For concealed carry permit holders there are quite a few options for how we want to carry our guns. Holsters are not all the same and there are good holsters and there are bad holsters. For many "new" permit holders the choice is not easy. Where do I want to carry my gun? What type of holster do I want? What material should my holster be made of? Should my holster have a retaining device?" These are all important questions, but answers mostly come by way of exspensive personal trial and error.
I wanted to run through some of the major types of holsters and carrying methods. From a shoulder holster to the ankle holster, the coices and practicalities differ on a massive scale.
The shoulder holster was made popular in detective movies like Clint Eastwoods "Dirty Harry" films. For me, it is not a practical way of carrying due to it being more of a winter only style of carring. You must have the gun and rig concealed so you'll have to wear a jacket over it. There are a few manufactures that make high quality leather shoulder holster rigs that I myself wouldn't mind using, but in the summer there's no way I could conceal them. If this is your choice for carrying, please avoid the cheaper nylon types. They are more affordable, but when it comes to holsters, you do get what you pay for.
This is a high quality shoulder holster that can be worn with confidence.
Nylon shoulder holsters come in quality versions such as this one with the tactical belt, but the belt itself would not be necessary for casual concealed carry and would most likely be uncomfortable for all day use. Avoid the cheaper units as they are made with inferior materials and won't hold up to extended use and are more often than not uncomfortable to wear.
There is a newer take on the shoulder holster concept that does not use the "criss-cross" straps or the holster itself. A few companies have come up with an elastic or cloth band that uses velco to fasten it and the "over the shloulder" straps. The gun is placed inside of a snug pouch for retention and concealment. I have never tried this type of carry option but it does seem that it would be just a tad uncomfortable. It also has some of the "cons" that a shoulder holster has. This set-up goes over your undershirt, but must be concealed by another shirt. At least this option seems to be more "summer" friendly.
My preferred method for carrying a concealed handgun is to have it on a belt directly attached to my hip in a leather holster with a thumb-break retainer. In my opinion a molded leather , high riding holster that is full length and forward tilting can't be beat for concealed carry. The only disadvantage this method has is that you must always wear a shirt or garment that covers it. No tucked shirts with this style unless you wear an overshirt or jacket as well. It's not bad for me because I'd rather wear a T-shirt all year long.
A belt attached holster that hugs your hip closely is very comfortable and easy to reach and draw from. I do recommend one that has a retaining system of some sort. Drop in holsters that retain your gun by compression or friction are not as safe as a locking type. If you were to fall, what's going to keep the gun from skidding across the floor possibly into the bad guys hands... or worse yet, a child's. The last thing we need is for our firearm to work themselves out of an open holster and hit the ground. I don't know about you, but I am in no mood to ever want to test a gun's safety features in that manner.
I do like the holsters from Bianchi, Galco and Safariland. They are three of my favorite leather holster makers. Top notch products the whole way around. Yes there are cheaper brands such as Tagua, but the leather inside is not as soft and I find that your guns finish can suffer if the cheaper holster is selected. I find them thinner and less protective from outside bumps and scrapes.
Plastic hosters such as the tactical ones offered by Blackhawk or Fobus are definately nice and they work flawlessly, but they are not what I consider "concealed carry" worthy. They are either belt or paddle style and they have great locking systems that retain the gun well. It's just that they are hard on your guns finish and they do stick out a lot more than a hip hugging leather holster. For tactical use they cannot be beat though. For shooting competition use, I'd go with this type of holster at all times. They are placed on the side of the hip and can be covered by your shirt, but as I said they do tend to be a bit more "outbound".
The plastic holster come in many different types. From locking to compression fit, there is a wide variety. My main complaint about them as far as concealed carry goes is there low comfort level. When you are driving or sitting, they can be pressed into you by upholstery. Leather tends to bend and give while having a padded effect. Plastic holsters just don't do that.
The next waistband family of holsters is the "in the waistband" type. A lot of people prefer the in-the-pants concealed carry method. It does offer a very low imprint for the gun you are wearing. Some clip over your waistband while some do attach to your belt. I have tried an in the pants holster and was just not comfortable with it due to the gun poking against my hip in that one spot. Also, there is not much in the safety department as far as weapon retention goes. Most of them rely on your belt or waistband to appy pressure to hold the handgun in place.
I do like to use this type of holster in the small of my back, but I do prefer to use this method with a sub-compact. I carried a Glock 21 this way for awhile and it was not the optimal choice at times. But with a smaller gun an inside-the-pants holster in the small of the back is not a bad choice.
Also, I do think if I were to carry again this way, I'd have to go with a leather holster that had belt loops on it so that I could feel better about it being secure.
One of the most unique in-the-pants type holsters I ever wore was by Thunderwear. It attaches by an elastic belt with velcro that goes around your waist with a padded pouch in the front. The holster I personally tried out had the double pouch and was made of a soft denim. I put a double stacked .45acp in it and walked around comfortably with the gun below my waistline. Now it did bother me to know I had a loaded gun near my unmentionables, but it was so very comfortable and you could not tell I was wearing a gun. Everything was fine until I tried to sit down. Due to the guns length, it did not take well to me bending to sit and it wedged up on me. A little bit of adjusting allowed me to sit, but it was not what I would call comfy. I tried a smaller gun and the sitting thing worked out a lot better than the first time around. I thought with me being slightly portly, I'd have trouble getting to the gun, but I was wrong. My hand slipped within my pants and retrieved the gun with ease. Putting the gun back howver proved to be a tad more difficult.
There is another class of holster made for concealment that lends itself more towards smaller guns and that is the "pocket" holsters. The idea behind the pocket holster is to allow you to carry a small (pocket) gun in your pocket more safely. The pocket holster is supposed to let you draw your gun and the holster stays behind. Usually there is a flap made to catch your pocket or the holster itself will have a back on it with an oblong shape to help catch itself in the pocket while letting you draw the gun only. Some are known as split holsters and mostly they are made of leather, while some are nylon and have padded or rubberized backs with elastic pouch sleeves.
At the lower ends of our body, we have the age old ankle holster. Ankle holsters are very popular with those who want to conceal a back-up gun for concealed carry purposes. The better ankle holsters usually have a calf band that helps to keep the holster and gun from sliding down or move around.
The premium ankle holsters such as those by Galco will be made of leather. If I were to use an ankle holster, it would be of a premium manufacturer. The cheaper models are sometimes just and elastic band that wraps around your ankle with velcro. The gun is usually held in place by just a stretch pouch.