The Ultimate Guide to OWB Holsters: Combining Security with Easy Access

I’ve been carrying concealed handguns for well over a decade at this point and have gone through literal boxes of holsters, many of which are still inside my house. I’ve touched and played with virtually every style and type of holster, and even been privileged enough to test out holsters from well-respected manufacturers before they even hit the market. Instead of a “one size fits all” mindset, over the years I’ve grown to understand that holsters most often tend to do best in one specific type of scenario or carry style. Today we’re going to talk about my experiences specifically with OWB holsters.

Paddle OWB Holster for Glock 48
Paddle OWB Holster for Glock 48

OWB Holsters for Concealed Carry

OWB holsters offer a practical solution for those who prioritize quick access to their firearms without compromising on concealment. Unlike their IWB (Inside the Waistband) counterparts, OWB holsters sit on the outside of the waistband, providing ease of access while maintaining a lower profile than a duty or competition holster - holsters that typically optimize having fast, secure, and easy access to the firearm when concealment is off the table.

Leather OWB Holster
Leather OWB Holster

When it comes to concealed carry, OWB holsters strike the balance between security and accessibility. OWB holsters are often the first option that many new concealed carriers start with before graduating or switching to an IWB-style holster. Among the diverse options available, leather and Kydex holsters stand out for their fusion of durability and comfort, while pure Kydex holsters give customers an affordable and durable budget option, finally, a quality leather holster can give customers an almost heirloom-quality tool that excels at comfort & silence.

leather and Kydex holster
leather and Kydex holster

While this specific placement (OWB) might provide less concealment than an IWB holster option, at specific times of the year, or with specific clothing, having an OWB holster is not only probably faster, but just as easily concealed as an IWB holster. This means for part of the year you might want to switch back and forth between the two styles.

owb holsters for concealed carry
owb holsters for concealed carry

Kydex OWB Holsters: The Modern Duty and CCW Solution

Kydex has become the material of choice for many firearm enthusiasts due to its exceptional qualities, especially evident in OWB holsters. These holsters boast a streamlined, modern design that prioritizes precision fit and retention. Crafted from a thermoplastic polymer, Kydex molds to the exact shape of your firearm, providing a secure and snug hold and better retention than other materials. As an added bonus, Kydex holsters tend to be much less expensive than their leather and traditional glass-reinforced nylon holsters.

Kydex OWB holsters
Kydex OWB holsters

 This precision fit not only ensures the firearm remains in place during movement but also allows for a smooth and quick draw when needed. The rigidity of Kydex ensures consistent performance, maintaining its shape and functionality over time without succumbing to wear or environmental factors or constant use. They are sweatproof, and moistureproof, but have the drawback of often prematurely wearing down the finish on your pistol’s slide & of being little louder.

Duty Kydex Holsters
Duty Kydex Holsters

Kydex might allow for easy adjustment of retention levels thanks to retention screw, catering to individual preferences. This adjustability, coupled with its inherent durability, makes Kydex an ideal choice for those seeking a reliable, customizable holster. Additionally, Kydex holsters offer a sleek profile, reducing bulk and making them particularly suited for concealed carry. This slim design minimizes printing, ensuring your firearm remains discreetly hidden while still being readily accessible. Whether for everyday carry or specific situations requiring agility and discretion, Kydex OWB holsters provide a versatile and dependable solution but often just aren’t as comfortable as other holsters that feature different materials.


Leather OWB Holsters - The Classic Solution

For firearm enthusiasts seeking a classic, tried-and-tested option, leather-only OWB holsters hold an enduring appeal. Crafted from high-quality full-grain Italian leather, these holsters exude a sense of traditional craftsmanship and reliability. Leather OWB holsters offer a natural, supple feel against the body, conforming over time to the shape of the firearm and the wearer's contours. This custom-fit not only enhances and excels in comfort during wear but also aids in concealment by reducing printing against clothing, especially when properly broken in. Leather OWB Holsters have most silent draw & reholstering from all options in this article.

One of the standout features of leather holsters is their aesthetic allure. The rich, timeless look of leather adds a touch of elegance to the concealed carry ensemble. Moreover, leather's ability to age gracefully with proper care gives these holsters a unique character, often becoming cherished possessions that develop a distinct patina over years of use. However, it's essential to note that leather-only holsters may require more diligent maintenance compared to hybrid or Kydex options, as they can be susceptible to moisture and wear over extended periods without proper care. In addition, a high-quality leather holster might be more expensive than a Kydex-only holster.

Leather Belt Holster
Leather Belt Holster

The Hybrid Leather and Kydex Holster

When we look at OWB holsters specifically, one style of holster seems to be the most popular - Hybrid holsters. The hybrid holster is a marriage of traditional leather craftsmanship with modern Kydex technology. These hybrid OWB holsters blend the comfort of leather with the safety and sleekness of Kydex. The result? A holster that is comfortable, durable & secure in one package.

Hybrid OWB Holster
Hybrid OWB Holster

Kydex, a thermoplastic material, has revolutionized the holster industry. Its molded precision offers excellent retention and adjustability, ensuring a secure fit for your firearm. Hybrid OWB holsters boast a slim profile, making them ideal for concealed carry without adding bulk that a completely leather holster does, or the discomfort of a completely Kydex holster.

While the hybrid holster doesn’t have the drastic cost savings of a Kydex-only holster, or the classic style and comfort of a traditional all-leather holster, the Hybrid Leather and Kydex holster combines the best aspects of both types of holster into a convenient and generally affordable package that still optimally and safely secures and conceals your EDC firearm. To sum up these types of holsters, let's take a look at a quick pros and cons list as I’ve experienced them over the years.

Back side of Hybrid Holster
Back side of Hybrid Holster

Pros and Cons of Hybrid OWB Holsters

Pros:

  • Comfortable Wear: Combines the durability of Kydex with the supple feel of leather, offering a balance between comfort and security.
  • Durability: The hybrid design merges the toughness of Kydex with the traditional robustness of leather, resulting in a holster built to withstand daily wear and tear.
  • Concealment: Offers improved concealment compared to full Kydex holsters due to the leather's ability to contour to the body and reduce printing.
  • Enhanced Accessibility: Provides quick and easy access to the firearm while maintaining a low profile
Leather Kydex Holster ( Hybrid )
Leather Kydex Holster ( Hybrid )

Cons:

  • Potential for Wear: Leather components might degrade over time, especially if not properly cared for, leading to potential stretching or wear issues.
  • Maintenance Requirements: Requires regular maintenance for the leather portions to prevent deterioration, such as conditioning to retain suppleness.
Light bearing OWB Holster
Light bearing OWB Holster

What to Consider When Choosing an OWB Holster

Retention and Security should be paramount no matter what style of holster you choose to run. Whether opting for Kydex or hybrid designs, prioritize holsters that securely hold your firearm in place while allowing for a smooth draw. This generally means that your passive retention holster should hold the firearm securely when held upside down and shaken a few times. On the flip side, the retention must not be so tight as to prevent you from quickly and smoothly drawing the weapon from the holster. Strike a balance between the two and make judicious use of your holster's retention hardware.

The holster should sit snugly against your body without causing discomfort or printing. Printing is the industry term for when your firearm is clearly visible underneath your clothes. While IWB holsters generally tend to make the firearm less prominent, with the correct concealment garments, an OWB holster can be concealed just as effectively.

OWB Holster with retention screw
OWB Holster with retention screw

Consider position in which you plan to carry. Primarily canted OWB holsters at 4 o’clock & SOB holsters that sit right on your 6 have tendency to conceal your firearm perfectly.

I tend to switch back and forth between belt holsters and IWB carry largely depending on the weather. IWB carry, especially AIWB (appendix inside the waistband) often favors warmer weather while an optimal solution for colder weather is almost always an OWB-style holster due to the added layers that often impede access to the firearm.

Tips for Optimal OWB Carry

While most people can manage to get at least a holster for themselves, what a lot of people ignore that is almost equally as important is a quality gun belt. You should invest in a sturdy gun belt that properly supports the weight of your firearm and holster. Gun belts often provide greater rigidity which leads to a smoother draw, and often a more comfortable carry experience.

In addition to a good gun belt, you should always get solid practice in, both at home with an empty firearm, and at the range during live fire practice. Practice drawing your weapon from various positions and situations to familiarize yourself with the holster's feel and functionality and to inform yourself of any potential hurdles that your concealment setup might pose.

Canted OWB Holster
Canted OWB Holster

You should also consider the placement of your holster on your waistband for maximum comfort and concealment. Canted holsters most often are optimally carried between the 3 and 5 o'clock position on your body which should provide you with the greatest concealment with easy and quick access to the firearm. I generally tend to wear my holsters right at the 4 o’clock position simply because that’s where most of them fit me. Additionally, this is where I am most used to drawing from with the only exception being duty holsters which I traditionally mount a bit further forward on my hip when concealment isn’t an issue or the goal.

Holster Maintenance

Finally, another thing that people often neglect when it comes to maintaining an optimal and safe concealed carry setup is holster maintenance. Proper care ensures that your holster will not just be reliable for you every day, but likely last the lifetime of the firearm as well.

For leather holsters, regular conditioning keeps the material supple and prevents cracking. Kydex holsters require minimal maintenance, typically needing a wipe-down to remove debris and dust and the occasional reapplication of thread locker for tension adjustments.

If your OWB holster has any hardware (screws etc) you should routinely check that it is properly tightened to your liking, this is something that is easily checked by scribing or marking your hardware with “witness marks” to ensure they are staying tightened as you wear and use your holster. Light thread locker can be used to help keep the hardware from loosening as often without direct adjustment.

Experiment, Learn, Adapt, Stay Safe!

These days I most often carry AIWB in a purely Kydex holster, this is simply the most optimal method for me right now. Throughout the years I’ve adapted my carry style from traditional OWB holsters with my first carry gun (S&W M&P Shield) to some of my later guns including the Taurus GX4 which I’ve carried both OWB and IWB. The point is that even if you have a good idea of what you need right now for your CCW setup, it may change later on down the road as your firearms, life circumstances, and personal fitness change over time.

OWB holsters, especially the hybrid versions combining leather and Kydex, offer a unique blend of security and comfort for concealed carry enthusiasts. But they are just one type of holster in a vast sea of options that cater to virtually every carry style and firearm type. Whether prioritizing comfort, durability, or customization, there's an OWB holster to suit every preference and need.

OWB Holsters
OWB Holsters

Remember, choosing the right OWB holster is a personal decision that requires consideration of individual preferences and requirements. By understanding the nuances between various positions & various materials, you can confidently select the perfect OWB holster to complement your concealed carry lifestyle. It will take time, but that time that you invest into picking the right gear for your setup could save your life one day.

Luke Cuenco

Luke Cuenco

Writer

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