Choosing the Right Holster

A firearms instructor, a range control officer and a SF soldier walk into a bar.

They argue about the best place to put a holster.

Nobody wins.

Sounds about right, doesn't it? There are plenty of holster placement options – but the exact placement you choose really depends on your needs. Here's how to figure out where to put your own holster.

Holster Basics

There are two basic types of holsters – paddle and pancake.

  • Paddle holsters feature a shell attached to a backing material. The shell is usually made of plastic or another stiff material.
  • Pancake holsters feature two pieces of material, such as leather, joined together like a sandwich.

Holsters are made in a variety of configurations that can be worn on the belt, over the shoulders or on the leg. Some holsters even fit into your pocket or purse, or attach to a load-bearing vest or plate carrier. 

If you're choosing a holster, you have three main concerns:

  1. Safety
  2. Functionality
  3. Access to your firearm

Beyond that, the kind of holster you choose should depend on your mission and personal preferences.

Belt Holsters

Belt holsters come in two varieties: outside the waistband (OWB) and inside the waistband (IWB). 

  • Outside the waistband. Belt holsters for the outside of your waistband affix to your belt. You can choose between left- or right-handed configurations, but you can switch the handedness of some holsters yourself. If you want to keep this type of holster concealed, you'll need a jacket or shirt that's long enough, which can make it harder to reach.
  • Inside the waistband. Belt holsters for inside your waistband also attach to your belt, but they're designed to keep your gun between your body and the inside of your pants. You don't need any special clothing to conceal your gun if you have this type of holster, but it might not be as comfortable as wearing your firearm outside your waistband.

Find out if IWB or OWB is right for you with more tips from 5.11.

Vest Holsters

holster pouch attaches to a tactical vest or plate carrier. Definitely not for concealed carry, vest holsters are usually MOLLE or 5.11® SlickStick compatible so you can set up your gear according to your unit's SOP or your personal preferences. 

The key to a vest holster is attaching it in a spot that you can access easily. Some people find it awkward to draw a firearm that's surrounded by other gear, like MOLLE mag pouches, or one that's placed on the chest. Tweak your holster placement and get plenty of practice drawing your firearm to reach pro status.

Shoulder Holsters

A shoulder holster wraps over your shoulders and around your back to evenly distribute weight. Your gun sits on the side of your body for a cross-draw. 

It's usually easy to conceal a shoulder holster with an open-front jacket or coat. This style of holster is not always popular at ranges – some even prohibit this style – so it can be tough to get enough practice drawing and firing with it.

Holster Shirts

Usually, holster shirts are designed with a shoulder saddle holster, and many feature padding to help conceal your gun. 

Drop-Leg Holsters

The main purpose of a drop-leg holster – also called a thigh holster – is to keep your firearm clear of other gear while still allowing you to draw and fire quickly. These types of holsters attach to your belt and wrap around your thigh so the butt of your gun is right beside where your hand falls naturally when you're standing.

Ankle Holsters

Ankle holsters are only practical in a limited number of situations – but they can be incredibly useful if you need to carry a backup gun. These holsters can be awkward to draw from, and they can get in your way when you walk, but they're incredibly easy to conceal under boot-cut pants.

If you're looking for a holster, the best way to approach your search is with a specific purpose in mind – the holster you buy for competition shooting is going to be a lot different from the holster you'd need for EDC. Browse all our holsters and slings online or stop into your local 5.11 for more help finding an option you'll be confident and comfortable drawing from.

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