So, you’ve decided to get strapped. Good choice. Violent crime isn’t going anywhere, and carrying a gun means you’ve given yourself the best means to avoid or survive a violent confrontation. Carrying is a responsibility with very serious ramifications, so you want to be certain you’re not only doing it right, but you’re doing it as best as you possibly can.

With a sensible, proven, and reliable gun chosen, it’s time to figure out the best way to tote it.There are two methods of carrying a concealed pistol. Inside-the-waistband (IWB) and outside-the-waistband (OWB). As the names imply, IWB keeps the gun and holster inside your pants with loops or clips that secure it to your belt. OWB holsters hang from your belt on the outside of your pants.

So, is IWB or OWB better? The answer is…it depends. But that’s not a bad thing. The optimal choice for your carry rig is determined by how comfortable you are carrying a firearm, along with some other factors.

Let’s dive in and get you outfitted.

Outside-the-waistband (OWB) Carry

OWB holsters are worn on your belt and keep the entirety of the gun and holster outside your pants, hence the name, outside the waistband. The most common OWB holsters are worn on your strong side hip, meaning the side of your body where your dominant hand is. Most folks shoot, throw, and write with the same hand. This is the one you’re going to choose.

Strong side holsters for right-handed people are most often worn between 3 and 5 o’clock, and 9 and 7 o’clock for lefties if your belt buckle is 12 noon. Positioning at 3 and 9 o’clock offers greater access to the gun, but concealability can suffer under light garments because there’s an unsightly lump under your shirt that makes you look strangely wide on one side.

As you move the gun back to 4 or 5 o’clock for righties and 8 and 7 for lefties, the gun is concealed better but becomes a little slower to grab in a hurry. However, practice can offset this disadvantage and most folks find 4 or 5 o’clock and 8 and 7 o’clock the happy medium for strong side OWB carry.

Small-of-Back OWB Carry

If you want a greater degree of concealment, you might go for small-of-back (SOB) carry. This is where the gun sits at 6 o’clock in the middle of your lower back. The handle is pointed to either the right or left depending on if you’re right- or left-handed.

Keeping the gun at the small of your back is obviously not great if you’re going to be sitting, and keeping the gun so far out of the way will make your draw time suffer. But for those times when you need maximum concealment with your gun outside your waist, SOB might be worth a look.

Cross Draw OWB 

The last type of OWB concealment is cross draw. Think of the dramatic gun-slinging desperados of the old west who pull guns out from their left side with their right hand and vice versa; that’s cross draw. Besides being Hollywood cool, cross draw excels when you know you’re going to be seated for a long time. A mere reach to your other hip gets your hand on the gun in a hurry.

It transitions easily into standing but when standing, makes the gun more difficult to present as drawing requires a slight rotation of your torso to grab the gun from the opposite side of your body. You can use a regular strong side holster with a negative cant (handle rotated backward) as a cross draw holster.

Now, what’s the most comfortable or best place to carry an OWB holster? It depends on the size of your gun, your body shape, and what you’ll be doing. Also, when it comes to OWB, you can disregard most of the talk about “dressing around the gun.” At a minimum, your wardrobe is already capable of hiding a concealed carry handgun, and at the most, you might want to buy some longer shirts and a belt, but more on that later.

Strongside OWB

By far the most common OWB carry choice is strongside hip. It offers the greatest blend of concealment and ease of access. It keeps your gun inches away from your strong/shooting hand, making it the fastest OWB concealment method.

Strongside OWB also works year-round in every climate—if you’re dressed appropriately. In the summer, all it takes is a shirt one size larger or longer like an XL or L Tall (XLT/LT) to easily conceal most guns under a T-shirt. Note we say “most guns” because your MAC-10 and Desert Eagle aren’t the typical concealed carry gun. We’re thinking more along the lines of small Glocks, M&Ps, SIGs, and the like.

The added length of a shirt gives you some forgiveness when bending over or reaching up high. But the fact of the matter is, no one goes around looking for folks carrying a gun, and if they did notice, what are they going to do? You’re legally carrying, so you have nothing to worry about.

In cooler months, dressing around the gun becomes simpler because you’re already going to be wearing more clothes, and the bulkier you’re dressed, the easier it is to hide a blaster. This is also a great time to pack that .44 or .357 wheelgun or a full-sized autoloader if you’re so inclined. Again, no one is looking for a gun and if they are, they’re going to have a heckuva time spotting it under your Carhartt jacket.

Strongside OWB is also the most versatile in terms of activities. With a positively canted holster, meaning the gun is tilted forward when in the holster, the grip or handle is rotated up and out of the way when you’re seated (again, this depends on the kind of gun you’re carrying). It’s hands-down the most comfortable when you’re standing.

The only way strongside OWB becomes uncomfortable is if you’re wearing a flimsy, run-of-the-mill leather belt, but we’ll expand on that in another article. The bottom line is that if you’re going to be carrying a gun and want to give yourself every advantage in terms of tactics and comfort, you NEED a custom EDC belt, which is one that’s made to carry the heft of a pistol. Regular belts off the rack simply do not cut it.

Carrying OWB on your strong side is the most comfortable way to tote a gun, period. It also gives the fastest access to it. It’s why police and militaries mostly carry on their hip. It’s unobtrusive, fast, and with a belt made for carrying a gun, it’s easy.

The tradeoffs of OWB come at the cost of concealability, albeit not a very great one. When carrying OWB, the muzzle of the gun hangs down below your belt on the outside of your pants. The muzzle is covered, and most Kydex holsters can easily be mistaken for a phone holder or other device so it doesn’t scream “GUN!”

Most of the time the bottom of the holster is covered by a cover garment, whether it’s your t-shirt, an overshirt, or a vest. However, it can “peekaboo” when you bend over or reach up high. If peak concealability is the goal, you might want to consider IWB carry.

Inside-the-waistband (IWB) Carry

IWB carry is preferred for deeper concealment. It delivers a greater degree of concealment, but usually at the expense of comfort. It also cuts back on the variety of guns that you can carry. Sure, you COULD carry a full-size H&K Mk23 IWB, but should you? Probably not. There are better guns for that role. 

Regular IWB and Appendix IWB

The two main types of IWB carry are regular IWB and appendix inside-the-waistband, or AIWB. AIWB has grown immensely in popularity over the past 10 years, and holster companies are responding in kind. Many IWB holsters can be used in the AIWB position, but AIWB-specific holsters that are made for the task are more comfortable.

IWB carry usually involves carrying a gun hooked to your belt with the holster and gun riding inside your pants anywhere from the 3 to 5 o’clock position if you’re a right-handed shooter and 9 to 7 o’clock if you’re a lefty.

AIWB raises eyebrows because if you’re a righty, the gun stays at 1 o’clock, or 11 o’clock for lefties. Yes, that puts the muzzle point blank at some very tender parts, as well as major arteries. This is doubly true when seated. However, the growing popularity of AIWB says that this is a non-issue if you are using a quality holster and aren’t plain ol’ stupid.

IWB carry is ideal when you’d like a little greater degree of concealment than OWB can offer by hiding the muzzle of your gun inside your pants. This leaves only the handle or grip exposed, and is going to be hidden under your shirt, coat, or other cover garment.

Even though more of the gun is inside your pants, drawing from IWB or AIWB is still fast. All that’s needed is to swipe away the cover garment(s), grab the handle, and draw. 

The Draw

The draw is where we quickly find that not all holsters are created equal. Cheap nylon holsters provide no rigidity and therefore the tighter your belt is, the tighter the gun is drawn to your body, and the harder it is to draw. While this is a good thing if you’re on the run, it sucks when you actually have to pull your gun.

Cheap one-size-fits-all holsters don’t carry anything well and don’t permit a good grasp on the gun when you need to draw. A custom Kydex holster has a rigid shell in which the gun rides and drawing it from inside your pants is effortless regardless of how tight your belt is.

One reason that AIWB has gained popularity is its speed. With practice, it can be faster to draw a gun from your appendix region than on or behind your hip. AIWB is also a bit more concealable in that if you have a slender build; it disappears better under a T-shirt.

Comfort of IWB Carrying 

The downside of IWB and AIWB carry is that they’re not as comfortable as OWB. You’ve got the muzzle of a gun sharing the limited real estate inside your pants. If you’reyour carrying IWB, it’s more likely you’ll have to dress around the gun and buy pants and a belt one or two sizes larger.

When carrying AIWB, sitting can be a challenge for all but the skinniest of us as your gut pushes the grip of the gun outward, which shoves the muzzle in toward your pelvis and crotch. Ouch. When carrying IWB, the same thing occurs on your hip.

But, IWB and AIWB don’t have to be uncomfortable. This is another place where a quality, custom-fitted holster shines. Many high quality Kydex holsters feature a hybrid design that has a backing (the part that touches your skin) made of leather, or a breathable synthetic material, or are all Kydex, which doesn’t get as hot as nylon.

Many custom holsters are made with a variety of belt clips that offer a high degree of flexibility when integrated on a backer. Most AIWB holsters have a “wing” that keeps the handle of the gun pulled tight to your body and clips that keep the gun secure and in position whether you’re seated, standing, walking, or running.

In the holster game the axiom “you get what you pay for” is especially true, so don’t skimp out and get a cheap holster because you’ll invariably replace it with another, more expensive model. Do it right the first time and don’t have any regrets. Is your safety and peace of mind worth saving a few pennies?

Final Thoughts 

Carrying a gun is a great responsibility. It’s definitely something that you want to do right if you’re going to do it. OWB and IWB both offer advantages and have drawbacks. If you carry a gun long enough, you’ll end up with a few holsters for both. This way you can wear the gun in the most appropriate and effective manner for your dress and what you’ll be doing.

There’s no shortage of quality holsters on the market today, but there’s also a great deal of junk. It’s been proven time and time again that if you cheap out early on in the holster game, you’ll end up with a more expensive holster before too long. Save yourself the regret and a few dollars and do it right the first time.

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April 18, 2023