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IWB CARRY-The Ultimate Guide to Inside the Waist Band Holsters

YOU Asked, We Answered


IWB GUIDE-Everything you need to Know about buying a Holster for Inside the Waist Band

Buyer’s Guide for IWB (Inside-the-Waistband) and AIWB (Appendix Carry Inside-the-Waistband) Holsters.


All of the types of holsters on the market can be extremely intimidating to the first-time buyer. Perhaps you’ve started with an OWB carry holsters (over-the-waistband) type holster, but want an increased ability to conceal your weapon. The IWB carry holsters (inside-the-waistband) and AIWB (appendix inside-the-waistband) holsters may provide the concealment that you are looking for. Still confused? Read on to learn more about these two holsters and what to look for when purchasing one.


What are IWB Holsters?

Inside-the-waistband holsters are THE product for conceal carry. These holsters place the firearm inside the waistband of your pants and over your undergarments at your waist. Many IWB models now include a tuckable option, which allows for shirts to be tucked in between your pants and the gun. This option is essential for those who want to conceal carry holsters in a business environment.


AIWB Holsters

The AIWB (or Appendix Carry Inside-the-Waistband) holster is also hung from the waistband of your pants but is kept on your abdomen, not your waist. This is a popular carry option for many people. However, it has some detractors who argue that AIWB holsters present huge safety concerns. When worn at the abdomen, the gun’s muzzle points in the direction of both your genitals and femoral artery.[1] However, if your take sufficient safety precautions, carrying AIWB should be relatively safe. Because of the potential safety concerns, AIWB carry is not recommended for beginners without the help of a qualified instructor.


How to avoid printing with IWB and AIWB conceal carry

The closer the holster fits the gun to your body, the less likely it is that you will struggle with printing—showing the outline of the gun through your clothes. Printing must be kept in mind for both IWB and AIWB holsters if you are not wearing any outer layers of clothing. The safest option in that scenario is to wear pants that are a size or two too large. Your firearm will expand the waistband of your pants anyway, and baggy legs will conceal the outline of the gun.


Both IWB and AIWB holsters can allow you to open carry. But, depending on your state and local laws, you will want to be sure that nothing—clothing, purse, etc.—obstructs the view of the gun.


Why choose IWB holsters?

As mentioned above, IWB holsters are one of the best options for concealing your firearm at your waist, only the grip is exposed. Because the holster attaches on the inside of your clothes, the pressure exerted by them keeps it in place. Thus, there is much less possibility of it moving during the day or when drawing your gun.

Ruger LC9s IWB Kydex Holster


Why choose AIWB holsters?

AIWB holsters allow for the greatest concealment of the firearm. You don’t have to worry that raising your arms or bending over will expose your gun. AIWB carry also allows for an easy and fast draw. If you are concerned about accessing your gun quickly and efficiently, then this type of holster may be best for you. Finally, AIWB is generally more comfortable for most people that IWB or OWB carry. Go here for a deeper look at the pros and cons of AIWB carry.


Buyer’s Guide for IWB and AIWB holsters

IWB are some of the most popular holsters and as such present a number of manufacturers and options. AIWB holsters are somewhat less popular but can be found very readily. Confused about what to look for when purchasing these holsters? Read on for a complete A-Z buyer’s guide.


Number of guns it fits

The first, and arguably most important, question you have to consider when buying any type of holster is the variety of gun it fits. Some holsters only hold certain makes of the gun, like Smith and Wesson, or certain types. For example, shotguns will most likely present a greater challenge to finding a correct holster than, say, a pistol. Your choice of the firearm will determine the type and model of holster you purchase. For safety’s sake, always buy a holster that will fit your gun.


Pancake vs. Custom Mold Holsters 

Holsters come in two main shapes. The first, pancake, is the oldest and most traditional looking. The pancake model takes two strips of material—usually leather—and attaches them together to create a cradle for your firearm. These types of holsters can be used for most makes and models.


Many gun owners have now moved to holsters that are molded in the exact shape of their firearm. The custom molded holster provides a snugger fit and greater ease of drawing and re-holstering. It also adds more protection for your gun, since there is no wiggle room in the holster. However, custom molded holsters tend to be more expensive and made of more rigid materials than pancake holsters.



Another important, and sometimes intimidating, question you need to ask yourself is what material you want your holster to be made from. Four materials are most common in holster manufacturing: leather, plastic, nylon, and a hybrid (or a mix of materials). Remember that you will be wearing your IWB and AIWB holster underneath your clothing, most likely close to your skin. You want something lightweight and built to last –Premium Kydex Holsters

Leather holsters are the most traditional, and oldest style. These types of holsters will mold to your body over time but are more susceptible to damage from elements like humidity and wetness. They can also absorb sweat from your body and become itchy.


Plastic holsters, like those made from Kydex, are now becoming common because they are extremely durable and can be custom fit to your model of gun. These types of holsters can be uncomfortable for some people because of the stiffness of the synthetic materials against their skin.

Nylon holsters are preferred by many because they are light and inexpensive. However, they provide the least durable material and need replacing more often.


Hybrid holsters have also recently risen in popularity. Usually, they involve a combination of leather and plastic. The introduction of leather makes them more comfortable, and the plastic provides durability. Yet, they are still suspect to the negatives of both the plastic and leather materials.


Ease of draw/re-holstering

Certain materials make drawing and re-holstering easier than others. For example, the largest drawback to hybrid holsters is that they usually make re-holstering difficult, as the material collapses after your draw the gun. This is a problem for leather holsters as well.


You should be able to draw and re-holster your weapon one-handed without looking down. Make sure to choose a material that allows for ease of this process, or you could potentially find yourself in a dangerous situation.



The size of the holster needs to be considered when purchasing. If you are trying to conceal carry, purchasing a large and bulky holster will make that job harder. Likewise, an extremely small and thin holster could be too weak to securely carry a large gun. Make sure to pick a holster with a size that will work for you and your gun’s needs.


Side of waist

Just like OWB holsters, IWB holsters place the gun at your waist. Thus, you will need to ask yourself what side of your body you want the gun on. Do you want your firearm to sit on your strong or weak side? Your strong arm is the one that shoots the gun. Keeping your firearm on the strong-arm side of your body is recommended for beginners, as it increases the likelihood of a clean draw. However, some people prefer to keep their gun on the weak side of their body and use the cross-the-body draw. Where you carry your gun is personal to you but is something to keep in mind when looking at and trying on different models.



If you are someone for whom the look of your holster is as important as functionality, then knowing the design options for a specific holster will be essential. For IWB and AIWB holsters, the designs will be less visible than OWB holsters. So, don’t spend a lot of money buying a holster that will never be seen.



Different holsters will offer different options. Some of the most important features to keep in mind as you research holsters are listed below.



Keep in mind that the more adjustable a holster is, the more you can customize it to your wants and needs.



Cant refers to the angle that the gun sits at on your waist. Usually, cant is described by degrees, with zero being a vertical position. Most men wear their guns with a zero cant, while it is recommended that women have a slight cant forward to account for their hips.[2] Picking a holster that has an adjustable cant angle is essential since it will allow you to pick the position that will enable swift and correct drawing. Cant is especially important with AIWB holsters, as it can minimize many of the safety concerns.


Ride Height

Where the gun rides on your hip is also usually customizable. A holster can hold your firearm high, low, or in the middle. Ride height is determined by the holster’s relationship with your gun’s trigger. A middle hold (holster lined up with the trigger) usually works for most people. However, women are often advised to carry their guns with a low ride height so that the handle doesn’t jam into their ribs. Keep in mind that with IWB and AIWB holsters, the ride height greatly effects how much of the firearm is visible over your pants or skirt.



The greater retention your firearm has in the holster, the less likely it is to leave that holster. There are three levels of retention that manufactures recognize. The higher the level, the more security your weapon has, but the harder it is to draw.


Level 1: Has one retention device; either a locking mechanism from the holster OR pressure exerted from the holster to secure the gun in place. The level of retention is generally recommended for IWB carrying.[3]


Level 2: Has two retention devices; usually both a locking mechanism AND pressure security.


Level 3: Has three retention devices; usually two locking mechanisms AND pressure security.[4]



The better the quality of materials and workmanship, the longer you will have a good holster. Many people prefer holsters made in the United States, but this is not a requirement for a well-made product. Also, it is recommended that you know your holster’s warranty information. If one is defective or breaks, you should be able to get it replaced and fixed. Holster’s can be an investment, and you want to make sure that you have this important piece of equipment with you for a long time.


Important Things to Consider

In addition to the holsters themselves, here are some aspects of your daily life and habits to keep in mind when you are researching your purchase.



The usual weather where you live is an important consideration in holster selection. For example, if it is usually rainy or wet, then a leather holster may not be right for you. Leather is not water-proof and will wear-out quickly in these climates. In this scenario, a plastic holster may be your best option. Keeping your daily weather in mind can help you make an informed holster decision.


            Activity Level

Do you sit at a desk all day? Are you extremely active? Do you come in contact with a lot of people who may want to deprive you of your firearm? These are questions you need to ask yourself when purchasing a holster. A person in law enforcement will have very different needs than that of an office worker.



Your desired lifestyle changes will play a huge role in whether or not you decide to use an IWB or AIWB holster. Because the firearm is placed inside your clothes, you will need to purchase pants or skirts that are a size or two larger than usual. This may not be a problem for you. However, if you prefer pants the fit tightly to your legs, using an IWB or AIWB holster may not be right for you.



If the holster is not comfortable, you will not wear it. Period. Thus, always make sure that you are purchasing a holster that is comfortable for your body, especially if you plan on carrying your firearm on a daily basis.


Trigger and Safety

This should not be considered a want but a need in your holster.[5] Safety should always come first, which means that nothing should ever exert pressure on your trigger. Likewise, it is not recommended that you buy a holster that releases the safety when you draw. You don’t want the gun to accidentally discharge ever, which could be especially tragic for IWB and AIWB holsters as they are worn close to your body.


State and Local Laws

Whether or not you can legally conceal or open carry your firearm depends on your local and state laws. Make sure that you are always aware of the rules and regulations surrounding carrying your weapon, especially when you are in public.


The Guardian provides an interactive tool that explains each states gun laws here.


Buying a new holster for your firearm can be stressful. But, following the advice presented in this article should give you the tools needed to make an informed decision. Once you make your purchase, give you new holster a week or two to break in. If it is still uncomfortable or hard to wear, you may need to investigate other brands or holster options.


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[1] Tim, “AIWB Safety and Sanity,” Gun Nuts Media (June, 2015), http://www.gunnuts.net/2015/06/25/aiwb-safety-and-sanity/ (accessed 2/9/18).

[2] Kitty, “Which Holster is Right for You?” Gadsden Guns, http://www.gadsdengunsblog.com/which-holster-is-right-for-you/ (accessed 2/9/18).


[3] Chris Mudgett, “Gear Guide: How to Choose IWB Holsters for Everyday Carry,” Guns & Ammo (June, 2014), http://www.gunsandammo.com/gear-accessories/gear-guide-choose-iwb-holsters-everyday-carry/ (accessed 2/9/18).


[4] “How to Choose the Best Holster for You: The Essential Guide to Holsters,” TalTac, https://www.taltacmfg.com/how-to-choose-the-best-holster-for-you-the-essential-guide-to-holsters/#chapter-2 (accessed 2/9/18).


[5] Matt Schlueter, “11 Things to Consider when Choosing a Concealed Carry Holster,” USA Carry (May, 2012), https://www.usacarry.com/11-things-consider-when-choosing-concealed-carry-holster/ (accessed 2/9/18).

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