A Holster Primer for the Modern Woman: Part One
When I first researched holsters, I found an alphabet soup of acronyms and terms with no clear explanation. To make things more confusing (or amusing), some were using the terms incorrectly. My goal is to give you a clear primer so you have a foundation to talk and shop holsters on your own as a gun owner who knows what she’s talking about.
Today is a rundown of the most common holsters used today. The vintage and retro pieces are for another day.
Traditionally, holsters were made for your waistband– the most ergonomically convenient place for you to carry and reach for a small object like a weapon. You have either an Outside the Waistband (OWB) or Inside the Waistband (IWB).
Outside the Waistband (OWB)
This term means you’re carrying the holster on the outside the waistband of your pants, like cowboys and cops. You’ll use OWB holsters in a few different settings.
“Open-carry” jurisdictions are where people are legally permitted to carry guns in holsters hanging outside their body and in plain view, ordering at McDonalds or walking down the street. People say the visual presence of a firearm is a deterrent for criminals, others say it invites someone to snatch and steal that valuable firearm from your holster.
- Training classes. Typically firearms training classes are held at large outdoor ranges with a group of people. There are no bays with trays to hold your guns and ammo like you would find in an indoor range, so people tuck their guns away in these OWB holsters when they’re not firing. It frees up your hands and takes away the risk of you gesturing with and waving a gun around all those people. It also beats walking back and forth between the firing line and the benches or tables behind you to set down your gun. Even if you’re training at an indoor range, you’ll still be doing drills that do away with restrictive bays and trays so you’ll need your holster to hold and carry your gun.
- Pistol Competitions. Again at an outdoor range, and you’re timed from your holster draw to the last target shot. Your hand has to be completely off the gun until they start the buzzer, so how quickly you can draw and shoot accurately from a holster is a test of skill.
Carrying OWB is pretty straightforward, with the variables of right handed or left handed. Sometimes you’ll see “drop holsters” which is where the holsters are strapped to the outer thigh. These are more common for law enforcement. I’ve tried those on the range and liked how much closer it was to my hand’s reach without me having to reach up to my waist.
Inside the Waistband (IWB)
This means your holster is tucked inside your pants waistband. It’s intended to conceal your firearm but allow you quick and easy access should you need it. Conversationally, people will refer to these styles by their nicknames. The acronyms are typically used only in print.
- Traditional IWB is verbally referred to as “behind the hip.” You carry your gun in your waistband just behind your elbow, above your right back pocket. It’s also called the “3 o’clock.”
o Pro: Keeps your gun out of your way and it’s less obvious sitting just behind your rib cage, making it a little easier to conceal.
o Cons: That you have to reach back to draw. Remember, it’s not as low as your back pocket. You have to reach back and up a little to reach that pistol grip in your waistband. Plus it’s difficult to access when you’re sitting in a car.
- Small of the Back (SOB) is just what it sounds like. You carry your gun in the small of your back, at the base of your spine.
o Pro: That curve in the small of your back is an ideal place to tuck away a gun and the last place people around you will expect or look to see if you’re carrying.
o Cons: It’s relatively rare for a reason. You have to reach back even farther than the Traditional IWB, which means a slower draw and a greater tendency for the muzzle to sweep the shooter upon the draw. Depending on how you sit, it may not be comfortable digging in your back.
- “AIWB” or Appendix IWB is the most popular style and verbally referred to as “appendix carry” or “to carry appendix” meaning your holster sits over your appendix, just to the right of your bellybutton.
o Pros: The speed and ease of this position has made it increasingly popular in the last few years. The access to your gun is the same whether you’re standing, walking, or sitting in a car.
o Cons: Some think the gun can dig into their stomach and the tighter or clingier your top, the more your gun will “print” or show its bulky outline through the fabric. There are fashion tricks around the printing, but this method can narrow down your wardrobe choices.
How do you wear these holsters?
It's clips or loops. They have either a couple side-by-side loops through which you thread your belt or they’ll have a super grip clip to clamp onto your pants waist. The clips are also designed to slide through a belt.
The OWB holsters above are examples of fixed loops on an OWB holster. The red (left) is the backside that rests against your pants, the black (right) shows the front of the holster that faces out. (These are two different holsters from two different companies, but the same design.) This holster will stay anchored and not move as much as the soft loops... but this design also makes the backside wider and flatter....and therefore less forgiving against the curve of your hips. You'll end up wearing this closer to your appendix to make it comfortable when you need it to be closer to the side of your waist, (but over your pelvic bone.)
These are IWB holsters with loops (left) and clips (right) The holster is sandwiched between your skin and your waistband. The anchor - whether it's a loop or clip, lies outside your waistband. When you pick up an IWB holster, tuck the holster sheath inside your waistband, against your skin. The loops lies outside your waistband. The clip either clips onto your waistband itself or your belt you threaded through. However you wear it, you should see the clip or loop outside your waistband.
Advantages of a Clip Holster
The ladies like the clip version of the IWB holsters because we don't always wear a belt with our outfit, and it allows you to move that holster around more easily to a spot you like. Also, when you go to the bathroom, you can easily unclip that holster and put it in a safe/secure spot instead of having to deal with a belt that has a heavy gun hanging off of it.
As you’ll come to learn if you haven’t already, how you carry becomes a personal style. Everyone's body and comfort level differs and your holster choice will largely be determined by what works for you and you alone. Don't be surprised if you end up with a handful of different holsters !