We’ve all been there.
You start learning about holsters & gun safety.
And all of a sudden, you’re getting bombarded with terms like:
- 4 o’clock
- Active click retention
- Ride & cant
- Appendix carry
… and hey, it’s confusing at first. Too much to take in.
Which is why we created this holster terminology reference page.
This page has the most common holster-related terminology and words in one single place, with simple explanations that anyone can understand. Free forever, accessible to anyone with an internet connection who cares about carrying safely.
Ready? Let’s get started…
Types of Holsters
- Inside the waistband (IWB) holster: A holster that fits inside the waistband of the pants for concealed carry.
- Outside the waistband (OWB) holster: A holster that fits outside the waistband of the pants for open carry.
- Paddle holster: A type of an OWB holster that attaches to your belt with a paddle-shaped attachment.
- Belt holster: A type of an OWB holster that you attach to your belt by sliding the belt through it.
- Appendix carry (AIWB) holster: A holster designed for carrying the firearm in the front of the waistband near the appendix, also called the 1 o’clock position. Most IWB holsters can also be used as appendix holsters.
- Shoulder holster: A holster rig designed to be worn over your shoulders for concealed carry.
- Ankle holster: A holster worn on the ankle for concealed carry. These are better for smaller handguns, especially if you want to carry a 2nd backup gun.
- Drop leg holster: A holster that attaches to the thigh for quick and easy access to the firearm. Commonly used among the military & law enforcement. Also called a “thigh rig”.
- Chest holster: A holster worn on the chest for quick and easy access to the firearm. It’s less concealable than the shoulder holster but more comfortable to wear & the gun is easier to access. Good when you need to have access to your gun while sitting (driving, motorcycles), but also while hiking.
- Pocket holster: A holster designed to fit in a pocket for concealed carry. Only small guns (obviously), and it’s less secure than a waistband holster.
- Belly band holster: A holster designed to be worn around the waist for concealed carry. Better suited for situations where you can’t have a belt on you (working out, wearing a uniform). Can be more comfortable for bigger guys and gals than regular IWB holsters for concealed carry.
- Magnetic holster: A holster that uses magnets to hold the firearm in place.
- Universal holster: A holster designed to fit a wide range of different firearms. These ones usually have bad retention, and we don’t recommend them.
- Tactical Holster: A type of holster that is designed for law enforcement and military use, and usually features a retention system and attachment points for accessories.
Related: We made a list of literally every single holster type you can buy right now (even the ones you shouldn’t!)
- Leather holster: A holster made from leather material. Not waterproof and worse retention than kydex holsters, but slightly improved comfort. We recommend Kydex or Hybrid holsters over leather.
- Kydex holster: A holster made from Kydex material. The current golden standard for holster material, and something you can’t go wrong with. Great retention & safety features.
- Nylon holster: A holster made from nylon material. These are usually either pocket holsters or universal holsters that fit many different guns.
- Hybrid holster: A holster made from a combination of two or more materials, such as leather and Kydex or nylon and polymer. Hybrid holsters are slightly bulkier than full kydex models, but when properly done they give you better comfort without losing out on any of Kydex’s safety features.
- Injection-molded holster: A holster made using injection molding, a manufacturing process where molten material is injected into a mold to form the desired shape. Alien Gear’s ShapeShift model is the most popular injection-molded holster on the market. It’s more durable than Kydex, but the differences are negligible as Kydex is strong enough on its own.
Side note: See also our complete guide on holster materials, with in-depth comparisons and pros & cons.
- Level I retention: Only one action (the draw) is required to release the firearm from the holster.
- Level II retention: A retention mechanism that requires two separate actions to release the firearm from the holster.
- Level III retention: A retention mechanism that requires three separate actions to release the firearm from the holster.
- Thumb break/release retention: A retention mechanism that requires the use of the thumb to release the firearm from the holster.
- Adjustable retention & retention screw: A retention mechanism that can be adjusted to change the level of retention. This is usually done with a tension screw, and most holsters come with this option included. You can make the retention tighter (more difficult to pull the gun out), or looser (easier to draw the gun).
- Retention plate: A plate that provides additional retention for the firearm in the holster.
- Quick-release buckle: A buckle that allows for quick and easy release of the holster.
Holster Features, Attachments, Accessories
- Mag Carrier Attachment: A holster attachment that allows for easy and quick access to spare -magazines for the firearm.
- Light Attachment / Light Carrying Holster: A holster attachment that allows for the attachment of a flashlight or laser sight to the firearm for improved target acquisition. Such as Streamlight or Foxtrot.
- Sight Channel: A channel or groove in the holster that allows for the sight of the firearm to be unobstructed during the draw.
- Ambidextrous Design: A holster design that can be used by left-handed or right-handed individuals.
- Tuckable clip attachment (IWB Carry): An attachment that allows the holster to be tucked under a shirt for maximum concealment. With tuckable clips, there is only a slim metal line of the clip visible when the shirt is tucked in with IWB carry.
- Modular holster attachment: An attachment that allows the holster to be customized with different accessories and attachments. An example of such holster would be the Alien Gear ShapeShift modular holster kit.
- Calf strap: A strap that wraps around the calf to provide added stability and retention for the holster.
- Sweat guard: A guard that protects the firearm from sweat and moisture. Exposure to sweat causes corrosion over a long period of time, so it’s a useful add-on for any holster to have.
- Adjustable cant: This is the angle of your gun in a holster, and influences the draw. You can also adjust the cant to fit your body and how you like to carry your gun. 3 common types of cant are: neutral, positive & negative.
- Adjustable ride height: This allows you to adjust the height of the holster (also known as the “ride”). A higher ride will give you a faster draw speed, but is worse for concealment. Most holsters come with adjustable ride height.
- Castle Doctrine Expansion: Laws that expand the scope of the Castle Doctrine to include vehicles and workplaces, allowing individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves or others in these locations.
- Firearms Preemption Expansion: Laws that expand the scope of firearms preemption to include local regulations on holsters and other firearms accessories.
- National Concealed Carry Reciprocity: A proposed federal law that would require states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states, allowing for greater mobility and freedom of movement for permit holders.
- Constitutional Carry: A legal doctrine that allows individuals to carry firearms without a permit or license, based on the belief that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.
- State Firearms Laws: Laws and regulations related to firearms and holsters that vary from state to state, including requirements for permits, restrictions on carrying in certain locations, and specific regulations related to holster design and use.
- Red Flag Laws: Laws that allow for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who may pose a danger to themselves or others, including situations involving mental health issues or domestic violence.
- Duty to Inform: A legal requirement in some states that requires individuals carrying a concealed firearm to inform law enforcement of their possession of a firearm during encounters.
- Standards for Holster Retention Devices: Regulations that establish standards for retention systems used in holsters to ensure proper function and safety.
Holster Training & Education
- Dry Fire Training: A training technique that involves practicing firearm manipulation and drawing without live ammunition to improve muscle memory and proficiency.
- Simunition Training: A training technique that involves using non-lethal ammunition to simulate real-life scenarios and improve tactical proficiency.
- Force-on-Force Training: A training technique that involves simulating real-life scenarios with live role-players and non-lethal weapons to improve situational awareness and decision-making.
- Combat Medical Training: A training technique that teaches individuals how to provide medical aid in high-pressure or life-threatening situations, including those involving firearms.
- Holster Safety Rules: A set of rules and guidelines for safe holster use, including keeping the finger off the trigger until ready to fire, keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction, and never relying solely on the holster for safety.
- Holster Fitment Checklist: A checklist of factors to consider when selecting a holster, including the fit and compatibility of the holster with the firearm, the intended use and carry position, and the level of retention required.
Related: Our guide for practicing a good holster draw stroke.