Choosing The Best Concealed Carry Holsters: A Beginner’s Guide

the best concealed carry holster for beginners

Dan Z. for TTAG

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.

Credit: aliengearholsters.com

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.

Credit: aliengearholsters.com

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.

comments

  1. avatar possum says:

    Wow this was an awesome article, and quite honest. I’m looking for a replacement holster, might be awhile until I get one. Alien Gear just may have sold another holster. Good read 3’s n 8’s your way

    1. avatar possum says:

      I could not find the leather holsters on their web page, evidently these are not purchase through internet only , as I’ve notice mention of dealers( possum doesn’t do credit cards or internet purchase’s). What models are leather? I like the try it if you don’t like it buy back, that’s a plus

    2. avatar B.D. says:

      Alien Gear was the worst holster I’ve ever tried.

      Just go custom Kydex. West bulk, less attachments.

      1. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

        Best Kydex holsters I’ve tried are the ones from Talon Retention Systems in Kalispell, Montana. The owner is very receptive to customizing for your personal fit, cant, light, laser, etc. He’s supplied a number of Federal, State and Local PD’s with customized holsters…good stuff.

      2. avatar SoCalJack says:

        AG is ok. I have 5 shells for a cloak and ruck 3.0 that I don’t use anymore more. IMHO, they’d sell more if they provided a good AIWB solution and also shells for WMLs. I don’t know what the current trend is but I’m noticing more Kydex holster makers making great AIWB holster for folks with WMLs.

  2. avatar Ginder12 says:

    🐄 all day everyday.

  3. avatar Old Guy in Montana says:

    Yup, a Midland sized cardboard box filled with holsters that I didn’t like or don’t have the pistol for anymore.

    Personal favorites are OWB leather…Aker Leather in San Diego makes fine leather ware for on and off duty carry.

    I have an old El Paso Saddlery shoulder holster that I can’t wear out and it just keeps on being comfortable no matter what I’m carrying…started with a Ruger Security Six / speedloader carrier…since adapted to large frame autos – P-220 / 1911.

  4. avatar Kman says:

    I have narrowed it down to minimalism.
    Most days it’s LCP in Nemisis or PPS M2 in Forged Tec Kydex.
    Done with big carry guns and big holsters.
    Forged Tec are very well made and very reasonable.
    Tired of a lot of holster in pants.

    1. avatar possum says:

      Don’t wear pants, easy enough.

      1. avatar Kman says:

        Shoulder holster it is.

      2. avatar Desert Ranger says:

        There’s lots of room to conceal your gun in a kilt.

  5. avatar Michael Buley says:

    Good luck to holster seekers, is all I can say. I have too many holsters from too many companies for too many guns.

    It has been a very expensive learning process to find a holster that I am actually happy with. Serpa Blackhawk is what I use for my Glocks. I know it gets ripped by folks, but I’ve gone through enough holsters to get to it, and I’m sticking with it.

    Variations on holsters / pistols are endless. Trial-and-error is expensive, and I’m not sure there’s another way to find one that is right for any one person. Just as with guns — you buy / carry / shoot different ones — to find the ones you settle on, so it is with holsters. I’ve spent a fair amount of money on guns to finally pretty much settle on Glocks. Walther, S&W, Ruger, Springfield, Kel-Tec, etc. Others have gone through far more guns that I have, I know. Probably holsters, too. I have a box of holsters that are of no use to me any more! lol …

    1. avatar possum says:

      Keep the holster, throw away the Glock. )

      1. avatar possum says:

        @Micheal Burly: you’ve mentioned a shoulder holster. I’ve got an uncle Mike’s side kick, it’s good once you get the straps adjusted just right and takes a lot of weight off the gun, in your case it wouldn’t matter that much with the Glock. I’ve been playing around with it, conceals the pistol good with a jacket or heavy shirt however if you are wanting a speedy fast draw I would not recommend a shoulder holster. I haven’t timed myself but it’s slower the an on the hip or IWB. I’m sticking with the on the hip or IWB.

        1. avatar Michael Buley says:

          possum, thanks for the update. Based on your wise words, I will pass on the shoulder holster! I’ve spent — well, I don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on holsters! Or guns, for that matter!

    2. Too bad there’s not a holster store, and a trade-in holster store. It’s stupid to have to buy it before you try it. They’re all wrapped in hard plastic. The range rents guns to try out. I’d pay a fee to try out a bunch in one place at one time. (Hear that range people?) Imagine buying every shoe you try on, then, good luck returning it if it’s uncomfortable.

      1. avatar Michael Buley says:

        Victoria, I agree with you! I hate to look in that box of holsters I’ve bought that are now useless ….!

        Alien Gear is good about returning / exchanging things. And one of their holster models — it has the shell, and you can exchange it at no charge for a different one if you change guns, assuming the new gun has a shell. I’ve done that with them. They really are a great company to do business with. I thought they were the ‘end all be all’ for me, finally, but ends up the Serpa works really well for me, and for $30, I bought a few different ones. I still have the Alien Gear holsters, and do use an OWB carry for a Ruger LCR when I carry that. It’s perfect for it.

        It seems gun stores would sell a lot of holsters if they had the ‘try this one on’ approach. A lot of models to account for, but it’s a business waiting to happen.

  6. avatar Shawn says:

    My favorite concealment holster is the Milt Sparks Summer Special. Great holsters.

    1. avatar Michael in AK says:

      Me too! I also like safariland leather holsters for OWB.

  7. avatar B.D. says:

    I went through about four different variations before I found something comfortable. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap.

    Unless you’re one of those skinny slim fit clothing wearing weirdos…

    1. avatar B.D. says:

      I also noticed printing problems. So that was a big factor in it.

      Had to adjust a little on the Wardrobe, but not by much. Mostly just pant size.

  8. avatar Imayeti says:

    Called one company to ask about retention. Angry reply was “You just tighten your belt!” Not the answer I was looking for since a few times at the range I had to drop my drawers only to see my weapon slide across the floor. Having heard about various LEO and alphabet agency people had forgotten their weapons in men’s rooms, I set a higher bar for myself.

  9. avatar JB says:

    My strategy was:
    1. Ask my friends and try theirs
    2. Go to gun shows and check them out
    * I should have just skipped to #3*
    3. Order a Stealthgear Ventcore – It’s a little bigger than my other IWB but I wear it all-day every-day with my PX4 Storm Subcompact and it’s always comfortable.

    1. avatar AdamTA1 says:

      I ordered a stealthgear ventcore before Christmas. I’m still waiting for it…

      I am looking forward to trying it, got it for the Christmas present to myself. This wait is ridiculous though.

  10. avatar Hoyden says:

    Props to Muddy River Tactical. Buffalo hide, steel clip. Great for the mid sized strikers (G19, VP9, CZ P-10). Comfortable, good retention, quality, priced right.

  11. avatar Jeff Smith says:

    I don’t work for any holster company, but I have been carrying a HUGE HK USP Expert in .45 ACP that holds 13 rds. in an IWB SuperTuck from Crossbreed Holsters for many years. I often forget it is there, believe it or not. Tried many of the holsters mentioned above, but nothing comes close to the SuperTuck.

    1. avatar PWinKY says:

      I’m surprised you’re the only one to mention Crossbreed. I do NOT have a giant box of failed holsters and only have one IWB for each of my carry guns; Crosbreed has great hybrid holsters. The leather keeps Kydex from roughing up my skin and the guns are always very well held. Leather also has the benefit of molding slowly to my form.

      My G26 and Kahr pm9 are both quite happy in their Crosbreed holsters, one of which I’ve been using for 6 years solid now and it’s still in great shape. 2 years in on the other one and it’s also in great shape. Crossbreed is my go to any time I need an IWB holster.

  12. avatar Tim McCoy says:

    Compared my Galco leather shoulder holster to the AG shoulder holster. No comparison for bulk or ease of hiding.
    Sent the little Alien back. That two mag holder is bigger than a 1911 Colt under your arm.
    Still love my Cloak Tuck 2.0 IWB, that’s a really comfy carry on a full size M&P 9mm.

  13. avatar jimmy james says:

    I’ve had about a half dozen and still have about a half dozen. Havent found the perfect one yet but the thinner and less bulky the better. The big leather jobs that are really wide and have 2 snap belt keepers are the worst. I had a G43 in a generic kydex off ebay and it was great but I sold the gun and the holster to go 45acp for my EDC. Probably going back to that style for either my XDS or Shield, simple kydex affair with a single belt clip. Cant adjustable. Vedder or Bob’s maybe. Comfort is everything. If it’s not comfortable, you wont wear it. Forget anything that is not completely rigid or semi rigid otherwise your gun might just squeeze out at the wrong time. My 2 cents.

  14. avatar Dude says:

    I have an Alien Gear IWB holster that I’m very happy with. I prefer carrying OWB if possible. KT Mech will make a custom Kydex OWB holster for a very reasonable price. Both companies had good customer service.

  15. avatar Scott in IA says:

    ANR Design https://www.anrdesignkydexholster.com/

    I just bought their AIWB holster for my G43. Highly recommended.

    1. avatar SoCalJack says:

      I have AnR Designs holsters for a Shield and a Ruger LC380 I bought 2 years ago. The ride height (non-adjustable) is a little higher than my other holsters. Though retention is adjustable, it doesn’t give that satisfying click telling you the weapon is fully seated.

  16. avatar Jake says:

    My favorite pocket holster is the Alabama Pocket Holster. I like the Alien Gear hybrid for IWB.

  17. avatar Cthulhu 2020 says:

    N82 Pro

  18. avatar NM says:

    After trying many off the shelf leather, kydex and hybrid options, I strongly favor kydex. With a properly designed holster and a suitable belt I have no comfort issues and am able to get the thinnest possible holster short of not having a holster 😉

    My personal favorites are AIWB holsters from Dark Star Gear and JM Custom Kydex.

  19. avatar Darkwing says:

    Go to Black Hills Leather, BHL, they custom make to your weapon, outside the waist, I have two and the are both 20 plus years old and great

  20. avatar PMinFl says:

    I have a Boraii kydex pocket holster for my Taurus TCP738 and I LOVE it. Fits just right in cargo pants/shorts front pocket, handle up trigger guard covered easy draw! Can’t be seen even on an OFWG !.

  21. avatar Bill Sadusk says:

    I always wore Kydex to gun schools, like Front Sight. Now that I have moved out of CA and to Idaho, and can carry concealed day to day, I find that the leather pancake ones do the best job of hiding my concealed pistols (S&W Shield 9mm, Glock 19), and I use them for day to day carry.

    I have several kydex holsters, but they don’t hug the body close like the leather ones do.

  22. avatar The Sophist says:

    Some really good advice here, and even more good stuff in the comments. I just wanted to add my $0.02 after my years of trying different things and having the box of holsters to prove it….

    1. Don’t rule out OWB for concealed carry. It has actually become my preferred method for colder weather carry. With the right pancake-style holster (I like three manufacturers: JM Custom Kydex, Mitch Rosen for leather, and Garrett’s Silent Thunder for a combination), it conceals just about as well as an IWB at the 3/4 o’clock position. Both styles need a cover garment, and I’ve rarely run into situations where the cover garment would have worked for IWB but not for good OWB. (T-shirts and polo shirts, mainly, but that’s what AIWB is for….)

    Skinny athletic guys might not have this issue as much as those of us with the tactical muffin top and combat dad bods, but just saying don’t rule out OWB carry for colder weather with appropriate cover garments.

    Plus, most people simply do not see what they do not want to see or do not expect to see. If they catch a glimpse of some black plastic or brown leather at my side, they’re not thinking “GUN!”; they’re thinking, “cellphone.” Only other POTG think, “GUN!” and they’re not the problem. Note: I’m NOT talking about OWB open carry.

    2. For any kind of carry holster, do think about the rest of your stuff — specifically, your WALLET and your phone. I’ve come to realize that back pocket is no longer going to work for me and how I carry with my old big fat wallet. The edge of the holster often interferes. I have switched to a very slim minimalist wallet and carry in front right pocket, which helps solve that problem. My phone often has to go in the left rear pocket for the same reason.

    3. Hybrid holsters (like AlienGear) ARE more comfortable, no doubt about it. But none of them that I have tried reholster well. It’s just the nature of the construction with hard plastic shell on the outside, and a more flexible, comfortable material on the inside. YMMV.

    4. The only striker-fired gun I have found acceptable for AIWB carry (as of now) is the Walther PPS M2. Because it has a striker indicator rod out the rear that provides tactile feel in case anything moves the trigger during reholster. (See Lucky Gunner’s review of the gun.) Again, YMMV, and I know thousands of people reholster regular striker-fired guns every day without incident, and training is the most important thing… but still, I like that small safeguard. I do wish other manufacturers would include this feature in their striker-fired guns.

    5. No method of carry requires as much adjusting, futzing, and personalizing as AIWB. So if you’re buying a holster for AIWB, make sure you get as much adjustment capability as possible: ride height, cant, tuck-in-or-not (claw or otherwise), wedges, attachment methods, etc. etc. I mean, 1/8″ this way or that way makes the difference between all-day comfort and agony, and between disappears like magic and prints like a yard sign.

    6. Finally, in leather holsters, I can’t think of a better value than Mitch Rosen’s Express Line (and I have nothing to do with them other than being a customer). $75 is cheaper than many good kydex holsters, and way less than good leather holsters, and Rosen makes some of the best leather holsters out there.

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