Pistol Holster Types Guide: 4 Critical Factors for Picking Your Perfect Match

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Ever sit and think about all the different pistol holster types and wonder which one is right for you?

Choosing the right type, such as belt holsters, pocket holsters, shoulder holsters, etc., can make all the difference in terms of comfort, accessibility, and firearm safety.

With a plethora of different pistol holster types available, it’s essential to know the basics and understand which one suits your needs best.

Holsters come in various forms designed for specific carrying positions, situations, and personal preferences.

Whether you need a pocket holster for discreet carry or a flap holster for added security, there’s something out there that’ll fit like a glove.

Plus, let’s not forget the role holsters play in preventing “printing” – that telltale outline of your gun through clothing – and ensuring overall weapon safety.

So buckle up as we dive into the world of pistol holsters for both concealed and open carry, and explore their many uses!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pistol Holster Type Perfect for You

Comfort and Fit for the User

A crucial factor when selecting a pistol holster for either open or concealed carry is ensuring that it’s comfortable and fits well. This means considering:

  • The material: Leather, nylon, or kydex are common options.
    • Leather offers a classic look and molds to your body over time.
    • Nylon is lightweight and affordable but may not provide the same level of durability.
    • Kydex is rigid and durable but can be less comfortable against the skin.
  • The position: Where you plan to wear the holster will impact comfort levels. Common positions include:
    • Inside-the-waistband (IWB): Concealed carry option that may require larger pants.
    • Outside-the-waistband (OWB): More accessible but less concealed; ideal for open carry or range use.
  • The size: Make sure the holster is compatible with your firearm’s dimensions and weight.

Accessibility and Ease of Draw

Next, think about how easy it’ll be to access your firearm in various situations. Consider factors like:

  • Drawing motion: Practice drawing from different holsters to find what feels most natural.
  • Cant angle: Some holsters offer adjustable cant angles, allowing for more comfortable drawing positions.
  • Left or right-handed draw: Ensure the holster accommodates your dominant hand.

Retention Level for Security

Retention refers to how securely a holster holds your firearm. Evaluate retention based on:

  • Passive retention: How snugly the gun fits into the holster without any additional mechanisms.
  • Active retention devices: Additional security features like thumb breaks, straps, or buttons that keep the gun in place until deliberately released by the user.

Compatibility with Specific Firearms

Finally, make sure you select a pistol holster designed for your specific firearm model. Keep these points in mind:

  • Form factor: Some holsters are made specifically for certain gun models, ensuring a perfect fit.
  • Customization: Some manufacturers offer custom holsters tailored to your firearm’s dimensions and features.

By considering these factors, you’ll be able to find the perfect pistol holster that fits comfortably, provides easy access, securely retains your firearm, and is compatible with your specific gun model.

Concealed Carry Holsters: Popular Styles and Sizing

Appendix Carry (AIWB) Holsters

appendix carry holsters

Appendix carry holsters, also known as AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband), are designed to be worn in the front of your waistband. These gun holsters provide quick and easy access to your firearm while maintaining concealment.

Some benefits of AIWB holsters include:

  • Comfortable for sitting or standing
  • Easy access for both right and left-handed shooters
  • Minimal printing (outline of the gun on clothing)

However, some may find this carry position uncomfortable when bending over or sitting for extended periods.

Cross-draw Holsters

cross draw holsters

Cross-draw holsters are one of the pistol holster types gaining in popularity. The firearm is carried on the opposite side of your dominant hand, allowing you to draw your firearm across your body.

This style is popular among drivers and those who spend a lot of time seated since it provides easy access to the weapon.

Key features of cross-draw holsters include:

  • Comfortable while seated or driving
  • Accessible with either hand
  • Suitable for open carry or concealed carry with appropriate clothing

Keep in mind that cross-draw holsters may require additional practice for efficient drawing compared to other styles.

Small-of-back (SOB) Holsters

Small-of-back holsters, commonly referred to as SOB holsters, are designed to be worn at the center of your lower back and are the same basic construction as the appendix holsters, just positioned in the back rather than the front.

These concealed carry options offer a discreet way to carry a handgun without drawing attention. Some advantages of SOB holsters are:

  • Low profile and minimal printing
  • Comfortable when standing or walking
  • Easily accessible with either hand

However, these holsters can be uncomfortable when sitting down or bending over, so consider your daily activities before choosing this style.

Pocket Carry Holsters

Pocket carry is an excellent option for those looking for maximum concealment with smaller firearms.

Pocket holsters fit inside a front or back pocket, keeping your gun secure and easily accessible. Some benefits of pocket carry holsters are:

  • Highly concealed
  • Comfortable for daily activities
  • Suitable for smaller handguns

Remember that pocket carry may not be suitable for larger firearms or those with a more extensive wardrobe.

Other Concealed Carry Holster Options

In addition to the common types mentioned above, there are other concealed carry holster styles to consider:

  • Belly band holsters: Adjustable and comfortable, these holsters wrap around your waist and can accommodate various firearm sizes.
  • Concealment bag holsters: Designed to fit inside handbags or backpacks, concealment bag holsters provide an alternative way of carrying without wearing a traditional holster.
  • Chest holsters: Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, chest holsters offer easy access while hiking or engaging in physical activities.

When choosing a concealed carry holster, consider factors such as comfort, accessibility, and concealment.

Remember that practice is essential when using any holster style to ensure the safe and efficient handling of your firearm.

Inside the Waistband (IWB) vs. Outside the Waistband (OWB) Holsters

iwb vs owb

IWB: Better Concealment, Less Comfort (appendix, small of back)

When looking for a pistol holster, concealment is often a top priority. IWB holsters offer better concealment by keeping the firearm tucked inside your waistband.

This makes it easier to hide your weapon under clothing and reduces the chances of printing (the outline of your gun showing through your clothes).

However, there’s a trade-off. Since IWB holsters sit directly against your body, they can be less comfortable than OWB holsters. Factors that may affect comfort include:

  • The size and shape of the holster
  • The type of material used
  • Your personal tolerance for having an object pressed against you

Some popular IWB holsters include:

  1. Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 3.0
  2. StealthGearUSA Ventcore
  3. CrossBreed Supertuck

OWB: Easier Access, More Visible (worn on a gun belt)

On the flip side, OWB holsters are designed to be worn on the outside of your waistband.

They provide quicker and easier access to your firearm but are more visible compared to IWB holsters.

OWB holsters might be a better choice if you’re not as concerned about concealment or if open carry is legal in your area.

Examples of popular OWB holsters are:

  1. Safariland ALS Paddle Holster
  2. Galco Combat Master Belt Holster
  3. Blackhawk Serpa Sportster Holster

Body Type Considerations

Your body type plays an essential role in determining which holster style works best for you.

  • Slim: If you have a slim build, an IWB holster may work well since it will help keep the gun close to your body.
  • Curvy: For those with a curvier physique, an OWB holster might be more comfortable since it won’t dig into your waist or hips as much.
  • Large: If you have a larger build, either style could work. It’s essential to find a holster that distributes the weight of the gun evenly and doesn’t cause discomfort.

Clothing Choice Impact

Your wardrobe also plays a role in deciding between IWB and OWB holsters. Consider these clothing factors:

  • Shirt length: Longer shirts are better for concealing an IWB holster, while shorter shirts may reveal the bottom of your gun.
  • Pants type: Pants with belt loops are necessary for most holsters. Make sure they can accommodate the width of your holster’s clips or loops.
  • Tightness: Tighter clothing will make it harder to conceal your weapon with an IWB holster but may help keep an OWB holster close to your body.

Exploring Alternative Holster Options: Ankle, Shoulder, and Belt Holsters

Ankle Holsters

ankle holsters

Ankle holsters are a popular choice for carrying backup guns. They provide a discreet and comfortable option for those who want to have a secondary firearm on hand. Some benefits of ankle holsters include:

  • Easy access when sitting or kneeling
  • Great concealment under long pants
  • Comfortable for extended periods of wear

When shopping for an ankle holster, consider factors like retention, adjustability, and padding to ensure a secure and comfortable fit.

Shoulder Holsters

shoulder holsters

Shoulder holsters offer a more discreet carry option under jackets or other outerwear.

They distribute the weight of the gun across your shoulders and back, making them comfortable for extended periods. Some advantages of shoulder holsters include:

  • Even weight distribution
  • Accessible while seated in a vehicle
  • Ideal for larger firearms that may be difficult to conceal on the waistline

To find the perfect shoulder holster, shop around and try different styles to find one that offers good adjustability, comfort, and ease of access.

Belt Slide and Paddle Holsters

Belt Slide and Paddle Holsters

Belt slide or paddle holsters are designed for quick attachment/detachment from your belt.

These options allow you to easily remove your firearm without removing your entire belt. Benefits of these types of holsters include:

  • Quick attachment/detachment
  • Adjustable cant (angle) for personalized draw style
  • Available in various materials like leather or Kydex

When selecting between belt slide or paddle holsters, consider factors like material preference, level of concealment desired, and personal style.

Off-body Carry Options

belly band holster

For those who prefer not to carry their firearm on their person directly, off-body carry options like bags or purses can be convenient alternatives. Some popular off-body carry choices are:

  1. Concealed carry purses: Specially designed purses with dedicated compartments for firearms.
  2. Belly band holsters: Adjustable bands worn around the waist or torso that can accommodate various gun sizes.
  3. Concealed carry backpacks: Backpacks with discrete compartments for safely carrying a firearm.

When considering off-body carry options, prioritize safety features like locking zippers and dedicated firearm compartments to ensure secure storage.

Material Matters: Kydex, Leather, and Nylon Holsters Compared

Kydex Holsters

Kydex holsters are made from a thermoplastic material that’s both durable and low maintenance. The key benefits of using kydex include:

  • Custom fit: Kydex can be molded to the exact shape of your pistol, ensuring a secure and snug fit.
  • Durability: This material is resistant to wear, tear, and weather conditions, making it long-lasting.
  • Low maintenance: Unlike leather holsters, kydex doesn’t require conditioning or special care.

Some drawbacks of kydex holsters are that they can be less comfortable than other materials and may cause more wear on your pistol’s finish over time.

Leather Holsters

Leather holsters offer a classic look and feel that many gun owners appreciate. Here are some advantages of choosing leather:

  • Classic look: Leather has an aesthetic appeal that’s hard to beat.
  • Comfortable over time: While leather may take some breaking in initially, it becomes more comfortable as it forms to your body.
  • Requires care: To maintain its appearance and functionality, you’ll need to clean and condition leather regularly.

On the downside, leather holsters can be more expensive than other options and may not hold up as well in extreme weather conditions.

Nylon Holsters

Nylon is another popular material for pistol holsters. Some perks of nylon include:

  • Lightweight: Nylon holsters are lighter than their kydex or leather counterparts.
  • Affordable option: Generally speaking, nylon is less expensive than other holster materials.
  • Less rigid: This can be both an advantage (more flexible) or disadvantage (less secure).

However, nylon holsters may not provide the same level of retention as kydex or leather options due to their flexibility.

Hybrid Materials

Some holster manufacturers combine the benefits of different materials to create hybrid holsters.

For example, a holster may have a kydex shell for durability and retention, with a leather or nylon backing for comfort.

These holsters aim to provide the best of both worlds, but they might not be as specialized in any one area as their single-material counterparts.

Holster Safety Features and Proper Usage

Trigger Guard Coverage

One of the most important safety features to look for in a pistol holster is trigger guard coverage.

This prevents accidental discharge by covering the trigger, ensuring that it cannot be pulled unless you intentionally draw your firearm.

When selecting a carry holster, make sure it provides:

  • Full coverage of the trigger guard
  • A snug fit around your specific firearm model
  • Durable holster material to withstand daily wear and tear

Adjustable Retention Mechanisms

Retention mechanisms are essential for keeping your carry gun secure in its holster.

These mechanisms can vary depending on the holster design, but their primary purpose is to hold your firearm in place during everyday activities or emergency situations.

Some common retention options include:

  1. Passive retention: friction-based systems that rely on a snug fit between the gun and holster
  2. Active retention: devices such as thumb breaks or straps that require manual release before drawing the firearm
  3. Level II or III retention: advanced systems with multiple locking mechanisms for added security

When choosing a carry holster, consider how much retention you need based on your lifestyle and personal preferences.

Cant Angle Adjustments

The cant angle refers to the tilt of your holstered gun relative to your body, which affects how easily you can draw from various positions.

Many holsters offer adjustable cant angles so you can find the optimal position for quick and efficient access to your firearm when needed.

Here’s why cant angle adjustments matter:

  • They allow for a more comfortable and natural draw motion.
  • They help minimize printing (the visible outline of your gun through clothing).
  • They enable customization based on individual preferences or situational requirements.

To ensure proper usage of an adjustable cant angle system, practice drawing from different positions until you find what works best for you.

Regular Practice with Chosen Holster

Regardless of which safety features are included in your chosen carry holster, it’s crucial to regularly practice drawing and re-holstering your firearm.

This helps build muscle memory, making you more efficient and confident in handling your gun during an emergency. Here are some tips for practicing with your holster:

  • Start with an unloaded firearm to minimize risk.
  • Practice drawing from various positions (standing, sitting, crouching).
  • Focus on a smooth and controlled motion rather than speed.
  • Gradually increase the level of difficulty by adding movement or stress drills.

Finding the Right Holster for Your Needs

To sum it up, when choosing a pistol holster, consider factors like comfort, accessibility, and concealment. Explore popular styles such as IWB and OWB holsters, as well as alternative options like ankle, shoulder, and belt holsters.

Compare materials like Kydex, leather, and nylon to find the best fit for your needs. Prioritize safety features and proper usage to ensure responsible firearm handling.

Now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, go ahead and find the perfect holster for your needs!

And remember: practice makes perfect – so always train with your chosen holster to become proficient in its use.


Q1: What is the difference between IWB and OWB holsters?

IWB (Inside the Waistband) holsters are designed to be worn inside your pants for maximum concealment.

In contrast, OWB (Outside the Waistband) holsters are worn on the outside of your pants or belt for easier access.

Q2: Which material is best for a gun holster – Kydex, leather or nylon?

Each material has its pros and cons.

Kydex is durable and offers a secure fit but can be less comfortable than other materials.

Leather provides comfort and a classic look but may require more maintenance.

Nylon is lightweight and affordable but may not offer as much retention as Kydex or leather.

Q3: How do I choose the right size holster for my pistol?

To choose the right size holster for your pistol, refer to product descriptions or consult customer service representatives from reputable retailers who can help you determine compatibility based on your specific firearm model.

Q4: Are there any safety features I should look for in a gun holster?

Yes! Look for safety features like trigger guard coverage, adjustable retention systems that securely hold your firearm in place without restricting access when needed, and designs that allow you to maintain a proper grip on your pistol during the draw.

Q5: How can I ensure proper usage of my chosen holster?

To ensure proper usage, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and practice drawing and reholstering your firearm in a safe environment. Regular training will help you become more proficient and comfortable with your chosen holster.

Photo of author


Don is a seasoned gun and shooting enthusiast with years of experience in the gun accessories industry, and when not behind his keyboard, you'll likely find him refining his shooting skills at the pistol range or sporting clay fields. Having founded and sold a successful online gun accessories business, he now devotes the majority of his time to sharing his passion and expertise with fellow gun enthusiasts through his informative and engaging articles and product reviews.

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