By Mike Keleher
OK, truth be told, there is already a lot of me inside the waistband (IWB) of my pants-so I am not all that comfortable sticking bulky holsters in there along with an every day carry pistol.
My most current comfortable carry option is with an outside the waistband holster generally made of kydex or some wizard magic grade polymer plastic. However, in my time on the planet, I spent 30 years as a federal agent dragging rather large pistols around in a variety of circumstances and maximum conceal ability was often a premium concern as you may imagine. I always had some sort of an inside the waistband holster in my go-bag or suitcase. I am not a clothes horse, but dressing for success always meant having my pistol properly concealed-until it was time for the big surprise.
Having someone see my concealed pistol when I did not want them to was always one of my biggest non-Biblical sins.
Going way back to those days of yesteryear, I found my young and gullible U.S. Special Agent self cavorting around Los Angeles with a four inch .357 Magnum Dan Wesson revolver (restricted to .38’s) and two speed-loaders. Low speed. High drag.
Yes history fans, I had 18 bullets of .38 Special ammo on me daily in the era where every third thug on the street had an AK-47. The agency issued ultra durable Ruger Security Six revolvers in a leather pancake holster and it weighed even more than my DW..coming in around the weight of your average Pinto-the Ford car, not the pony.
The Dan Wesson was a huge pistol with a wooden grip about the size of your average plantain or ripe banana. I carried it in a butt forward nylon shoulder holster and hung the two speed-loaders on the off side as a sort of pretend counter balance. It was not. To this day I don’t move one of my arms when I walk, a trait I picked up clamping that heavy holster against my ribs for several years.
In the undercover role as a fire breathing/apparently bulletproof young agent, you could only wear a cover up windbreaker so often in the California heat, and we started looking for more in a concealment holster. What we ended up with, were Bianchi or Strong brand horsehide inside the waist holsters, which were super flat, super cheap and had a big silver belt clip on them. You could draw from them once and then it would collapse and you had to pull the whole holster out to re-seat the gun and then stick it back in your pants.
Sticking a magnum revolver in such a holster and wearing it on your hip still looked like you were trying to hide a desk lamp in your pants.
Eventually I learned to stuff it around behind my back and it required a very elaborate draw to get it out and into the business (and it had the unfortunate side effect of making me want to go to the bathroom a lot when I sat on it) …but it was more concealed than a pancake or shoulder holster. Milt Sparks was making Summer Special holsters with a hard leather liner that kept the holster rim from collapsing when drawing-but Milt wanted serious money for those things so we just made do with the el-cheapo collapsing holsters for special occasions, nights and weekends.
Stuffing your 5 or 6 shot wheel gun in your jeans was very “street” but never real comfy and certainly not secure. My muffin tops should not be the material covering the trigger guard of any pistol. I did pick up one of the first Glock 17’s in the country and was so cool to have 17 rds in the gun and another reload topping me off to 34 rds on the weekends, and it was much flatter and more comfortable inside the waistband than any revolver ever built.
I wore a snub nosed S+W .38 in an ankle holster for a while while doing undercover narcotics work. You got used to the weight after a while, and and also clunking it into your other ankle bone and table legs at unfortunate opportunities, but it was pretty comfortable and not too bulky.
I quit wearing ankle holsters forever after the second time I really needed my gun and it was all the way down there…and I was all the way up here. After the second event I concluded “Hmmm. I’m gonna get killed if I keep this up-probably should avoid that.” (There’s a lesson to learn here kids, brought to you by yer old Uncle Mike. Put your dang phone down and re-read this paragraph!)
Over the years, my agency switched up to Sig Sauer semi-auto pistols, (imagine moving from Ruger 6- shooters to 9mm Sig 228’s and later to .40 Sig 229s) and I always had one of those floppy horsehide holsters with me in case I needed to go to maximum concealment under a t-shirt or light clothing. It was still impossible to re-holster without pulling the dang holster out, but we came up with an acceptable rationalization “Take it out fast. You can put it away slow later.”
Some years ago I stumbled on to the Versa-Carry “holster” which they advertised as “Zero Bulk”. It was the craziest holster thing I ever saw, just a piece of flat plastic with a clip on it and a colored rod at the bottom. The rod stuck up inside the barrel of the gun, and the whole thing clipped inside the waistband. A curved snap-on piece protected the trigger guard on one side. They were incredibly cheap and strangely-they worked. Still not the most comfortable ever made, but they really added only about a quarter of an inch of plastic and maybe 2 oz of weight to your gun. I bought a lot of them for different calibers and different lengths, and they were super adaptive as well fitting most semi-auto pistols by length and caliber not by model specifics. They quickly replaced the old horse hide holsters and I took them along everywhere. For a couple of hours of wear, they were just fine. You do still have to pull them off to “re-holster” the gun by sliding the colored Delrin rod down the barrel, a strange sensation the first few times you do it.
I tried some pretty expensive inside the waist band hybrid holsters which had kydex shells mounted on leather or Cordura platforms, but I just was not a fan. I know some people swear by them, but it was not good for me, and seemed to add a lot of bulk, and I did not want to buy bigger pants to be able to wear those holsters. I already wore one size larger shirts to help conceal my guns, I guess I drew the line at buying pants too.
After that, I started using Sticky brand holsters. They are made of Cordura nylon and neoprene, and are quite soft while in your waistband. The price is reasonable and they make them big and small and you can even get holsters designed to hold your gun inside a pants pockets. The neoprene is also pretty grippy and will keep the holster in your pants when you draw your gun….for those of you still playing along at home, yes it is an embarrassing and sometimes laughable situation to see someone waiving their holster around when they really meant to do something else.
Most recently, I have been toying around with a tiny plastic trigger guard only “holster.” It is more comfy than some other plastic IWB holster units, and does a good job covering the all important trigger and trigger guard. It has a unique cord attached which you can loop around your belt and when you draw the gun, the unit comes out with it and when it hits the end of the cord the trigger guard clip pops off (hopefully). I have tested the unit by having the gun/clip drop from waist level and hit the end of the cord to see if the gun would fall out. It has not- to date. I have seen this type of trigger guard only holster advertised hanging around people’s necks with tiny .380’s in them-like a neck knife, but noisier.
Like most things in life, there are trade offs with everything, and these minimum bulk holsters are certainly no exception, but I still get a lot of use from them when I really need to be concerned about the smallest amount of holster I can use to help hide the most gun I want to carry.