Contrary to what many people may think, deciding how and where to carry your concealed handgun is more than just about comfort, although that is something to think about (if you’re miserable while carrying, odds are you’ll end up leaving it at home). First of all, make sure that your holster is made for your handgun, because if it doesn’t fit properly, it will wobble, or move around, which can be very irritating when you’re trying to go about your day without making it obvious that you’re shifting your gun around every time you sit down or stand up. Also, your holster should retain the gun while you run or do other physical activity, because it is not out of the question that you may have to do that one day. Another important aspect of the holster is to make sure that it completely covers and protects the trigger (which most holsters do). Having said that, the two most important things to consider when choosing your holster are speed and conceal-ability.
The speed of your draw, and the ease with which you can get to your firearm (while attaining a good grip) is not important…it is vital! If you can’t get to your gun in time to use it, it becomes nothing but a heavy accessory. I have been going to almost all of the gun shows in Virginia for about two years now, and it amazes me to see how long it takes people to draw their handgun out of their concealed carry holster to hand it to the police officers at the “gun check” tables. And that is without the stress and adrenaline they would experience if they actually needed to get to their gun. So keep in mind that the holster you choose should allow you to quickly get a good grip on your gun with one hand.
Concealment is also extremely important because it gives you the element of surprise; also, in some states, if the outline of your “concealed handgun” can be seen, it is no longer considered concealed, and it can be considered brandishing. The extent to which your handgun is concealed depends on two things: your clothes and your holster. For example, a holster that goes inside-the-waistband or pocket, a bra holster, and belly bands tend to be easier to conceal than kydex or polymer holsters that are made to go outside the waistband. On the other hand, if you like to wear tight shirts, concealing any gun, even if it is in an inside-the-waistband holster, is going to be more difficult to conceal. When I first started carrying, I told myself I would not change my wardrobe to carry my handgun. However, over time, I will admit that I managed to maintain the style of clothes I like while adjusting them somewhat to conceal my handgun.
Keeping speed and conceal-ability in mind, the holster you choose should also be based to a large extent on your preferred method of carry. In order to do this, you are first going to have to decide where you want to carry your pistol. But don’t worry; if you try it and decide it’s not for you, you can try a different method. So, start by thinking through your daily routine, and figure out what position you are in most of the day (standing, sitting, driving, etc.). For people that spend a lot of time driving, some recommend a cross-draw holster (for a right-handed person, place between the front of left hip and navel, with the grip facing to the right) because it allows for a relatively easy draw while seated in a vehicle. Another option is a shoulder-holster, although this method of carry will require a jacket to conceal the shoulder holster. Having said that, if you can avoid using a cross-draw holster, I would do so, because if you are not in your car and need to draw your gun, it is going to be extremely obvious what you are doing.
Inside-the-pants holsters are a good option, and can be worn pretty much anywhere along the waistline. I see many people wearing inside-the-pants holsters on or around the hip bone, but have never personally found that position comfortable because it tends to rub against the bone. Some like to carry on the small-of-the-back, while others say it rubs against their spine. I actually use an inside-the-pants holster just below my navel, along the centerline of my body, and find it very comfortable as long as I am not sitting down for eight straight hours. There are also many different types of outside-the-pants holsters, like paddle holsters and belt holsters, which are not too difficult to conceal in the winter time, but become a little bit harder with warmer weather.
I had never considered wearing a belly band holster, assuming it would be uncomfortable, but I recently took up jogging again, and decided to give it a try. Although I won’t say that you don’t notice it, it is actually quite comfortable and conceal-able. The first couple of times I wore it while jogging I was a little bit nervous about whether it would wiggle around in the holster, but have not had any problems with it. The only word of caution on belly bands, though, is be picky about the material you choose, especially if your skin is as sensitive as mine, because there are companies that import belly bands from countries with poor quality control that might cause allergies.
Ankle holsters, though quite popular, are not on my recommend list for two main reasons. The first reason is that your firearm is going to be out of reach in 90% of situations (if not more). The second is based on observations I have made over time; I have watched dozens of people attempt to draw their handgun from an ankle holster in order to hand it to an officer at a “gun check” table at gun shows, and without fail, it takes several, very slow attempts (without even adding the stressful situation) to get the firearm out of the holster.
Bra holsters are somewhat new, and while I have not personally tried them, I know a few women who find them comfortable and others who do not. Thigh holsters, made to allow women to wear skirts and dresses, are another option, although they probably need to be tight enough to defy gravity, which will probably result painful after a few hours. There are companies that make holster shirts, vests, and underwear, and while they have good conceal-ability, comfort and speed of draw tend to be an issue.
There are also off-the-body methods of conceal carry, such as fanny packs, briefcases, and concealed carry purses. While these are good options for certain circumstances, you have to be even more aware of your surroundings than normal when you use these methods of carry. Why? Because the first thing most criminals are going to go for is the victim’s purse, briefcase, fanny pack, etc. And if you weren’t paying attention, not only have you lost your wallet, but your gun, too! Another important disadvantage to off-the-body concealed carry is slower draw time.
I know there are hundreds of conceal carry options out there, and it can be overwhelming, but the best advice I can give you is this: first figure out where you think it will be most comfortable to carry your handgun. Once you’ve done that, do some research on the different available options for holsters made for that type of carry (inside or outside the waistband; leather or kydex, etc), and determine which type will allow for better conceal-ability and speed. Once you have figured that out, purchase the holster that fits that description, and is made for your handgun. Then go home, play with the concealment aspect of your holster and wardrobe, and practice your draw (with an UNLOADED gun) until you are confident in your ability to actually get to your gun. But above all else, remember that no matter how quickly you can get your gun out of the holster, if you aren’t aware of what is going on around you, then you don’t know to reach for your gun, and again, it becomes nothing more than a heavy accessory.