There are many different options for carrying your handgun in a concealed manner. Body type, firearm, holster type, and mission all mandate different styles of carry. It ultimately comes down to personal preferences, but here are a few hints and guidelines to help you make your decision. If you are new to carrying concealed firearms, this resource will help you make some important decisions.
We'll start with the most common way to carry a pistol, the belt holster. This holster is mounted to the belt (with loops or slots) or uses a paddle that makes it easier to remove. I generally prefer the belt loops over most paddle holsters because they stay on the belt better in a struggle. They also conceal better because most paddles tilt the butt of the gun inwards and the barrel out, making a strange-looking bump on the hip.
Here are some examples of belt loops, slots and paddles:
Belt holsters are generally made of either leather, kydex (a type of plastic) or nylon. All materials work well. Nylon and kydex are generally cheaper and a little bulkier. Leather usually conceals slightly better. Leather may also require a short "break in" period. If you find that your new leather holster is too tight, place your unloaded gun inside a plastic zip-lock bag. Put the bagged gun into the holster overnight and the leather will stretch a bit. (We recommend our Leater Dressing to aid in this process)
There are many different ways to keep your gun in the holster. Some of the methods include the thumb break, tension screw, Serpa lock, ALS lock, and rotating hood. For concealed carry, I would generally avoid open-topped Kydex holsters that have no retention other than the friction fit of the gun. In a fight, a bad guy will take your gun away so quickly that you won't be able to implement your weapon retention strategies. This applies even more to the FOBUS PADDLE HOLSTER. Don't use it! I haven't had one make it through any of my high-intensity fight scenarios. The holster breaks completely off of the paddle. Save the Fobus paddle and open top Kydex holsters for the range only. Don't use them to carry your defensive guns.
The Blackhawk Serpa offers good retention, but there have been several accidental discharges when drawing because of the placement of the release button. It has been banned at several police academies and shooting schools. I would stay away from it.
Stay away from the small of the back holsters. The drawstroke is difficult to do in any position but standing and is easier to stop in a fight. There is also a greater chance of spinal injury if you fall while wearing one. It also prints horribly if you bend forward.
One final thing to consider is ride height. Each manufacturer places the gun differently in relation to the belt line. If the gun is too high, the grip is up near the armpit. That makes a difficult draw for shorter-waisted people and those who lack flexible shoulders. On the other hand, a gun that rides too low doesn't conceal well. I would stay away from both.
Good quality belt holster brands that we carry are:
For those of you wanting more concealment than the belt holster provides, your best bet is an IWB holster. You can get them made from leather, kydex, and nylon. The kydex is fastest, but least secure. Leather is more secure, but slower. Unlike the belt holsters, I don't think you need a retention strap on an IWB holster. The IWB holds the gun lower and closer to the body, making disarm attempts difficult.
There are a couple of things to look for in IWB holsters:
IWB holsters are mounted on the belt using loops, clips, or J-hooks. As I mentioned earlier, avoid the cheap plastic and spring steel clips. The clips made by Stoner and Galco tend to work well.
J-hooks fasten underneath the belt and also work well. Some will even allow you to tuck in your shirt.
Loops and some clips work well as belt attachments. The holsters that have the loops or clips directly over the gun are less concealable than those with offset loops and clips.
Some good brands of IWB holsters are:
Most people carry their IWB holsters just behind their hip on the strong side. There are some (myself included) who like to carry them in front of the hip on the strong side in what is commonly referred to as the appendix position. Any IWB holster can be carried in Appendix, but some people find that specially-designed holsters with a slightly different cant are more comfortable. They allow the gun to be carried without being poked as much.
One caution: Be EXTRA CAFEFUL REHOLSTERING when carrying appendix IWB. If the trigger is snagged on something (like your shirt or holster edge), a very painful gunshot wound will be the result! It's one thing to have a crease down your butt cheek or the side of your leg if you squeeze the trigger while holstering in a traditional belt or IWB holster, but getting shot in the junk can't be any fun!
Another common way of carrying a smaller concealed pistol is to use a pocket holster. Rather than just throwing your gun in your pocket, buy yourself a good holster. Pocket holsters:
Make sure that your pocket holster stays in your pocket when you draw. You may not have time to rip the holster off of the end of your drawn gun in a gunfight!
Even though a lot of people use them, I'm not a big fan of carrying your gun in a fanny pack. The draw is just too slow and usually requires two hands. It's also much easier to disarm a person wearing a fanny pack than it is when that person is wearing a "real" holster.
It's relatively easy to spot a "gun" fanny pack. Almost all have a loop of cord or fabric at one of the upper corners. That cord is pulled to open the pouch that the holster is in.
I generally don't recommend carrying your primary gun on your ankle. It is a slow draw, generally requires two hands, and puts you in a bad defensive position. With that said, however, there are some cases where an ankle holster is useful. If you are spending a lot of time seated, it may be faster than a belt-line carry. It is also a great position for a second gun.
Some people can comfortably carry ankle holsters and some can't. You'll just have to try it and see. Most people wear the gun on the inside of the leg opposite the primary shooting hand.
If you wear boots or taller shoes, you can wrap the holster around or on top of the boot. It will make it much more comfortable to carry (but it may make a larger bulge in your pants leg). If you are wearing the holster with regular shoes, try pulling your sock up over the bottom of the holster. It will be hidden much better.
Shoulder Holsters at Stoner Holsters Shoulder Holsters
If you are carrying a gun, you should also be carrying spare ammunition. For revolver users, that means speed-loaders or speed strips. For people who carry autoloaders, you need extra magazines and magazine carriers.
One of the first places you should look for accessories is Stoner Holster Accessories. A selection of mag pouches, magazine carriers, and holster accessory platforms.
There is my best advice. Undoubtedly I missed some great gear, but the stuff I listed has held up for me during vigorous daily use for many years. You won't go wrong in using it. Feel free to pass this article along to any new shooter who may find it useful!
Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.
Excerpt taken from an article by Greg Ellifritz For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.