The process of choosing a concealment holster can be a daunting task. From construction materials, to overall design principles, and even the color that nobody will ever see. How do we begin to narrow down our choices of what to strap to our waistband everyday? First we must set some parameters. Today we’ll be talking about how to select a good IWB concealment holster, for any position along the waistband.
Criteria for Choosing a Good IWB Holster
Tom Givens uses four criteria to broadly describe what must be present to be considered an appropriate holster for carry. The holster must be “comfortable, concealable, secure, and fast” according to Tom. I find that most anyone worth their salt in the training and shooting world fully agrees. But what exactly does this look like in reality, why are these factors important, and are there more things we should be looking for?
IWB Holster Selection - Comfortable
How often have you heard “a gun should be comforting, not comfortable” either online or in person? The people I usually hear say this either carry in ways not conducive to concealment, or don’t regularly carry, with the occasional salty dog who actually powers through the pain. If your holster is uncomfortable, or even painful, that likely means that you won’t be consistently carrying your gun.
This violates Rule One of a gun fight—have a gun. Of course strapping a pound or two of lead and steel onto your belt won’t feel like silk sheets, but that doesn’t mean we have to metaphorically self-flagellate every time we leave the house. Nor does it mean that we need to limit ourselves to mouse guns carried in sub-optimal methods. So how do we make our holster as comfortable as possible without sacrificing our other requirements?
One of the easiest ways to improve comfort is to simply get used to wearing our holster. Most people who have been regularly carrying for years will tell you that it feels just fine, no different than without a gun. As a right handed appendix carrier who spent six months of last year carrying left handed, as well as strong side, I can tell you that isn’t the case.
Putting a gun on my off side felt completely alien, and the discomfort was a stark contrast to my experience of the past several years. Carrying a gun is horribly uncomfortable, but only at first. Give it a few weeks of carrying a few hours a day, and soon it’ll feel natural. Consistency and frequency of carry are your friend here. As someone who has carried more often than not over the past eight years, it now feels physically strange to not have a gun on when I leave the house, like something is missing.
The next way to improve comfort is to ensure you’re using a well designed holster. I see so many holsters today that offer zero adjustment, have excess material along the edges, and have belt attachments which make no sense. Humans aren’t one size, so why use something that is a “one size fits all” solution? Our holsters should be adjustable for ride height, as well as cant—or their rotation angle. Subtle adjustments in both of those areas can make massive differences in both comfort and concealment.
Materials should not hold sweat or other moisture. Kydex and similar materials are the best at this, and dry very quickly when exposed to moisture. Most low quality leather and hybrid holsters hold these liquids, which quickly causes discomfort, and reduces their overall lifespan.
Some quality leather holsters such as the Galco Summer Comfort do a surprisingly excellent job in repelling moisture, making them an excellent choice alongside kydex options.
Avoiding Unnecessary Bulk
Often times we see lower quality holsters with useless, excess material. This can be IWB holsters with optics hoods, edges which need trimming, and more. This excess material can cause hotspots on our skin, reducing comfort, and sometimes creating weak points in the holster which reduces longevity of the design.
Avoiding excess material will lower the overall footprint of the holster, avoiding unnecessary contact with our skin, and reducing pressure against our body overall. I’ve found that larger holsters, such as hybrids are less comfortable than all leather or kydex designs, being bulkier overall instead of spreading the pressure across a broad area like their marketing suggests.
IWB Holster Selection - Concealable
If you’re carrying a gun concealed, then it should be just that, concealed. This is more than covering it with a T-Shirt, leaving a gun shaped tumor jutting through the fabric. Onlookers should be incapable of detecting our firearm when looking for it, and it should be at least somewhat protected from physical detection as well.
We’re not just worried about the local Karen shouting us down inside Wal-Mart, otherwise we wouldn’t be carrying in the first place. Violent criminals are intimately familiar with concealment, often meaning the difference between life and death or imprisonment, and those are who we should be concerned with. How do we ensure that our guns are hidden from prying eyes?
Appropriate holster design, paired with a solid belt, and intelligent dress are critical here. We’ll focus on the holster design, leaving the other components for another day. A good starting place is the hardware that is used to attach our holster to the belt. There are two major methods for this, clips or loops.
Belt Attachments - Clips
Most holsters use cheap, plastic clips to attach to the belt. These are not your friend. They are frequently bulky, weak, and do a poor job of keeping the pistol attached to the body in anything other than normal movement. When looking for belt clips, we should be choosing something made from high quality steel, that actually grabs onto the belt.
Discreet Carry Concepts is THE standard in clips for concealment holsters. Made from spring steel, their clips are incredibly durable despite being incredibly thin. This reduces their footprint to nearly zero, significantly aiding concealment. One of the things that sets DCC clips apart is their “V” shaped design, grabbing both sides of the belt to avoid slippage. I often hear people complain that these are difficult to don and doff, but that’s sort of the point. If it takes some effort to put the holster on, then there’s no worry of it coming off if we slip and fall, wrestle with the kids, or get into a fight.
Belt Attachments - Loops
Pull The Dot loops are my preferred choice for soft loops. These open and close in one direction, ensuring that the belt cannot open them from below. The semi-soft material flexes with the body, but ensures the pistol stays firmly in place along the belt line.
These are widely regarded as one of the most secure methods of mounting a holster to the waistband, though they are slightly bulkier than DCC clips. Some brands permanently close their soft loops, requiring the belt to be threaded through them, which can also be an excellent solution.
Concealment Wings and Wedges
Appendix holsters are known for their additional concealment features which are commonly absent from normal IWB holsters. However, traditional IWB can sometimes benefit from these features as well. But what exactly are concealment wings and wedges?
In short, a wedge is typically an angled piece of foam or kydex which pushes the muzzle away from the body, simultaneously tucking the slide of the pistol into the body. This helps reduce the potential for muzzling oneself, as well as helping to hide the bulk of the gun. Some holsters, such as those from Tenicor, feature molded-in wedges of fixed shape and size. Others offer various shape, size, and consistency of foam wedges which are typically attached with velcro, allowing the user to find their Goldilocks solution for comfort and concealment.
Concealment wings, sometimes known as claws, are typically plastic arms attached to the holster, which press against the wearer's belt. This pressure rotates the grip into the wearer's body, helping to hide it from view. Some wings have interchangeable inserts to adjust the degree of grip rotation provided. While less common, some holsters have molded-in wings, usually with a different name, such as the IWB1 from JM Custom Kydex or the Velo from Tenicor.
Avoiding Unnecessary Bulk (Again)
This is not only an issue for comfort, but one for concealment as well. While less common, I have worn holsters which feature excess material, resulting in a reduction in my ability to conceal the pistol. Whether that is a thick backer on a hybrid holster pressing the entire platform further off the body, or the apex of a Sidecar style holster making a distinct point at the front of the waistband.
Streamlining our holsters will lessen the likelihood of someone visually or physically detecting a concealed weapon. This attention to detail is one of the marks of a quality holster maker, though it may not be instantly recognizable to the untrained eye. A few extra dollars may make a small difference that pays dividends in the end.
Parting Thoughts on IWB Holster Selection
This concludes the first part of our series on choosing a good IWB concealment holster. Over the next few weeks we'll continue to cover the remaining portions of Tom Givens' four criteria, along with some additional considerations I find valuable. You can read Part Two here, and Part Three here.
While all four factors are equally important, I believe it is these two that most often lead people to stop carrying when things go wrong. With this in mind, it is paramount that ensure our holsters meet the mark. Unfortunately, many popular offerings often fall short. How does your holster stack up so far?