If you’re contemplating carrying a firearm, you need to have a way of carrying it safely and reliably. Wearing a pistol in a pants pocket without protection can cause it to malfunction when you need it most or fire unintentionally. When selecting an appropriate holster for your handgun, there are several criteria you should consider.
Can You Carry Without a Holster?
Concealed carry without a holster is generally not advisable. There are legal and practical reasons to purchase a holster for your self-defense weapon. In some jurisdictions, it is unlawful to carry a firearm if it is not secured in a suitable holster.
From a practical perspective, there are several reasons to use a gun holster, including:
The first purpose of a gun holster is to retain your firearm securely, preventing it from either falling out or being taken from you.
Retention can be either active and passive. Active retention relies on a locking mechanism or fastener to retain the weapon. In leather holsters, this may take the form of a simple thumb break — a strap with a snap closure. More sophisticated designs may require you to depress a lever or button or rotate a hood to unlock the sidearm.
Passive retention, in contrast, relies on friction between the interior surfaces of the holster and the exterior surfaces of the firearm to achieve a snug fit. In the standard pancake design, you place the gun between two leather or Kydex sheets, adjusted by one or more screws, which provides the necessary retention. This method is less secure for open carry but allows for increased access in comparison with active-retention systems.
The second purpose of a holster is to allow you to carry and draw your firearm safely. Retention plays a role in safety, ensuring that your weapon remains by your side at all times. However, a safe holster should also cover the trigger guard, protecting the trigger from premature or unintentional contact.
The holster mouth should also be rigid and maintain its shape. This allows you to reliably reholster your firearm with one hand. Holsters that collapse and require your support hand increase your risk of muzzling yourself with the gun.
Your handgun is useless if it’s not readily available to you. You need be able to acquire a full firing grip on your weapon and perform a complete draw stroke.
A good gun holster should be durable. The two most common materials you’ll find in gun holsters are leather and Kydex. Leather, usually cowhide or horsehide, is animal hide that’s been tanned and processed to extend its life, increase its strength, and prevent deterioration. The traditional holster material, leather is generally more comfortable than Kydex, causes less holster wear, and is more compressible.
A hard, rigid thermoplastic, Kydex is more durable than leather, retaining its shape more efficiently over time. It’s also inherently waterproof and can resist chemical contamination. As a result, Kydex has a potentially longer lifespan if you intend to use it under adverse or rough conditions.
IWB and OWB
There are two methods of carrying a waistband holster: IWB and OWB. If you’re primarily interested in concealment, IWB, or inside the waistband, is ideal. In this method, you place the holster between the inside of your waistband and your body, attaching it to your gun belt using one or two clips.
When selecting a suitable holster, your choice of gun belt is essential; a dress belt does not provide rigidity or durability for concealed or open carry. A proper gun belt will work with your holster to evenly distribute the weight, preventing sagging and ensuring that your weapon remains in one place.
OWB, or outside the waistband, holsters are preferable for open carry or concealed carry under a jacket or coat. A traditional belt holster, the OWB design uses loops to secure to your belt, resting on the outside of your pants. Some OWB holsters use paddles (paddle holsters) that slip inside the pants to secure the holster in place. OWB is less concealable than IWB; however, many gun owners find OWB holsters more comfortable.
In waistband carry, there are four common carry positions: strong side, appendix, cross draw, and small of the back. It’s common to see waistband carry referenced in relation to hour-hand positions on a clock face. For example, strong-side carry, in which you place your handgun over or behind your dominant-side hip, is typically between 3 and 5 o’clock for a right-handed shooter. Appendix carry, which is between your navel and your hip bone, is usually between 12 and 2 o’clock.
While appendix carry with an IWB or OWB holster is popular for various applications, appendix carry without a holster is not advisable. This is sometimes called “Mexican carry.” This method is popularly depicted in TV shows and films; however, it’s also dangerous. As there is nothing stopping either debris or your finger entering the trigger guard, your risk of experiencing a negligent discharge is higher.
Furthermore, the weapon is not secure — the tension between your waistband and your body is the only force keeping the weapon from falling down or out of your pants.
There are non-waistband carry alternatives, including:
A classic option, wearing a gun holster under your shoulder is typically associated with police detectives and action heroes. While wearing a shoulder holster can be useful under certain circumstances, such as while seated in a vehicle for a protracted period or for pregnant women, it is comparatively slow to draw from and requires wearing a covering garment. If your jacket is too thin, the harness may appear visible through the fabric, compromising concealment.
If you have a tactical or ballistic vest with PALS (Pouch Assisted Ladder System) webbing, you can conveniently attach a gun holster to your chest. Depending on your profession, this can allow you to keep your sidearm close at hand during tactical training classes, competitive matches, and outdoor activities (e.g., while hunting or camping). This is neither discreet nor appropriate for concealed carry.
An ankle holster is a common choice for those interested in carrying a compact or subcompact backup gun (BUG) — an addition to their primary weapon. The ankle holster is typically worn on the inside of the leg on the non-dominant or support side. In this position, your firearm is inherently less accessible.
Off Body Carry
A common off-body carry is the car or truck. Gun owners who are not licensed, or cannot carry their firearm for other reasons, may leave it in the glove compartment, center console, or another location inside the vehicle. A gun holster for your car can allow you to draw your weapon from a strategic location inside your vehicle or complement a quick-access safe. Ideally, however, you should wear your gun on your body. There is no off-body location that compares to a waistband position regarding accessibility.
While there are circumstances under which carrying on your person is not viable, you should avoid carrying a firearm inside a purse. The purse is often the first target of a mugger, and having to unzip a bag to retrieve your weapon can cost you time if you’re assaulted. The thin strap connecting you to your purse is also vulnerable to being cut with a knife, separating you from your valuables and your firearm. If you decide to carry your weapon inside a purse or other bag, always place the weapon into a separate holster.
You can carry a handgun in a pants pocket; however, the trigger guard should be covered at all times. This applies to purse carry too. Purses, pockets, bags, and other commonly used receptacles are often home to lint, keys, spare change, cosmetics, pens, and other items that can enter the trigger guard of your firearm.
This debris can cause an unintentional discharge by pressing against the trigger face, interfere with the position of your firearm — thus complicating your draw — or cause a malfunction. This is why a concealed gun holster is so important.
A Gun Holster for Every Occasion
Regardless of how and where you intend to carry your firearm, you should choose one that allows you to safely and securely carry your weapon. At We the People Holsters, we manufacture a wide variety of holsters for every major handgun brand in our Las Vegas, Nevada, facility.