There’s so many different concealed carry holsters out there and navigating the market can be tough. Finding the perfect concealed carry holster is a feat, but we can narrow it down by talking about the two most popular styles of holsters: IWB holster and OWB holster.
I’m sure you’ve already heard of these before, even if you’re new to the firearm community. Basically, an IWB holster is a Inside the Waistband holster which will sit between the waistband of your pants and your body. This is typically the most popular type of waistband holsters when it comes to concealed carry. An OWB holster is just the opposite: Outside the Waistband holster. This gun holster is another popular method for concealment.
Both of these types of holsters can come in any material. You can get a Kydex holster, a leather holster, or even a nylon holster. There’s plenty of options available these days.
Both of these types have their strengths and weaknesses. In all reality, the best concealed carry holster is highly subjective; something that works for your buddy might not work for you. This is where you need to know your personal shooting needs when it comes to finding the perfect holster fit for you. So, let’s talk about that sets each type of carry position holster apart.
What’s an IWB Holster?
An IWB holster, or inside the waistband holster, is a type of pistol holster that is most commonly used for concealed carry. When using an IWB carry holster, the pistol will sit between you and the waistband of your pants. This type of holster will be inside of your pants and will most likely attach to your belt.
The conceal carry IWB is normally attached with a couple of loops or one or two clips. The clips will go over the top of the belt and clip to the bottom of it, effectively holding the holster in place. A loop system will have holes where the belt can be threaded through the holster to secure it.
However, there are some handgun holsters that can be attached without using a belt. Typically, these types of IWB holsters tend to cause some extra sagging on one section of your waistband, which is something to keep in mind if concealment is a priority for you.
Why Should I Use It?
There’s many advantages to using an IWB holster. What you consider to be an advantage will have to come from your personal preferences and priorities; everyone is different.
First off, an IWB is much easier to use for a conceal carry weapon. The reason being is because the holster is inside of your waistband, tucking the handgun away. Usually, only the grip of your gun will be visible. The rest of the firearm and IWB holster will completely disappear under the fabric of your pants. And, because of the IWB holster’s placement, you can just cover the rest of your firearm with your shirt or jacket.
IWB holsters are also very secure. Since they usually attach by some clips or loops, that means they’ll have 2 contact points on your gun belt and another contact with your body. This way, the firearm will be held on by some sort of physical connection as well as friction from being pressed up against your body.
If you find the perfect place for your belt holster, you won’t even know it’s there! A well placed IWB holster will remain in the same place as you move around all day, and you’ll effectively forget that you’re even wearing it.
IWB holsters are also very versatile. You can move the carry position to whatever you want. Whether that’s appendix carry, hip, or even back, you can pick which is most comfortable for you. You can also move the holster easily because of the simple way that it attaches to your gun belt and turn it into something like an appendix carry holster.
What’s the Catch?
Well, nothing’s perfect. The IWB holster is no different.
The biggest issue that a lot of concealed carry owners have with the IWB is that it’s uncomfortable. Depending on your body type and the clothes that you’re wearing, it can be hard to conceal it properly while remaining comfortable at the same time. The firearm can dig into you and tight clothes can make it hard to achieve that concealment that you have in mind. A lot of people have to buy the next size up in pants to accommodate for the extra width of the pistol.
This also means that your pistol is going to be rubbing on your skin all day. Which is already uncomfortable, but it can also cause irritation and rashes too, especially if your clothes are too tight.
What’s an OWB Holster?
An OWB holster is the opposite of an IWB. An outside the waistband holster is one that rests on the outside of your pants. It won’t be touching your skin nor will it be on the inside of your pants. While it might sound counter-intuitive, this holster is also popular when it comes to concealed carry. This is also an option for open carry as well.
There’s two common ways that an OWB holster will attach to your belt. The first is something called a paddle attachment. The paddle attachment is usually a flat piece of a hard material, like Kydex, that will extend over the belt to hold the gun holster in place. The second is called a pancake holster. This style of attachment has two holes that are present on either side of the holster. This is where the belt is threaded through the holster and secures it to the carrier.
Why Should I Use It?
It might seem like a completely different design, but the OWB is pretty similar to the IWB. It’s got the same simple design but just for the outside of your pants instead of the inside.
Because of this feature, this tends to make an OWB holster much more comfortable. This type of holster just straps onto your belt on your hip and will rest outside of your pants. That way, you won’t have to deal with any pants sizing issues or the firearm digging into your skin.
This will also allow you to draw and reach your firearm faster. You don’t have to reach inside your waistband to try and fumble with the grip of your pistol, but rather just reach, grab, aim, and shoot. An OWB carry is much more efficient when it comes to drawing and firing.
What’s the Catch?
The most obvious issue is that of concealment. I mean, how do you hide something that’s just hanging out in plain sight? Of course, you can do it for concealed carry, or else we wouldn’t be talking about it here. It’s just much harder to conceal an OWB carry. You’ll have to wear a long shirt or jacket in order to achieve the highest level of concealment.
I’m sure there’s some creative OWB carry solutions out there, so just talk to some other gun owners or do your own research. There’s plenty of other ways to make concealing an OWB holster a much simpler process compared to the basics we’ll talk about today.
Side by Side Comparison
Now that you know the basics of each, let’s put that into a visual. Most of these features are things that will cater to personal needs and preferences, and will also depend on what kind of shooting you have to do.
Now, this table just gives a general idea of the drawbacks of each kind of holster. Neither holster has any critical flaws, and with proper training, both can function equally. So, use this table as more of a preference chart, and not a product recommendation.
Let’s break down these categories individually so you get a better idea of what I mean.
To a newbie, the IWB holster style will be much harder to remove, draw, and fire your weapon efficiently. That’s why, when competition shooting or on the range, an open carry OWB holster is usually the go-to. Since the waistband OWB holster is not inside of your pants, it’s much easier to get to if you’re not very experienced.
But, here’s where this changes. With enough practice and comfort with your duty holsters, you will become proficient in drawing your firearm from whatever holster you choose, regardless of IWB or OWB placement.
This one is a little more obvious. Of course, the waistband IWB is much easier to conceal than the waistband OWB. Because the IWB is inside the waistband, this means that your pants will pretty much do all of the concealing for you without the need for extra long clothes. However, this means that you’ll probably have to buy a size up in pants just to adjust for the mass of the pistol.
With an OWB, it’s still equally as concealable, it just requires some more effort. To properly conceal an OWB, you’ll need to wear longer clothes or jackets that can cover the outside holster. Most OWB holsters come outfitted with a feature that presses it closer to your body to help with the concealment. This won’t eliminate the need for a jacket though, which might be inconvenient for some people.
This is a big one. The IWB holster is known to cause discomfort because it’s so pressed into your skin all the time, especially if it’s a Kydex IWB. When you go to sit down or move, it might dig into you because it won’t move around a lot. This is also where your body type will come into play. You’ll have to adjust the clothes and pants size you wear depending on what makes you the most comfortable. Typically, people who are smaller have an easier and more comfortable experience with the IWB than someone who has more mass.
However, the OWB won’t be digging into you at all. That’s because it’s completely outside of your pants, which makes it a great choice if comfort is your #1 concern. Just remember that the OWB is comfortable but harder to conceal.
All in all, the decision to buy an OWB vs. an IWB is based on your priorities when it comes to concealed carry holsters. The best concealed carry holster will be entirely up to you.
But my recommendation? Try both! Buy one of each if you can and get familiar with both styles, that way you can be a versatile carrier for every situation. If your priorities for a certain event are concealment, then you’ve got the IWB. Comfort and casual? The OWB is your style.
If that’s not your plan, just decide what your general priorities are. If you plan on taking your firearm with you as a concealed weapon of protection, then you might want to go with the IWB. If you mostly lean towards a more open carry method, like out in your backyard or on a nature walk, then an OWB will serve you well.
If neither of these are for you, just remember there are tons and tons of other holster types out there. Leather holsters, pocket holsters, and even shoulder holsters. Or, you could for for an ankle holster or even one of those concealed carry purses if you’re feeling stylish. There’s so many holster accessories and types to customize your concealed carry experience to the best it can possibly be.
When searching for your perfect holster, you should know of some few good brands.
Alien Gear Holsters are a great start. They are a well known holster company that offers many styles of holsters in a wide range of materials. They also sell more holster accessories.
Concealment Express is another favorite among gun owners, just for their quality and reputation of performance. They also offer great products that will provide you with exactly what you need.
Sig Sauer is one of the most popular firearm companies. Especially if you already own one of their firearms, you’ll definitely want to check them out. They sell custom fit holsters, firearms, accessories, and so much more.
Brian Belko is a freelance writer and blogger. His primary areas of focus include the outdoors and shooting sports. In addition to his freelance work, Brian also writes for Wide Open Spaces and is on the Pro Staff at Military Hunting and Fishing. When he isn’t busy writing, Brian enjoys fishing farm ponds for bass and hitting the spring woods during turkey season.