IWB or OWB: That Is the Question

My apologies to William Shakespeare, but the real question is, “How should you carry?” While there is plenty of discussion on inside-the-waistband (IWB) versus outside-the-waistband (OWB) carry, the details, advantages and disadvantages of each are often overlooked. Which handguns work best in OWB? IWB? Which holster styles work best with which body types?

IWB (Inside-the-Waistband)

IWB holsters are probably the most popular concealment holster design for carrying a handgun along the beltline. A wide variety of designs exist today to accommodate an equally wide variety of users and handguns.

The very first IWB holster I ever used was issued to me in 1982 by the Ohio Department of Liquor Control. It was a flimsy nylon affair, obtained by the lowest bidder, and was designed for my department’s Ruger Security Six .38 revolvers. It offered absolutely no buffer between the Ruger’s sharp edges and my skin. I was carrying a $150 (in those days) revolver in a $1 holster. It was a terrible choice. When I left liquor control for drug enforcement, I carried a Star PD .45. The Star PD resided in a much more comfortable, higher-quality Bianchi suede IWB holster. I was much happier with the increased comfort of the suede (and the lighter weight of the Star PD). Lesson here: Don’t buy a junk holster!

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.

Black Kinetic Concealment IWB holster holding a Walther PPS M2

This Kinetic Concealment IWB holster holds a Walther PPS M2.

Deep Concealment

An IWB holster is held in place by one or two spring metal clips that work best when locked over a thick, 1.5-inch trouser belt. Many modern designs are “tuckable,” so the shirt can be tucked over the top of the handgun grip and down into the waistband. The only part of the holster and gun visible are the spring clips that are locked over the belt. These can be a dead giveaway to the sharp-eyed observer (unless a cellphone or other object can be strategically placed to obscure at least one of the clips). While this style gives additional concealment to the handgun, it does slow access. The shirt has to be pulled clear — and kept clear — of the pants before the handgun can be drawn.

IWB holsters work best with small- to medium-sized handguns. Using them with full-sized handguns can make you miserable in short order. Many years ago, I carried a Smith & Wesson 6909 double-column full-sized 9mm in an IWB holster for only one night. The gun was positioned past my right hip bone. I was never so miserable carrying my handgun in all my life and rushed to take it off when I got home. I never carried it again.

While I will test an IWB holster for review purposes, I don’t carry one. At age 61, it just isn’t as comfortable as it once was — even with a small handgun. I think that IWB holsters work best for younger carriers.

OWB (Outside-the-Waistband)

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.

Black Beretta 92 in OWB holster from CrossBreed

A Beretta 92 resides in this OWB holster from CrossBreed.

Because an OWB holster doesn’t place the gun inside the trousers — and in close contact with the skin — a much larger handgun can be carried more comfortably, although more care will be needed in selecting a covering garment. An OWB holster is vastly more comfortable than an IWB because the carry belt isn’t pulling the entire holster against lightly protected skin. While some manufacturers add extra padding, most IWBs are not as comfortable for all-day carry as OWB holsters (in my opinion). OWB is the only type of carry to be considered when packing a handgun on the trail or for extended “walkaround” carry, such as at the USCCA Concealed Carry Expo.

The Choice

You have two choices: deep concealment with moderate comfort or moderate concealment with great comfort. It all depends on your individual needs. My suggestion is that you purchase both types for your carry handgun(s). By doing this, you keep all your options open. Whichever option you choose for everyday carry, be sure to practice your draw.

Sources:

Kinetic Concealment: KineticConcealment.com CrossBreed Holsters: CrossBreed.com

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