Most of us who’ve carried for a while will end up with the proverbial “holster box,” filled with a bunch of gun-carry gear that we tried and just didn’t like. For some shooters, it’s more like holster “bins.” That’s gonna happen. We pick our guns by trial and error to some extent until we find the one that just seems most simpatico with our particular hands and needs. It is normal to do the same with our holsters.

However, once we’ve got just the right handgun and just the right holster, we may have to broaden the carry gear array to cover our needs in less than perfect situations. For instance, I know a lot of guys who don’t particularly care to wear suits and particularly neckties…but they have both in the closet, because there are occasions in their lives when social conventions and dress codes require them to be so attired. The fact is, something similar happens to carry methods for those of us who choose to go armed.

There’s another factor that needs to be taken into account. Few people get through their allotted years on Earth without suffering some sort of injury or disability, even if it’s (hopefully) temporary. Coming home from the hospital in pain and perhaps trussed up with an arm in a sling, a leg in a brace, or a hand in a cast is a lousy time to start thinking about how one is going to protect oneself and family. Therefore, one factor I’ll include in holster wardrobe selection is what I’ll call the “orthopedic element.”


Most CCW practitioners end up in traditional strong-side hip carry, which usually means just behind the hip so that gun and holster don’t ride gratingly against the hipbone. This slight shift to the rear also improves concealability dramatically. If a right-handed person is seen as facing 12 o’clock, “on the hip” would put the holstered gun at 3 o’clock. Here, it protrudes noticeably under a supposedly concealing garment. Bringing the gun and holster back to just 3:30 not only takes both off the bone and both over soft tissue where it will be more comfortable, but also puts the holstered sidearm where material of the cover garment drapes down from the latissimus dorsi and now conceals much better the fact that one is armed.

The two holsters I’d suggest, both intended for this position, are one that rides outside the belt, and one that carries inside the waistband (IWB). The IWB provides three distinct concealment advantages. One is that if the concealing garment inadvertently rides up, the hem of that garment won’t reveal the holster’s presence until it comes up past the belt-line. A second is that the trousers break up and hide the outline of the holster body itself. The third advantage is that the belt pulls the holstered handgun much more snugly in against the body, reducing bulge and “printing.”

However, the price of IWB carry is a reduction in comfort to some degree. We buy our pants to fit us, and now the pants have to fit us and a holstered gun. As a rule of thumb, pants 2 inches larger in the waist than usual will make IWB carry comfortable. (IWBs also encourage us to carry our guns, because without the holstered gun, the pants fit too loosely.)

What it boils down to is, the holster outside the waistband gives us reasonable concealment under casual or loose-fitting cover garments if the scabbard rides reasonably tight to the body, and also maximum comfort. The IWB gives us better concealment when needed under lighter or more form-fitting clothing. Many also find the outside the belt holster faster to draw from, because the gun is not being held quite so snugly against the torso, and the fingers can more quickly and easily take their drawing grasp.

Crossdraw Holsters

The crossdraw holster—carrying the gun butt-forward on the hip opposite the dominant hand—is nowhere near as popular today as it was in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. For one thing, many ranges forbid it on the theory that the muzzle is likely to cross a fellow shooter on firing line when the gun is drawn. Some shooting schools also ban crossdraw. So do the rules of some competitive draw-and-fire shooting sports, such as PPC and IDPA. A gun carrying method that you can’t get sufficient practice time with has one strike against it out of the starting gate.

However, certain body shapes and certain situations are very well served by crossdraw carry. The person who anticipates needing to draw while seated—behind the steering wheel of an automobile, or behind a desk—will find a reach to the front of their belt faster, more comfortable, and all-around more expeditious with crossdraw carry.

Many women who have the choice find crossdraw easier. The reason is the hips are higher and more flared on the typical female anatomy than the typical male, and most of the hip holsters have been designed and manufactured for men. On the male, behind the hip carry generally puts the gun butt in the kidney area, and on many females, the same holster will place the butt up in proximity to the lower rib cage, making the draw more awkward. Crossdraw can be difficult for wide-shouldered males with low belts, but the typical female torso will be shorter and narrower, making the reach to the opposite hip proportionally easier.

ssdraw carry also facilitates weak-hand draw very well. One simply turns palm out and thumb back, lifts the gun from the holster, and rotates it to a position with the sights upright once it has cleared the body and is on its way up to alignment with the intended target. The movement is called “cavalry draw,” dating back to the 19th century when a cavalryman was expected to draw his saber crossbody, and placed his revolver on his strong-side hip butt forward where he could theoretically reach it with either hand if needed.

Earlier, the “orthopedic holster” element was mentioned. That can certainly key in with the crossdraw holster. Several types of arm and shoulder injury, particularly those afflicting the rotator cuff, can limit the user’s ability to reach behind their hip with their dominant hand for a conventionally placed “strong side holster.” However, a cross body reach may be much easier for that particular patient. I know one gentleman who habitually carries butt-forward on his opposite side hip because accumulated injuries over the years have made it very hard for him to draw from the strong side hip.

While there are specific crossdraw holsters, sometimes with their butt canted to the wearer’s front, any holster that carries the gun with the muzzle perpendicular to the ground when the wearer is standing should do fine. Unless one has particularly long arms, crossdraw works best with the holster slightly forward of the opposite side hip. This may require the user to pay particular attention to concealment, especially when wearing the cross draw rig under an open-front garment.

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  • Jeff

    Great article. I too have accumulated a lot of holsters through the years and my take has been anything on the belt is a pain one way or another. I found the cross body holster from to be a good alternative. It’s like a shoulder holster but with less straps.