IWB Holsters: Five Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Bought My First

Test a Handgun Holster Before You Buy
The grip panel of this Crimson Trace Laser grip has a skateboard-tape texture, which can be uncomfortable in some holsters unless you’re wearing an undershirt.

I own more inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters than I care to count. I have a significant collection of them not because I use them regularly, but because I’ve bought, worn, and eventually stopped using most of them. If I only knew then what I know now.

In hopes of saving you some money, I’ve gone through my boxes of unloved holsters so that I could remember what it was I could have done differently in each case. I’m not going to criticize styles or brands that didn’t work for me, because each of us is shaped differently. We carry different guns. We dress differently. Our daily activities differ.

What I will do is point out the top five things I wish I knew when I was spreading my credit-card love to all the holster companies. You can decide if they are relevant to your particular combination of body shape, gun, and holster.

1. Love handles are sensitive

Most IWB holsters leave the grip of the handgun exposed to facilitate an easy draw. Many defensive guns have aggressive grip textures so you can hold on to the gun during recoil, even with sweaty hands. Unless you always wear some type of undershirt, your gun grip can, and most likely will rub against your abdominal protrusions all day long. Ouch!

If you can, try a holster for a few minutes before you buy. Your shape, holster, and gun choice may amplify or reduce this potential gotcha.

2. Vanity isn’t practical

Even if no one will be seeing me, I feel better wearing pants with the smallest waist size I can squeeze into. No one likes to admit they’re growing sideways as the years pass. Even if you carry a super flat gun like the Ruger LCP inside the waistband, you need to account for that space. It’s not just the gun, but the holster pouch, backing, and magazines that occupy space between your pants and body.

Buying larger pants than you need is a tough nut to swallow because when you’re not carrying, they look huge. Also, when you buy a larger waist size, other areas of the pants are larger too, and that adversely impacts the odds of you being on a fashion-magazine cover.

While you can “suck it in” to fit a gun and holster into your regular pants, it’s not worth it. Trust me, I know. After a couple of hours, you’ll be begging for relief.

3. Belts still matter

I see new holsters come and go that are supposed to be able to clip to your pants with or without a belt. I call bull hockey on that one. The reason is simple: weight. Your gun may feel light, but after adding ammo and then moving around, what seemed “light” becomes a weight bouncing up and down. Your gun and holster will submit to gravity and it will sag, and you'll be constantly adjusting your pants.

Test a Handgun Holster Before You Buy
Even an IWB holster requires a proper gun belt, such as this Galco SB3. It prevents your pants from sagging under the weight of the gun.

A proper gun belt is critical for outside-the-waistband holster use, but I think a one is equally important for IWB carry. Even though the pressure from your pants is helping support the weight of the gun, the rigidity of a real gun belt prevents the belt, and your gun, from slipping down as you move. One of the main purposes of a good holster is to keep the handgun in a stable and consistent position so you can access it quickly and easily. A proper belt will help you achieve this.

4. Safeties are not always safe

If you carry a Model 1911 pistol or another handgun with a safety lever, test it out in your prospective holster to see where the pressure points, if any, are between the safety and the holster itself. Now rock the gun in the holster to see how the surfaces of the gun and holster interact. Some holsters don’t cover the safety. That’s fine, and probably minimizes risk of movement deactivating the safety lever. Others may be shaped in such a way that any pressure further engages that safety. That’s fine too. Just be aware that some combinations don’t play well together.

Test a Handgun Holster Before You Buy
The author cut a hole in this hybrid holster for a Beretta PX4, because the pressure of the leather back panel was engaging the magazine release.

I carried a Model 1911 using a certain IWB holster and learned about this one the hard way. I found out that the combination of my body shape, that particular gun, and the holster moved in such as way as to flip the safety off. That's not good.

5. Magazines work better when they’re attached

While you’re test fitting your gun in a prospective holster, see how the magazine release interacts with surfaces on the holster. You might just be surprised.

If you’re right-handed and carry a modern semiautomatic pistol, there is almost certainly a magazine-release button on the left side of your handgun frame. That’s the side that is pressed against your holster material and body by the pressure of your pants and belt. Lefties might encounter the same situation if the gun has ambidextrous controls.

I carried a Beretta PX4 using a hybrid-style IWB holster and found it was pressing against the magazine-release button. I would be out and about and find my magazine was not secured and only remained in the gun by gravity. That was scary! Not only did I risk losing the magazine altogether, but an unseated magazine also turns your gun into a single-shot model at best, and a zero-shot model at worst. To solve that problem, I ended up cutting a hole in the leather backing of the holster to allow clearance for the PX4’s magazine release.

Test a Handgun Holster Before You Buy
Be aware of any interaction between your holster and your gun’s safety lever. This Galco KingTuk happens to be cut so that the edge of the leather pushes up on the safety, keeping it engaged.

If you can, visit your gun store while wearing a tucked-in t-shirt and ask if you can try your preferred holster with your (unloaded) gun. Move around a bit, rock the gun in the holster, and try some draws to make sure there is no interference with your your operation of the gun. Even with a t-shirt on, you’ll get a feel for the overall comfort of the combination.