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The Definitive Guide

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about gun holsters and how to select the perfect holster.

Advanced strategies.
Cool features.
And specialty holsters you probably never knew existed.
Let’s get started…



If you are new to concealed carry then in this section we will give you advice on a good starter holster. There are holster designs for nearly every type of gun design, person and season.


Like most people when you purchase your first handgun you will then wander over to the holster section of the store only to stare at a wall holsters in many different styles and configurations. Knowing which handgun holster to choose can be bewildering and confusing to a person new to concealed carry. Yet having the correct holster is a vital part of concealed carry and will ultimately determine how comfortable, safe and accessible your handgun is when carried. Holsters are a bit like clothing in that they are very personalized to each individuals needs and body shape. Choosing the wrong holster can result in an uncomfortable and unsafe experience while choosing the correct holster will make carrying your gun a joy. I hope this article will guide you to just such an experience so please read on.


It does not matter if you are a big dude with a pot belly, a small shapely women or something in between, there is a holster type that will fit your body type and every situation. The holster is key to succeeding with your first experience carrying a concealed handgun. But there are so many choices when it comes to handgun holsters that it can get a bit overwhelming for someone new to concealed carry. So we decided to write this quick start guide to cut out all the white noise and let you make a quick holster selection right now, let’s get started.

There are so many different types of holsters that choosing one can quickly become overwhelming.

Why Do I Need a Holster?

A holster does not simply just hold a gun. It conceals the handgun, secures the handgun and gives you quick access to the handgun. Other things to consider are that the trigger is covered for safety and the gun barrel is also protected from scratches and damage.

The most critical thing to consider is how your gun fits into the holster as you certainly do not want the gun to fall out while moving around. The gun has to fit snugly in the holster but not so tight as to make it difficult to draw out. Fit is key here as you will be hanging a handgun that weighs from 12 ounces to 2 pounds of your hip. So it must feel comfortable from the start.

One Holster You Need To Own

Visit any gun shop and you will be confronted with multiple choices in sizes, colors and configurations. Specific models of guns will have a holster made just for that gun. There will certainly be a model 19 holster for a glock model 19 handgun. And that is just the start of the different options you will need to take into account. So don’t worry about all those options for now.

Start with a Galco Royal Deluxe holster or the Alien Gear Cloak Mod OWB paddle holster made for your specific handgun and you will be of to a good start.

For your first holster it’s hard to beat an outside-the-waistband leather holster like this Royal Deluxe Holster from Galco. This design is simple and comfortable, it works.

This leather holster from Masc Holsters, is made from premium leather with top quality workmanship, and all for a reasonable price. It has the correct tilt for concealed carry and a fast draw. If you can’t handle the IWB holsters then this OWB holster will keep you happy.



Our best advice is to start with an outside-the-waistband, strong-side, leather holster with a pancake style.

Inside-the-waistband holsters are also very popular and many people will tell you to start with a IWB such as this Galco Tuck & Go holster. They do conceal better but some people find them uncomfortable plus you will probably need to buy a wardrobe of larger pants to accommodate the extra bulk.

Thats It!

So that’s it, start of with one of these holsters and it should tick all the boxes. I have seen so many people start with this style of holster and never look back. It is the one style I can say I use the most, it just does the job. Personally I like the OWB pancake holsters made by Galco Leather. Some other factory brands you may consider are Desantis, and Bianchi. At the handmade high end you should look for Soteria Leather, Rosen, Milt Sparks. I know from experience that if you only buy one holster and you make it a leather, pancake style, strong-side, configured for outside-the-waist carry, and pair it with a good gun belt you will be very happy. 

Want A Different Holster Type?

If you want something different to the OWB holsters we have suggested then to speed things along we have selected some of the better holsters from each style for you.

Hover over the tiles below to see our best holster pick for that style.


The Best Ankle Holster

Our Pick

Galco Ankle Glove
Compare Prices


The Best Bellyband Holster

Our Pick

Galco Underwraps
Compare Prices


The Best Shoulder Holster

Our Pick

Masc Shoulder Holster
Compare Prices


The Best Inside-the Waistband Holster

Our Pick

Alien Gear ShapeShift 4.0
Compare Prices


The best outside the waistband (OWB) Holster

Our Pick

Alien Gear Cloak Mod
Compare Prices


The Best Pocket Holster

Our Pick

Galco Pocket Protector
Compare Prices


The Best Small Of Back (SOB) Holster

Our Pick

Masc Shoulder Holster
Compare Prices

Gun Belt

The Best Gun Belt Holster

Our Pick

Relentless Tactical
Compare Prices

Gun Belts

Don’t forget about the belt! You don’t see too many people writing about gun belts. And that’s a mistake because there is not much point in having a good gun and holster if you hang it from an inferior belt. A good gun belt is essential if you want to carry your weapon in comfort and maintain functionality. Check out our review to find out what the best gun belts are.

To support your holster, ammo, and gun you will need a good belt as the foundation. This belt from Relentless Tactical is one of the best you can get.

Quick Guide Summary

This is the end of the quick guide and you should by now have everything you need to know to get your first holster. That’s a strong side, pancake style, outside-the-waistband, leather holster that matches your make and model of handgun plus a good gun belt that fits the holster. This is a solid foundation to start carrying a handgun in public.
  • Strong Side: If you are right handed then that is your dominant side and the same applies for left handed persons with left being their dominant side. So purchase either a left or right sided holster depending on which hand is your most dominant. You will find your dominant hand has more strength and has better hand-eye coordination. The holster will need to be placed on the rear right side hip, somewhere between the 3 – 5 o’clock position for a right handed person. We have more info in our holster placement section.
  • Leather: Probably the best material to start with and more comfortable than plastic. Leather is still considered a quality mark in holster construction. There have been advances with plastic polymers but they still cannot match the durability and natural feel of a well made leather holster. You can’t go wrong if you start with a leather holster.
  • Outside-the-Waistband: Often abbreviated to OWB it simply means the holster is not tucked on the inside of your pants. The holster is placed on the outside of the waist and belt. It can still be concealed with a shirt, coat, or jacket.
  • Pancake-Style: This refers to the shape of the holster which will be a flat style. They are easy to identify with wings on each side of the holster and a slot through each wing for the gun belt. The design allows for the holster to have a snug fit against your body making it easier to conceal the weapon.



There are so many holster types for concealed carry that it can become very confusing if you are new to this. We will attempt to decipher the types of holster from the standard designs down to the specialty types.

Ankle Holster

Typically used for backup guns the ankle holster is best used with snubby revolvers and semi-auto handguns. It should not be a first choice for a main defensive gun as you need to bend down and pull up your pant leg to draw it.

Bellyband Holster

This is a old and well proven concealed carry method. The bellyband holster consists of a roughly four inch wide band of elastic that a holster pocket has been sewn into and usually includes a retention strap to secure the gun.

Vehicle & Home

When you are not carrying your handgun then you will need some type of storage for it. This will likley be in your vehicle or home and at the very least your gun needs to rest in a good holster to ensure the trigger is covered.

Chest Holster

These holsters are popular among outdoorsmen due to the handgun being easily accessible. The holster is also in a good position if you are carrying a backpack. Chest holsters are made in a variety of materials.

IWB Holsters

Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) holsters are probably the most common type of holster in use today. The IWB holster sits on the inside of the pants, hence the name Inside-the-Waistband. They are attached to the belt with either clips or belt loops.

OWB Holsters

Outside the Waistband (OWB) holsters are made from a variety of materials including leather, Kydex, nylon, and polymer. These holsters attach to the belt using a variety of different methods.

Pocket Holster

As the name suggests pocket holsters are slipped into the pocket of pants. Before they existed people would line their pockets with leather to make the carrying of a handgun more comfortable.

Shoulder Holster

Made popular by many detective shows that went to air the shoulder holster is actually not the most widely used holster in the real world. Although it is useful for some specialized purposes.



Now that we have looked at holster types in the previous section the next consideration is carry modes. Due to the many holster configurations on the market you will need to understand the terms used if you want to avoid buying a holster that does not conceal well or is uncomfortable.

Inside the Waistband (IWB)

IWB carry is the way to go if you want to conceal a medium or large sized gun. The holster is attached to the belt with either metal clips or leather loops and rides inside the pants which offers better concealment. You will need to buy a larger size in pants for it to work comfortably and some will always find it too uncomfortable. In case you are not sure if this mode is for you then I suggest you purchase a dual mode OWB/IWB holster like the Galco Double Time which you can switch from IWB to OWB configurations.

Outside the Waistband (OWB)

OWB holsters ride on the outside of the belt. They are very versatile but slightly more difficult to conceal than IWB holsters and will need a shirt or jacket to conceal. OWB holsters like the popular Blackhawk Serpa are easy to access and comfortable. They will usually have either an open top or retention strap to hold the gun in. The open top will allow for a quicker draw but I prefer having a retention strap in case a person tries to grab the gun from behind.

Strong Side Carry

Strong side carry is when the holster is on your most dominant side. So that would be the right side for a right handed person or left side for left handed person. This will place the handgun at the 3 – 5 o’clock position, your front is at 12 o’clock and allows for a quick draw while being well concealed and comfortable. The only negatives I can think of is if you bend over the gun will print and it will be obvious you are reaching for a gun if you do need to draw.

Weak Side Carry (Cross Draw)

Weak-side carry is also commonly called cross-draw carry. In this mode you reach across your body with your dominant hand to grab the handgun which has been placed on your non-dominant side. If you are right handed then the holster would be in the 8 – 10 o’clock position. It’s a good option if you are seated in a vehicle for long periods as it allows easier access to the handgun from a seated position while wearing a seat belt. Women who have found strong-side carry uncomfortable often use this carry mode.

Small of the Back (SOB) Carry

Just over the lower spin on a persons back and at waist height is a natural indentation that is perfect for concealing a handgun.  One great holster that works well in this carry mode is the Gold Line Small-of-Back holster made by Gould & Goodrich. This mode is a bit slower than others as you need to twist your torso to reach your back and grip the gun, you will also require a bit of flexibility to achieve this. It’s also not a good carry mode if you are driving as the gun will be pressing against your spine while you are driving and very difficult to reach with a seat belt around your body.  SOB carry is best reserved for special situations and not recommended for beginners to concealed carry.

Shoulder Carry

Shoulder carry is another mode that is useful in vehicles as it is easier to reach the handgun than if you were wearing a hip holster which would be covered by a seat belt. You can shoulder carry via a harness style holster, bellyband shoulder holster or special garments that place the handgun under your arm. Useful in colder climates as the gun is easily accessed by unzipping a jacket compared to pulling up heavy winter clothing with other carry modes.

Ankle Carry

Ankle carry is another mode that is great for vehicles as your ankle is very accessible when seated in a car. Also often used for a backup gun it will require the use of smaller pistols or revolvers. Keep in mind that if you are standing then access to the gun would be quite slow as you would need to bend down and lift your pants leg before drawing the gun. So ankle carry should not be used as your primary mode of defense.

Off Body Carry

There are many ways you can carry a handgun off body. These include purses, day planners, fanny packs, briefcases, hollowed out books and much more. The danger with this carry mode is that you can be separated from your weapon and loose control of it. This carry mode does have uses, such as a women wearing an elegant dress, in this case a purse would be the best option.

Appendix Carry

When you place an IWB holster in your front side waistline at the 1 o’clock position this is called appendix carry. Its a super quick position to draw from and conceals even large handguns fairly well. To draw you will need to grab your shirt, lift the shirt and then draw the gun. Most men will be a bit nervous due to the direction the guns muzzle is pointing in. If you apply all the firearm safety rules then there should be nothing to worry about. Do not touch the trigger when drawing and point the handgun down range to the target and there should be no problems.



In addition to the holster type and carry mode the material of the holster also plays an important part. On the market you will find all types of leather from horse hide, cow hide, shark skin and snake skin and then there are the synthetic holsters. The type of material can affect the guns draw and retention so here we will look at what are the best options.

Appendix Carry

When you place an IWB holster in your front side waistline at the 1 o’clock position this is called appendix carry. Its a super quick position to draw from and conceals even large handguns fairly well. To draw you will need to grab your shirt, lift the shirt and then draw the gun. Most men will be a bit nervous due to the direction the guns muzzle is pointing in. If you apply all the firearm safety rules then there should be nothing to worry about. Do not touch the trigger when drawing and point the handgun down range to the target and there should be no problems.


Leather holsters have been around for centuries and have withstood the test of time. They last a long time, look good and are comfortable. The properties of leather also tend to be very good at retaining the gun. They can be constructed with the smooth side out such as in OWB holsters. For pocket and some IWB holsters you would want the rough side leather on the outside to give better retention. The leather most commonly used is cowhide or horse hide, both differ slightly making the final holster have slightly different properties depending on the type of leather used. Cowhide is the most used leather. Horsehide differs in that it is easier to scratch and thinner but more rigid. Alligator and snake skin holsters look nice but will not last as long as cowhide. Then you have sharkskin which can be expensive but looks nice, is scuff resistant and is very long lasting. You may find that a new holster has too much grip on the gun and needs to be broken in. Most holsters made in the IWB and OWB styles are made with a thumb strap as an option.


Synthetic holsters have grown in popularity over the years. And with good reason as they offer many benefits; maintenance free, tough, scratch resistant and can be molded to the exact gun shape allowing for a quick draw and good retention. Other things to consider are that it does not loose its shape, is not affected by sweat and with plastic can be designed in some unique ways that could not be done with other materials. Most of the synthetic holsters on the market have adjustable retention screws allowing the retention to be adjusted to the users preferences, something that could not be done with other materials. There are different types of synthetics and they do not necessarily all give the same performance. Kydex has become the most popular choice for holsters offering a high impact, indestructible material that can mold to any shape. There are many more synthetic materials being used for holsters such as safariLaminate, Accumold, and PatrolTek.

Leather-Synthetic Hybrids

Some holster makers now have holsters made from a hybrid of synthetic and leather to try and give the ultimate holster. The molded synthetic holster is simply attached to a leather pad which is placed against you skin. Definitely more comfortable than having synthetic against your skin.

Crossbreeds Supertuck was the first hybrid holster to catch on. For comfort it has a leather pad that is placed against your body and a kydex sheath for the gun is attached to the leather pad. This setup provides excellent concealment with a good degree of comfort.

Bianchi have developed the Allusion range of holsters that has a synthetic holster with leather stitched to the outside. So you get a fast draw from the synthetic plus the comfort and good looks that leather offers


We cant forget nylon, they are real cheap but you will probably be disappointed and end up buying a better quality one. Holsters made from nylon simply don’t have enough retention to secure the gun very well. Furthermore, they cannot support the weight of a loaded handgun as there is no structural integrity in the holster. Nylon is used by some manufacturers to line the holster which is a much better way to use it. But if you buy a holster made entirely out of nylon you are wasting money, avoid them!

Breaking in a Leather Holster

If you purchase a leather holster you may find it hard to withdraw and place the gun in the holster. The only way to fix this is work the holster by inserting the gun, moving it around and then withdrawing multiple times. You should find 10-15 times is sufficient. Another variation on this method is called “blocking”. The only difference is you place the gun into a plastic bag and then insert it into the holster multiple times and then leave it in the holster for a few hours. After a few hours remove the gun and plastic bag, inserting the gun into the holster should be much easier now.



Retention is the ability of a holster to hold a handgun in place. This can be achieved via friction or mechanical release levers which give varying degrees of retention. Retention gives you some degree of security and can stop an attacker grabbing your gun or the gun falling out of the holster when you bend over.

There is no industry standard for measuring the retention of holsters. The closest to a standard is the Safariland system developed by FBI agent Bill Rogers (retired). The system gives holsters a rating from level I, II, III, or IV. The holsters are tested with a simulated attempt to grab the handgun from the holster that lasts 5 seconds. If the attacker fails to draw the gun within the 5 seconds the holster is given a retention rating of I. Further levels of testing include user actions that are needed to draw the gun such as disabling lock devices, flip levers and hoods.

Retention Levels

1 Friction – Leather holsters do a reasonable job of retention by creating friction between the handgun and holster. The friction can be improved by molding the holster to a particular make and model of handgun, this increases the contact on the handguns surface areas. A rough inside can also help with friction.

New holsters often have too much friction and the holster will need to be broken in. Over time the leather holster will conform to the shape of the revolver or pistol that is placed in it. You will find that if the gun is pulled from any angle other than the normal angle it will tend to lock itself in place. This is at best a basic retention system but one that has proven to work.

If the leather is of good quality the holster will achieve its optimum retention after the break in period and retain that retention for many years if given occasional leather treatment.

Level one holsters like this 1791 simply rely on friction for gun retention. Molding the leather to the gun shape can increase friction and retention.

The Blackhawk SERPA CQC is a level 2 retention holster. The screw on the side controls tightness providing passive retention while active retention is provided by the Auto Lock release on the side

2Mechanism – On level 2 holsters you will find an extra mechanical mechanism such as a back strap, hood, thumb or finger operated lever as well as the friction grip level 1 holsters have. Straps are a common retention method and you will nearly always find them on shoulder and ankle holsters. Paddle and OWB holsters often include straps as an option. To provide active retention the strap wraps around the back of the handguns grip thus keeping it secure.

For an accurate example of a level 2 holster we only need to look at the Blackhawk Serpa CQC, a very popular holster among those who carry handguns.  It has a gun lock that will only release once a button is pressed plus tension adjustment screws for level 1 friction. Another level 2 holster I have used on many occasions is Safariland’s ALS Paddle holster which has a thumb operated release. You will find it slightly slower than the open top holsters but there is a reassuring click when you re-holster your handgun.

3Two Mechanisms – To qualify as a level 3 retention holster two active locking mechanisms are added to the holster while still retaining the level 1 friction test. Once again the Blackhawk Duty Holster is an excellent example of a level 3 holster. This level is mostly used by law enforcement as it is a bit over the top for regular concealed carry.

The Blackhawk Auto Lock Duty Holster is an great example of what a level 3 holster looks like.

The Safariland 6360 holster can be changed from a level 3 holster to a level 4 by adding a century device.

4The average person will have no need to use a level 4 holster. Level 4 basically takes all the security measures in level 3 and then adds on to that. This is beyond the scope of this article which is primarily written for the average concealed carry user.

Continue to Holster Maintenance|Part 2

Gun Placement • Magazine Holsters • Womens Holsters • Specialty Holsters • Holster Maintenance