There are tons of choices when it comes to concealed carry. You’ve got to consider the clothes you’re wearing, your carry position, and the ammo you want to use, not to mention the kind of gun you carry.
One of the most critical aspects of concealed carry is choosing the right holster. And while there are plenty of factors to consider when it comes to holster selection, one of the first things you have to decide is whether you want to carry inside the waistband (IWB) or outside the waistband (OWB).
But which is the best option for concealed carry? Ultimately, that depends on you. When it comes to OWB vs. IWB, inside the waistband holsters are the most popular choice for concealed carry as they provide deep concealment and can hide under most clothing. In contrast, outside the waistband holsters work better for larger guns and are often considered a more comfortable option.
There’s really no right or wrong answer when it comes to carrying inside or outside the waistband, only a right answer for you. So, what are the factors to consider when making a choice between the two? Read on to find out!
OWB vs. IWB: What’s the Difference?
As you’ve probably already deduced from the names, IWB holsters are carried inside the waistband of your pants, while OWB holsters are carried outside the waistband.
IWB holsters typically have a clip or loop that attaches to your belt, allowing the holster to sit comfortably on the inside of your pant waistband for easy concealment.
Many modern inside the waistband holsters are even designed to be “tuckable,” meaning you can tuck a shirt in over the pistol to conceal it. Because IWB holsters offer “deep concealment,” they usually work best with small- to medium-sized guns (we wouldn’t want to walk around with a Glock 41 wedged into our waistband, would you?).
OWB holsters also come equipped with clips or loops that attach to a belt, only the holster stays on the outside of your pants. This carry method is a comfortable choice since there are more layers between the gun and your skin, and it’s not being squeezed against your body. One downside is that in order to conceal your weapon, you must wear additional layers, like a jacket, to hide it.
Because OWB holsters are carried outside of your waistband, they do offer a bit more flexibility by allowing you to carry larger pistols comfortably.
Both IWB and OWB holsters are commonly used for concealed carry and work great depending on your lifestyle and preferences, though IWB is generally the most popular choice.
OWB vs. IWB: Types of Holsters
Before you can settle on either an inside the waistband or outside the waistband holster, you need to know what holster options are available under each category.
First, let’s talk about holster materials. When it comes to what holsters are made of, most IWB and OWB concealed carry holsters fall under four categories: leather, nylon, Kydex, and hybrid.
Leather and nylon holsters are often a comfortable choice, and they are also easy to conceal thanks to their pliable nature. These types of holsters typically come in various sizes, each of which can accommodate a variety of guns. This makes nylon and leather holsters a good choice if you’re looking to use the same holster for several pistols of a similar size. One downside to these materials is that they absorb sweat and other moisture, which can make leather, in particular, sticky and uncomfortable against the skin.
Kydex is a hard aircraft-grade plastic that, when used for holsters, is molded to fit a specific gun model. While you can’t use the same Kydex holster for multiple different firearm models, they fit the pistol they are made for like a glove and often come with adjustable ride height, cant, and retention, making them super customizable and easy to adjust.
Because Kydex holsters are custom made for your particular gun, you will hear an audible “click” when you holster your weapon so you never have to worry about your firearm slipping out of place. The hard plastic is also lightweight, sweat-proof, and scratch-resistant. IWB and OWB Kydex holsters are also built with a slim profile, making them excellent choices for concealed carry. Despite being made from plastic, Kydex holsters are designed to be incredibly comfortable.
And finally, for those who can’t decide, there’s always the hybrid option. Hybrid holsters are typically made with a Kydex shell and a leather or nylon backing that lays flat against your body (IWB) or waistband (OWB). Many people love these holster designs because you get the security and durability of Kydex and the comfort of a nice leather backing. Because they spread out over a larger area, they also help disperse the weight of your gun, which is part of the reason they’re so comfortable.
Now, on to the specifics.
Inside the Waistband:
Inside the waistband holsters are designed to sit on the inside of your pants with a clip or loop that hooks onto your belt. There are a couple of variations to this classic design, including tuckable and AIWB holsters.
Tuckable holsters are exactly what they sound like: a classic IWB holster designed to disappear under a tucked-in shirt. All of the IWB holsters we craft at Vedder Holsters have a tuckable design. You can check out our full selection of tuckable IWB holsters, including the LightTuck™, RapidTuck™, and ComfortTuck™, on our website.
Though you don’t need a special holster to carry appendix, or the 12 o’clock position, specially-designed appendix inside the waistband holsters, or AIWB holsters, are another IWB holster option. These holsters are similar to a regular IWB holster, except they typically have a different grip angle (think zero cant) and have a design that’s meant to comfortably sit at the front of your body.
Outside the Waistband:
Outside the waistband holsters are designed with either clips or loops that allow you to attach the holster to your belt from outside your waistband. There are a number of great OWB concealed carry holster designs, including pancake, paddle, and belt slide.
Pancake-style holsters are designed with two pieces of material that are sewn together to create a flat (one might even say pancake-like) pouch holster. Because of their flat design, pancake holsters are great for concealed carry.
If you’re looking for the best OWB holster for concealment, paddle holsters are a serious contestant. These holsters are affixed with a flat, wide paddle clip that goes on the inside of your waistband while the holster remains on the outside. These holsters are really convenient as they allow you to put your holster on and take it off without removing your belt. Our ProDraw™ paddle holster is a popular design for OWB carry.
Our final category is belt slide holsters. Belt slide holsters are essentially a “sleeve” of material that slides onto your belt through slits in the material. These holsters usually only cover a portion of your gun, leaving the muzzle exposed. They are a slim, low-profile design, though critics say these holsters don’t adequately protect a pistol’s front sight and allow the muzzle of the firearm to knock against things.
Here at Vedder Holsters, we offer a wide range of both IWB and OWB Kydex and hybrid holsters. To check out our entire selection, visit our Gun Holsters page.
OWB vs. IWB: Which is More Comfortable?
When it comes to concealed carry, comfort is key. Especially if you tend to carry for long periods of time.
When it comes to overall comfort, OWB holsters come out ahead. While it certainly depends on the person, body type, and carry position, outside the waistband is generally considered more comfortable as it sits on the outside of your pants and isn’t squished against your body.
“An OWB holster is vastly more comfortable than an IWB because the carry belt isn’t pulling the entire holster against lightly protected skin,” police firearms instructor Scott W. Wagner writes in a USCCA article.
But before you rush out and invest in an OWB holster, IWB also has its place in the comfortable concealed carry world.
IWB holsters can be used for appendix carry, which is one of the most comfortable concealed carry positions. They’re also more comfortable from a mental standpoint as you can rest easy knowing your gun is secure and well-hidden.
As far as the issue of having a firearm pressed between your pants and your body, the best IWB holsters are made more comfortable by using a holster that’s built for comfort. Our LightTuck™ Kydex IWB holster is one of our most popular designs because it’s designed to be comfortable and ultra-concealable.
And if you’re worried about your holster rubbing against your skin all day, a simple undershirt can solve that predicament.
So, there’s really no one right answer when it comes to which kind of holster is more comfortable. While OWB is generally considered the more comfortable of the two, IWB can also be quite comfortable depending on your carry position, holster, and clothing choices. The best way to find out which is more comfortable for you is to try them out for yourself!
OWB vs. IWB: Which is Better for Concealment?
One of the most important aspects when choosing a concealed carry holster is its concealability (duh). So which is easier to conceal, IWB or OWB?
Generally speaking, inside the waistband holsters are easier to conceal for one simple reason: they hide the majority of your pistol inside your pants. Half the work is already done!
“IWB holsters are superior to OWB holsters when it comes to concealment. With IWB, the holster holds basically all but the handgun grip below the beltline, concealed by the trousers or shorts. Having loose-fitting trousers and shirts aids in the concealability,” Wagner wrote.
That’s not to say that OWB is not concealable, however. While yes, with an OWB holster you have to worry about concealing the entire firearm instead of the little bit that sticks out of an IWB holster, it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds.
A gun carried outside the waistband can easily be concealed by a light jacket, cardigan, or even a loose-fitting flannel shirt. The key is to select an OWB concealed carry holster that keeps your weapon as close to your body and low-profile as possible.
“An OWB holster conceals less of a handgun than an IWB holster because the entire handgun is positioned outside the pants. This is why it’s important to select an OWB holster that pulls the carry gun as close as possible to your outer clothing and to carry it on a strong belt that doesn’t sag,” Wagner said.
To sum it up, both IWB and OWB holsters are concealable, though IWB is an easier and more versatile option for concealment, especially if you aren’t someone who wears a lot of jackets (hello Floridians!)
OWB vs. IWB: Which is Faster on the Draw?
Both IWB and OWB holsters work well for everyday carry, but when seconds count, which is easier to draw?
The simple answer is that an outside the waistband holster is easier to draw from, though the more complicated answer is that it all comes down to what you’re wearing and how much time you put into training.
Wagner writes that while IWB holsters are superior when it comes to concealment, they have some downsides when it comes to ease of draw.
“While this style [IWB] gives additional concealment to the handgun, it does slow access,” he wrote. “The shirt has to be pulled clear — and kept clear — of the pants before the handgun can be drawn.”
When it comes to drawing from an outside the waistband holster, however, there’s nothing getting in your way. UNLESS you’re wearing a coat or jacket to help conceal your firearm. In that case, you still have to move a garment out of the way in order to access your weapon.
So, while OWB is typically more accessible since it’s under fewer layers, wearing an IWB holster with a loose T-shirt will likely be easier to access than an OWB under a zipped-up coat.
And remember, neither option will be fast and effective if you don’t practice your draw. Someone who has to move three layers of clothing to access their IWB holster may still be faster than someone with an exposed OWB holster if they practice their draw more consistently.
OWB vs. IWB: Which is Safer?
As with everything firearms-related, safety should be one of your top considerations when choosing a concealed carry holster. So which is safer, IWB or OWB?
It all boils down to how much you train with your holster of choice. Both IWB and OWB can either be used safely, or can be potentially dangerous, depending on how comfortable you are with the method of carry. However, OWB may be slightly safer simply because it offers a bit more distance between the pistol and your body.
Firearms trainer Jeff Gonzales said in a Brownells video that he always recommends OWB holsters to beginners because the risk of injury is lower in case of a negligent or accidental discharge.
“If that [negligent discharge] were to happen with an off waistband, I have the firearm a little bit further away from my body than I would if it were inside the waistband,” he said. “When I place the firearm inside my waistband, the likelihood of it elevating from a minor to a major injury is very high. … I’m not saying that you can’t have an accidental discharge with an on the waistband vs. an in the waistband, but it typically starts off on a much safer platform.”
So, both IWB and OWB can be perfectly safe carry options, so long as you’re consistent with your training (which you should be doing anyway!).
“The practice is going to be very important,” Gonzales said.
OWB vs. IWB: Which is Easier to Dress for?
When it comes to how easy it is to dress to concealed IWB vs. OWB, it’s a tie (sorta). The kinds of clothes you typically wear, the climate where you live, and even what month it is all effect which is easiest to dress for.
In cooler weather, when you’re more likely to be wearing extra layers like flannels and jackets, OWB is typically considered the best concealed carry choice. The thicker clothing and multiple layers you will already be wearing make hiding an outside the waistband holster pretty easy. On the other hand, carrying IWB in cold weather can make drawing your weapon more difficult as you’ll have not only one but two or more layers to get out of the way before you can reach your pistol.
However, Firearms Trainer Neil Nemetz says that while yes, it is easier to conceal carry OWB under jackets in cooler weather, it’s important to note that if you’re going somewhere where you will be removing your coat, like a restaurant, it may defeat the purpose.
“In the wintertime, when you’re wearing heavier coats and jackets and things, you can easily conceal an outside the waistband,” he said in a Geauga Firearms Academy video. “Preferably, for me, always inside the waistband is best because you never know what’s going to happen, and that way, you don’t have to worry about taking off any jackets and stuff and trying to hide anything,”
Inside the waistband is also easier to dress for in warmer weather as these kinds of holsters can easily be concealed under lighter clothing like shorts and T-shirts.
But while IWB holsters can be concealed under many more kinds of clothing, you may have to make some adjustments to your wardrobe to ensure it is comfortable. Because you’re placing the holster and gun inside your waistband, you may need to buy some pants a size up from what you usually wear to fit your pistol comfortably.
Finally, many of the best IWB holsters are designed to be “tuckable,” meaning that you can wear them underneath a tucked-in shirt. So, if you have a job where you need to wear professional clothing, or you just like to wear your shirts tucked-in, IWB is probably for you.
Whether you choose IWB or OWB, you will need to invest in a quality gun belt. Unlike regular belts, gun belts are made to be stiffer and more durable, which prevents issues like belt sag. If you’re looking for something stylish for everyday wear, our Polymer Core Leather Gun Belt is a great option. If you prefer something more tactical, our Cobra® Quick Release Gun Belt and our V3 Gun Belt are both excellent choices.
When it comes down to it, both IWB and OWB concealed carry can be easy to dress for. Which one is easiest for you will depend on your lifestyle and climate and whether you’re willing to invest in the right clothes for your carry choice.
OWB vs. IWB: Which is Best with Physical Limitations?
Finding a comfortable concealed carry holster that checks all the boxes is hard enough as it is. When you have a physical limitation, it can be even more difficult. Depending on your specific physical needs, you may find that either OWB or IWB works better for you.
Which one is best for you will depend on your unique situation. For example, if you have a condition that affects your abdominal area, OWB is probably a better choice for you, as having a holster inside your waistband will likely put pressure on the rest of your abdomen.
On the other hand, if your hips give you trouble, you may want to opt for an IWB holster as you can more easily avoid carrying in the 3 or 9 o’clock positions.
So, yes, one of the two types of holsters may be better for someone with a physical limitation, but which carry position is better depends on the individual. And, at the end of the day, both IWB and OWB allow for many different carry positions, so there’s a good chance that regardless of your physical limitations, you could make either work.
Should I Use an OWB or an IWB Holster for Concealed Carry?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer as to whether OWB or IWB is better for concealed carry. It all comes down to your lifestyle and personal preference.
Factors like your job, the gun you carry, any physical limitations you may have, and even the climate you live in impact which type of holster will be most comfortable for you when it comes to OWB vs. IWB.
And if you’re still having trouble deciding, it can’t hurt to have one (or more) of each on hand for various situations. (Why not, right?)
Whether you choose to carry inside the waistband or outside the waistband, we recommend visiting our Holsters by Gun Model page if you are looking for holsters that are custom-made for your weapon of choice. For all of our belt and holster options and for more information to help you choose the carry system that works best for you, visit our Vedder Holsters website.
Looking for items beyond holsters and belts, check out our Resources Page for popular product links like lights, lasers, first aid, maintenance, and more.