Finding The Perfect Concealed Carry Holster


Finding The Perfect Concealed Carry Holster
OWB holsters, like this Galco Avenger, are comfortable for carry and fast to draw from. But they’re also harder to conceal.

When balancing concealability, accessibility and comfort, how do you find the best concealed carry holster for your needs?

When outfitting for carry concealed, your handgun, cartridge and ammunition are three very important considerations. But holster selection is just as important, partly because it makes carrying concealed easier, and partly because if your holster is uncomfortable, you won’t be carrying when you should be.

Many gun stores have ranges where you can try different handguns, but to try a holster you most often have to buy it. So, some holster advice is a good thing. I’ve been carrying concealed for more than half my life, but I thought hearing from a true holster specialist might be more beneficial.

Mike Barham has worked for Galco Gunleather for 21 years. He grew up around guns and took courses from esteemed trainers like Chuck Taylor and Massad Ayoob. In addition to 11 years in the Army—to include a tour in Afghanistan—Barham is also a graduate of Gunsite, Tactical Response and Front Sight firearms academies. Barham has been carrying concealed handguns for as long as I have, so I asked him to share some of his expertise.

Richard-Mann-and-Mike-Barham
The author (standing) has trained with Mike Barham (kneeling) and considers him a subject matter expert when it comes to holsters.

Finding Balance

The first tidbit of wisdom Barham offered was, “Every concealment holster must balance three competing factors: concealability, accessibility and comfort. With almost all holster designs, as one factor increases, the others decrease. A highly concealable holster is often less comfortable and accessible, and a holster that offers fast access, or one that’s comfortable, is almost always less concealable.”

Galco-holstersGalco-holsters
Galco prides themselves in offering custom-made, high-quality holsters … without the wait.

Of course, regardless of the holster you choose, gun size plays into the equation, too. But, with gun size, there’s balance that must be found as well. Select a gun that’s large enough that you can shoot and manage it effectively, but also small enough to practically conceal. This seemingly never-ending search to find the right holster is similar to trying to find the right life partner. We date to see how compatible we are, and in truth, that’s the best way to find a gun/holster combination. The problem is—just like with dating—trying different guns and holsters gets expensive.

OWB Vs. IWB

A big decision is whether to carry inside the waistband (IWB) or outside the waistband (OWB). I do both as weather and need dictates—and that’s not a bad approach, especially if you don’t change carry location. As for IWB carry, Barham said, “An IWB holster is generally easier to conceal since half the gun is inside your pants. However, many find IWB carry uncomfortable. This discomfort can be greatly ameliorated with a belt and pants that are 2 inches larger than your normal American vanity size. Also, IWB holsters can be slightly slower to draw from than OWBs because they press the handgun against the body.”

IWB-1911-holsterIWB-1911-holster
Because IWB holsters keep the handgun’s grip closer to your body, they’re usually a bit slower to draw from.

As for OWB, Barham said, “OWB carry is more comfortable than IWB carry because a lot of people aren’t willing to adapt their wardrobes to IWB carry. OWB holsters are also slightly faster—we’re talking fractions of a second—on the draw. But, depending on the belt attachment method, IWB holsters with belt clips or straps are usually quicker to take on and off than OWB holsters with conventional belt slots. However, a paddle-type OWB is usually very comfortable and very convenient; it’s very fast and easy to put on or take off.”

OWB-Yaqui-holsterOWB-Yaqui-holster
OWB holsters don’t have to be large and bulky. This Yaqui Slide holster from Galco isn’t very big at all.

Cant And Rake

Although it’s often overlooked, you need to think about cant and rake: Both refer to the angular deviation from a zero-degree vertical line. Barham said, “A mild butt-rear rake is sometimes preferable for appendix carry, but it’s detrimental to concealment with a holster worn on or behind the hip. With a holster worn on or behind the hip, a mild butt-forward cant often helps with concealment. However, the added movement of “breaking” the wrist to draw from an angled holster can be slightly slower and less natural than when drawing from a neutral cant/vertical holster worn on or very close to the hip.”

Galco-holster-fittingGalco-holster-fitting
Many of Galco’s holsters are form-fitted by master leather craftsmen to give them that custom look and feel.

Extreme rake is absolutely required for crossdraw carry, and though very practical when riding in a vehicle, it’s largely fallen out of favor. In every case, you must balance the need for concealment versus efficiency of draw.

Leather Or Polymer

Maybe the biggest question is whether a holster should be polymer or leather. Barham said this argument is a can of worms but offered that, “Leather is traditional, warm to the touch and often beautiful. More importantly, leather holsters form themselves to the contours of the wearer’s body over time. This often results in greater comfort. Polymer holsters—generally Kydex—are nearly maintenance free, withstand moisture well and require no break-in. Some also think they’re faster, but that’s largely dependent on the shooter.”

OWB-Kydex-holster-GlockOWB-Kydex-holster-Glock
Some believe polymer holsters are faster to draw from, but this is more opinion than fact.

Factory Or Custom?

Barham suggested, “There’s really very little a boutique holster can do that can’t be done just as well by a production holster. At Galco we take pride in our premium holsters being essentially ‘custom made without the wait.’ We have a small army of master craftsmen whose hands touch every professional-grade holster we make. Galco has 50-plus years of experience designing and executing practical holsters.” But Barham added, “Custom holsters certainly have their place, and very experienced and knowledgeable shooters can often take advantage of custom subtleties. However, I believe most custom touches will elude the overwhelming majority of gun carriers.”

Custom-leather-holsterCustom-leather-holster
Depending on the handgun, a custom holster could be the only viable option. This Barranti IWB holster was made for the Sig P365 when it was first introduced.

Barham went on to say, “What’s most important is how well designed and fitted a given holster is. This is critical, most especially when it comes to consistent positioning for speed of draw and proper retention.” I agree with Barham but would add that, in some cases, a custom holster might be the only or the best option, particularly with unpopular or brand-new handguns for which there are few factory-made holsters. I’d also add that you should be careful; “custom” doesn’t always mean exquisite or best.

It’s A Process

The last bit of advice Barham offered was “Every holster design and position is a compromise. You have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and then decide where your priorities lie. Only then can you decide on the right holster.” And even then, you’ll probably end up experimenting with a half-dozen holsters. Like I said, it’s a bit like dating: You’re going to have to try multiple holsters and guns in order to find lifelong satisfaction.

pistol-varietypistol-variety
Not only might you have to try several holsters to find what you like, you’ll also likely try different handgun and holster combinations while looking for concealed carry nirvana.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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