Top Five IWB Holster Styles Explained

Just as buying a gun is a very personal decision — there is no one-size-or-caliber-fits-all wonder gun that works for everybody — so too is choosing a holster to put it in. The holster that you choose might not be the same as what someone else chooses. This is especially true when concealed carrying because trying to hide a gun presents unique challenges compared to open carry. So how do you choose? The choice of holsters comes down to how you want to carry your firearm, including what you’re wearing and how easy it will be to conceal your gun based on layers and thickness of clothing. Let’s take a look at five IWB holster styles. 

No matter what holster you choose, every holster on the list needs to have two important characteristics:

  • It completely covers the trigger and trigger guard.
  • You can draw and reholster with one hand.

Why do these matter? The trigger and trigger guard must be covered so that nothing accidentally brushes against the trigger and makes the gun go bang when it’s not supposed to. If the gun is in a holster, it’s not in your hand, so it needs to be protected.

As for drawing and reholstering with one hand, there are two reasons. First, if you get into a gunfight, your support hand might be wounded, which means you will need to put your gun away one-handed before the police arrive and mistake you for the bad guy with a gun.

Second, if reholstering requires your support hand, that means likely muzzling it when you put the gun away. Since holstering a gun is one of the most dangerous parts of gun handling, the last thing you want is to risk shooting your own hand.

Kinetic Concealment Hybrid IWB holster
Kinetic Concealment Hybrid IWB holster.

Now, while some folks conceal using an outside the waistband (OWB) holster, most of us need to tuck the gun a little deeper, which can only be accomplished consistently with an IWB carry because it’s simply easier to hide. Can you conceal an OWB? Sure, if it’s slim enough and you’re wearing enough clothes, but try it in the summer and see if it works with just a t-shirt covering. Probably not.

All that said, let’s look at the most common styles of IWB holsters on the marketing, weighing the pros and cons of each.

Five IWB Holster Styles

1. Taco

Take a single Kydex or similar plastic sheet, mold it into the contour of a gun through a heat and pressure process, attach some plastic or metal clips, and maybe a claw to help pull the grip closer to the body, and you have the purest form of the taco holster. This is by far the easiest holster to manufacture, as the body is one piece and the hardware simply screws onto the body in a few places.

Taco Style IWB Holster
LAS Gear Taco Style IWB holster.

The best aspects of the taco are its simplicity and durability. Taco shells work well for both strongside and appendix carry because fastener holes can be drilled into a variety of places on the shell. In fact, many taco-style holsters work both ways interchangeably. Also, the taco may be the ultimate in one-handed reholstering ease, as the mouth of the holster never closes.

The downside is comfort. Some wearers are irritated by the hard plastic against the body. Not all Kydex are created equal, however, so you may find one that doesn’t bother you.

One final note: a taco-style IWB holster is not the same as the taco pouch typically used to hold M4 magazines. They are not interchangeable.

2. Leather

The original holster material, leather has withstood the test of time in the firearms industry. An all-leather rig is a classic, appealing to the nostalgic among us.

But don’t get sucked in by its aesthetic appeal or Old West smell. Leather rarely works well for an IWB holster because it lacks the required stiffness over the long haul. While new leather holsters have a great deal of stiffness and might appear to be a solid option at first, over time the leather softens, which could lead to the holster closing, preventing safe single-handed reholstering.

In fact, the mouth of a worn-down leather holster can flop over like a bunny ear and snag the trigger on the way in, causing a rather unpleasant accidental discharge right now your leg.

Leather IWB Holster
Galco SC2 IWB holster, in black leather.

Knowing this, some leather holster makers recently started offering holsters with Kydex lining, either inside the gun well or between layers of leather so the holster retains the classic leather look while adding the needed stiffness to prevent the mouth from collapsing under the pressure of a belted waist.

3. Hybrid

The hybrid is a combination of leather and Kydex, offering the best of both worlds.

Perhaps the ultimate in comfort, hybrid holsters start with a leather backing that rides softly against the body but then adds a Kydex shell to the outside for the open-mouthed benefit of easy and consistent one-handed draws and reholsters.

Comfort is the biggest selling point of hybrids. Some hybrids are so comfortable you might forget you’re wearing a gun.

Hybrid IWB Holster
CrossBreed Mini Tuck Hybrid holster. 

The drawback – albeit a minor one – is that the leather backer will eventually wear just like a leather holster, which might lead to decreased retention, allowing your gun to slip out more easily. However, this doesn’t always happen, plus the tension created by your belt is often enough to overcome the shapeshifting.

4. Belly Band

A belly band is perhaps the most versatile carrying method on the market because it can be customized to the wearer in many ways.

The concept is a wide elastic band with a holster either sewn in or attached by hook and loop. The band is positionable anywhere on the waist or torso and can be stretched to fit the wearer, so it works with athletic or non-athletic wearers alike. Belly bands are popular under athletic wear.

Belly Band IWB holster
CrossBreed Holsters Belly Band incorporates a sewn magazine or flashlight pouch and a horizontal hook & loop fastener enclosed accessory pouch for carrying a cell phone, wallet, or similar items. An optional Modular Magazine Carrier is available to add to the band.

As for the gun-carrying capabilities, that varies from band to band. Belly bands with sewn-in holsters are easy to find if you want a universal holster that fits a range of guns, but your gun might or might not fit right. Holsters with a dedicated Kydex holster are designed for your particular gun, securing your firearm better.

5. Friction

Sometimes called the clipless holster because it lacks the traditional hardware found on other holsters, a friction holster is typically made from polypropylene or similar rubbery material.

It works by inserting the gun into the holster and then wedging the holster in between your body and the waistband of your pants without the need for clips because the friction holds it in place.

This holster’s biggest selling point is its lack of dependency on a belt to hold it in place, allowing it to be worn with beltless pants such as shorts, sweats, and athletic pants. However, in actual practice, this promise rarely holds true due in large part to the loose nature of beltless pants.

Friction Holster
The MAINSTAY Hybrid IWB/Pocket Holster from Elite Survival Systems features a silicone-coated outer shell for slip resistance

Many pocket carriers will opt for a friction holster to hold their gun. While the friction holster does protect the gun inside a pocket, it can also come out with the gun when drawing from the pocket, necessitating the use of the support hand to remove the holster before firing the gun. This makes it a two-handed draw, a no-no.

Wrap Up

No matter what style of holster and carry position you choose, be sure it covers the two rules of good holsters and you feel comfortable and confident drawing and reholstering your gun with it.

David Workman is an avid gun guy, a contributing writer to several major gun publications, and the author of Absolute Authority. A logophile since way back, Workman is a quickdraw punslinger and NRA RSO and Certified Pistol Instructor. He helps train new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as practicable. "Real-world shootouts don't happen at a box range."

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