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Best Concealed Carry Holsters [2021 Expert Tested]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / October 02 2021

Do you want this to be you?

Good holsters prevent you from accidentally shooting yourself when you draw the pistol. They also give you the fastest draw possible. In a self defense shooting, the first person to get a good hit usually wins. Fractions of a second make the difference.

On this Page:

  1. Concealed Carry vs. Open Carry
  2. Pistol Holster Positions
  3. Pistol Holster Types
  4. Holster Angle (Cant)
  5. What Makes a Good Holster?
  6. Kydex Holsters Poke Me. What to Do?
  7. 10 Best Concealed Carry Holsters

Concealed Carry vs. Open Carry

Unless you must openly carry for your job, we recommend concealed carry. Why?

Concealed carry gives you the element of surprise. Surprise buys you a few seconds in a gunfight by disrupting your opponents' OODA loop, and most real gunfights only last a few seconds. A review of real-world gunfights showed that successful concealed carriers delayed drawing their pistol until the assailant(s) were distracted. They also used an obscured draw, so onlookers couldn't see the draw, or couldn't see that it was a gun being drawn.


Meanwhile, there are many recorded incidents where an open carrier was ambushed because criminals saw the pistol and used the element of surprise on the defender.


If you must open carry, wear armor, keep people at least 3ft. away from you, have a partner, and use a duty holster to prevent others from unholstering your pistol. Duty holsters have Retention Levels:
  1. Level 1: Only the tightness of the holster keeps the pistol inside.
  2. Level 2: One must disengage 1 "lock" on the holster to draw.
  3. Level 3: One must disengage 2 "locks" on the holster to draw.
  4. Level 4: One must disengage 3 "locks" on the holster to draw.

The higher the Retention Level, the less likely an attacker can unholster your pistol. However, a higher level also means a longer draw, and more practice to keep it consistent under pressure. What's the right level? That's up to you, but we recommend at least level 2.

Pistol Holster Positions

Where you carry your pistol decides which holster to pick, what clothes to wear, and even which pistol to carry.
Position Clothing Pistol Type
Hip / Appendix Shirt + pants or skirt Any
Pocket Pants or jacket pocket Pocket
Fannypack Workout clothes Pocket
Off-body Purse / messenger bag Any
Chest Jacket or Bra Concealed carry: Pocket
Open carry: Any

Other Carry Positions

We don't recommend the following positions:
Shoulder
Pistol shoulder holster demonstrates how it's concealed under a jacket.
  • Can pre-stage the draw. Like a pocket holster, you might be able to get one hand on your pistol without anyone realizing it.
  • Same comfort level, seated or standing. If you sit all day for your job and don't interact with people face to face (like a freight driver), this can be the most comfortable way to carry.
  • Same draw, seated or standing. Again, if you're a professional driver, shoulder carry might be the right choice for you.
  • Draw is slow unless it's pre-staged. Your hand must travel more distance to reach a shoulder holster than a belt or pocket holster.
  • Draw takes extra movement to be safe. If you draw a shoulder holster right-handed, you'll sweep your left arm as you draw. To prevent that, you must raise your left arm, but that delays you from building a full grip. If your left hand is already raised (like on a steering wheel), this is less of an issue.
  • Easier for attackers to disarm you. If they find out you have a pistol, it's easier for them to draw it than it is for you. If you wrestle with someone, this could easily happen, and they'll have a major advantage in controlling the pistol. Why? You have to reach your hand across your body to get the pistol, while they don't. You're pinning one of your arms for the attacker.
  • Only works with a jacket. If you can only wear a shirt or blouse, this won't work.

Anytime you would shoulder carry, check whether hip, appendix, or pocket carry would be better.


Ankle
Pistol ankle holster demonstrates how it's concealed under a pant leg.
This works OK while sitting or kneeling, but has severe weaknesses while standing:
  • Can't do an obscured draw while standing.
  • Draw takes 3-5 seconds. That's too long unless you're already behind cover or concealement.
  • Can only carry pocket-size pistols.
  • Doesn't work for shorts, dresses, etc.
  • Gun must be under 1 lb. loaded, or you'll have knee injuries after years of carry.
  • Crossing your legs can be an issue while seated.

Anytime you would ankle carry, check whether pocket carry would be better.



Holster Types

Pocket

Bear Creek Back Pocket Holster

Fits in a pants, jacket, or dress pocket of minimum size: Minimum pocket size for pocket pistol and holster.

  • Fits nearly any outfit.
  • Conceals with your waist exposed.
  • Can pre-stage the draw, by putting your hand in your pocket.
  • A pre-staged draw is fast, about 1/2 sec faster than hip carry.
  • Draw is about 1/2 sec slower than hip carry when not pre-staged.
  • Can make wear marks on your pants in the pocket area if your pants are too tight or don't have any stretch material.
  • Causes hip pain when sitting if your pants pocket isn't deep enough.
  • Pocket pistols have more recoil, less ammo capacity, less power, and worse sights than compact or full-size pistols.

Inside the Waistband (IWB)

A demonstration of IWB carry. The carrier is drawing a Desert Eagle (a HUGE pistol).
Mounts onto a gun belt. The holster tucks into your pants. If you had no shirt or jacket, people could see the pistol's grip.
Designed to be worn at the 3:00-4:00 or 8:00-9:00 positions (your belt buckle is 12:00).
  • Works with nearly any type of pistol.
  • Good draw speed (with a good holster and config).
  • Needs a gun belt to mount.
  • Needs a shirt or jacket to conceal.
  • Slow and hard to draw when sitting.
  • Uncomfortable when sitting.
  • The pistol's grip can mess up your chair/car seat after a few years.
  • Draw risks getting tangled with winter clothes.
  • Doesn't work well with a hiking backpack.

When going #2 in the bathroom, loosen your belt instead of totally undoing it. As you sit, spread your knees so they provide tension on the belt and keep it up. That way, your pistol stays accessible and off the ground. It's easier with a good gun belt.

Appendix (AIWB)

A demonstration of appendix carry.
Like an IWB holster, but designed to be worn at the 11:00-1:00 position (your belt buckle is 12:00).
  • Works with nearly any type of pistol.
  • Best draw speed (with a good holster and config): 1/2 second faster than standard IWB.
  • Easy to draw while sitting.
  • Easy to draw while in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Can be converted into an IWB holster.
  • Takes the most tinkering with the holster's mounting clips to get it comfortable when sitting.
  • Draw risks getting tangled with winter clothes.
  • Not for all body types.
  • Men: in the event of a negligent discharge, you may punch a hole in your junk.

When going #2 with an appendix holster, it's the same as an IWB holster. Loosen your belt instead of totally undoing it. As you sit, spread your knees so they provide tension on the belt and keep it up. That way, your pistol stays accessible and off the ground. Just take more time to set yourself up. It's easier with a good gun belt.

Chest

There are two types: open carry and concealed carry.
Open Carry Chest Holster
Chest carry holster demonstration, with two types.
Designed for carry when backpacking.
  • Works with nearly any type of pistol.
  • Doesn't interfere with a backpack's straps.
  • Draw may need your support hand to either hold the holster steady as you draw, or unbuckle the safety.
  • Not designed for concealed carry, but doable with a jacket.
Concealed Carry Chest Holster
Concealed chest carry holster demonstration. A woman pulls up her shirt and reaches for a holster on her bra.
Holsters specially made to attach to bras can be the best option for some outfits.
  • Can work well for women's outfits.
  • Requires a bra and blouse/shirt, or a jacket.
  • Draw may need your support hand to either hold the holster steady as you draw, or unbuckle the safety.
  • Only works with pocket pistols (for most).

Holster Angle (Cant)

Holster cant refers to the angle of a holster relative to what it's attached to, usually a belt.

Holster cant chart shows how a pistol conceals against the side of the body at different angles.

On a hip or appendix holster, canting the holster forward can improve concealability, by making the pistol's grip more in line with the body. Above, the pistol's grip pokes out behind the body, but as it rotates forward, it doesn't. However, canting forward makes the draw slower, as you have to crane your wrist more to reach the pistol's grip.

On an appendix holster, this can also be uncomfortable with longer pistols. Holster cant chart shows how a pistol conceals against the front of the body at different angles.
If you cant too far in either direction, the pistol's muzzle (front) will poke into your leg when you sit. You can adjust the pistol's position from 12:00 to 11:00 or 1:00 to prevent that.

If you cant the pistol's grip too far into the belt, like at -30º above, you won't get a good draw. You'll need a holster that can raise the height of the holster on the belt to make room for your fingers to get a good grip.

If you cant the pistol's grip too far away from the belt, like at 30º above, you'll have to crane your wrist to draw the pistol. Again, the draw will be slower. You may also have to raise the holster's ride height to keep the muzzle from poking you.


What Makes a Good Holster?

Not all holsters are equal. Poor quality holsters can endanger you or bystanders:

Here's what to look for to tell the good from the bad (and most are bad):

Signs of a Good Pocket Holster

  • Covers the trigger guard, to prevent negligent discharges.
  • Has enough friction so it stays in your pocket even if you're running or doing any other athletics.
    Leather beats nylon. Silicone panels are also great.
  • Has a thumb tab to push the holster off of the pistol as you draw it, to keep you from drawing the holster with the gun:
    As you can see, drawing your holster with your gun adds seconds to your draw. Had he fired the pistol with the holster on it, it would have jammed after the first shot. The defender here was very lucky that the perps didn't want to shoot him.

Signs of a Good IWB Holster

All-kydex Construction

A demonstration of hybrid holster construction.
The leather backing on "Hybrid" holsters can get softer over time. If you try to reholster and that leather backing collapses, you'll have to point the muzzle into you to open up the holster, or dig in with your support hand.
Neither is safe.

That said, a hybrid holster can be the best choice if you just can't get all-kydex holsters to be comfortable for you, or if you can't find all-kydex holsters for your pistol.

Enough Space for Your Middle Finger


A demonstration of a holster with no obstructions in the way of your middle finger.
When you first draw the gun, one of the index points is to get your middle finger up underneath the trigger guard. See it in action:

With plenty of room, your hand can get the proper grip on the pistol. That's the first step to a fast draw, and fast and accurate shots on target.

Any material that gets in the way of that crucial spot slows your draw and scrapes up your fingers when practicing.
A demonstration of holster material in the way of your middle finger.

If your middle finger bumps into holster material as you try to grip the pistol, modify your holster, or get a different one. If your middle finger bumps into your belt, set the holster's ride height higher.

Mounting Clips Match Your Belt Width

Wearing a 1.5" wide belt? Get 1.5" wide clips. Wider clips, like 1.75" ones, will cause your holster to wiggle and rotate, causing an inconsistent draw. Inconsistent draws are slow, and can even block your hand from getting a proper grip.

Adjustable Ride Height and Angle

Ride height is how far the holster sits above your belt. Look for multiple mounting holes for the belt clips:
A demonstration of multiple mounting holes for belt clips on a holster.
Holsters must be adjusted to be high enough to keep your belt from getting in the way of a full grip, but low enough to conceal.

Changing the holster angle, by having one clip higher than the other, can make or break your holster's comfort and concealment.

No "Sweat Guard", "Sweat Shield", etc.

A sweat guard/shield is a piece between you and the pistol that keeps your sweat from getting on it.
A demonstration a holster with a sweat guard vs. one without.

Why is it bad? It gets in the way of your thumb and slows your draw, and can poke you when you bend down.

Quality pistols have treatments to prevent rust on the outside.
Instead of a sweat shield, wear a cotton or performance undershirt with some elastic:

Tuck the shirt into your underwear. That prevents the shirt from getting in the way of your draw, and no one will see it. It'll be a secret between you and me.

An "Optics Cut"


A demonstration of a holster that covers too much of the pistol's top.
A demonstration of a holster that leaves the ejection port up exposed. This allows mounting an optic and a faster draw.

Even if you never use optics on your pistol, an optics cut lets you draw your pistol as soon as it clears your belt, shaving an inch or two of movement off of your draw. A fast draw is economy of motion.


Signs of a Good Appendix (AIWB) Holster

As IWB, but:

A Spacer (Claw, Wing, Wedge, etc.)


A demonstration of spacers on appendix holsters.

A spacer pushes the holster into your body. Without it, an appendix holster can cause your pistol's grip to jut out from your stomach like some abomination trying to burst out of you.

At Least 2 Anchor Points


A demonstration of bad appendix holsters with just one anchor point.
A demonstration of good appendix holsters with two anchor points.

An anchor point is a screw connecting a clip into the holster body.

You can have one clip, but it needs at least 2 screws anchoring it, and it needs to be fitted just right for your belt - no wiggle room.

Just one anchor point causes the holster to tilt as you wear it.

What happens if the holster tilts down?

Your middle finger can't reach its rightful place under the trigger guard. Instead, your middle finger gets blocked by the grip, your belt, and your pants.


If you have a holster that tilts down like that, your draw will be hobbled before it even begins. Not good for a life-saving tool!

When ordering a holster with one clip and two screws, find out if their clips run larger than advertised. If they do, you'll need a second clip, a different clip that's sized right, or a different holster.


Signs of a Good Chest Holster

  • 4 straps, with one from the bottom of the holster that hooks onto your belt.
    A demonstration a chest holster with 4 straps, with one hooking on the belt.
    Why? If you have to pull up at all when you draw the pistol, the holster can flop up if it's not secured by that bottom strap. The holster can also move when you run, crouch, jump, etc.
  • Space for your middle finger to get a full grip under the trigger guard, with no holster material in the way.
  • Covers the trigger guard, to prevent negligent discharges.

Kydex Holsters Poke Me. What to Do?

Two options:
  1. Put a Moleskin adhesive bandage on the spot that pokes you.
  2. Use a Dremel to sand down the part poking you.
    Wear a dust mask and eye protection when doing this!

10 Best Concealed Carry Holsters

The best concealed carry holster depends on the size of your pistol and how you carry it. Everyone has different body types and wardrobes. Below are the best options for different pistol sizes and carry positions, validated through experience.

  1. Concealed Carry Pocket Holsters
  2. Best Women's Holster for Pocket Pistols
  3. IWB Concealed Carry Holsters
  4. Universal IWB Holsters
  5. Beltless Concealed Carry Holsters
  6. Best Concealed Carry Purse

Concealed Carry Pocket Holsters

What you need
  • Pants, shorts, or a dress with big enough pockets (recommended: 4-way stretch fabric)

As long as your pants pockets are big enough, a pocket holster is the most comfortable concealed carry holster. If you value comfort over speed of the draw, pocket holsters are also the best concealed carry holster for sitting.

Think of it this way: If you're at home, doing yard work, at the computer, or even on the toilet, a pocket pistol in a pocket holster can go with you anywhere, like a secret companion. Get a pocket holster and join the pants-on, gun-on lifestyle.

Bear Creek Back Pocket Holster
Bear Creek Pocket Holster
$65 @ Bear Creek Holsters
Alabama Front Pocket Holster
Alabama Front Pocket Holster
$40 @ Alabama Holster
  • Thumb tab helps holster stay in your pocket when drawing the pistol, no matter your pocket size.
  • Specify what light or laser you have on your pistol when ordering.
  • Leather holsters mold more to the gun over time. After a few years, this can make it tougher to draw the gun properly. Replace the holster when this starts happening.
  • Thumb tab doesn't work as well if you have small hands.
  • All-kydex construction gives a safe, fast, consistent draw and longer lifetime than leather.
  • Thumb tab helps holster stay in your pocket when drawing the pistol, no matter your pocket size.
  • Specify what light or laser you have on your pistol when ordering.
  • Kydex is stiffer, so your pants/shorts will wear out faster if they're tight against any edges of the holster. Applying Moleskin on contact points can help.

Best Women's Holsters for Pocket Pistols

What you need
  • The right body type
  • A bra
  • Untucked sports shirt, T-shirt, polo, blouse, or dress shirt

Sadly, most women's clothes have tiny or nonexistant pockets. If you have the right body type, though, try bra carry. See if the Flashbang might work for you:

FlashBang Teddy Bra Holster
Flashbang Teddy Bra Holster
$70 @ Flashbang Holsters
  • For when your outfit doesn't work with other holsters.
  • Specify what light or laser you have on your pistol when ordering.
  • Gets in the way when holding large boxes, etc.
  • Usually have to change straps when changing from a standard bra to a sports bra.
  • If you wear an A-cup bra, you may need to wear a padded bra to conceal your pistol.


IWB Concealed Carry Holsters

What you need
  • A gun belt and (pick one):
    • Untucked T-shirt, polo, blouse, or dress shirt
    • Tucked-in dress shirt
    • Jacket

With an IWB holster, you can conceal anything up to a full-size pistol. If you value speed of the draw over comfort, an appendix IWB holster (AIWB) is the best concealed carry holster for sitting. AIWB holsters can be comfortable while sitting, but take more adjusting to get there, and AIWB won't work for all body types.


We The People IWB Kydex Holster
Check price @ Amazon

Concealment Express IWB Kydex Holster
Check price @ Amazon
  • Has adjustable ride height and cant (angle), unlike others in its class
  • Wide variety of colors/patterns (see pictures or browse here ).
  • Choose an optics-ready version of your pistol if possible. For example, Glock MOS instead of Glock, Springfield Hellcat OR instead of Springfield Hellcat, etc.
  • If you can't get an optics-ready version of this holster, dremel the holster where it covers the pistol's ejection port down to your belt line for a faster draw (see pictures).
  • Mounting clip is made for 1.75" belts, when most belts for concealed carry are 1.5". Buy aftermarket belt clips for proper belt-holster fit.
  • Not compatible with spacers/claws for better appendix carry. Drill a hole above the retention screw to make the holster compatible.
  • Compatible with spacers/claws for better appendix carry.
  • Has adjustable cant (angle).
  • Choose an optics-ready version of your pistol if possible. For example, Glock MOS, Springfield Hellcat OR, etc.
  • If you can't get an optics-ready version of this holster, dremel the holster where it covers the pistol's ejection port down to your belt line for a faster draw (see pictures).
  • Mounting clip is made for 1.75" belts, when most belts for concealed carry are 1.5". Buy aftermarket belt clips for proper belt-holster fit.
  • Can't adjust holster's ride height.


Universal IWB Holsters

Can't find a holster for your pistol? The PHLster Floodlight is unique in that it fits a huge variety of pistols, but requires a weapon light (WML). If you're left handed or have trouble finding a quality holster for your pistol, this is the best appendix carry holster, hands down. If you take out the spacer, it converts to a standard IWB holster.

PHLster Floodlight (Surefire x300)
PHLster Floodlight (Surefire x300)
$113.05
@ OpticsPlanet
Compare Prices
Check price @ Amazon
$113.05 @ OpticsPlanet
PHLster Floodlight (Streamlight TLR-1)
PHLster Floodlight (Streamlight TLR-1)
$113.05
@ OpticsPlanet
Compare Prices
Check price @ Amazon
$113.05 @ OpticsPlanet
  • Fits nearly any compact or full-size pistol as long as you use a Surefire x300 pistol light
  • Can be reversed into a left-handed holster.
  • Full-size pistol holster. You can use a compact pistol in this holster, but why not carry a full-size instead (or use a threaded barrel + compensator)?
  • Fits nearly any compact or full-size pistol as long as you use a Streamlight TLR-1 pistol light
  • Can be reversed into a left-handed holster.
  • Full-size pistol holster. You can use a compact pistol in this holster, but why not carry a full-size instead (or use a threaded barrel + compensator)?


Beltless Concealed Carry Holsters

What you need (pick one):
  • Untucked sports shirt, scrubs, T-shirt, polo, blouse, or dress shirt
  • Tucked-in dress shirt
  • Jacket

Do you want to carry while out running, going to the gym, playing sports, or wearing scrubs? Consider beltless IWB options:

A belly band is a good starting point, if you modify it the right way. The best belly band for concealed carry is the ComfortTac Ultimate Belly Band, as it's cheap, comfortable, and has tons of soft velcro space.

Why do you need soft velcro? Belly bands work best when you attach a kydex holster to them, and velcro is the way to go for that. Dialing in your concealment and comfort also calls for a spacer wedge, which you attach the same way. With this setup, you have unmatched control of the holster's height and angle.

The downsides? Belly bands can get hot, and they can pull up as you draw your gun if:

  • The kydex holster has too much retention.
  • The belly band isn't tucked into pants, shorts, a skirt, etc.
  • The belly band isn't tight enough.

The PHLster Enigma solves all these problems. If you want top comfort and performance, this is it. What's the catch? It's expensive, and it takes more time to assemble and configure.

Which is right for you? Save up for the Enigma + a compatible holster if at all possible. It's that good.


ComfortTac Ultimate Belly Band Holster
Check price @ Amazon

PHLster Enigma
Check price @ PHLster
  • The most comfortable belly band.
  • Lots of soft Velcro area to mount hard Velcro to.
  • Comes with an extra hard Velcro-backed pouch for pepper spray, etc.
  • Belly band can come up on the draw if not tightened and tucked properly, or if the kydex holster's retention is too tight.
  • The built-in holster doesn't offer a fast draw or a safe re-holster. Instead, get a hard Velcro-backed holster and attach to the belly band:
    Gun Goddess Purse/Backpack Holster ($49)
  • Needs a spacer to prevent the gun's grip from jutting out:
    Harry's Holsters Wedge Kit ($10)
  • Best balance of comfort and a consistent, fast draw.
  • Thigh strap prevents chassis from coming up on the draw
  • Expensive ($85-95 plus $60-120 for a compatible holster)
  • Takes 2-4 hours to properly assemble and adjust.



Best Concealed Carry Purse

What you need
  • A purse

This seems like a no-brainer. Concealed carry purses can go with nearly any outfit, and you can comfortably carry larger pistols than you can with a holster on your body.

But please, hear me out:
Do you ever leave your purse unattended?
Do you ever forget where it is?

When you use a purse for concealed carry, anytime that purse is not on you, you've created a dangerous situation. Your purse now has something in it that can be used to kill you or those around you.

Every year, there are a few news stories of mothers driving with their kids in the car. One of them gets into her concealed carry purse, and it ends in tragedy.

Tragic incident from purse holster

Tragic incident from purse holster

It's rare, but do you want to be one of those mothers?

There are other stories of women carrying in their purse, and someone gets into it in a public bathroom, or someone steals their purse, etc.

Tragic incident from purse holster

Again, these incidents are rare, but do you want to be that woman?

Before committing to concealed carry purses, take a moment and ask yourself: Can I keep my purse on me or a trusted person 100% of the time? Do I want to live like that?

If you're very neat, always on time, and enjoy routines like flossing, the answer is probably yes. The less you fit that description, the more risky purse carry is for you and your loved ones.

A concealed carry purse may seem convenient, but it's not something to take lightly.
Purse Holsters
Purse Holster
Check price @ Amazon

Crossbreed Purse Defender
$16.95 (Reg) @ Crossbreed Holsters $13.95 (Sml) @ Crossbreed Holsters
  • Can go with nearly any outfit.
  • Cross-body purses recommended (more secure on your person).
  • Holster quality tends to be poor compared to other holster types.
  • When carrying this way, you must always keep your purse on your person or you risk death or grievous bodily harm to yourself and those around you.
  • Panel insert can be put into nearly any purse with a compartment at least:
    • 9" wide x 6" tall x 3" wide (Regular)
    • 7.25" wide x x 4.75" tall x 2" wide (Small)
    Attach a Velcro-backed holster to the panel.
  • Can go with nearly any outfit.
  • Recommended for cross-body purses (more secure on your person).
  • Crossbreed's hybrid Velcro holster needs trimming on the leather and kydex to allow a full grip on the pistol when drawing. Instead, consider a better-designed, all-kydex velcro holster:
    Gun Goddess Flat Back Holster ($35)
  • When carrying this way, you must always keep your purse on your person or you risk death or grievous bodily harm to yourself and those around you.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you.


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References

  1. OODA Loop (2020)
  2. Friends Don’t Let Friends Open Carry: A Roundup of Real Incidents and Articles by Top Firearms Instructors (2018)



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