How to Pick Your First Concealed Carry Holster

How to Pick Your First Concealed Carry Holster
The author recommends a leather holster with thumb break retention strap, like this model from Blackhawk.
The author recommends a leather holster with thumb break retention strap, like this model from Blackhawk.
The author recommends a leather holster with thumb break retention strap, like this model from Blackhawk.

A Gun Digest reader asks, “I’m taking my first concealed weapons class with a small frame 9mm pistol. Can you recommend a specific holster to get started?”

Great question. I can point you in a general direction but holster selection is like dating success: highly subjective and dependent on many factors. So don’t be surprised if you end up shopping around some.

To start with, focus on four things: (1) leather, (2) belt mount, (3) high ride, and (4) thumb snap. Several excellent manufacturers (Bianchi, Galco, De Santis) offer models with all four of these features.

And here are the reasons. When you start carrying concealed regularly—and you should carry more days than not if you are truly serious—don’t be surprised if you feel awkward, uncomfortable and self-conscious. These are common and perfectly contextual reactions. Flow with them. They will pass with experience, but do take them into consideration in first holster (and gun) choice.

I recommend leather because it conforms over time to your use.

I suggest an integral security strap that releases with a thumb snap, because it is common for new shooters to worry about the gun somehow coughing itself up and out of the holster. The strap is mostly psychological but it is comforting for most new users I chat with.

“High ride” means that the gun should ride with half of its weight even with or above the belt loops. This tucks the mass of the gun just below the ribs and for many people is a much more comfortable carry position when seated.

Women may find lower carry more comfortable. Because females tend to have shorter torsos, and broader hips than men (pelvic arch) they are often advised to choose a low ride holster to keep the handgun from poking into their rib cage. But with a small frame revolver—my recommendation for most women—the curved grip still rides well in a high ride design because of the shorter barrel. Low ride favors standing, high ride favors sitting.

Choosing between outside-the-waistband (OWB) and inside-the-waistband (IWB) is also highly subjective. After many years of leather OWB I went “minimal” and used a soft neoprene IWB with my Model 60 or my SIG 239, .40. This was so comfortable a carry method I would actually forget I had the gun on. The tactical problem is that if you have to pull your gun to deter an attack, it is near impossible to re-holster it easily because the neoprene collapses. With gun out, if you’re a cop and have a badge to “windmill” when the police come you’re in good shape, if you don’t you will probably get proned-out and be subject to some rather dramatic language.

I really like the OWB Kydex-type holsters except that I can’t find one that fits my Ruger SR9C (my current “little buddy”) with laser designator. Generally speaking, IWB seems more comfortable and OWB seems more tactical. If you carry every day in a “high risk” environment then I would say go OWB. However, if you carry “just in case,” try IWB.

One additional tip: Be sure to check out the articles and blogs at and feel free to post questions there. I’m sure many of our readers will have other good opinions.


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  1. I recently bought my first weapon for concealed carry (a gen 4 Glock 23) and was really trying to avoid being another one of those guys “with a drawer full of holsters” I just don’t have the funds for that. I purchased a cheap holster and it wasn’t doing it for me. So I decided leather would be much more comfortable on the body. I found alpharms holsters. It really changed my outlook on concealed carry, I can now have my weapon on me comfortably where I hardly even notice it’s there. Totally stoked, it was a little tight on the gun at first but within a day or two it fits like a glove. Love this thing. I recommend everyone who looking for great holster www.

  2. Great article. As a new CCW holder, I am ravenously consuming all the information I can on concealed carry gear and tactics. Things have changed a lot since I was an Army MP in the late ’80s, and I want to make sure I am up-to-date on the latest trends. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  3. What type of holster would you suggest for someone in a wheelchair? I have . Beretta 84 380 and a 93fs 9mm.. I prefer to carry on me-not my chair in case the chair and I become separated..

    Thanks for the ideas..

    • Hey “Jonsey”. Thanks for the great question. I gotta tell you that I don’t have a lot of experience with this application but I am sure it resonates with may good folks like you. I would try a shoulder holster and see if you get comfortable with it. A belt carry, cross-draw may be another good option. I spent a lot of time sitting in a patrol unit and although that is not directly analogous to your application, standard strong-side belt carry was, for me, awkward to access and always uncomfortable. Body shape has a lot to do with it. Especially chest/waist size relative to arm length. So… try a shoulder rig and a cross-draw and let us know how it works out. Joe

  4. I would like to consider a cross draw holster OWB; I am right handed and think this would be the quickest and most comfortable. Looking for a belt or possibly shoulder type arrangement. My carry would be a 380 Auto and 38 LWT revolver. I understand a vest, jacket or overshirt would need to be worn to maintain concealment. I would appreciate your thoughts and recommendations.

    • Hi “fireproofer”. If you were into detective TV shows in the 60’s (yep…I’m dating myself) OWB cross-draw was very common because the gun flashed nicely for the camera. We all have different needs and capacities but I want you to know that cross-draw is perhaps the most risky carry in terms of gun grabs. If you get grappled by an assailant who does not originally present with a lethal threat, it is easier for him to snatch your gun from a cross-draw than it is for you to draw from it. ( Most people have no idea how easy it is to disarm a person if you can get close enough.) The shoulder holster allows you to pinch the gun in place with your elbow. Try both but just be aware of the special risks of OWB cross-draw. Joe.

  5. Hey Frank, Thanks for the tip. I really like a good holster for a good gun. Seems like some kind of magic comes when you mate them up right. I had a leather Bianchi paddle holster for my Smith 4″ .357, and the gun seemed to always tell me it was happiest in that rig. I bet you understand.



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