An integral aspect of firearm ownership, especially if you plan on carrying your gun on a regular basis, is buying the right holster. Holsters come in various shapes and sizes, and can be worn on many parts of the body. However, they all provide basic protection for your firearm—guns carried in contact with your skin or loose in a purse are prone to damage. If you are new to guns, the prospect of buying the right holster may seem daunting. In order to make things clearer for you, today we will discuss a single type—the one most recommended for beginners—the over-the-waistband (OWB) holster.
What are OWB holsters?
Over-the-waistband holsters are worn on your waist or hip and attach onto your belt—always make sure to have a sturdy gun belt when using this type of holster. Unlike their inside-the-waistband holster cousins, OWB holsters sit outside of your pants. Think the holster that John Wayne draws from in every Western film.
What are the Advantages of OWB holsters?
OWB holsters provide a lot of advantages for the gun owner—especially beginners. They are almost universally recognized as being the easiest type of holster to draw from properly. When you draw from a holster, you need to make sure your hand is in the exact position needed to shoot correctly. Moving your hand in any way can severely limit your shooting accuracy. OWB holsters provide easy access to your firearm for your strong hand, without necessitating reaching inside your clothing to retrieve the weapon.
Also, because OWB holsters sit outside your waistband, very little clothing adjustments are necessary. As will be discussed in another article, IWB—or inside-the-waistband—holsters require that you wear pants a size or two larger than normal. OWB holsters do not cause this problem, as they don’t stretch the waistband.
However, make sure you always use a dedicated gun belt with OWB holsters. Non-dedicated gun belts can provide problems in drawing and can cause the gun to drag your pants down. Nobody wants that to happen. So, spend a little extra and protect your gun and holster by buying a strong enough belt to handle the extra weight of the firearm—sturdy leather should work fine.
Conceal or open carry?
OWB holsters do not provide a lot of options for concealed carrying. In fact, many gun owners vehemently debate whether or not you can conceal carry with OWB holsters. Technically you can conceal your firearm with an OWB holster, but only in the right conditions. You need to consider a few factors, including the length of your gun—smaller pistols conceal the best—and the type of clothing you wear on a daily basis.
Open carrying is not a problem with OWB holsters.
How to avoid printing with OWB conceal carry
Printing—when the outline of your gun is visible through your clothes—is a problem for anyone trying to conceal carry with OWB holsters. Because the gun sits outside your waistband, you will need to wear either a long loose shirt or jacket when concealing this type of holster.
Buyer’s Guide for OWB holsters
OWB holsters are some of the most popular—and traditional—holster types on the market, which means there will be a large variety of them to sort through as you shop for your own. Confused about what to look for? Read on for a complete A-Z buyer’s guide.
Number of gun it fits
The first, and arguably most important, question you have to consider when buying a OWB holster is the variety of gun it fits. Some holsters only hold certain makes of gun, like Smith and Weston, 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 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 come in two main shapes. The first, pancake, is the oldest, and is how those holsters you see in Westerns are made. 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).
Leather holsters are the most traditional, and for some, the most aesthetically pleasing. These types of holsters will mold to your body over time, but also are more susceptible to damage from elements like humidity and wetness.
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.
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 leather damage from the elements.
For a greater look at the pros and cons of the four holster materials visit here.
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 with you and your gun’s needs.
Side of waist
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. The most common look for a holster is an understated black or leather. However, some companies make holsters that include various colors and types of embroidery. Make sure to choose one that will allow you to express your personal style.
Different holsters will offer different feature 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. 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.
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.
Belt Slide vs. Paddle
Do you want to thread your belt through your holster, or clip it onto the inside of your belt or waistband? This is an important question, and can affect your comfort level. If you prefer the first option, you need to buy a belt slide holster. If you prefer the second option, then you are looking for a paddle holster.
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.
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.
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.
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 an office worker.
The climate that you live in and your daily wardrobe all play a role in the type of OWB holster that will work best for you. If you want to conceal carry and enjoy wearing loose and baggy clothes—especially shirts— or wear outer layers of clothing most of the year, then an OWB holster may be right for you. However, if you wear tight cloths, or your climate doesn’t require many outer layers—such as those living in California or Florida—than conceal carrying with a OWB holster may be quite difficult.
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. 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 occur in either of these two scenarios.
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.
At the end of the day, buying a holster is a very personal experience. What works for one gun owner may be terrible for another. It may take a couple of holsters before you find one that will work the best for you. Some gun owners even have a variety of holsters to use on different occasions. The best advice we can give is to keep trying as many holsters as you can until you find the one that will fit your wants and needs.
 Colton Crook, “OWB Holsters for Concealed Carry: What You Need to Know,” Alamo Tactical (March 2017), https://alamotactical.com/owb-holsters-concealed-carry-need-know/ (accessed 2/9/18).
 Kitty, “Which Holster is Right for You?” Gadsden Guns, http://www.gadsdengunsblog.com/which-holster-is-right-for-you/ (accessed 2/9/18).
 “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).
 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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