Individuals interested in concealed carrying have access to an impressive array of options of handguns and holsters.
If you’ve decided to carry a handgun for personal protection, choosing the best holster for concealed carrying can be challenging without the right information.
Like firearms and ammunition, holster terminology can be fairly extensive, with many new terms and abbreviations to learn. However, it is worth spending the time to familiarize yourself with the most common terms because they can help you make the right choices.
Best CCW Holsters
Blackpoint Tactical Mini-Wing
The Blackpoint Tactical Mini-Wing is a lightweight, minimalistic IWB holster. It is designed to use as little material as possible while still providing you with secure retention of your handgun and a comfortable fit around your body.
Like the OWB Leather-Wing, the Mini-Wing is a hybrid holster, using leather and Kydex in its construction to provide you with the advantages of both.
This holster is made of 3 distinct parts:
- A Kydex pancake holster shell with a sweat guard
- 2 Kydex belt loops
- 4 miniature leather “wings” on the inside
The leather wings are designed to fit around the curves of your body, improving comfort and concealability.
The Mini-Wing is available for over 25 makes and hundreds of different handgun models, ranging from revolvers to slim subcompacts to full-size duty pistols. Holster cant and ride height are fully adjustable, and all variants are available in either left-handed or right-handed configuration.
This holster is intended mainly for use as a strong-side hip holster. In this configuration, and as long as you have a proper gun belt, the Mini-Wing fits snugly and comfortably in your pants, allowing you to conceal carry even a full-size handgun with ease.
Although it is not explicitly designed for this carry method, many users of the Mini-Wing prefer it for appendix carry. While concealability of larger handguns may not be as good as with the strong-side hip position, the Mini-Wing is so configurable that it is possible to use it as an AIWB holster effectively.
You can truly personalize your holster with 38 color and pattern options for the Kydex parts and 5 leather color options for the leather wings.
The front and back Kydex panels can also be ordered in different colors, so your Mini-Wing is customized to your preferences.
Tier 1 Concealed Axis Elite
The Axis Elite by Tier 1 Concealed is explicitly designed for appendix IWB carry.
This product features a unique 2-piece design, combining a Kydex handgun holster and a magazine carrier into a single unit, fastened together with a military-grade shock cord.
All Axis Elite holsters are cut to accept handguns equipped with suppressor-height iron sights and pistol optics, and T1C offers an option for pistols fitted with threaded barrels.
The Kydex magazine carrier is molded to your magazine’s exact shape, using the same principle as Kydex handgun holsters.
For additional concealment, the carrier sits a little further on the inside than the holster itself, diminishing the holster’s overall footprint and reducing the risk of printing.
If you prefer carrying an extended spare magazine, the Axis Elite can be ordered with a deeper mag carrier, keeping it level with your firearm. For example, assuming a Glock 17 is fully loaded with a standard 17-round magazine inserted, the extended magazine carrier allows you to carry a spare magazine with a +4 extension, for a total of 39 rounds on your body.
Tier 1 Concealment also offers a wide variety of customization options for the Axis Elite, including 33 different colors and patterns, such as black, arctic white, EMT red, police blue, woodland camouflage, or Multicam.
T1C also offers spare shock cords, which can be used if the one that comes with your holster wears out or if you wish to order one in a different color. Eight different cord colors are available, including standard red, hunter orange, white, or neon green.
Muddy River Tactical OWB Water Buffalo Leather Holster
This OWB holster by Muddy River Tactical is 100% hand-crafted in the USA using high-quality water buffalo leather. This type of leather, also known as Memel, is one of the softest yet most durable, leathers available, approximately 3 times thicker than cowhide.
As a holster material, water buffalo leather is soft and comfortable to wear all day. The full-size sweat shield protects your firearm from perspiration and offers a greater surface area against which your holster can rest, resulting in a more comfortable fit.
This holster is built with a 10° forward cant, more comfortable than a straight angle when used with a strong-side hip holster. It can also help conceal your firearm more effectively because the bottom of your pistol’s grip does not stick out as much at that angle.
This holster is available for a wide selection of handguns, ranging from full-size duty pistols to small subcompacts, and can be ordered in a right- or left-hand orientation.
Although this holster is made of a highly-durable material intended to last a lifetime, Muddy River Tactical offers a lifetime, no-questions-asked warranty on all of its products. If anything happens to your holster, the company promises to repair or replace it free of charge.
Fobus Standard Holster
Fobus is a leading manufacturer of gun holsters based in Israel, established in 1978.
The Fobus Standard is the company’s flagship OWB model. Constructed entirely out of Kydex, the main advantages of the Fobus Standard are its low weight and its low-profile, discreet design.
The holster paddle is thin and large, contoured, and rubberized to provide extra comfort, even if it comes in direct contact with your skin. All parts of the holster are secured together with 4 steel rivets for extra durability, ensuring that it will last you a lifetime.
Like most Kydex holsters, the Fobus Standard functions using a passive retention system, holding your firearm in place with a tight and snug fit. However, this design requires a stiff and robust gun belt to prevent the possibility of pulling out your entire holster alongside your handgun when drawing. It may not be an ideal choice if you wear loose-fitting pants or shorts.
The Fobus Standard is available for over 27 manufacturers and hundreds of handgun models, in either left-handed or right-handed configuration.
Although concealing a larger handgun with this holster may require some additional thought in your clothing choice, this holster can conceal smaller handguns such as compacts and subcompacts more effectively. This makes it an excellent choice for OWB concealed carry.
Crossbreed Modular Belly Band Package
Active gun owners cannot always wear a gun belt, particularly for physical activities such as jogging, playing tennis, or exercising at the gym.
Solutions such as the Crossbreed Modular Belly Band Holster help those who live an active lifestyle remain able to conceal carry. Although primarily marketed towards women, belly band holsters can be used by people of all genders and most body shapes.
Crossbreed Modular Belly Band Holsters are made of an elastic, stretchy material, fastened together with large velcro panels. They are easy to put on and take off, fit snugly around your body, and the carry position can be easily adjusted by rotating the entire system until your holster is in a comfortable place.
The belly band is available in 4 sizes, from small to extra large. To choose the right size, you need to know your waist measurement. If you are in between 2 sizes, pick the smaller of the two to ensure a snug fit and secure retention of your handgun and accessories.
Unlike most other belly band systems, the Crossbreed Modular does not use a universal fit nylon holster. Instead, it uses a molded Kydex holster molded for the carry firearm of your choice, similar to many IWB and OWB models.
This material ensures that your pistol is safely and securely retained at all times and is more durable than nylon or leather.
Galco Front Pocket Holster
Although pocket carrying limits the practical size of the handgun you can use, it is a popular solution for those who wish to carry concealed but cannot use a standard IWB or OWB holster.
The Galco Front Pocket Holster is made of elegant horsehide leather, shaped and textured to effectively conceal your handgun yet allow you to draw with ease with one hand. It is designed to be used in a front pants pocket but can also be effectively used in a jacket pocket.
Whether you use it to carry your primary concealed carry piece or your backup gun, it is convenient and breaks in quickly. Many models are available for a large selection of small pistols and snub-nosed revolvers, such as the Ruger LCP, Smith & Wesson J-Frames, Glock subcompacts, or the classic Walther PPK.
Holsters are typically categorized by method of carrying. Some of the most common types for concealed carrying include the following:
- Inside-the-waistband (IWB): The most popular choice for general-purpose concealed carrying, IWB holsters are designed to fit on the inside of your pants, retained by your belt, and hidden by a tucked shirt or equivalent piece of clothing.
- Outside-the-waistband (OWB): OWB holsters are designed to ride on the outside of your pants. Like IWB holsters, they are retained by your belt. Although not as easily concealed as IWB, they are usually more comfortable to carry, mainly if you prefer larger handguns.
- Appendix holsters: This type of IWB holster is designed explicitly for appendix carry inside the waistband (AIWB). Appendix carry is a specific carry position where the handgun sits directly in front of your body, at the 12 o’clock position.
- Paddle holsters: A paddle holster is a type of OWB holster designed to be quickly attachable and detachable from your belt. Instead of belt loops, this type of holster uses a plastic clip called a paddle, designed to bite onto your belt, relying on friction to stay in place.
- Belly band holsters: This type of holster is retained by an elastic, form-fitting belly band, fastened with velcro and worn around your midsection. This kind of holster allows you to carry concealed without a gun belt safely. It is a popular choice for any situation where pants and a belt aren’t practical.
- Pocket holsters: These holsters are specifically designed to be carried in a pants pocket. This type of holster is not retained by a belt, using clips, wings, or hooks instead, helping you draw the handgun without bringing the entire holster up. However, this is a carry method generally reserved for small, compact handguns.
- Ankle holsters: Popularized by law enforcement as a means of discreetly carrying a secondary (backup) handgun, ankle holsters are naturally concealed by the wearer’s pants. As with pocket holsters, this carry method is usually only suitable for compact handguns.
- Shoulder holsters: Also called a chest holster, this classic holster type is mounted on a leather or nylon rig worn over the shoulders. The holster sits on the side of your chest opposite to your dominant hand (e.g., right-handed shooters wear a shoulder holster on the left). You can also purchase double-shoulder holsters. This type makes it easy to carry large handguns, is comfortable to use if you’re often in a seated position, and can even be concealed with a jacket. This carry method is not recommended for beginners because the muzzle points directly behind them.
If you intend to carry using an IWB, OWB, appendix, or paddle holster, using a purpose-built gun belt is strongly recommended. Gun belts are stiff, robust, and designed to support the weight of your handgun and spare magazines without sagging or stretching, keeping your holster comfortable to wear and adequately concealed.
Concealed Carrying Positions
Another essential part of holster terminology is clock positions, used to refer to your holster’s location relative to your body. These terms are relevant only for holsters carried on the waistband or in a belly band holster.
- Strong-side hip carry: This is the most common carry position for belt holsters. For right-handed shooters, the strong-side is at the 3 o’clock position (directly on the right hip). The opposite is true for left-handed shooters, whose strong-side is at 9 o’clock (left hip).
- Appendix carry: This position involves wearing the holster either at the 12 o’clock position (at the belly button) or slightly offset: 1 or 2 o’clock for right-handed shooters, 10 or 11 o’clock for left-handed.
- Kidney carry: Your holster is placed behind your hip, at the 4 or 5 o’clock position if right-handed, 7 or 8 o’clock if left-handed.
- Small-of-the-back carry (SOB): Your holster is located at the 6 o’clock position. It is considered one of the more difficult and unsafe carry positions, as the gun rests directly above your spine, presenting a risk if you fall onto your back. Drawing requires reaching around and behind your body, potentially pointing your muzzle at yourself or an unintended target in the process.
The Bottom Line
There are many systems and methods for concealed carrying. It doesn’t matter which one you prefer, as long as your choice is practical and retains your firearm securely, allowing you to draw and reholster safely.
If you have the opportunity, try different models and experiment as much as possible until you find the right carry holster and position for you. It may take you some time and practice to find the right methods, especially if you are new to concealed carrying.