When it comes to concealed carry, one of the hardest parts is… (wait for it) concealed carry. This usually involves a box full of holsters and a long process of experimentation with each one in various carry positions. That means a lot of wasted time, effort, and money. Holster selection can be confusing and challenging, but it doesn't have to be.
I'll summarize pros and cons of the more popular carry positions and holsters, and provide tips to optimize concealed carry in each position. Hopefully, after reading this, you will have a good starting point for your concealed carry lifestyle.
Carrying a gun in any position takes getting used to when you first start. I've heard it takes 21 days (about 3 weeks) to get acclimated to something. It is not just the physical weight and feel of the gun, it’s also always thinking about the fact that you have a gun all the time and worrying if anyone else will notice. This causes you to look at it, adjust it and just feel for printing (when a gun is visible even though a shirt covers it). Doing these things causes people to notice. Being confident about your concealment is a big step in properly concealing.
It's important to remember that concealing a gun on your person will never be as comfortable as not having a substantial chunk of metal and/or polymer strapped to your body, but it should not hurt.
Before we get too far, I want to let you know about a new course called Holsters, Concealment and Carry Positions. The 5 and 1/2 hours of online video content go deep into the principles of concealment from clothing to belts and everything in between.
Proper concealed carry that is comfortable will take more than just a holster and a belt. It might mean getting a new pair of jeans and you might need to buy a size up. I look for jeans that have some stretch in them. You might need to buy several cover garments (also known as t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets or etc. to those not in the lifestyle) and most of all it will take you deciding if you will sacrifice some comfort for the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and even innocent people around you.
If you're not familiar with different carry positions and the ‘clock system' here is a link to a great infographic. You can open the link and refer to the content as I mention some of the more common carry positions.
Outside the Waistband (OWB)—
This is the most comfortable way to carry. Some people may not consider OWB carry a concealed carry option, but it can be. Here are some things to think about when concealing a handgun in this manner.
If you are right-handed, you can carry OWB anywhere from around 2 o’clock to around 4:30. This depends on comfort, if you are sitting or standing, and the type of cover garment you are wearing. Right at 3 o’clock is the most common position. This position allows for easy access and comfort while sitting or standing.
Cover garments can’t be too tight and must be of sufficient length to conceal the holster. Be aware that when lifting your arms up over your head, the cover garment also goes up. So a longer garment may be required to keep the gun concealed. Darker colors and broken patterned shirts will also help with concealment.
You can best conceal with a heavier, button-up shirt, sweatshirt/hoodie, or a jacket. A thin,light, or loose fitting t-shirt might not conceal well enough depending on the size of the handgun. Fall, Spring and winter are great seasons to carry this way because you can wear a jacket, hoodie/sweatshirt or maybe a flannel, at least where I live. Because of this, the colder months are a great time to get used to carrying a gun.
All holsters need to cover the entire trigger guard and should not collapse when you draw the gun for these types of carry positions. In this podcast, Jacob and Riley discuss the attributes that make a great holster.
The holster needs to hold the gun high and tight with the body. Putting a foam wedge at the bottom of the holster can tip the top of the gun into the body for better concealment.
Inside the Waistband (IWB) Strong Side/Traditional IWB—
This is one of the most popular concealed carry positions. It conceals well and is comfortable after getting used to it. The size of the gun you can conceal depends on the cover garment.
Right handers will carry anywhere from 3 o’clock to 4:30. I prefer the gun in the 3 o’clock or 3:30 position the best because when I sit down, the back of the chair or vehicle seat doesn't obstruct my access to the gun. It also is more ergonomic to draw when you don't have to reach too far back. Carrying 3:30-4:30 will help with preventing the grip of the gun from printing. The angle of cant will also help hide the grip.
Carrying traditional IWB allows you to wear a shorter cover garment because the muzzle is in your pants. You can often get away with wearing a t-shirt because the gun is even tighter to your body compared to OWB.
I prefer Kydex holsters. The advantages of Kydex are they can have adjustable retention, they hold their shape well, and can have adjustable cant angle, which can help hide the grip of the gun. I would also make sure I got one with a wing or a claw. It helps push the grip of the gun into the body. The disadvantage is they make a little more noise when drawing.
Hybrid holsters have leather (or other soft) backs and Kydex shells. They give you the comfort of leather and some of the retention of Kydex. Beware the leather on the inside can wear after extensive use adversely affecting retention. This was my first choice for an IWB holster, but I have since avoided them. For more reasons to consider a Kydex holster over a hybrid, check out this post.
Appendix Inside the Waistband Carry (AIWB)—
Appendix carry is probably the most popular way to carry right now. This is when you carry in front (11-1 o'clock position). In general, AIWB conceals better. I use a substantial foam wedge that is available at PHLSTER, Tier One Concealed or this one from KSG Armory. There are also ways to make your own wedge. The wedge keeps the muzzle away from your body and pushes the top of the gun into your body for better concealment. The wedge also aids in comfort.
The position you carry in the AIWB position depends on your body type. Typically, in AIWB, people would carry anywhere between 12 o’clock to about 1:30 for right handed shooters. Ride height, or how much of the gun is above the beltline, is important. Having a longer muzzle or at least a longer holster can aid in comfort. A lot of holster companies suggest a holster that fits a full-length slide even if your slide is shorter.
Wearing a closed front cover garment works best in the AIWB position. T-shirts, hoodies, and even button up shirts work well also. They just need to be buttoned up. This is typically what I wear, so this position works well for me.
A good AIWB holster is not just a repurposed inside the waistband holster, so choose one from a company that makes holsters specifically for AIWB. KSG Armory holsters are a great option at an affordable price. Some manufacturers make AIWB holsters with the wedges molded right into the holster, but a detachable wedge lets you adjust the holster the way you want. Wings or claws are accessories I highly recommend when carrying AIWB.
These are the three most popular carry methods. When selecting a holster, you need to balance, safety, comfort and concealability. If you can’t achieve a satisfactory level of comfort, you won’t carry and your gun does you no good locked away in a safe. If you can’t conceal well enough to be confident in your concealment, you won’t carry. And it doesn't matter how comfortable or well concealed the gun is, if the holster has design flaws. All factors take research, experimentation, and acclimation. So spend time carrying inside and outside the house, make adjustment and over time you'll gain the confidence in carrying regularly.
We've only scratched the surface of this topic. So if you want to learn more about how you can carry comfortably, consider this online course, Holsters, Concealment and Carry Positions!
Be safe and carry where legal!