IWB and OWB Concealed Carry Holsters

By David Tong

There are about as many different holsters for concealed handgun carry as there are body types and sizes/types of handguns. The primary concern in selecting one is the build and physique of the wearer.

I am slender, always have been and expect this will remain so. I also tend to wear a full sized service semi-auto pistol. These are flat, but often large. I do not think they are as large and heavy as a four inch service revolver, such as a Ruger GP100, but they are not light and small.

I tend to wear the pistol inside my waistband (IWB) in the strong side, appendix carry position. You must have it together to do this. The holster should have a non-collapsing mouth for re-holstering and some kind of quick detachable, one-way snaps to retain it on your belt in position, usually straight up and down with no tilt or rake.

Typically, an IWB holster will only use friction as its retention method. The tight fit of the holster against the handgun's surfaces will hold the pistol in place even during light calisthenics, such as jumping jacks or climbing fences. One should test this.

Wearing a gun in this fashion means some kind of relatively opaque colored cover garment must drape over the visible parts of the gun and holster. The butt of the gun must not indicate its presence by printing through the cover garment and the pistol grip must not be so long as to make this happen.

An IWB holster is usually designed to ride as low as possible for retention and to lower the butt to just above your belt. However, a properly designed model will allow for a reasonably fast draw and full grip clearance.

The advantage to the appendix carry position is that it is one of the best ways to maintain control of the butt of your handgun, whether you are walking through crowds on a sidewalk, kneeling to tie your shoe, or simply standing naturally when speaking to someone. Not many people are going to invade that personal space to investigate or inadvertently bump into you in that area of your anatomy.

Another common strong side carry position is behind the hip. Generally, the holster is worn at the 3:30 to 5:00 o'clock position (straight ahead being 12 o'clock) for a right-handed individual. The handgun may be worn straight up and down, but typically it will be worn butt forward, barrel to rear at between a 15 and 30 degree angle to better keep it from printing under covering garments.

This is the FBI carry position. It is called the FBI carry because Special Agents typically are wearing a sport or suit coat to hide the gun, which works reasonably well.

However, for many people, IWB may not be a comfortable way to carry, especially with a large pistol. The smaller the pistol and the slimmer the person, the easier it is to carry IWB. Women with an hour-glass figure will generally find IWB carry very uncomfortable and impractical. Anyone who chooses to carry in an IWB holster must purchase their pants and belt accordingly (with an oversize waistband).

An outside the waistband (OWB) holster can be worn in the same locations as an IWB model and is probably more comfortable for most people. OWB carry generally offers a bit easier and faster access to the pistol, but it is also harder to conceal and requires a longer cover garment, since the gun and holster are visible below the waistband. OWB holsters may, or may not, have a thumb snap retention device for higher levels of security.

Another carry method is the cross-draw holster, either IWB or OWB. These can be worn butt forward just behind the weak side hip (if you are thin enough to reach a gun in that position!), over the hip (nine o'clock) at roughly a 20-degree butt forward angle, just in front of the hip at a similar angle, or with the butt strongly angled forward in the 10:30 position.

The latter (10:30) position is best reserved for an OWB holster and is the most comfortable position for most folks. It gives good access to the gun when seated in a chair or car (especially under a seat belt), but is hardest to conceal. It is a relatively comfortable way to carry a large handgun. Wild Bill Hickok carried his Colt Navy revolver in this cross draw position, concealed under his top coat.

An advantage to cross-draw carry is you can reach the gun with either hand in an emergency. As with a strong side holster, you will need to wear an adequate cover garment.

When drawing from any IWB or OWB holster, there is the potential of sweeping across some part of yourself with the muzzle of your own handgun when you draw. This issue exists with all methods of holster carry, which is why it is incumbent upon the wearer to practice drawing safely with an empty firearm to ensure a safe presentation to the target. Start drawing slowly and carefully, increasing your speed as your gain proficiency at keeping the muzzle pointing away from your body and limbs.

One must balance the size, width and weight of the gun, the girth of its handle and the angle at which it should sit for both comfort and the ability to draw quickly when choosing a holster. This is a very individual matter.

Another subject worth considering is carrying additional ammunition on your person. While we may never have to engage in an extended fire fight, I have long thought it is prudent to be prepared for the worst, rather than the best, case scenario. I have settled on an outside the belt-mounted single or double magazine pouch as the most comfortable way to secure reloads.

With an IWB or OWB holster, it pays huge dividends to wear a carry belt of double-thickness, top grain leather at least 1.5 inches in width, to support the weight of a gun on your waist. A good belt is as necessary as a good holster!

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