Women & Shooting, Part 3: Holster Selection

IWB holster: Great concealment and comfort. Photo: author

IWB holster: Great concealment and comfort.
Photo: author

Have you ever thought that female holster options for concealed carry could be better? Maybe you’ve thought that the only holsters made for women are the ones that fit in a bra or purse. Could it be that those thoughts are stemming from the fact that you’ve not tried all, most, or even any of the other available options? I used to be that person: The one rolling my eyes saying, “I’m never buying a pair of pants another size larger just to carry my firearm,” or better yet, “I’ll never change my wardrobe to complement a holster.” The way I saw it, it was just easier for me to carry off-body in my purse, and I thought that was good enough. Boy, was I wrong, on all fronts.

Let’s face it. If concealed carry isn’t perceived to be comfortable, convenient or properly concealed (i.e., if it doesn’t fit into your life), are you going to take the time to investigate further? Probably not. But given a reason for it to become a meaningful form of self-protection and easily integrated into your daily activities and lifestyle, I guarantee you’ll find a way to make it work.

As I’ve been investigating the best forms of on-body carry for me, I’ve determined there are three areas that matter most when comparing for concealed carry: convenience, concealment and comfort.

Convenience

In this area, I’m sure women aren’t that much different than men. We want to be able to get to the firearm as quickly as possible and be able to safely deploy it. We want our carry options to be versatile and interchangeable, and we want options that allow carrying both on and off (purses, day planners, etc) the body.

Concealment

Trying to find a holster versatile enough to be concealed with any clothing option in my wardrobe — including jeans, skirts, yoga pants, bulky sweaters, contoured clothing and purses — is a huge task, and highly unlikely. Other items of consideration are what I’ll be doing while carrying, how I’ll be moving (sitting behind a desk, stretching, bending), or whether the gun will print through or “peek out” of my clothing while I’m carrying.

Comfort

The word pretty much speaks for itself, but when comparing the comfort of holsters, I didn’t want to feel any jabbing, scratching, pinching or poking. The brand being used could certainly make a difference in comfort, but the overall feel of the holster, whether moving or stationary, was the main consideration.

When making my decisions, I used a scale rating system: 1 being the least favorable (hated it) and 10 being the most favorable (loved it). There are many different manufacturers of each type of holster, so bear that in mind when you read my generalized statements on each type. And lastly, I tried all these holsters with my regular concealed carry gun, a Kahr Arms CW-9 (9mm, single stack). Oh, and I’m a size 12 in clothing (yeah, I just put that out there).

What Are the Options?

Belt holsters are more concealable than you might think. Photo: author

Belt holsters are more concealable than you might think. Photo: author

Belt Holster

Convenience: 9

Concealment: 7

Comfort: 9

As long as you’re wearing pants or jeans with belt loops, this is a great form of on-body carry. I tried two different types of belts — an ugly nylon belt that’s used for concealed carry and a black leather belt with studs and grommets with metal beading at the top and bottom. They both held the holster in place just fine. As a matter of fact, I hardly felt it on my hip. The key is to find a sturdy belt (thick leather, or some sort of reinforcement like the metal) that will hold the holster in place. And yes, you have to get over the fact that you need to go belt shopping. Measuring your waistline isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But don’t eliminate this type of carry just because you don’t think you can wear a belt. You can, and you should. This type of carry is also easy to conceal, especially in cold weather. I like to wear vests or open jackets, which lend well to concealment. A slightly over-sized sweatshirt in autumn comes in very handy as well. So give it a try. You’ll probably be surprised. (Belt myth debunked!)

IWB with jacket. Completely concealed. Photo: author

IWB with jacket. Completely concealed. Photo: author

IWB (Inside the Waist Band) Holster

Convenience: 8

Concealment: 9

Comfort: 7

This holster is a great option if you like to carry either on your hip or appendix carry (by your belly button). What I like most about this type is having the gun inside the waistband of my pants (hence the name), so the majority of it is already concealed. It’s much easier to keep the gun from being seen if you’re reaching or bending as long as you’re wearing a jacket, vest, sweater, or sweatshirt. There’s hardly any printing through clothing either, depending on how tight your garment is. And it’s very comfortable. I was afraid because of all the horror stories I’d read about having to buy a size larger pants to make the IWB holster fit correctly. It’s just not true. It didn’t pinch my midsection or make my waistband too tight. (Larger pant size myth debunked!)

Belly band is great with almost any clothing option, and very comfortable. Photo: author

Belly band is great with almost any clothing option, and very comfortable. Photo: author

Belly Band Holster

Convenience: 9

Concealment: 9

Comfort: 9

This holster may be the most versatile of the ones I tested. I could wear it with virtually any clothing, and found it especially useful with non-belted and stretchy clothing. Skirts, yoga pants, dresses, you name it. Positioning the belly band was also easy. I could carry on my hip or appendix carry. It really only printed with a snug shirt, but when I added a vest to the outfit, it became invisible. And the belly band is very comfortable. One brand I tried had a couple of stitching issues at the top that caused a small scratch in my skin, but another one had no problems at all. If you are shy about putting something around your middle, like a belly band (or a belt), it’s really not at all what you think. There are many different sizes of belly bands, and the comfort far outweighs the uneasy feeling of measuring your waistline (and you only have to do that once).

For some, ankle holsters provide a solid option in certain carry situations. Photo: author

For some, ankle holsters provide a solid option in certain carry situations. Photo: author

Ankle Holster

Convenience: 8

Concealment: 8

Comfort: 8

I have a daytime desk job. The front door of the office is right in front of my desk. My desk is an oversized hardwood monstrosity with a solid front. I usually wear straight-leg pants as opposed to tapered- or skinny-leg pants. This scenario makes an ankle holster very convenient for me. I can sit at my desk, reach down, lift my pant leg, and retrieve my gun from the holster in an efficient manner. An ankle holster may not, however, be the perfect option for someone who stands or moves a lot at work. If that were the case for me, I might stick with the waistline options. So the ankle holster has more limited usage, but it fits my situation at least 80% of the time. And the comfort level is pretty good too. The inside of the holster (the part that touches my leg) has a sheep’s wool lining that helps make it comfortable. I suppose this one depends on your circumstances, but I give it high marks.

Gun is not easily deployed from purse carry. Photo: author

Gun is not easily deployed from purse carry. Photo: author

Purse

Convenience: 6

Concealment: 8

Comfort: N/A

Here we are at the concealed carry option that was my crutch for so long. I used to think this was the best option for me, but no longer. I still like the option of off-body carry, but now there’s a more limited number of times when it’s the best option. Convenient? Sure, but not in the deployment department. Fumbling with zippers while holding the strap in my other hand is not as easy as it once seemed to be. And the fact that I put my purse down at work while I’m moving around the office or heading to another area of the building means it’s not always with me. Of course it’s easily concealed — it’s in a purse. But carrying it cross-body in the same direction all the time with the strap digging into my shoulder is not my definition of comfort. But I will invest in the highest quality I can afford for my next off-body carry purchase for the times I find it appropriate. Some great choices are available.

Bra

Convenience: 2

Concealment: 7

Comfort: 1

If you’re waiting for me to sing the praises of these little gems, keep waiting. Sticking a holstered firearm in your bra (no matter where it’s located) is just about as comfortable as strapping a brick to the side of your head. It just doesn’t go there! Body composition or torso length come into play with this option, because I know of many women who really like their bra holster (or maybe it’s just that they haven’t tried any other options yet). I also didn’t like the idea of having to yank the gun downward to then bring it up into my line of sight. It concealed well, but at the price of my comfort — I actually had red imprinted marks in my skin from the holster. Total thumbs down on this one.

Explore the Options

I used to be the type of person who thought, “If I can’t carry it the same way all the time, forget it. I don’t have time to work with multiple options.” But the more I researched, the more I realized it’s not difficult to get a couple of solid carry options. Start with one or two as a good base, and then if you want to explore more options, have at it. Today, the best holster for me overall is the belly band because of its versatility in carry position and working with multiple clothing options. But I’m also going to use the belt and IWB holsters more often, because I’ve seen for myself that they are very comfortable and more concealable than I’d initially thought.

Belt holster with jacket. Completely concealed. Photo: author

Belt holster with jacket. Completely concealed. Photo: author

The ankle holster was the biggest surprise to me, since I didn’t realize how a work environment can change the usefulness of a particular holster. I probably carry that way twice a week now. And I will always have a good off-body carry option, even though my days of carrying that way on a consistent basis are o-v-e-r. Too many other choices are much better. Overcoming my inhibitions of being in a new territory of personal defense and understanding the subjectivity of concealed carry were two major eye openers that allowed me to explore my options freely.

Conclusions

I now know why so many different types of holsters are on the market. It’s because people are different — our body types, deployment methods, daily routines, choice to modify our wardrobe for carry or not, and choice of whether to carry on or off body.

There’s also a fourth “C” to consider: cost. Are you willing to invest a decent sum of money (and time researching) to have multiple carry options, or are you looking for the one size fits most scenarios? If that were the case for me, I’d still be back to the belly band.

Don’t forget to ask about the return policy on your holster purchase. If you take it home or it ships to you and it’s not what you want, make sure you can return it and get what you really want. Remember the three “Cs” and you’ll be on the way to finding the right holster for you.

Also in this series:

Women & Shooting, Part 1: Getting to the Range

Women & Shooting, Part 2: First Range Experience

Discussion
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3 Responses to “Women & Shooting, Part 3: Holster Selection”
  1. Ruth Burford

    Great article. Anything that helps women defend themselves or others is valuable information. Thanks to all of you that made this possible.

    Reply
  2. Glenn White

    I’m always amazed at articles about concealment options for women. The articles only include what is currently on the market and, with the exception of purses, is no different than how men carry. Writers need to do reasearch and see what else women have developed to carry concealed. My wife carried daily in an office setting and always wore a dress/skirt to work. Having attempted to use a thigh holster she found it to be uncomfortable and unreliable. Consequently, she and I developed an alternative which is comfortable and reliable. Without going into detail, we created a holster using wide, heavy
    duty elastic and attached it to compression shorts. The holster rests on her thigh (like a normal thigh holster), was comfortable, and did not print. Not only does it hold her weapon but slots were also included to hold spare mags, light, and her knife. She made several of these using both black and white compression shorts. They wash well and hold up nicely with wear. Obviously, she could not carry a full size weapon in this setup, but routinely carried her Glock 42 or LCP 380. This was her back-up rig to accompany her 9mm weapon in her purse. But this thigh rig was with her in they office when she was not carrying her purse. On the rare occasions when she wore straight skirts or slacks, she carried in a belly band instead of her thigh holster. She took many self defense classes drawing from under her skirt from this thigh holster, from her purse, and from a belly band and is incredibly proficient (quick and accurate) with these concealment options. She seldom took classes with a strong side holster because that is not how she carries. In summary, it would be helpful if articles and videos about women shooters included some alternative concealment options that a woman can use in real life situations. Everyone knows about IWB, ankle, and purse concealment. Writers need to do some research to find out what else is out there.

    Reply