the best concealed carry holster for beginners
Dan Z. for TTAG
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So, you want to start carrying a gun, and are wondering what to look for in a good concealed carry holster. That’s a good thing to think about, to be sure. Not enough concealed carriers give enough thought to the right holster for their gun or the way they like to carry it.

Let’s start with the basics. There are a lot of brands out there, so we won’t get too deeply into that. Instead, we’ll focus on what 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 as much as or more than the gun.

What should you look for in a concealed carry holster? There are a few key attributes that you have to have.

First, it must be comfortable enough for you to wear for extended periods or you won’t do so. It must be custom-molded for your make and model firearm. That’s because it has to provide a good fit for your pistol and adequate retention while carrying. And the trigger guard should be fully covered when the gun is inserted.

Note the adjustable retention screw in front of the trigger guard on this Bravo Concealment holster.

Adjustable passive retention is a very good feature to have, and your rig have a belt clip(s) that works with your belt and style of dress. The holster mouth should be designed so that re-holstering can be done one-handed. On leather holsters, look for a reinforced mouth.

A Vedder IWB holster with a single adjustable steel belt clip.

Belt clips come in a few varieties. Hard plastic or steel clips are the most common. Some are slim and some are narrow and many allow you to adjust the cant or angle of carry. More minimalist concealed carry holster will usually have a single wide clip. Additionally, some holsters will have belt loops with snap enclosures instead.

Blackpoint OWB Kydex holster with belt loops and adjustable retention screw

The holster should be of sufficiently high quality to last a goodly amount of time. Now, the lifetime of a holster depends on frequency of use as well as wear and tear, but a good few years if not a decade of useful life 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, but there are lots of good holster makers out there.

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.

concealed carry holster draw pistol
Shutterstock

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.

Crossbreed IWB holster
Crossbreed hybrid holster with a Kydex shell, leather backing and steel clips

I’ve used leather, Kydex holsters and hybrid holsters. In my experience, hard Kydex holsters aren’t the most comfortable, but I appreciate how easily they go on and off and how durable they are. Hybrid designs, in my opinion, tend to be more comfortable for carrying all day, so that’s what I prefer.

StealthGear Onyx hybrid IWB hoster
StealthGear Onyx hybrid holster with breathable backing

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.

Safariland slide holster design that’s adjustable for cant

A lot of people who carry every day prefer to angle their pistol forward slightly. This can be both more comfortable and more concealable. If that’s you, make sure to buy a holster that’s canted or one that can be adjusted to an angle that’s right for you.

If you use a red dot sight like so many concealed carriers seem to these days — or even if you think you will in the future — be sure to choose a holster that will accommodate a RDS. More and more holster makers are designing models specifically for this as the popularity of pistol red dot sights skyrockets.

Your mileage will almost certainly vary as to what type of IWB (standard, appendix, cross-draw) holster you lean toward, as well as the material you prefer.

Bravo Concealment OWB holster
Bravo Concealment OWB holster

You can, of course, use outside the waistband or OWB holsters for concealed carry, though holster selection and how you dress make a difference. OWB holsters tend to be less concealable. For effective concealment, you need a holster that rides higher on the belt and tight to the bod and the right cover garment.

The old leather pancake and Askins holster designs were preferred for many years for this purpose and are still viable options. Kydex/plastic and hybrid designs of OWB exist as well.

Credit: aliengearholsters.com

Again, clothing will matter. Some folks find OWB concealed carry requires a jacket or vest.  Others find an untucked shirt is enough. Some use a larger or tall-size shirt can conceal a pistol worn outside the waistband. You have to experiment with it to find out what works for you.

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 can be tricky, as they conceal well on the right body type, but are terribly obvious on the wrong body type.

miami classic ii shoulder holster
Courtesy Galco

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 the pistol horizontally under the arm. Not only do you flag those behind you, it can be 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 is the Alien Gear Holsters shoulder holster. I work there and may be biased, but it’s one of the few quality shoulder holsters that has anywhere near the amount of features. Galco makes some very good 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, SIG, or similar pistols are a bit too heavy for many ankle holster designs.

Belly Band Holster
Courtesy ComfortTac

Belly band holsters, usually made of spandex or similar stretchy material, are basically an elastic girdle with a pocket for a pistol. 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. Lots of concealed carriers learn that settling on the “right” holster for their carry gun is more of a journey than a destination. Your mileage will most certainly vary. Don’t be discouraged if you go through a few models that don’t work out. Most of us do. I have a holster drawer of my own, too.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Beginners guide? Let’s boil this down a little, holsters, the style, type, make etc is old as dirt. It’s like caliber wars, lung blowing 9mm vs .40 vs .357 and so on. And then there is the first gun for beginners war. Does a new shooter and concealed carrier start with a revolver, a striker semi-auto, a hammer fired DA/SA and so on.

    I’ll boil it down in a few simple sentences. A holster is a tool. In the beginning a person gets a few tools and soon they find out that Harbor Freight Tool box and stupid socket set is worthless and they upgrade and buy better tools. Soon, that is outgrown as they buy more tools and gain experience and broaden projects.

    A persons first gun, first holster is a learning experience. A person can read articles and opinions until the cows come home but here’s a certainty, a new shooter is going to end up with at least a half dozen holsters because one does not fit all occasions. It never has and never will. Get used to trying out holsters and figuring out what works for what and when.

    • Agreed. I think many POTG end up with a drawer full of holsters (and belts, and knives, and lights, and other EDC gear) after going through a variety of styles to find what works best for his/her specific setup and preferences. I settled on what works best for me, and I keep the other holsters to allow for lending to other newbies (friends, family) so they can “try before they buy” and perhaps save themselves a little bit of moolah.

      Use what works for you, preferably something that’s comfortable and “disappears” in your mind so that you get past the subconscious habit of constantly touching your gat to reassure yourself that it’s still there. Touching your gun gives it away as much as “printing” does.

      • Absolutely! I tell new carriers to carry all the time. Carry until their brain has forgotten they are carrying and they feel naked without it.

        If a new carrier quits in the beginning because the new gun and holster feel foreign, they have given up too soon.

        I hate to go into what works for me but after carrying for almost 45 years, a Sticky Holster IWB appendix works about 95% of the time for me. It provides comfort, concealability, the ability to draw seat-belted in a car and provides extremely fast presentation, which those of us with experience know is significantly important along with being able to hit your target and of course much more, which is another TTAG article.

        • Hmm. AIWB is my jam. I like my minimalist method, but I’ll give the Sticky Holster a look-see.

        • @ I Haz A Question
          The one thing that is a major drawback about Sticky Holsters, they don’t last very long, but they aren’t very expensive either. They are comfortable and I tell you what, with practice, you can get a draw accomplished damned fast. If you’re interested, get one and wear it with a decent belt. It’s by far the best minimalist, quick to be out the door with no BS. It’s like sticking your wallet in your back pocket. That I like. This messing around with other holsters takes too long. I’d rather buy a new Sticky every few years.

      • Indeed, the fiddling goes away with reps/days of carry. I carry 12rd Ruger Max in an owb kydex, long t shirt. Done. Don’t over think it either!

  2. And you thought choosing that just right first gun was a problem
    Hahaha
    Now the real fun begins. Good luck.

  3. I don’t care which manufacturers you use. Which design. Materials. Whatever. I will suggest this. Do not skimp on the quality of your support gear. Quality gear is not inexpensive, but it’s worth it.

    • And for chrissakes, a proper gun belt. Some 1/8th inch Made-in-China pleather is going to sag under the weight of your rig before the first day is out. A good thick leather belt will be stiff and uncomfortable at first, but stick with it and it’ll break in.

  4. Since retiring from US Army I got my handgun permit in TN and use Alien Gear Holsters https://aliengearholsters.com

    Also use their magazine holster also for spare magazine.
    https://aliengearholsters.com/mag-carriers.html

    I use it everyday even if I’m at home, part of my acclimate process, so over time it’s normal to have my firearm, holster, spare mag (and it’s holster), along with my proper ID.
    I have to admit that Alien Gear has stood up, I carry a Sig Sauer P250 Compact 45acp and spare 9 round magazine every day for the past 8 years.

  5. I have used Safariland, Galco, Fobus and others. Then I found Versacarry. Other having only one model that fit my Canik TP9/SFX they have a lot of great and durable holsters. They are also walking distance from my house. The Canik was hard to fit in a leather holster as it has a 5.2 inch barrel but they did it. I like their holsters and belts. Go have a look https://versacarry.com/ .

  6. Hey!! You forgot Sneaky Pete!! My EDC is an M&P 9s in a Sneaky Pete on my right hip at the 4:00 position. Very fast draw, durable, and handsome. Most folk think it is a mobile device (well, it is, kinda).

    Sneaky Pete. Most of my other holsters sit in the drawer of unloved gear.

    When deep cover is needed (like a client’s office), I carry a Ruger LCP II (the 7 round model) in a pocket Sticky.

    Tried IWB. Could not get used to it.

  7. Hybrid is full kaka, as are most 2 clip iwb holsters. Not even going to mention owb because those “people” are insane.

    Just get the vedder with the single tuckable clip. Or any kydex with just 1 clip. Avoid over thinking. Avoid the drawer of holsters.

    • Premium,

      Sneaky Pete. OWB but concealed.
      I may be insane, but the Sneaky Pete is not the reason.

      You do have strong opinions. 🤠

    • can’t stand full kydex.
      and clips directly outside the barrel are substandard designs.
      either full leather or leather contacting skin.

  8. My wife got me a Stealthgear hybrid and it is by far my favorite holster. And it’s nice given that I live in Houston so most days are road melting hot.

  9. Alien Gear ShapeShift 4.0 IWB Holster – worst holster I ever tried. Definitely not for me, but some like it.

  10. Alien gear IWB with an M&P 9 full size. I forget I’m wearing it. Very comfortable, very concealed. 15+1 rounds with a spare 15 round mag.

    • I also have an alien gear IWB for my Springfield XDm-10 5.25 Conceals well with forward cant and baggy tshirts but is heavy. Trying to get used to it as this is what I really want to EDC. 15+1 and spare mag.

  11. I have an Alien Gear IWB 2 clip. It gets the job done and I use it as a backup. It has this ‘click’ or ‘pop’ sound to it where the plastic belt clips attach when I move a certain way and it gets annoying.

    At the moment, my IWB holster of choice is a Hidden Hybrid with metal clips. It shifts a little more than I would like and have to sometimes rotate the waist of my pants back around to the left but it’s generally an extremely comfortable ride. I like leather and a more expensive full leather holster would be less likely to produce scratches and other wear marks but I see no reason to make any safe queen be my daily carry.

  12. I know that I’m in a tiny minority but I’ve been carrying nearly every day for 40 years and I do what works for me. I carried IWB in summer and OWB when I could wear a jacket, hoodie, or something that offered concealment UNTIL the “printing” law changed in Florida a few years ago. After that I started carrying OWB 100% of the time. I wear looser fitting shirts (a lot of nice fishing shirts like Aftco, Pelagic, Columbia or the like) but the fact is, I couldn’t care less if I’m printing at some angles or during some movements. Not at all. I’ve never had it pointed out and I’m sure that 99% of people never notice. That other 1% or whatever, I just don’t care. None. I’m a lot more comfortable and I can draw faster if I need to.
    I carried a SIG 220 38 Super for decades and now carry a Kimber 45 Pro Carry II in a El Paso Saddlery holster.

    But as always – I’ll do what works for me and you do the same.

  13. I can’t stand articles like these because it’s so personal – you have to try dozens of holsters before you find what works for your body and your style of dress.

  14. Tucker gunleather is my preferred brand…. best I’ve found by far. Leather-lined kydex causes less finish wear. Oh, and Kore Essential gun belts are great. Also, using mag carriers to balance your belt really makes it far more comfortable to carry heavy guns.

  15. Not so hard if you first decide inside the belt or outside.
    Then buy clothes that fit your carry style.
    I prefer outside because it’s more comfortable.
    Then get a holster that is snug and tight to your body.
    D. B. Bullard, El Paso, or JM4 make excellent products.
    I have no problem disappearing a G26 or Sig P238 in a hot Texas summer. I wear polo style or Tommy Bahama shirts and never worry about printing.

  16. “Disclosure time: I work for Alien Gear Holsters”

    Nuff said. Aliean Gear holsters are simply too busy. In fact all Hybrid holsters have flaws and I would NOT go there. I recommend….

    CYA for the complete low $$$ option that just works.

    Bravo Concealment for both low cost and great shit honestly. The materiel they use = thinness.

    Vedder if you feel then need (in your head) to have something than the excellent bang for the buck Bravo options. I do like the FAT metal clip on my Vedder’s.

    For the Cadillac of holster there is none other than Milt Sparks. Truly works of art, and so, so comfortable. All the options I listed are junk in comparison, but they are cheap and they work.

    Most of all do NOT overthink this crap. Carrying a gun will SUCK at first, the weight, the bulk….etc…etc. Just keep on, keep on until its like the third leg you were born with.

    Lastely I cant say enough about Kore Belts, I have 3 now, one gave up the ghost after years of daily wearing. They work and work well…..just ask the box of belts I have in my closet…that never get touched.

    • Yup, Kore ratcheting is the shit. Have one in every color of the spectrum. Definitely my favorite belts for almost every occasion.

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