Concealed Carry

Concealed Carry Positions and Thoughts on Holster Selection

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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (8)

  1. Great post. very thorough and helpful. Any thoughts on using a “fanny pack” to carry/conceal? There are several different styles on the market. Also, what about extra magazines / speedloaders with the various options presented? Is it even a consideration with your EDC?

  2. Some good tips. I like the idea of a lightweight 357 like the one in the photo. I live in the desert so concealment is often difficult at best. I’m currently trying a “Joey Pouch” appendix carry. In hot climate, which is everyday here, the pouch or a belly band is the easiest for concealment. Keep in mind that not all physcical characteristics are amenable to appendix carry. For years past I use IWB leather with good success. Try try, try until you find what works best for you.

  3. Personally, I like the shoulder holstervfor me. I can get it my weapon out with comfort and ease in a relatively quick time!

  4. cross draw ,Alien gear canted butt 10 degrees forward, this works especially well in winter with a 3/4 length coat unzipped, just slip my hand inside ,no large arm movements ,no clearing of clothing, and the muzzle is not covering any body parts, the draw is muzzle down, again low profile movement , summer same with a bright print shirt to camouflage any print thru.
    I did not think that I would consider crossdraw but trying to get to a strong side holster in winter is a nonstarter and if worn that way will “show ” when you bend over

  5. I alternate between vertical shoulder & IWB depending on season as well as attire. As a skinny fellow it can be a challenge at times not printing. Thankfully attention to posture and how one carries one’s self can do a lot for concealability. I carry a Kahr PM9.

  6. SPARKS… I love the decoy wallet… many thanks for that idea… I can see the odds of that working are high indeed…and in total agreement with the rest of your post… only difference is I’m a wheel gun fan… Taurus 605 loaded with magnums for EDC…. thanks for the ideas…

  7. My favorite is pocket carry. I never leave home without it, especially when going to places with a sign posted “No Firearms” (I never go in buildings where it is illegal to carry). I never want to be stuck in a place where I am at the mercy of a bad guy with a gun – bad guys either never read signs, can’t read, or don’t care.

    My best choice is a S&W Bodyguard 380 ACP with built in laser. Thin, light, easy carry and powerful enough to get the attention of a bad guy if necessary. In my pocket it is almost undetectable, and it is comforting to be able to put my hand on it without broadcasting it or flashing it.

    I only give three pieces of advice: 1. if you pocket carry, never put anything else in that pocket (car keys) that could inhibit access when you are in danger. 2. Practice, practice, practice. Go to the range and practice pulling it out of your pocket and hitting the target. 3. Always carry a throw down wallet, a wallet filled with all those “your name here” credit card offers, the photos that came with the wallet, an old driver’s license with your name obliterated, and a one-dollar bill plainly exposed. If confronted by an armed assailant confusingly fumble the wallet out of your right rear pocket and drop it on the ground like a scared victim would. Then watch for the opportunity to reach for your piece and end the encounter. I used this method while visiting in Brazil, twice.

  8. As a 78 yr old woman, (and retired county deputy and probation/parole field officer) none of my pants have a waist band that will support any kind of holster. Thus, I found in a dept store clothing section a 3″ wide elastic belt. It fits snug and I attach my holster, either owb or iwb to the belt and put belt on. Perfect. I make sure the belt is snug. I can lower my pants for personal business and pull them back up. Shoulder holsters don’t work w/o a firm belt with which to attach the holster lower straps to so you can draw w/o pulling the holster up along with the gun. Pockets work too. And of course, purses also work if you are diligent in watching for purse snatchers. Always use a cross-body worn to the front. So there is my 2 cents worth.

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