IWB vs OWB Holster – Which Is Best?

There are a bunch of different holster types out there. Shoulder holsters, ankle holster, belly holsters….you get the idea. But the two most commonly used holster types are inside-the-waistband (IWB) and outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters. But what is the difference between the two? What are the pros and cons of each one? Which one is better?

In this article I will describe each holster type, explain the pros and cons of each one, describe your carry options with each, and I will recommend when to use which holster type.

Which Holster Type Would I Choose?

If I had to carry concealed, I would 100% go for a IWB holster. However, if concealed carry is not required and I need to carry comfortably for a prolonged period with quick access to my firearm, then the choice is easy – OWB holster all the way

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Key Considerations When Choosing – IWB vs OWB Holsters

Choosing between the two holster types boils down to these key considerations:

  • How important is concealed carry
  • How important is comfort during prolonged carry
  • Do you need to be able to draw and reholster your firearm quickly and easily
  • What firearm type are you carrying – a large firearm or a smaller concealable firearm

Understanding IWB Holsters

An inside the waistband holster is, as the name suggests, designed to be worn inside the waistband of your pants, allowing for better concealment of your firearm. This aspect makes them a popular choice for those who prioritize discretion in their concealed carry setup. However, an inside the waistband holster may require larger pants to accommodate the holster and may not be as comfortable as their OWB counterparts.

Concealment

IWB (Inside the Waistband) holsters are designed to sit between your body and your pants’ waistband, making the gun less visible to others. The main benefit of this design is the increased level of concealment compared to OWB holsters. It is suitable for those who want to carry a firearm discreetly for personal protection without drawing unnecessary attention.

Stability

The design of IWB holsters provides stability when carrying a gun, as the holster is held close to the body. Many inside the waistband holster options come with adjustable clips or loops that attach securely to the belt for added stability.

If you go for a leather or Nylon IWB holster (i.e. a IWB holster made from soft materials) just be aware that when you carry such a holster inside the waistband, the holster will collapse in when you draw your firearm. This might result in you having some difficulty reholstering your weapon.

Comfort

The comfort level for IWB holsters will depend on various factors, such as the materials used and the individual wearer’s preferences. IWB holsters are made from a variety of materials like leather and Kydex. Leather tends to offer more comfort due to its flexibility and ability to mold to the body over time.

However, Kydex holsters are more rigid and can offer better retention for the firearm. It is essential to find a comfortable IWB holster, as it will be worn close to the body for extended periods.

Personally, I would avoid IWB holsters made from material that might irritate my skin when carrying the holster inside-the-waistband. Thus Kydex holster or holster made from Nylon would not be my top choice for IWB holsters. I would rather consider a leather holster as the leather is less likely to chafe my skin if worn for extended periods of time.

Carry Options

If you want to carry IWB, then IWB holsters provide several carry options, including appendix carry, strong side carry, and small of the back carry.

Each person may have a preference for the carry position based on factors such as body shape, clothing, and firearm size.

It is essential to experiment with different carry positions and find the most comfortable and efficient option for your personal needs.

Understanding OWB Holsters

OWB holsters, or Outside the Waistband holsters, are designed to carry a gun on the exterior of a person’s pants or waistband. They offer a variety of advantages and are a popular choice for open carry and concealed carry.

Concealment

Despite being outside the waistband, OWB holsters can still provide a level of concealment. Depending on the design and placement, they can be hidden beneath jackets or loose clothing. While not as easily concealed as IWB holsters, OWB options can still offer a level of discretion when properly worn.

Stability

The stability of OWB holsters is generally better than IWB options, as they are affixed to the exterior of the pants or belt. This allows for a more secure hold on the firearm and reduces potential movement while walking or running. The stable positioning of the gun also allows for a faster and more consistent draw.

OWB Comfort

OWB holsters are often considered more comfortable than their IWB counterparts, as they do not press the gun directly against the body. This can reduce potential discomfort or irritation caused by prolonged contact with the firearm’s grip or slide. Additionally, OWB holsters distribute the weight of the gun more evenly along the belt, which can make it more comfortable when carrying for extended periods.

Carry Options

There is a wide variety of OWB holsters available in different materials, such as leather and Kydex, as well as various designs to suit your individual preferences.

Some options include paddle holsters, which secure the gun using a paddle tucked into the pants, and belt slide holsters, which attach directly to the belt. The range of options allows users to find the most suitable OWB holster for their specific needs and preferences.

Gun Variety – Which Guns Fit Which Holster Option

When considering IWB (inside-the-waistband) and OWB (outside-the-waistband) holsters, one crucial factor is the type of gun you own or plan to carry. The suitability of IWB or OWB holsters may vary depending on the size and style of your handgun.

Pistols come in various sizes and categories, including compact, subcompact, and full-size models. Compact and subcompact handguns are generally easier to conceal and may be more comfortable to carry with an IWB holster. For instance, smaller handguns like the Glock 26 or Sig P365 are popular choices for concealed carry and can be comfortably worn inside the waistband.

On the other hand, full-size pistols, such as the Glock 17 or Sig P320, may be more challenging to conceal with an IWB holster, particularly if you have a smaller frame or plan to wear more form-fitting clothing. In these situations, an OWB holster might be a better option, offering a more secure fit and easier access to your firearm. However, you should keep in mind that OWB carry may not provide the same level of concealment as IWB holsters.

It’s also important to consider the handgun’s features, such as safety mechanisms, sights, and grip texture. Some firearms may be better suited for OWB carry due to their design, while others might be more compatible with IWB holsters.

Ultimately, the choice between IWB and OWB holsters depends on several factors, including the specific handgun you plan to carry and your personal preferences for comfort, accessibility, and concealment. Remember to practice drawing and holstering your chosen firearm with both holster types to ensure they meet your needs for safety and efficiency.

Which Holster Offers Faster Draw and Fire

One of the crucial factors in choosing between IWB and OWB holsters is the speed at which you can draw your firearm and engage your target. In general, OWB holsters offer a quicker draw speed than IWB holsters. The reason behind this is their position on the waistband, which provides easier access and less obstruction during the draw process.

When using an OWB holster, the gun sits outside your waistband and typically has a larger opening for your hand to grip the firearm. This allows for a more natural and ergonomic grip, which in turn leads to a smoother and more consistent draw motion. Additionally, the placement of an OWB holster offers less interference from clothing and other gear, further facilitating the draw process.

On the other hand, IWB holsters have the advantage of better concealment, but this aspect sometimes comes at the cost of draw speed. The gun sits inside the waistband, which might cause the pistol grip to be partially obscured or harder to access compared to an OWB holster. Moreover, clothing, belts, and other gears may interfere with the draw motion, leading to a slower and less consistent draw.

However, it is important to note that factors such as your holster selection, the way you dress, and your training can significantly impact your draw speed, regardless of whether you choose IWB or OWB. Training and practice at the range will improve your draw speed and target engagement, regardless of the holster type you decide to use.

Important – Performance and Safety

When choosing between Inside-the-waistband (IWB) and Outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters, performance and safety are essential factors to consider. Both types of holsters have unique advantages and disadvantages that affect speed, safety considerations, and liability.

Speed: Drawing the firearm from an IWB holster usually takes more time and practice compared to an OWB holster. As OWB holsters are worn on the outside of the waistband, there is greater accessibility, which leads to faster draw times. However, with proper training and practice, one can acquire sufficient proficiency with IWB holsters.

Safety Considerations: The primary safety concern in both holsters is the risk of accidental discharge. It is crucial to ensure that the holster fully covers the firearm’s trigger guard area to minimize this risk. IWB holsters may create a higher risk of unintentional discharge when re-holstering the weapon, due to the close proximity to the body. On the other hand, OWB holsters offer an external view of the gun during re-holstering, reducing the risk of accidental discharge.

Accidental Discharge: It is essential to choose a holster with proper retention mechanisms to avoid accidental discharge. Poorly designed holsters or those that do not provide a secure fit can result in the gun falling out or becoming dislodged, leading to dangerous situations. High-quality IWB and OWB holsters are designed to offer a secure fit and reduce the possibility of accidental discharges.

Liability: Carrying a concealed firearm comes with inherent liability. Both IWB and OWB holsters offer varying levels of concealment, depending on the user’s clothing and body type. Concealed carry with an IWB holster generally provides better concealment, reducing the likelihood of unwanted attention or alarm. Meanwhile, OWB holsters may be more noticeable, which could potentially raise concerns among bystanders and increase liability.

Conclusion – IWB vs OWB Holsters

If you were hoping to know which holster is better, IWB vs Owb holsters, then the answer will largely depend on you and your specific needs.

If you want a concealed carry option, then the IWB is the winner. While OWB concealed carry is not impossible with the right clothing choices, it is not ideal.

However, if you concealed carry is not the most important factor, but rather factors such as stability, comfort, ease of draw & reholstering are important; then you will probably be happier with OWB holster. 

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Author: Andy Bredenkamp

Andy is the founder of Master The Target, where he gets to live out his passion about responsible firearms use. His mission is to guide gun enthusiasts in picking the best gear and ensuring their safety with each use.