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Waistband Carry Options: Inside vs. Outside

Waistband Carry Options: Inside vs. Outside


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.

Bianchi Kenda Lenseigne Signature Series

This year, Bianchi Cowboy rolls out its brand new western series of holsters, the Kenda Lenseigne Signature Series. Available in four models, each holster is designed for record-breaking shooting performance with a handsome leather exterior.

Price: $105-125

Blackhawk! GripBreak

Putting the importance of a quick, smooth draw at the forefront, Blackhawk! will roll out its brand new GripBreak holster in 2013. With a patented automatic locking system, the GripBreak features a secure locking system, and a simple thumb release allows the shooter to maintain a master grip while drawing.

Price: Nylon, $39.99; Leather, $76.99

DeSantis Dual Carry II

Which route should you go: IWB or OWB? How about both? DeSantis Gunhide will roll out its brand new Dual Carry II in 2013, which features the company's Tuckable 360 C-Clip for vertical positioning for inside-the-waistband carry, but it also comes with an outer belt loop, making it a great outside-the-waistband option.

Price: $32.99

DeSantis Hide and Chic

With a growing number of female shooters, DeSantis Gunhide has provided women with a stylish way to carry with the Hide and Chic. This purse holster features a hidden handgun compartment accessible from either end of the purse, plus room for keys, phone, makeup and other belongings.

Price: $229.99

Deep Conceal Visor Holster

Deep Conceal's Visor Holster allows drivers to carry their firearm in a place they may not have thought of before — the sun visors. Compatible for guns 2.5 to 5.5 inches in overall length, the holster is positioned out of sight for anyone peeking inside your car, and features a quick release retention strap for quick and easy access. The holster fits all visors and can be easily swapped in between cars.

Price: $9.95

Galco Carry Safe

Perfect for carrying inside purses, messenger bags, bug-out bags and more, Galco's brand new Carry Safe holster is a nylon holster that attaches securely with Velcro to a leather backing plate, which includes an adjustable metal clip to alter ride height and ease of access. A reinforced thumb break retention strap offers great security, as well as a fast draw.

Price: $29.95

Uncle Mike's Reflex

In the heat of danger, the human mind may forget how to operate a holster's release mechanism. For that reason, Uncle Mike's introduced its Reflex holster, which uses no levers or buttons to operate — just grip, squeeze and rotate clockwise, and pull in a smooth draw. Easy as that. With a polymer construction, the Reflex includes pancake style belt loop up to 1 ¾ inches, as well as a paddle attachment.

Price: $36.95

Blackhawk! Epoch

Blackhawk! introduced its brand new duty holster at SHOT Show — the Blackhawk! Epoch. This Level 3 retention holster, designed with law enforcement in mind, allows users to holster their sidearms with almost any tactical light mounted. The Epoch also features a thumb release rather than a trigger finger release, and comes in a matte black or basket weave finish.

Price: Matte Finish, $107.99; Basketweave Finish, $124.99; Plain Finish, $124.99

Galco Cop Ankle Band

New for 2013, Galco introduced its Cop Ankle Band at SHOT Show. With a high-grade elastic band, the CAB is lined with suede behind the holster area with a Velcro closure. The holster features thumb break release for semi-auto pistols, as well as a conventional release for revolvers. Both right- and left-handed models will be available.

Price: $53.95

DeSantis Tap Out

With law enforcement in mind, DeSantis Gunhide introduced the brand new Tap Out holster at the 2013 SHOT Show. This one-of-a-kind, ambidextrous holster features two carry options, plain clothes and on-duty. The plain clothes option allows users to fit the holster with a concealment slide or paddle — both adjustable for cant — and features two Level 4 finger breaks, though the Tap Out will also be available by custom order with one finger break on the body side. The on-duty option transforms the holster into what DeSantis calls "a high-security level duty holster," fitting the holster body with a "mode adapter" that allows the plain clothes mode to be transformed without tools. The Tap Out will be available April 20.

Price: TBD

Safariland Model 22 Wallet Profile Holster

New for 2013, Safariland introduced its brand new Model 22 Wallet Profile Holster. Designed to give the "print" impression of a wallet, the Model 22 features a hinged design that allows the backing to swing away from the holster, allowing the user to get a firm grip on the weapon for a smooth draw. After opening, the Model 22 will stay open; shooters simply drop the handgun into the pocket to re-holster.

Price: $37

Safariland Range Series Holsters

Safariland introduced its brand new Range Series at the 2013 SHOT Show, which includes two models — the Model 5195 Low Ride and Model 5197 Open Top Mid Ride (pictured). The Model 5195, designed for female shooters, features an offset belt loop — which allows for a smooth, straight draw for shooters whose hips are bigger than their waists — as well as a modular offset adaptor for Safariland belt accessories. The updated Model 5197 features a belt loop that can be adjusted for cant while eliminating belt bulging. Both holsters feature low cut sides and a detent in the trigger guard, adding increased security.

Price: $37

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