Once you purchase your handgun and decide on concealed carry the next question becomes “Which holster is right for you?” There are a lot of them on the market. And many of them do a fairly good job enabling you to carry your firearm in a safe and discreet manner. But all concealed carry holsters are not created equal. And “fairly good” should never be good enough when it comes to something so important.
With holsters it’s not as simple as getting what you pay for either. There are expensive holsters that are a cumbersome mess. And inexpensive holsters that cradle you firearm in a way that enables both safe and discreet carry and fast and effective deployment. So how do you know which is which? Well, you continue on and read our list of the 10 best concealed carry holsters, that’s how.
1. Relentless Tactical Defender IWB Holster
We’re going to start this list with a tip of the cap to tradition in the form of the Relentless Tactical Defender inside the waistband holster. Crafted from genuine bullhide leather this is not only a durable, comfortable holster, it’s also handsome, safe and effective. You can wear this puppy all day and not be any worse for wear.
Over time it will also mold itself to your anatomy in a subtle but important way that will essentially allow it to disappear inside your trousers. The Tactical Defender will accommodate most XD (1) and Glock handguns and is a great choice if you’re someone who practices concealed carry on a regular basis. It features an ultra-sturdy steel clip, robust stitching throughout and embossed logo. If you’re looking for your first concealed carry holster you can’t go wrong with the Relentless Tactical Defender.
2. CYA Supply IWB Holster
The CYA Supply IWB Holster is a sleek, comfortable and durable holster that slips inside the waistband of your trousers and doesn’t let go. Fashioned from ultra-tough Bolatron (2) sheeting it has a 1.5 inch wide belt clip that is the power behind its formidable grip.
The trigger is effectively shielded to prevent accidental discharge, there’s an audible ‘click’ when the retention lock system is properly engaged and the holster provides full length coverage on the body side to protect against sweat. You can also adjust the carry angle up to 15 degrees to ensure you get a nice secure draw. This is not a one-size-fits-all holster. Instead it’s designed specifically for the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield & Shield 2.0 or the 9MM/.40 Smith &Wesson.
3. Blade-Tech IWB Appendix Holster
While we’re traditionalists at heart we don’t turn a blind eye to progress. If it’s real progress instead of just change masquerading as progress. The Blade-Tech IWB Appendix Holster seems like real progress to us. It’s incredibly sleek, slips onto your belt with no effort, weighs a feather-like 3 ounces and makes a reassuring click when you holster your weapon.
If you have a thin build you know that an IWB holster can sometimes be difficult to actually conceal. But you won’t find that problem with the Blade-Tech IWB. This is perhaps the sleekest profile we tested. But it’s more than just a model of efficiency. It’s also a model of effectiveness with a rock solid trigger cover and a discreet but highly effectively waist clip. It can also be moved from side to side to accommodate lefties and righties.
4. Cytac Ruger LC9 IWB Holster
The Cytac Ruger LC9 IWB Holster is another model of efficiency. Fashioned from military grade polymers it weighs a scant 3.2 ounces but it’s also tough as nails and built to last. The belt clip will grab hold of anything up to 1.75 inches and the sleek profile slips into your pants and effectively disappears. For a rigid holster it’s incredibly comfortable.
Retention is excellent and the no-nonsense trigger guard will prevent accidental discharge. Cytac sends along a microfiber cloth you can clean the holster with. Just make sure you have a Ruger LC9 before you plunk down your hard-earned money on this holster though. As it won’t fit any other models. Even similar ones like the Ruger LCP.
5. Blackhawk! Ambidextrous IWB Holster
The Blackhawk Ambidextrous IWB Holster is a little heavier than some other holsters. But it’s not for no reason. This is an extremely versatile holster that will allow you to carry a variety of different hand guns including those by Smith & Wesson, Glock, Springfield and Ruger. As the name states it’s fully ambidextrous and will set up comfortably at the 1 o’clock position on either the left or right.
It will adjust to either 1.5 or 1.75 inch belts although you can also clip it to your trousers in a pinch. Just be aware the company does not recommend that. The molded polymer is actually far more forgiving than it looks. So once you slip this into position there’s a likelihood you may forget it’s there. At least until you sit down.
6. Lirisy Ankle Holster for Concealed Carry
We’re not huge fans of ankle holsters, simply because of the logistics involved in drawing your weapon from one should you need to. Still, we couldn’t ignore the comfort, convenience and overall quality of the Lirisy Ankle Holster. When you strap this sucker to your leg there won’t be any issues regarding it slipping down and flopping around.
The thick Velcro straps hold it tight to your leg and there’s two different sizes for different size legs. Retention is first rate, even while running. Which is not something you can say about every ankle holster. The breathable neoprene also prevents it from becoming a sweat factory. Great for your backup firearm. Of for your primary if you’re the adventurous type.
7. Thunderbolt XL Belly Band Holster
The belly band holster isn’t the first thing most people think of when it comes to concealed carry. But the Thunderbolt XL may change a few minds. The XL is very comfortable, keeps your firearm firmly in place even during vigorous activity and is fashioned from ultra-durable, military grade, breathable neoprene.
While well-intentioned people can argue about the actual extent of that breathability there’s no arguing that the Thunderbolt will work with whatever size pistol or revolver you have. Retention gets a little bit hinky with smaller guns, but for mid-sized firearms and up it keeps them locked down solidly until the time comes. There’s also 2 sleeves to hold your clips. Just don’t expect them (the clips) to stay in place if you’re engaged in pursuit.
8. Under Control Tactical Shoulder Holster
Dirty Harry may have made the shoulder holster cool but chances are you’re not packing a .44 magnum. So for less legendary folks we have the Under Control Tactical Shoulder Holster. This comfortable nylon holster slips on in about 10 seconds and can be adjusted to fit any body type. Those not fond of their weapon flopping around a bit may want something with a sternum strap or simply an IWB or ankle holster.
But if you operate at a more relaxed pace it’s hard to beat this holster for build quality, adjustability, durability, functionality and price. That’s a powerful combination. Just be aware that while it claims to be “universal”, like all such holsters it tends to lose effectiveness at the low end of the scale.
9. ComfortTac Ultimate Belly Band Holster
The ComfortTac Belly Band Holster accommodates virtually any size handgun including 9mm, 40 Auto, 38 Special, 357 mag, 10 mm and many more. It also accommodates just about any size person as it can be adjusted out to 44 inches. It’s soft, light, fairly breathable and you can adjust it to ensure your firearm is positioned exactly where you want it for a fast, clean draw.
There’s also a spare clip holder that can be repositioned anywhere on the band you want. In addition, the metal snap closure system can be easily popped while lifting your shirt. One of the more versatile holsters of any kind on the market today.
10. Smith & Wesson Pro Carry IWB Holster
The last holster on our list is this beauty from Smith & Wesson. The Pro Carry IWB holster has a rugged appeal that doesn’t give anything away to nostalgia. Instead it’s a solid performer that puts a premium on safety, durability and comfort. If you’ve got a Smith & Wesson 40 or Shield 9mm you should give this holster serious consideration.
The leather is tough but forgiving with a soft, agreeable surface. The steel belt clip will keep your weapon securely in place even during vigorous activity. And full, smooth coverage on the body side means no irritation over the course of the day.
How Important is Safety When Choosing a Holster?
Safety should be consideration #1 when choosing a holster. Both your safety and the safety of those you encounter. The process of proper gun safety begins with the four rules of safe gun operation:
- Every gun should be treated like it is loaded.
- Don’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve made the decision to fire.
- Have a clear shot at your target and be mindful of the background.
With those common sense rules as a foundation other safety considerations enter the picture with regards to the holster. For instance, inexperienced individuals sometimes wind up hitting those near them with their firearm as they draw it from the holster. This tends to happen more often with shoulder holsters. For this and other reasons it is recommended you practice drawing your gun from its holster (3) before ever going out in public with it thus concealed.
In addition, law enforcement officers often find suspects reaching for their holstered weapons and sometimes succeeding in obtaining them. Nothing good can come of such an occurrence. As a result, efforts have been ongoing for years to integrate new safety features into holsters that will make them less susceptible to being compromised by a determined assailant (4). As of this writing design and implementation work continues.
What are the Different Types of Holsters?
The first thing to understand about holsters is that there are several different kinds. They are:
IWB stands for “inside the waistband” and, when done right, these are some of the most effective concealed carry holsters you’ll find. They keep the gun in close to the body. So close that it doesn’t often take more than a loose shirt or a jacket to conceal the fact that you’re carrying. And that’s the way you want it. Discreet.
If there’s a caveat to the IWB holster it’s that having your firearm inside the waistband of your pants can be uncomfortable. Especially when sitting down. Another potential downside is that it can be more difficult to obtain a proper grip (5) in a hurry. Not that it’s impossible mind you. But you’ll likely need to spend some real time practicing before you ever take it out. Because you don’t want to be fumbling with the grip in the unlikely event that you need to pull your weapon.
If you’re looking for maximum concealment it’s hard to beat the ankle holster. Simply strap your firearm to your ankle, slip on a pair of loose fitting pants and no one will be the wiser. There’s no chance your shirt it going to fly up and out you and no discomfort when sitting. A lot of folks use the ankle holder for a backup firearm, keeping their primary in an IWB or shoulder holster (more on that in a minute).
The obvious drawback to the ankle holster is that it makes accessing your weapon more difficult. And if you’re in a tight spot the extra couple of seconds could make all the difference. The holster itself may also cause irritation of the skin on your lower leg. And the imbalance in weight between one leg and the other (especially if you’re carrying a larger firearm) can cause problems in your gait.
Just as IWB stands for Inside the Belt, OWB stands for Outside the Belt. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “holster”. Mostly because of the pervasive influence of Westerns. The fact is though that today about the only people who use OWB holsters are law enforcement officers, military personnel and a limited number of private security personnel.
The OWB holster has some definite advantages over other holsters. Primary among them is that it allows you to quickly obtain a proper grip (6). And there’s no fumbling with jackets, shirts or trouser legs.
With the shoulder holster the gun is not actually held at the shoulder. That would be unwieldy. Instead the holster gets its name from the fact that the support straps wrap around the shoulder so that they can effectively hold your firearm more or less snugly against the rib cage. The shoulder holster is an excellent concealed carry holster if you are wearing some sort of jacket. Preferably one that opens quickly and easily.
Undercover police, secret service agents and private security guards often use shoulder holsters because they conceal well and allow for rapid deployment. But they’re not without their downside. Guns are prone to falling out of shoulder holsters if the person is jarred in some way. And of course there’s no taking off your jacket on a hot day if you’re carrying in a shoulder holster.
Belly Band Holsters
This is a wide band that encircles your lower midsection and has an integrated holster at the front. They’re not the most popular form of holster out there. But they might come in handy for those times you’re not wearing a belt. Or wearing sweat pants or something similar. They tend to heat up your midsection quite a bit so be aware that sweat stains may become an issue.
What Makes for a Good Concealed Carry Holster?
- A sturdy trigger cover – Unfortunately, there are numerous holsters on the market that either don’t cover the trigger or provide only the flimsiest of trigger covers. It’s crucial that your holster affords you the best possible chance of avoiding accidental discharge of your weapon. Accidental discharge is no joke (7). So anything that can be done that makes a holster less susceptible to accidental discharge is a good thing. Look for a robust trigger cover.
- Firm Retention – The holster should keep a firm hold on your firearm at all times. It should not be flopping around inside the holster, nor should it fall out of your shoulder holster if you lean over to tie your shoelace. Poor retention typically results from trying to put gun type X into a holster designed for gun type Z. Some holsters allow you to adjust the tension to slightly to obtain a firmer hold but not all will do this. Make sure the holster you purchase is intended for the gun you have.
- Concealability – This one is kind of a no-brainer but it needs to be said. The reason you’re buying a concealed carry holster is to hide your weapon from public view. As such you’ll want to balance the need for concealment with the potential need to access the weapon. Law enforcement officers, high level security and military personnel all need to have their weapons readily accessible. Because of this they may want a shoulder or OWB holster. The same level of urgency however, does not typically apply to private citizens. As such an IWB or ankle holster may serve them just fine.
- Grip – It’s important that regardless of the style of holster you choose that it enables you to obtain a proper combat grip when you draw your firearm. If it doesn’t then you’re relegated to amateur hour and woe unto those around you if you ever need to draw your weapon. You should be able to quickly draw from any position you might find yourself in. Even if you find yourself under an assailant. If your holster doesn’t allow you to get the proper grip quickly you should get a new one.
What are Some Typical Holster Materials?
Gun holsters have been around for centuries but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that they began to resemble something we’d recognize today (8). At that time, and indeed right up to the early 20th century, there was really only one type of holster material: leather. It was tough, durable and could be fashioned in any number of ways to fulfill either practical or aesthetic concerns. That slowly began to change during the mid-20th century and the move toward alternative materials really gained steam in the late 20th century. Today holsters can be fashioned from lots of different materials. But the best are usually made of:
- Kydex (9)
- Molded plastic
- Or leather, of course. Since quality never goes out of fashion.
All of these materials have their upside and downside but all are also tough, resilient and low maintenance. So there is no way to say that this is the “right” material and this is the “wrong” material. It comes down to things like weight, where you intend to holster the weapon, the climate, the likelihood that you’ll ever need to draw it and of course your budget.
The Bottom Line
Concealed carry holsters have an important role to play both in gun safety and in your ability to deploy your firearm in the event it becomes necessary. So while discretion may be at the forefront of your thinking while you shop for a holster how well a holster hides your gun from prying eyes is only one consideration. If you pick the right holster no one should ever know that you’re carrying, the gun should never accidentally discharge and – in the unlikely event that you’ll need to deploy your weapon – you should be able to do so quickly and effectively in any situation.