Types of Holsters – 2021 Ultimate Guide

| Last Updated: May 18, 2021

Choosing a holster should be considered carefully and with as much enthusiasm as choosing your firearm.

The wrong holster can be annoying or uncomfortable.

It can hinder your drawing ability, whether the purpose of the draw is for self-defense or competition.

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Types of Holsters

Type of Holster

Best For

Outside the Waistband Holsters (OWB)

Law enforcement or competition shooters

Inside the Waistband Holsters (IWB)

Self-defenders who need or want to concealed carry

Pocket Holsters

Self-defender, perfect to carry at work

Shoulder Holsters

Plain-clothes law enforcement who need to conceal a full-size pistol

Leg or Ankle Holsters

Perfect for a back up with both law enforcement and self-defenders

Bag/Purse Holsters

Self-defenders, perfect for low-stress environments

Outside the Waistband Holster

OWB holsters are defined by where and how the holsters sit. They literally sit on the outside of your waistband and can be carried in several positions. Think of your body as a clock with 12:00 directly in front of you. 

The most popular positions to carry OWBs are 3:00 and 4:00 with different cant angles, according to the wearer's preference. OWB holsters can also range in size from the more concealable to something with a spare magazine holder attached.

Advantages

OWB holsters enable easy, quick draw due to a wide range of positions based on the wearer's preference. They have a modular system constructed with many different materials like Kydex, leather, or a hybrid material. They give you the capability of carrying a larger firearm more comfortably even while on an outdoor trip.

Disadvantages

They aren’t easily concealable, possibly making the wearer a target. They require extra layers of clothing to conceal. You also have to partially remove your belt to take off the holster. Once it's in place, it can be challenging to reposition when driving or seated for a prolonged period.

Best For 

The OWB is a versatile holster option best suited for law enforcement, competition shooters, or open carry if your state laws permit it. 

Inside the Waistband Holsters 

The IWB holster is specifically designed to be inconspicuous, giving you greater concealability. It sits on the inside of your pants utilizing belt clips or soft loops to attach it. There are even some styles that don’t use any clips or loops, which are known as "sticky holsters." 

The holster can be carried in several positions, with most allowing you to more easily defend your firearm in case of a close-quarter confrontation or a criminal element trying to disarm you. The most popular position is the appendix carry or at the 4:00 position.

Advantages

It’s concealable with a discrete draw. If your daily routine doesn’t allow for open carry, the IWB is the way to go. It gives you practical carry options that are optimal for using your firearm under stress. 

IWBs won't change your dress style with regular or tactical material options. They’re available in leather, Kydex options, or similar synthetic materials.

Disadvantages

IWBs can limit the firearm size you can comfortably carry. Therefore, they’re best for concealed carry.

You may have difficulty maintaining muzzle discipline while re-holstering regardless of the position that the holster is worn. Wearing a gun in your pants in proximity to the femoral artery may, for some, be far too great of a risk.

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Best For 

The primary function and purpose of an IWB holster are concealed carry. Depending on your home state, you may not need a permit to conceal carry. 

Plus, an IWB holster makes sense while at work as it’s a discrete and comfortable option or for practice sessions. There’ll be no need for an extra range holster. The IWB is also a perfect option for someone in the security or plainclothes police officers who need to remain unassuming and blend in with their surroundings. 

Pocket Holsters

Pocket holsters are ultra concealable. They’re probably the best choice for a self-defender. A pocket holster is best combined with a subcompact pistol or revolver. It disguises your firearm by looking like a wallet in your pocket, thus giving you the most discrete draw for that last-minute element of surprise against an attacker. The most comfortable fit and placement would be your front pocket, but this ultra-compact design can easily be carried in a jacket pocket.

Advantages

It’s not only a concealable holster but a disguise for your firearm. Its square design hides the shape of a firearm.

Designed explicitly for subcompact pistols or revolvers, it’ll help make your choice of everyday carry notably lighter.

Disadvantages

With the pocket holster, you’re limited on the type of firearm you carry, and you’re limited on ammunition.

Carefully consider your clothing, namely because of pocket size. If they’re too tight, you may have problems drawing your firearm under stress or from a seated position.

Best For

This type of holster is a light carry option as it’s made for compact firearms. It’s easy to conceal and disguise, so you can use it all day, every day. It’s best for a self-defender who utilizes their right to carry a firearm.

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Shoulder Holsters

A shoulder holster is usually made from leather; it’s a form-fitting holster that’s worn around your shoulders. From compact to full-size pistols, the firearm is holstered under one arm while the spare magazines are placed under the opposite arm. Most shoulder holsters are adjustable, in terms of the firearm and magazine's ride height, and don’t secure across the chest.

Advantages

Shoulder holsters are made for carrying a full-size or service pistol along with spare magazines. You can conceal a full-sized firearm by wearing a jacket or coat. As the firearm is holstered under your arm against your body, it won’t be easy for an attacker to take it from you.

Disadvantages

A shoulder holster requires using a cross draw and, therefore, requires many hours of training. An attacker can also block your draw from the front, or the holster can create difficulty drawing the firearm if you are face down on the ground.

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Best For

A shoulder holster is a unique way of carrying a firearm, but it can be a serious contender if you require carrying and concealing a full-sized pistol. Its form and function are well thought out and useful to those in undercover law enforcement or private security, so it makes an excellent duty holster. The form-fitting rig allows the wearer to carry the right amount of firepower.

Leg / Ankle Holster

A leg or ankle holster is a concealed carry holster predominately used for one's backup weapon. Usually, it has a soft adjustable strap around the leg with the holster attached to the inside of the support leg. 

This holster is made from numerous types of material, but leather is the most popular choice, mainly because of the comfort level and rigidity you can get from good quality leather.                 

Advantages

Ankle holsters are mainly used for backup firearms, giving you a great option to conceal a small gun. The comfort level also surpasses most other holsters. You can get a quick and natural draw from a seated position or while on the ground.

Disadvantages

You can’t draw conspicuously while standing up, so this holster type doesn’t work well for a primary weapon. More training is required with an ankle holster nut to draw or holster your firearm. 

You’ll have to be very conscious of how you sit or move in public when wearing it.

Best For

This is a small, but convenient, option if your work requires the use of a firearm. It can be used for law enforcement, private security, or self-defense. Having a backup gives you that extra security in extreme situations. Ankle holsters are also easy to take off and put back on as needed.

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Bag / Purse Holsters

There are so many configurations of this type of holster, but its basic use is for off-body carry. It’s not intended to be used as a backup carrier. It’s designed for easy accessibility and discrete draw; it’s also perfect in backpacks while hiking or purses while out on the town. 

Advantages

Your firearm is conveniently and comfortably stored. Dedicated bag/purse holsters are designed with separate lockable compartments for your firearm and extra ammunition.

Disadvantages

Leaving your firearm off your body has a very obvious drawback. It could leave you unprepared in a time of need, or you could lose your firearm.

Best For

The bag/purse holster is most definitely a choice for a self-defender, adaptable to suit your work environment or wardrobe. If you need more than one option, you can carry a different holster.

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Most Common Holster Materials

Each of the most common holster materials has its strengths and weaknesses. Some are great for specific functions. Ensuring you choose the right holster according to your needs and what best suits your lifestyle is as important as shooting the firearm.

Kydex

Kydex holsters are maintenance-free, requiring just a wipe down when dirty. Manufacturers can mould them to exact specs. They are long-lasting and keep their shape after years of use. Kydex is cheaper than leather. It’s lighter, and there is no “break-in” period. A slight drawback is that it’s noisier than drawing from leather or nylon.

Leather

Not only does leather look stylish, but it’s also flexible and comfortable. It’s an excellent choice for everyday carry and conceals holsters, but it’s somewhat outdated. Although leather is durable and long-lasting, over time, it degrades, and the support weakens.

Nylon

These holsters are easily customized to user preference and very popular in OWB, thigh, or shoulder configuration. When drawing your firearm, nylon is incredibly silent, so it’s excellent for use amongst tactical units. Nylon is incredibly durable and remains a very affordable option as it’s not moulded to a specific firearm. A drawback is that nylon has less structure, making the IWB configuration more challenging.

Choosing the Right Holster for You

It should take serious contemplation when choosing your holster. A vital piece of gear as the holster is the interface between your gun and your body, and sometimes this role is underestimated.

A good holster has primary purposes and must offer security, safety, comfort, concealment, and accessibility. Practice drawing from it often to build up the reflexes you need to draw fast in any situation.

Watch the Trigger

The trigger guard must be protected, and nothing should be able to manipulate the trigger once the firearm is holstered, causing an accidental discharge. A leather holster is most often a quality choice, but if not maintained adequately, it can become too supple or wear out. This could, over time, start obstructing the trigger when re-holstering. Kydex holsters offer more rigidity but make sure the holster you choose covers the entire trigger guard.

Got to be Quick

What will be comfortable for you? It's important to know what feels right to you in terms of carrying a holster. The holster must allow the gun's grip to ride at the appropriate height for you; concealed carry can be at waist height, lower inside the pants, or even worn on the ankle.

When drawing the gun, it must be accessible, with minimal grip adjustments needed to save time on your draw. Also, ensure that it's easy and safe to return your gun into the holster afterward.

How Secure and Safe is Your Firearm?

The retention must be just enough to prevent the gun from moving or falling out while running or under possible attack but still loose enough to draw it quickly and get on target.

The higher the retention level, the harder it is to draw the gun; level one retention is one form, and it usually involves an adjustable screw clamping the holster over the firearm.

Level two retention makes use of clip or loop retention. It clips to the firearm or loop, which requires you to remove a loop before drawing or holstering your firearm.

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Level three retention will work similarly but with more fail-safes in place.

Do You Know Your Mission?

Why are you carrying a firearm? If you participate in competitive shooting, they’ll have their own rules about holsters.  They consider speed on the draw, comfort, and flexibility as you are required to move between targets quickly.

Concealed carry holster types are IWB, pocket, shoulder, and ankle holsters. They have different sets of rules for carrying them, with you as the primary enforcer of these rules. If your choice of holster gets in the way of your daily routine, you might be more reluctant to carry it every day.

Conclusion 

There certainly are a lot of choices when looking at the right holster, so focus on the function and purpose that you require from your holstered firearm. This has to be the right tool for the job, and your lifestyle or wardrobe should not change just because you decide to start carrying a firearm.

People Also Ask

Many factors are considered while choosing a holster. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about holsters.

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What is a Level 2 Gun Holster?

A holster must exhibit the ability to secure the weapon in a meaningful way after the primary lock is disengaged. A level two holster has an active retention device as well as passive retention of the holster.

What is a Hip Holster?

OWB and IWB holsters are examples of hip holsters. A hip holster's position is at waist height in the 3:00 position for right-handed people and 9:00 for those who are left-handed. The OWB and IWB sit at 3:00 and 9:00, respectively.

What Type of Holster Do Police Use?

Generally, law enforcement officers use a hip holster. However, the more tactical-style holsters are being used in the field. A thigh rig can be a popular choice while on patrol. For more responsive units,  shoulder or chest holsters are options.



Josh Lewis the managing editor at Gun Mann and when he isn't writing about guns he is more than likely tinkering with them. He also enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors. As a lifelong gun owner he knows his stuff!