There are as many ways to carry a firearm as Israeli models worthy of linkage. But just as Bar Refaeli and Esti Ginzburg stand apart from their comely colleagues, inside-the-waistband (IWB) and outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters are the go-to options for concealed carriers. Adherents of either method can choose from a wide range of holster designs and materials made by manufacturers chasing an elusive mix of comfort, reliability, efficiency of presentation and affordability. I’ve made my choice: outside-the-waistband. YMMV but here’s why I reckon OWB beats IWB . . .
When you extract your firearm from concealment, your first grip is your best grip. It should be your only grip (the model above shows you how not to do it). Changing the way you hold the gun from extraction to presentation increases the odds that you’ll miss your target. Even if you’ve practiced drawing your gun and changing your grip – however slightly – there’s still plenty of margin for error. Fingers turn to flippers during an adrenalin dump, making the slightest readjustment a potential disaster. Lest we forget, your hands may sweat.
Most inside-the-waistband holsters press your gun flat against holster material that’s in contact with your body (keeping the gun from making contact with your skin). To get a grip on your gat and extract it, you have to insert your thumb between the gun and the holster material. “Combat-cut” IWB holsters (e.g., Kinetic Concealment’s Hybrid Neoprene Holster above) minimize the problem, but don’t eliminate it.
Some IWB holsters don’t put material between your gun’s handle and your body (e.g. Galco’s Stow-N-Go above). If you’re wearing a tucked-in shirt or undershirt underneath an outer garment (i.e., a jacket or a second shirt), I reckon this is the better option for assuring a good initial grip on the gun’s handle with an IWB holster. However . . .
If you live in a warm, one-shirt-to-rule-them-all locale (e.g., the great state of Texas) this type of IWB holster places the gun’s grip directly against your skin. Your thumb scrapes across your flesh during extraction. It’s not a huge deal – especially if you’re partial to manicures. And a scraped stomach is way better than whatever injury your attacker may inflict. But the ergonomic insult doesn’t encourage precision or practice.
Yes, you can quickly and efficiently draw a gun from an IWB holster. As with any firearm-handling skill, the more you practice the more instinctive extraction becomes. But most people don’t practice drawing their firearm on a regular, consistent basis. Wedging your thumb into position, sinking your hand all the way down on the gun’s grip and securing a full hold on your firearm (trigger finger ready to slide onto the barrel in the proper position) before extraction is not the easy option.
Generally, it’s much easier to get a full, complete and locked-in grip on your gun with an OWB holster. The gun stands slightly proud of your body so there’s significantly faster and more precise access to you gun and less nail-on-flesh scrapage in one-shirt applications. For gun schleppers who can put a shirt between the OWB holster and their body, drawing couldn’t be easier. [See: video below.]
Even better, an OWB holster lets you feel you the exact location of your trigger finger the instant it touches the holster. With an IWB holster, your trigger finger touches your pants and/or belt. A slight change in the angle of approach can put your trigger finger in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dismissing inside-the-waistband carry. I’ve listed reasons why it’s superior to OWB below. But getting a good, firm grip on your gun is more instinctive with OWB than an IWB holster. Note: this rule of thumb (so to speak) is even more applicable for pulchritudinous carriers (a.k.a., OFWGs).
Re-holstering is an extremely important part of a defensive gun use. While you should never put your gun away until you are sure there are no more imminent, credible threats of death or grievous bodily harm (e.g., the recent Las Vegas Walmart CCW killing) you want to stash your gat before the police arrive. The Boys in Blue like to see both gun-free hands in the air, no matter who did what to whom before they arrived.
Re-holstering after a defensive gun use (DGU) is bound to be a bitch – no matter which carry system you use or how much you practice. And you really should. Practice. A lot. Wearing whatever cover garments you wear in the real world. But an OWB holster beats an IWB for re-holstering for both speed and efficiency. In fact, re-holstering into an IWB holster is potentially dangerous.
Dave Spaulding’s OWB re-holstering move keeps the gun’s muzzle away from his body as he re-holsters. If you don’t master the master’s methodology – and most people won’t – you’re bound to be poking the gun’s muzzle around trying to find the holster hole after a DGU. With an OWB holster, at least you’ll be doing it outside your body.
The same can’t be said with an IWB holster. Turning the muzzle inwards is the “natural” way to locate the [perhaps collapsed] holster entry point; botched attempts at re-holstering will likely involve muzzling yourself. That’s never a great idea.
To be fair, the Yankee Marshall proves that it’s easy to re-holster a gun in an IWB N82 Tactical holster – for him. In the studio. I’d like to see him do it under stress. Still, point taken. Training is all. But why make it harder for yourself if you don’t have to?
3. Comfort and convenience
Despite a renewed acquaintance with Gold’s Gym and a reduction in my carrot cake intake, I still can’t get on with IWB holsters. I can’t abide the boa-constrictor-for-a-belt waist constriction and the constant feeling there’s a gun welded to my hip. Which there is. I know: a gun’s supposed to be comforting, not comfortable. And plenty of gun carriers are perfectly happy wearing an IWB. But how many of them are OFGWs? Or owners who enjoy root canal surgery?
On the practical side, depending on gun size, the IWB carrier must don pants a size larger than normal to accommodate his hidden pistol (a.k.a., the Peter North problem.) When you’re not wearing your IWB holster, those pants start looking like MC Hammer cast-offs. You can cinch them-up with a belt. But there’s no getting around the fact that IWB-compatible trousers compromise a man’s sartorial splendor, which is already compromised by the fact that he’s a man.
My favorite Kydex OWB holsters (by K-Rounds and RKBA Holsters) are perfectly comfortable. I can wear my gun all day long with any pair of pants I choose and a T shirt or (better yet) Charlie Sheen shirt without the slightest inconvenience or physical annoyance. For most people carrying most guns, OWB comfort beats IWB walking away. What else is there to say? Except that there are [at least] three reason why IWB beats OWB.
1. An IWB holster conceals a gun more deeply and completely than an OWB holster. An IWB rig is far less likely to print (i.e., reveal itself to observers) than an OWB holster.
2. By and large, an IWB holster lets you conceal a larger gun than an OWB set-up. [NB: a smaller gun in an OWB holster – such as the Kahr PM-9 in the RKBA Kydex holster above – conceals extremely well.]
3. If you’re disrobing in the presence of a partner who’s unaware of your gun-carrying predilection and you wish to keep your heater on the down-low, it’s easier to remove your pants without revealing your firearm when it’s ensconced in an IWB holster.
And there you have it. As I said at the beginning, Your Mileage May Vary. But if you’re a newbie who’s trying to figure out the best way to carry a gun on or near your hip, OWB is the way to go. Right?