It’s maybe the oldest trope among concealed carriers: If you set off down the road of carrying a handgun every day, you will inevitably wind up with a box of holsters that you’ve tried and discarded as uncomfortable, inappropriate, too specialized or otherwise unsatisfactory in some way.
If my experience is anything to go by, there’s plenty of truth behind the trope. I didn’t actually start carrying a handgun on my person until I started working in a gun store. Even then, I didn’t carry it on my person except at work, where I made retail-clerk wages, and so the overarching concern for me was price.
So, of course, I bought the typical budget-holster choice: The simple padded-nylon pouch sold by Uncle Mike’s as the “Sidekick.”
Don’t get me wrong, the Sidekick checked all the basic boxes of holster-ness: It allowed me to carry the pistol strapped to my person, it covered the trigger guard on my Ruger KP91DAO and it had that little adjustable nylon retention strap that could be snapped down, and thus prevented the gun from falling out of the nylon gun bucket on my belt.
The thing is, a holster intended to allow one to carry a handgun while fishing, hiking, camping, etc., was not really designed with sitting in armchairs at office desks, negotiating narrow aisles in a retail store or anything like concealment in mind. It flopped and dangled and generally found a way to interfere in my day-to-day life enough that I was soon shopping for a replacement.
For the next several years I went through a few different high-ride, outside-the-waistband holsters. Usually these leather ones from Bianchi or DeSantis were fine for work. This was the late 1990s, and outside the shop I was still carrying in my purse, so I wasn’t really buying holsters with concealment in mind. I thought “Who needs to conceal in a gun shop, anyway?”
Being intended for concealment, or at least “concealment” in the sense a police detective will throw a jacket on over the gun, high-ride OWB holsters like pancakes or Askins Avenger-pattern ones tend to hold the gun much higher on the belt line and closer in to the body than the simple belt holsters with which I’d started.
Ride height and closeness to the body are factors that played hugely into comfort. No longer was the weight of the gun swinging around on my belt. It wasn’t bottoming out against the chair when I sat down or snagging on the arm of the chair when I stood up or knocking stuff off the shelf in narrow aisles at work. It was such a revelation in comfort that I began looking into carrying it like that all the time, instead of just at work. All the writers in the magazines said it could be done, after all.
This is when that little remark I made about police detectives and “concealment” comes into play. Pretty much by definition, an outside-the-waistband concealment holster needs a concealment garment placed between the blaster and the eyeballs of passersby in order to be concealed.
This garment needs to be long enough to cover the holster no matter how the wearer may bend, stretch, turn, jump or whatever. Aspiring to a higher level of concealment than some guy with a badge on his belt next to his holstered blaster is going to require a bit more care in the selection of cover garments—and have I mentioned I lived in Atlanta at the time? “Cover garment” and “Atlanta summer” go together like peanut butter and onions.
Finding something that will give a reasonably good degree of concealment for a decent-size pistol in an OWB holster, won’t make the wearer look like a fashion disaster anyplace this side of an IDPA match and won’t turn one into a heat casualty on Peachtree Street in August is a task that borders on the Sisyphean.
This, then, was how I came across inside-the-waistband carry. Unlike the previous two methods, this wasn’t as simple as just buying a holster and strapping it to my belt. People often ask that about IWB carry: “Isn’t it uncomfortable?” Well, yes, if you just grab a holster at random and stuff it into the pants you’re currently wearing, it probably will be.
I know I’ve harped in these pages before that the gun, holster and belt are all part of a system, and it’s with inside-the-waistband carry that this truth becomes most apparent.
This is where most of the holsters in my holster box came from, by the way. With IWB carry, very small differences in things like holster angle, belt stiffness and where exactly on the belt the holster is carried can make tremendous differences in holsters’ comfort and concealability.
When I first started, I was incredibly aware of the pistol inside the waistband. After a year or so of tinkering with different belts and holsters, as well as the cut and waist height of my jeans and where I wore the holster, I’ve wound up with a solution that is practically unnoticeable to me.
I have found a carry solution that can be covered with an untucked shirttail and is comfortable enough for me to drive across country without discomfort. All it took to get here was a big box full of holsters.