In this article, we’ll break down the most common types of holsters, their pros and cons, and who they’re best suited for.
Covering both concealed carry and open carry.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of EVERY holster type available on the market.
And when I say “every holster type”…
I really mean it.
Because we went extra deep, and included things like “below-the-waistband” holsters that are built for special use by for undercover agents.
Holster types you won’t see in real life.
So grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable.
Ready? Let’s get started…
Holster Types By Carry Location
IWB (Inside The Waistband) Holsters
One of the most popular options for concealed carry is the IWB holster. Worn internally, the IWB holster ensures that only your gun’s grip is visible above waistline. This means that only the grip of your gun will be visible above your pants or skirt line.
- Pros: Great for concealed carry; comfortable when seated; easy access with proper training.
- Cons: May require larger pants size; can cause discomfort if not properly adjusted; may print through clothing depending on body type and clothing choices.
See also the pros & cons of IWB vs AIWB carry.
OWB (Outside The Waistband) Holsters
The OWB holster family includes both slide holsters (which attach directly to your belt) and paddle holsters (which use a wide plastic piece that slips behind your belt). These are great options for open-carry enthusiasts or those who prefer more accessibility over concealment.
- Pros: Easier draw than IWB; generally more comfortable due to less direct contact with skin/body.
- Cons: Poorer concealment compared to IWB counterparts.
See also the pros & cons of IWB vs OWB carry.
Appendix Carry Holsters (AIWB)
An appendix carry holster – as the name implies – sits right at your appendix (or slightly off to one side). 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock position. It’s good for a quick and accessible draw, and is usually more comfortable than IWB holsters for most people and less likely to print.
- Pros: Easy accessibility; Nearly invisible to others; Comfort; Great for smaller body types; less likely to print
- Cons: Takes some getting used to; psychological difficulties (the gun is pointing at your member, basically); different draw stroke to side carry
See also: holster claw 101 guide.
Good if you’re looking for an option that leaves your waist free. Old-school, and less common these days. A shoulder holster will distribute the weight of the firearm between your shoulders, making it more comfortable to carry a larger or heavier weapon.
- Pros: Comfortable weight distribution; leaves waist free for other accessories; easy access with proper training
- Cons: Need a jacket to conceal properly; lots of training needed; gun draw usually sweeps bystanders; bulky and heavy; expensive
Pocket holsters are perfect for smaller concealed-carry handguns. They’re designed to fit into your pocket, keeping your firearm innocuously concealed and within easy reach.
- Pros: Extremely concealed; easy to carry; no added bulk or weight
- Cons: Limited to small firearms; can be difficult to access quickly; may be visible through pockets; safety and security nowhere near IWB holsters
Ankle holsters are used for smaller firearms these days, most commonly for backup guns. They are less accessible than other types of holsters, and unless you need to carry a backup gun there’s basically no reason to opt for an ankle holster.
- Pros: Deep concealment; can be paired with other holster types for backup carry
- Cons: Can be uncomfortable if worn for long periods of time; need to wear long and wide pants; only feasible for smaller-sized firearms; can’t draw on the move or while running; gun gets dusty & needs more cleaning; incompatible with bigger-sized guns
Thigh / Drop-Leg Holsters
These tactical holsters strap to your upper leg, an open carry holster that keeps your gun easily accessible. Works with bigger sized guns. Mostly used in military and law enforcement.
- Pros: Great for quick-draw scenarios; great accessibility; work well with bigger guns; keep the weight off your waistband; keep your belt free for anything else you might want to have there; don’t obstruct chest rigs & plate carriers; comfort
- Cons: Can impede mobility; impossible to concealed carry
Belly Band Holsters
Feeling like you want to carry your gun in a more, let’s say, “flexible” manner? A belly band holster might just be the thing for you. This holster is essentially a wide band that wraps around your waist, with a pocket to hold your gun on your abdomen. Great for situations where you can’t wear a belt (sports, certain professions), and also the go-to ccw holster for bigger guys who find IWB holsters uncomfortable.
- Pros: Conceals well with proper clothing; can be worn with (almost) any outfit, doesn’t need a belt; can be worn during sporting activities and the gym;
- Cons: Uncomfortable in hot weather due to the lack of ventilation; bulky; difficult to get it tight enough so it doesn’t move around your waist, can ride up and down; the band needs replacement every 25 washes; usually not as secure as waistband holsters
Chest holsters are typically worn over the upper body like a bandolier, with the gun resting securely in a shell attached to your chest or upper torso. The weight is focused on your chest, and the setup is easier compared to shoulder holsters. Since the gun is on your torso, the concealment is more difficult.
- Pros: Great for outdoor activities; quick and easy access when sitting or riding a bike; better weight distributing for hiking or being on the move vs. waistband holsters
- Cons: Limited concealment (need a jacket); not as comfortable or practical for everyday use; not versatile compared to other holster types
The holster is called a pancake holster because of its flatter design, with the gun nestled between two pieces of leather that hug closely to your body. It’s basically a leather holster that attaches to your belt, and can be carried both IWB and OWB.
- Pros: Good concealment; snug fit that keeps the gun in place
- Cons: Will take some breaking in; not as durable, reliable or secure as Kydex; takes up more space inside of the waistband
Small of Back Holster
It’s an inside-the-waistband holster that sits on your back. They’re less common these days for a good reason – when you slip and fall, that gun on your back has a good chance of injuring your back. The risk is simply not worth it.
Combine that with a dangerous & slow draw stroke – impossible to avoid sweeping when pulling from the back to the front – and you can see why you mostly see this type of holster in the movies these days.
- Pros: Good concealment
- Cons: Slow & dangerous draw stroke; not comfortable at all when seated; lower back injury risk with falling & slipping
Below the Waistband Holsters
BWB holster is a specialist holster that you’re unlikely to see anywhere in the wild. This one’s just included for the completeness of the article. This holster type has some serious downsides to it – it’s basically an IWB holster that sits so low that it’s inside of your trouser’s leg. With the grip of the gun on your waistband level.
- Pros: Extreme concealment
- Cons: Needs large pants; high risk of printing; slow & dangerous draw; not really an option for everyday carry
Purse & Bag Holsters
Carrying in a purse is convenient for women on the go. Purse holsters come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit just about any style of bag. There’s nothing much to it – the gun is inside of a special pocket inside of the purse.
- Pros: Concealment; Compatible with any clothing; No risk of printing
- Cons: Difficult to access & draw; must be cautious of leaving your purse unattended with a weapon inside; Not as secure as waistband holsters
Bra holsters provide a hidden and convenient concealed carry location for women. They’re typically made of mesh or other lightweight breathable materials, clip onto the bra from the bottom, and offer good concealment.
- Pros: Good concealment, provides easy access to your gun; great for smaller firearms; versatility in terms of clothing
- Cons: Can be uncomfortable over a longer carry period; Slower draw vs. waistband holsters; running & moving fast more difficult; Better with bigger cup sizes as the gun might print otherwise
If you want versatility, then you might want to consider a modular holster. These holsters are designed to be worn in multiple positions on the body – meaning that you can reconfigure your holster to work in IWB, OWB, AIWB, and other carry configurations. Most popular modular holster is the Alien Gear ShapeShift.
- Pros: Customizable; Versatile
- Cons: More expensive than a standard holster; “Jack of all trades master of none” could be an issue if you have higher requirements
Cross Draw Holsters
A cross-draw holster is worn on the opposite side of the body from your dominant hand and allows for a quick and easy draw. They’re a specialist option for more experienced folks, and usually not recommended when starting out.
- Pros: Better gun access while sitting
- Cons: Not as safe as strong side carry in all other situations
If you’re looking for a holster for competitive shooting, you’ll need a holster that provides a secure fit, quick draw, and easy re-holstering. A competition holster is designed to meet your specific needs as a competitive shooter.
- Pros: Fast and easy access to your firearm; Customizable to meet your specific needs; Designed for high-speed draw
- Cons: Not suitable for everyday carry; lacks the concealability and comfort
Holster Types By Material
Now that we’ve covered the different carry types and constructions, let’s dive into the materials used to make these holsters. The four main materials you’ll find in holsters are Kydex, leather, hybrid (a mix of two or more materials), and nylon. Next, let’s examine the pros and cons of each material.
Kydex is a thermoplastic that can be custom-shaped to snugly fit any firearm, providing superior retention without sacrificing quick draw speed.
- Durable & low maintenance: Kydex is tough and doesn’t require any special care or conditioning like leather does.
- Weather-resistant: Rain? Snow? No problem. Your gun will stay dry inside a Kydex holster.
- Adjustable retention: Most Kydex holsters have adjustable screws so you can dial in your preferred level of snugness around your firearm.
- Potential wear on gun finish: Over time, repeated drawing from a hard plastic holster may cause some wear on your gun’s finish. But hey, guns are tools meant to be used.
- Might be less comfortable: Some folks find rigid Kydex less comfortable against their body compared to softer materials. However, this varies depending on personal preference.
The OG of holsters. Leather has been employed to fashion holsters since the invention of firearms, and continues to be a timeless choice for gun owners. It’s classy, comfortable, and can last a lifetime if properly cared for.
- Comfort: Leather is soft and pliable, conforming to your body over time. This makes it super comfy to wear all day long.
- Better with age: Like fine wine or George Clooney, leather holsters only get better as they break in and develop that gorgeous patina.
- Classic look: There’s just something about the timeless appeal of a well-made leather holster that screams “I know what I’m doing.”
- Requires maintenance: To keep your leather looking good and functioning well, you’ll need to clean and condition it regularly. Neglect this step at your own peril.
- Sensitive to weather: Unlike Kydex, leather isn’t impervious to moisture. If you’re caught in a downpour or live somewhere humid, you may have issues with mold or mildew on your precious holster.
- Expensive: If you want a good leather holster without retention issues, you’ll have to pay $100+ and even then it might wear out with time. That’s an issue you don’t have with Kydex.
If you can’t decide between Kydex and leather, why not have both? Hybrid holsters combine the best of both worlds by using one material (usually Kydex) for the shell that holds your gun and another (typically leather or neoprene) for the backing that sits against your body. You can have the best of both worlds with a hybrid holster.
- Comfort & retention: With a hybrid holster, you get the comfort of a soft backing material along with the solid retention provided by a molded shell.
- Potential bulkiness: Depending on how they’re designed, some hybrid holsters can be thicker than their single-material counterparts. This might make them less ideal for concealed carry if you’re trying to minimize printing.
Fabric (Nylon & Neoprene) Holsters
While not as popular as Kydex or leather, nylon holsters have their own unique advantages.
- Affordable: Nylon holsters are the least expensive holster type.
- Lightweight: Weighing almost nothing, nylon is the lightest material for a holster.
- Versatile: Nylon holsters can be worn inside or outside the waistband, and some even come in the form of fanny packs or shoulder holsters.
- Less durable: While nylon is tough, it’s not as durable as Kydex or leather and will wear out faster.
- Less secure: Nylon holsters usually don’t secure your firearm good enough. That’s why we recommend never going for a nylon holster, unless you need something for pocket carry.
Holster material is an essential element to think about when choosing a holster, as it can have a considerable influence on both comfort and security. Moving forward, we will discuss the differences between open carry and concealed carry holsters.
Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry Holsters
Main Differences Between Open & Concealed Carry Holsters
- Visibility: The most obvious difference between open carry and concealed carry holsters is how visible they are when worn. Open carry holsters present your firearm to onlookers, whereas concealed carry holsters keep it out of sight. This distinction often influences where and when you can use each type legally or socially acceptable depending on local laws and regulations.
- Ease of Access: In general, open carry holsters provide quicker access to your firearm since they’re not hidden beneath clothing layers like their concealed counterparts. However, this advantage comes at the cost of potentially drawing unwanted attention or making some people feel uncomfortable around you – something worth considering before deciding which style suits your needs best.
- Riding Comfort: Your comfort level may vary with either type based on factors such as body shape or personal preferences but generally speaking; concealed carriers tend to prioritize comfort over accessibility due its discreet nature whereas those who prefer openly carrying might sacrifice some coziness for easier weapon retrieval during high-stress situations.
- Retention: Both open and concealed carry holsters should offer adequate retention to keep your firearm securely in place. However, open carry holsters often feature additional retention mechanisms like thumb breaks or level 2+ retention systems that provide an extra layer of security against unauthorized access or accidental discharges while still allowing for quick draw capabilities when needed.
Additional Holster Types & Mods
Duty Holsters With Level 2+ Retention
If you’re a law enforcement officer or someone who needs extra security for their firearm, then duty holsters with Level 2+ retention are where it’s at.
These holsters ensure that no one but YOU can access your weapon when needed while keeping it safe and secure during everyday activities.
There are different levels of retention depending on how much security you need for your piece:
- Level 1: Passive retention (e.g., friction from the material)
- Level 2: Active retention device (e.g., thumb break strap or push-button release)
- Level 3+: Multiple active retention devices (for maximum security)
All this added security sounds great, right?
But as always, there are pros and cons to consider before committing yourself fully to these souped-up holsters:
- Increased security for your firearm
- Less likely to lose your weapon during physical altercations or other high-stress situations
- Often preferred by law enforcement and military personnel
- Slower draw time due to additional retention devices
- Bulkier design
These holsters allow you to tuck in your shirt over your IWB holster without revealing any tell-tale signs that you’re carrying a firearm.
- Ideal for deep concealment while wearing tucked-in shirts
- No visible clips on the outside of pants – keeps things low-key
- Can be more difficult to access your firearm quickly
Holster Types FAQs
How Many Types of Holsters Are There?
There are over 20 different holster types, most of which we covered in this article. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on factors such as comfort, concealment, accessibility, and personal preference.
What Kind of Holster Does the FBI Use?
The FBI typically uses a Level III retention duty holster for their agents. These holsters provide additional security features to prevent unauthorized access or accidental discharge while still allowing quick access for the agent. Safariland is the most popular duty holster brand.
What Type of Holster Is Safest?
A safe holster should securely hold your firearm in place while covering the trigger guard to prevent accidental discharges. Retention level also plays a role in safety; higher retention levels offer more security against unauthorized access or loss during physical activity. Get a holster that checks all these boxes, and you’ll be fine.
You should now have a better idea of the different holster types available on the market.
While it’s true that you’ll probably end up going with IWB for concealed carry, or OWB for open carry.
It’s good to know WHY they’re the most popular options.
And that you’re not missing out on anything by not carrying in a shoulder holster, for example.
Because the truth is that most of the “alternative” holster types come with their own set serious downsides.
That make carrying them over a belt holster simply not worth the hassle.