Pistol or revolver? 9mm or .45-caliber? Isosceles or Weaver? These topics have long been the subject of heated debate in the shooting world. While there are die-hard proponents of each methodology, in truth there is no one-size-fits–all solution. What works well for one person may not work at all for another.
The same can be said of the inside-the-waistband (IWB) versus outside-the-waistband (OWB) concealed-carry debate. Understanding the pros and cons of each technique will help you make a more informed decision and might even save you from wasting money on pants, belts and holsters.
Whether using a full-size pistol or a snub-nose revolver, you need to give careful consideration as to whether to carry IWB or OWB. There are a multitude of factors that come into play, including weather conditions, the types of activities you frequently engage in, your physicality, and of course, personal preference.
OWB is by far the most popular concealed-carry option. OWB holsters usually contain at least two slots for looping a belt through. Some contain additional loops so the wearer can adjust the cant of the gun to suit a particular need. For instance, when wearing a cross-draw holster, having the grip of your gun canted toward your dominant side facilitates a much more efficient draw than if the grip were oriented vertically.
Another style of OWB holster is secured to the belt by a paddle that is contoured to the shape of the hip. The paddle portion is inserted inside the pants. There are typically hooks that lodge under the interior waistband of your pants. These hooks lock the holster in place and prevent it from adhering to the gun during the draw stroke.
Paddle holsters are convenient for training or plinking because they can be mounted and un-mounted without having to remove your belt, but since they can easily become dislodged during a disarm attempt, they are less than ideal for concealed carry.
When using an OWB holster, there is inherently a gap between the grip of your handgun and your torso. Since your gun is not pressed against your skin, OWB carry is generally considered more comfortable than IWB carry. Also, your gun is less susceptible to corrosion using OWB carry because your body’s natural oils are not in direct contact with the gun.
Comfort isn’t the only advantage of OWB carry. Since OWB carry positions the gun slightly away from your body, there is plenty of room to obtain a proper shooting grip prior to drawing the gun from the holster. This is a tremendous advantage when you consider that during high-stress incident, immediately establishing a proper grip on your gun puts you ahead of the curve—or at least not as far behind.
While it’s true that no one’s ever won a gunfight by racing back to the holster, there are times when being able to holster quickly is extremely beneficial, as would be the case if an armed criminal were to suddenly lose his weapon but continue his assault. With regard to holstering under stress, the edge goes to OWB carry.
OWB holsters often have some type of securing mechanism such as a snap or button that must be manipulated in order to draw the gun. While a simple snap design doesn’t offer much in the way of retention against a disarm attempt, it would at least help keep the gun in place while you were running, climbing over an object, or engaging in other types of physical activity associated with a potential deadly force encounter.
OWB holsters such as the Blackhawk Serpa offer an automatic locking feature that is engaged by simply holstering the gun. This important safety measure makes it much more difficult for a bad guy to remove your gun from the holster while at the same time allowing an easy draw on your part once you’ve practiced defeating the safety mechanism.
In a gunfight, you may be injured and forced to draw, shoot, reload and clear malfunctions with one hand. In such a case, you’re going to need all the help you can get. An OWB holster is easier to draw from with your off hand than an IWB holster. There’s also more room for inserting a magazine into the magazine well while the gun is holstered during a one-handed reload. And an OWB holster provides a more convenient surface for hooking on the rear sight or a corner of the ejection port to cycle the slide during one-handed operation.
By now, you may be sold on the OWB mode of carry, but before you run out and drop your hard-earned cash on such a holster, you need to be aware of the potential drawbacks to OWB carry.
One deterrent for many would-be OWB adherents is that while these holsters tend to be more comfortable than their IWB counterparts, they are also more difficult to conceal. And since the holster extends below the belt line, you’re going to need to wear a longer over-garment to conceal your gun and holster. As such, OWB holsters are better suited for colder climates because wearing a jacket or vest helps mask the silhouette of your gun and holster.
The fact that the OWB holsters make your gun more accessible to you means they are also more accessible to a bad guy who attempts to disarm you. Whether he sees your gun thanks to a “wardrobe malfunction” or feels it during a fight at contact distance, if your adversary realizes you’re armed, he may very well go for your gun.
I’ve long been a fan of IWB carry. When I first became a police officer, my off-duty ensemble was a Glock 27 and a Galco IWB holster, worn in the appendix carry position. To me, this was a comfortable and practical way to conceal a handgun on a daily basis. Over time, I have experimented with many handgun and holster options, but IWB really seems to work for me.
IWB holsters keep your gun tighter to your body, enabling you to remain discretely armed. IWB holsters are generally worn just forward or rearward of the hip so the body’s natural contour aids in concealment.
Most nylon and some leather holsters feature a simple plastic clip that, when the holster is tucked into the pants, slides along the outside of the belt. The clip has a hook at the bottom that’s designed to snag on the bottom of your belt—keeping the holster in place as you draw the gun.
While they haven’t been around as long as their OWB predecessors, IWB holsters have surged in popularity in recent years in direct proportion to the success of the concealed-carry movement.
Leather IWB holsters often use two narrow straps with snap fasteners, although some models use a single wide strap. The straps are laced between the belt and your pants when the holster is tucked into position. They are then looped over the belt and snapped to secure the holster in place.
When your gun is worn behind the hip, most jeans have a perfectly placed belt loop that you can secure a strap on either side of to prevent the holster from sliding along your belt.
The fact that IWB holsters don’t usually contain a retention device is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many people prefer not having to contend with such devices when drawing a gun from concealment. Remember, ensuring your gun remains concealed is your primary retention technique. If the bad guy doesn’t know you’re armed, your gun is safe.
Some IWB holsters are “tuckable,” designed to allow the wearer to tuck his or her shirt into their pants, over the gun. All that would be visible are the two relatively inconspicuous clips that secure the holster to the belt.
Of course, drawing would be slower, since the shirt would first have to be untucked, but tuckables can eliminate the need for an additional over-garment. However, even with this style I prefer to conceal it with a traditional over-garment for faster access.
IWB carry may require some wardrobe changes. As a general rule, you will want pants that are about two inches larger in the waist than you normally wear to accommodate your holstered gun. The same goes for your belt: Swallow your pride and buy one big enough to account for the “gun girth.”
While you’re at the department store buying clothes that are too big for you, you might want to pick up some T-shirts as well. You’ll probably be much more comfortable wearing an undershirt to prevent your gun from rubbing against your bare skin. A shirt will also offer a degree of protection for your firearm from sweat, which could lead to corrosion.
So what’s it going to be, OWB or IWB? Only you can decide which concealed-carry method works best for you. As for me, I’m willing to sacrifice a little comfort and endure a slightly more challenging draw stroke in order to reap the benefit of added concealment afforded by IWB carry.
Regardless of the type of holster you employ for concealed carry, it’s important to become intimately familiar with the appropriate draw stroke. This familiarity is achieved only through diligent and consistent practice.