There is no perfect all-purpose holster, but there are a lot of holsters perfect for specific applications. In any given week I’ll use each of my three favorites from a collection of more than a dozen holsters. Deep-concealment holsters offer the best concealment, and work with the widest range of clothing types. To help you find your perfect one—or three—here’s a guide to the latest trends, along with some classics that still hold up.
The hottest trend in deep concealment right now is appendix carry, with a host of purpose-built (and many general inside-the-waistband) holsters to help you conceal a handgun. Think of appendix carry as “in front of your strong-side hip” carry. A holster here, at roughly the one-thirty position, can actually tuck a concealable handgun along the curve of your thigh, under your belly (whether you have a big one or not), when you’re sitting or standing. This method exploits a little-noticed triangle of space that exists between your thigh, hip and stomach.
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Some folks are terrified of putting the muzzle of a loaded handgun that close to their genitals, which is understandable. Others overcome that fear by holstering their gun with their holster off of their body, then positioning the gun—holster and all, at the same time—on their body so that the holster completely covers the triggerguard during the entire process (and so that the handgun doesn’t move within the holster during the process, either). When going to the bathroom, changing clothes or just at the end of the day, you may want to similarly remove the holster and handgun as one unit, then replace them in your pants again next time as one unit.
This is likely the safest way to don and doff an appendix holster, and a great many of the holster options for appendix carry feature clips instead of belt loops to make this process easy every time. The appendix-carry position is surprisingly comfortable when seated in a chair or the driver’s seat of a vehicle. With the right positioning, you can still draw an appendix-carried handgun while seated, which is not always the case with other holster and carry positions.
For retention at contact range, appendix carry is a little safer than carry positions that are accessible to those who might attack unexpectedly from the rear. It’s hard to draw from a small-of-back or four o’clock strong-side holster while being choked or otherwise attacked from behind, but you can still draw from an appendix holster in those situations.
Inside The Waistband
The standard in deep concealment, there is a bewildering variety of holsters that are designed to tuck into your pants, thus concealing pretty much everything forward of the ejection port. IWB holsters come in two varieties: tuckable (meaning that you can tuck a shirt in between your pants and gun) and those that aren’t.
Non-tuckable IWB holsters, however, still require a shirt, jacket or other cover garment to conceal their presence. This gets tricky when you reach overhead, bend over or otherwise raise the hem on your cover garment. If this is a minimal concern, then this style generally offers models that involve the least material, least bulk and least cost.
Tuckable IWB holsters are the new standard in concealment, and generally achieve their defining utility by utilizing J-shaped clips that connect the holster to your belt or pants. The channel thus formed by the clip is shallow but ready to receive your tucked-in shirt, so that you can doff your blazer and wander about in just your shirt with people generally none the wiser. This does add a level of impediment to drawing your handgun, as you need to dramatically untuck and raise that cover garment to get at your handgun, but that is generally seen to be offset by the extreme stealth of the tuckable IWB approach.
On The Ankle
A favorite backup carry position for law enforcement officers, ankle holsters offer discreet protection that requires unique draw motions. You’ll need to bend down, or acrobatically lift your knee and raise your pants leg with your support hand without falling over, to access your pistol. But if you’re on the ground grappling already that maneuver can become easier. Since these are the worst-case situations where an officer might need a pistol other than an inaccessible duty gun, they typically like ankle holsters.
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A benefit to ankle holsters for citizens is how low-profile they generally are—there are no telltale clips, no bulges in places that busybodies and criminals learn to look for bulges—and you can engage in a full range of motions without printing or accidentally exposing a part of your gun (except, perhaps, running). It’s especially relevant to those who work desk jobs, who can drop a hand to their side and be inches from their gun. When you’re walking with a shoulder holster, though, it’s a long way from your hand, and it can throw off your gate until you get familiar with the extra weight on one leg.
A shoulder holster is absolutely indispensible if you are a 1980s-era television detective. They’ve fallen from favor for modern self-defense, however. This is partly because they require an open-front concealment garment (or some tricky acrobatics from under a shirt), partly because they involve much more material to don and doff and because most ranges won’t let you practice with them, ever, because both orientations (muzzle down and muzzle rearward) necessitate a drawstroke that sweeps the muzzle across one entire stretch of the firing line.
If you can’t practice with something, you probably shouldn’t make it an integral part of your kit. Nevertheless, there are situations where a shoulder holster makes great sense: while driving, while seated at a desk and while engaging in physical activity where a waistline-carried gun would bang into things.
For the tiniest handguns there are some particularly well-adapted holsters. These holsters by and large use leather rectangular body panels for the outboard side, while on the inboard side they provide a cutaway holster that accepts pocket-sized pistols. Slip your pistol into these holsters, then slip the entire holster in your pocket. Sit down, raise your leg or pull your pants tight against your thigh and it prints beautifully—in the size and shape of a wallet. No one is scared of that and few suspect a thing, even if they count the wallet bulges on your body and wonder why you have two.
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Today’s pocket holsters generally have anti-slip texturing, coarse-side-out leather or other design features (sometimes even a sculpted hook) that will help the holster remain in your pocket as you draw the gun from within it. The downside to these holsters is that you typically have to fish your fingers carefully between the leather outer panel of the holster and the grip of your gun—you can’t just ham-fist the first thing you touch—which takes a certain getting used to.
One of the more intriguing specialized holsters is the belly band style, which utilizes a wide elastic band with an integral holster or pocket. The band wraps around your torso, and it does not require a belt, pants or any other garment to hold it in place. Marketed for joggers and those who need an extremely discreet carry solution, their strength is that they are clothing independent. Their weakness is that you wind up with a large constricting band across your chest, which can decrease physical performance, and which generally requires a little more complicated of a maneuver to extract the gun.
There are also holsters that clip to a bra, which hide diminutive carry pistols under a woman’s breasts. These aren’t the easiest to access, but they offer additional options for those who might be stretched to find other suitable methods.
One of the more controversial concepts in holsters is the idea of using off-body concealment, in dedicated planners, purses, sling-style bags, etc. Anything not strapped to your body can be forgotten, lost, stolen or ripped away.
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In their favor, there are some purpose-built handbags and day planners and the like that can conceal any size handgun, often with a spare magazine or speedloader, suggesting that the gun you can carry off-body could be larger or more powerful than one you could carry on-body. Especially for females whose more form-fitting clothing make concealment difficult, these may be your best options.
The most intriguing option might be a sling-style bag with fast-access (usually Velcro-secured) rear pockets for the handgun. It’s an established practice to carry purses, laptop cases and other bags with the strap across your body, instead of just over one shoulder, to make snatch-and-run attacks less likely to succeed.