloaded gun. Start slowly and then gradually build up speed so you get the proper movements down smoothly. Remember: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. A practiced draw that is ingrained in muscle memory will overcome any of the “slower to draw from this position” comments I make below.12 o’clock:
Known as a “groin holster”, where the gun is mostly below the waistline. This can be accessible with a large range of clothing styles (such as when a cover garment is not practical), but is by necessity a deep method of concealment so the gun is not as quick to access. You will also look like a weirdo when you have to adjust the gun’s position in public. I admit that the thought of somebody plunging their hand down the front of their pants when confronted with a mugger makes me giggle. “Thunderwear” is one such groin holster.1 to 2 o’clock (10 to 11 o’clock for lefties):
Also known as “appendix carry”, this is the fastest point to draw from because it requires the least amount of arm movement. Additionally, it’s more difficult for somebody to sneak up behind you and make a grab for your holstered gun. Keep in mind, though, that many disarms occur with a gun that is already drawn. The downsides are that this position is not possible if you have a gut, and even if you do not it will be uncomfortable to sit down if the holster is not positioned properly. If you want to appendix carry, look into holsters that are specifically designed for it. Women will find even more concealment potential than men in this position when wearing a loose shirt, for two obvious reasons.2 to 4 o’clock (8 to 11 o’clock for lefties):
This position makes the gun very accessible to your draw side and mostly out of the way, at a slight penalty to concealment because a gun on your pelvis is pushed outward somewhat from the contour of your body. Nonetheless, this is one of the most comfortable carry positions because you do not sit back on the gun or bend forward into it. Draw from this position is one of the fastest, but is difficult when seated or crouching. The downside is that if you have to draw with your other hand due to injury, this places the gun as far from that hand as it could be, and at a very awkward draw angle. Some people (myself included) prefer that a gun in this position have the “FBI cant”, which means the holster is canted (tilted) forward 15 degrees. This does add a very slight time penalty to your draw, but makes it easier and more comfortable to draw from a seated or crouched position, and makes the gun more concealable under a cover garment because the grip points upward more in line with your body instead of straight out behind you.5 o’clock (7 o’clock for lefties):
Also known as “kidney carry”, this position offers excellent concealment from the front because it does not protrude from the side of your body. Unfortunately, it is one of the slowest draws because it requires the largest amount of arm motion to swing back to it and then bring the gun forward. 6 o’clock:
“Small of back” carry offers the greatest inherent concealment of any belt position with the exception of 12 o’clock deep concealment. Some find this position very comfortable, while others find it intolerably uncomfortable when sitting. If you fall or are pushed backwards onto your gun, it can act as a fulcrum to lever your spinal column over it: for this reason, many police departments tell their officers not to mount any equipment at the 6 o’clock position.Cross-draw:
With a specially-designed holster, some people prefer to have the pistol mounted on their off-hand side (between 9 and 12 o’clock for righties, between 12 and 3 o’clock for lefties) and draw it across their body. The draw is somewhat slowed by the extra movement, but it has its advantages, not the least of which is that it is the only belt-mounted method that leaves the gun readily accessible when seated. A cross-draw holster is usually on par concealability-wise with appendix carry.