Introduction to Holsters: Beyond the Waistband

by Keith Coniglio

In our last installment we looked at options for waistband holsters, both inside (IWB) and outside (OWB). While this is a very popular and practical choice, it may not be the right choice for concealment.

Sometimes, eschewing waistband carry is a matter of personal preference. Other times, however, it’s simply not feasible. Any number of professions – from personal trainers to plumbers - require attire that precludes wearing suitable cover garments, or physical activities that would cause that cover to ride up, exposing the holster and gun. Women’s hips are structurally different and present a different pelvic angle, which can make some otherwise excellent waistband holsters perform less effectively and cause greater discomfort to the wearer. Disabilities or injuries may make waistband carry impractical if not impossible – as I’m learning first-hand, recovering from my first (and hopefully last) bout of sciatica!

Whatever the motivation for avoiding IWB/OWB holsters, there are several other options available for on-body carry.

Pocket holsters offer the ability to safely conceal a pistol in a trouser or coat pocket. These holsters may be form-fitted to a specific firearm or may simply be a generic envelope style, allowing use with anything that fits the interior dimensions. They utilize a flared shape and/or "grippy" exterior materials to maintain holster positioning, combined with a smoother or polished interior to allow an easy, snag-free draw. Some models also offer detachable, "anti-print" panels to break up the outline of the pistol when pressed against the fabric of your clothing.

Carry locations are subjective – there are just as many folks carrying in their front pocket as their rear; in slacks as in jeans; and in coat pockets as in pants. Equally varied is the size of pistol carried in such holsters. While this mode lends itself well to smaller "mouse guns," it is not uncommon to find people carrying J-frame .38s, compact Kahrs, and "baby" Glocks. Your concealment needs, attire, and ability to safely draw will dictate what is most suitable for you.

Regardless of subjective criteria, you should ensure that your holster provides adequate trigger guard protection, and is able to retain its position throughout the course of your day. And remember that, even with a suitable holster, it is highly inadvisable to allow anything else in the pocket containing your firearm! Murphy’s Law never sleeps, and the only scenario worse than something accidentally snagging your trigger is something obstructing your draw in extremis.

Ankle holsters ride beneath the pant cuff, holding the pistol at ankle height on the interior of the leg. These holsters are available for both right- and left-handed draw, and are held in place by a wide band of elastic or neoprene, occasionally supported by an above-the-calf, garter-style cuff. Ankle holsters generally employ a retention strap to keep the firearm in place during activity, though some kydex models rely on firearm-specific molding for positive retention.

This mode of carry provides good accessibility for those who spend their time seated, but the draw can be awkward from a standing position. This is especially true for those who may lack the mobility to quickly reach their lower extremities, or whose wardrobe includes high boots or tight pant cuffs. Wardrobe also plays a major role in concealment. It’s possible to carry something as large as a Glock 21 with a loose enough pant leg, but this would be impractical for most slacks and jeans. And, for obvious reasons, ankle carry is not a viable option if you are required to wear shorts.

Ankle holsters also fail to garner high marks for comfort, with the gun or holster cuff pressing against ankle bones for extended periods. This means even the "perfect combination" of gun and holster for concealment may prove unsuitable for you. Trial and error will be the order of the day.

Shoulder holsters utilize a double-loop harness – usually leather and/or elastic - to suspend a pistol beneath the weak side armpit in crossdraw fashion. The holster itself may be horizontal or vertical, and employ a retention strap to keep the pistol in place.

This mode of carry is highly dependent on a suitable wardrobe, requiring a jacket or other overgarment to break up the outline of both the gun and the harness. Most models also require a tie-down connection to a belt or belt loop to keep the gun from swinging away from the body during movement.

Vertical holsters offer the ability to use torso height to conceal a longer-barreled pistol, though the same cannot be said of horizontal holsters. Further, the orientation of horizontal shoulder holsters means that your defensive firearm’s muzzle will be constantly "sweeping" anyone behind you. Combined with the cover garment requirements mentioned above, I’m of the opinion that this mode of carry offers few advantages over IWB/OWB holsters.

I am also of the opinion that choices are always good things to have, and there are still more modes of carry to explore. In our final installment, we’ll explore "deep cover" concealment, and discuss options for off-body carry.

Keith Coniglio is a father, software tester, NRA-certified pistol instructor, and devoted Second Amendment advocate. He is also the editor-in-chief of Descendants of Liberty Press, a site dedicated to rekindling Americans' passion for - and defense of - their Constitutional rights and personal liberty.