What do you look for in a holster? What are the key factors to consider? Several are interested in the Alien Gear (AG) In-the-Waistband (IWB) hybrid (leather and kydex) holster for concealed carry and I have been asked to review it. So I want to give you the factors I use for assessing holsters in general and apply them to my review and evaluation of the AG IWB holster. I am glad to research, use, and evaluate it, even though I usually do not carry IWB. This should help my objectivity and critical analysis. You see I am horizontally-width challenged. OK, I admit I am chunky in the middle (i.e. gut) and mostly carry in an Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) holster with a cover garment. Over the many years, I have never carried IWB and read and heard stories about how uncomfortable it is, how you have to buy your pants in a much larger size, the resulting sloppy and baggy appearance, how it collapses on re-holstering, and pinches at your sides. I will put aside those pre-disposed biases and try to learn some things, while helping you and myself with my report.
An IWB holster sits inside the waistband of your pants against your body. The holster has a clip or two that attach to your belt to keep the holster from slipping. The idea is that only the handgun’s butt will be partially exposed under your garment just above the waistline, for better concealability. Needless to say since your life could very well depend on having a reliable holster that effectively performs under all conditions, it is very important to critically know your requirements up front and then objectively evaluate IWB holsters. There is a tendency for most of us to heavily weigh the cost factor of a holster, sometimes to the exclusion of other key factors. This could be a potentially deadly mistake. Less is not always or even often better. So the caution is to first objectively define all your requirements and expectations up front and then carefully evaluate each factor for each holster option.
Well, does an IWB holster really work for you… or me? If so, which one to select? What about the Alien Gear (AG) IWB holster specifically? What are some criteria to evaluate the AG IWB holster, what are its pros and cons, does it meet your criteria, and what are some things to consider. BOTTOM LINE: Is the AG IWB holster for you? I will give you my criteria, my ideas about the AG IWB, and my recommendation about it to help you with your decision, as I go through my review process. I certainly do not have all the answers for IWB holsters and what works for me may not work for you. Your personal decision according to your factors and priorities.
First there are very many IWB holsters and lately several hybrid ones, made by classic holster manufacturers as well as many new companies. So, I cannot list them all and don’t know them all even. Probably like you, I have a big storage container filled with many holsters that I don’t use. It seems we buy several holsters, try them, and end up with the one that meets our personal criteria for each of our guns, purpose, and carry method.
Some IWB holsters are tuckable in some form and sometimes “IWB” is synonymous with a “tuckable” holster, since they fit securely inside your pants or shorts, with a minimal amount of space between the holster’s clip and the holster itself. So you can carry your handgun and “tuck” your shirt into the vacant space. With a tuckable holster, your handgun and holster are entirely covered by your shirt and there is another attachment that provides a folded configuration to help to tuck in your shirt. This flap, clip, or curved hook comes into contact with the inside lining of the pants or waistband. It may even be supported by the belt with clips. The configuration device or clip is longer and attaches to the holster at the bottom. Imagine a V shape with one side the holster and the other side the clip. The top of the clip attaches to your belt and your shirt goes into the V and bunches up some. By the way, you can buy dress pants, cargo pants and shorts, 5.11 pants and shorts, and others with an elastic or expandable waistband. For us horizontally-width challenged folks, these are the best idea since sliced bread for IWB holster carry. While I don’t need to tuck my shirts in often, it is nice to have the option of doing so just in case. Most holsters have tuckable versions that are otherwise identical to the standard IWB non-tuckable version.
Just some of the current manufacturers that I am aware of include the usual holster makers like Galco, Comp-Tac, Crossbreed, Remora, Blackhawk, Blade-Tech, Don Hume, Milt-Sparks, Alessi, Desantis, Bianchi, Gould, Tucker, High Noon, and Uncle Mikes. There are also newer companies like Alien Gear, Foxx, Hidden Hybrid Holsters, Whitehat Holsters, N82 Tactical Holsters, etc. Many more and most offer IWB holsters. Because an IWB holster is recognized by many as one of the best ways to conceal a handgun, they are very popular now and a wide variety of choices exist.
So with the plethora of IWB holster options, what are my criteria and things to consider for evaluating the AG IWB? They can also be used for selecting holsters in general. First, I will give you my criteria and considerations. Then I will compare the AG IWB holster to each criterion using a 10-point scale to evaluate each one. For each factor, a “10″ rating is the best, a “0″ the worst, and a “5″ a mid-level rating. I’m trying to be as objective and rational as possible, realizing we all have different goals, needs, and priorities. You probably have your own and other factors and that is fine. Also, we each will usually weigh each factor more or less than another because this is a very personal evaluation and selection process. Here are my 10 Criteria for Selecting a Holster, not in any order:
1. QUALITY MADE: What is the material and is the holster constructed with quality? Is the leather of premium quality and genuine leather? What weights are the leather and kydex? Will they stand up to your use, wear and tear, and is it appropriate for your use without impairing performance and mechanical function? (Note- Some exotic leathers like Ostrich, Shark, or Lizard skin may look great, but may not not hold up for constant rough field use.) What is its thickness and durability? Are the rivets, clips, grommets, snaps, buckles, rings, and metal parts strong, rustproof, and quality made? Does it have a sweat shield or skin guard? Is it a reputable company? What type of warranty or guarantee does it have? Consider the holster’s weight and bulk. Is the holster designed to minimize the amount of leather needed to hold and protect the gun, thus reducing weight and bulk of the holster.
2. ALL DAY COMFORT: How comfortable is this holster style during each of the different physical positions; walking, bending, sitting, standing, and twisting? Can you wear it while driving? Can you wear it for the entire day comfortably and not even know that you are wearing it?
3. CONCEALMENT: Does the holster perform as required for the effective concealed carry purpose? How well does the holster hide the handgun during every-day body motions, like walking, bending, sitting, standing, twisting, reaching, etc.? Imagine wearing the holster during these different movements. Is there a cant and angle adjustment for the holster, to provide better concealment and comfort?
4. ADAPTABILITY & FIT: Can this holster be used for different handguns… or with a Laser sight or light? How versatile is it? The safety features of a holster very much require that the holster be engineered and designed for each specific manufacture and model of handgun. Are there modifications available or additions that adapt to other handguns? What are the approximate costs of these adaptations? Is the shooter’s gun properly fitted for this holster. Does the handgun insert so deep in the holster that the gun grips cannot be properly accessed? Does the gun jam so tight into the holster that it takes two hands to draw it or can you draw the gun easily with one hand?
5. PRICE: What is its total price relative to other options available now? Do you get any special features, options, warranties, guarantees, repair service, or additions that are worth something? Can you return it without any questions and within what time period? Will they repair or replace it for free? Do you get what you pay for?
6. SAFETY: How well does the holster provide protection to the handgun during insertion into or removal from the holster or while being carried that will:
A. prevent accidental trigger movement;
B. prevent accidental disengagement of the safety mechanism;
C. prevent forward or rearward movement of the hammer?
7. EASE OF REHOLSTERING & ACCESS: Can you reach your handgun quickly in an emergency or while sitting in your vehicle? A rigid holster will allow a handgun to be returned to it using only one hand, while a flexible one may collapse after the gun is drawn, requiring the use of both hands to reholster. How easy is it to access your weapon and use the holster while walking, bending, sitting, standing, twisting, etc.?
8. EASE OF PUTTING ON & TAKING OFF: Can you simply and easily put the holster on and take it off? Consider if you will be putting this holster on and taking it off throughout the day and under what conditions. Must it be removed for taking care of personal needs in public restrooms? If so, can you do it safely and easily?
9. ACCOMMODATIONS: Can you wear both open or closed cover garments with the holster? Do you have to wear special clothing or make accommodations in dress or draw when wearing and using this holster? Is a cover vest or larger trousers required to hide the holster and handgun?
10. RETENTION: Does the holster retain the handgun adequately? Is the holster snug when fitted on a gun belt for a consistent and fast draw and to reduce draw resistance? Is the gun secure in the holster? A holster designed with solid retention will help prevent a gun from being removed from the holster by another.
My Evaluation of the AG IWB Holster
To simplify, I will list my 10 Criteria and then beside each factor give my rating and brief comments. My final buy or not buy Recommendation will then be given at the end. Remember, just my opinions. Here we go.
1. QUALITY MADE: 10
Premium leather and tough kydex. Just the appropriate amount of thickness for strength and durability. Well-made, certainly for the reasonable price of $29.88. Metal grommets, clips, & parts appear strong and well-made.
The holster’s finish was hard, durable and at least for this time did not scratch the gun. Certainly all holsters will cause finish wear on standard finishes through regular holstering and drawing, but finish like this holster has will stand up to constant wear pretty good.
2. ALL DAY COMFORT: 10
I gave it a thorough test for a week with everyday routine wear. The leather was wide enough to spread out the contact of my body with the holster for comfort and freedom. The sweat-proof leather and shield helped. It was small by design which allowed it to ride smoothly with my motions or change in body position. I found it to be very satisfactory when bending over, walking, sitting, crawling under things, lifting, and exercising. Frankly, I was not expecting this and am very impressed with the holster. After only a day or so, I honestly did not even know it was there. Comfortable for this non-IWB holster (previously) wearer. I will wear IWB holsters more now, along with my OWB holsters. I like this one and the IWB option now. Alien Gear gives a “30-day test drive” so you try it for 30 days and “if you don’t agree that it’s the most comfortable and concealable holster you’ve ever owned, we’ll buy it back, no questions asked.”
3. CONCEALMENT: 10
This IWB holster hid my 2 handguns (Springfield EMP and Colt XSE) when I wore each gun separately during every-day activities and movements. See above. Often, I wore just a t-shirt and my gun was very concealed, even for this chunky guy and the commander-sized Colt. Under my safari camp or guayabera shirts, my body motions, like walking, bending, sitting, standing, twisting, reaching, etc. were not detectable according to my wife. It worked. The holster has 3 adjustment holes for customization for better concealment and comfort? I could adjust the cant angle, height of the holster relative to my waistband, and the tension. The holster molded to my body after about 2 days and the curve of my body with the holster put tension against my gun for better retention. It is a tuckable IWB holster.
4. ADAPTABILITY & FIT: 9
The leather holster was available with a kydex shell to fit my second gun for about $13. They have many shells to fit about any gun that I could think of. This gave me the flexibility of adapting the basic leather holster to a different shell that exactly fit both my guns. One extra shell free would have been better, but having the option is nice. I appreciate this adaptability and molded fit to each gun.
5. PRICE: 10
What can I say? $29.88 is a very fair and competitive price for this rig. Other similar hybrid rigs I found ranged from $39 to over $100. Some had horsehide and other premium leathers and thicknesses, but this holster was excellent for the price and workmanship.
6. SAFETY: 9
This holster provided more than adequate safety protection for the handgun and nearby people when presenting/drawing and removing the gun into and out of the holster. Your carry gun must be protected and free from negligent discharge or movement of the hammer especially when drawn and re-holstered. Your personal safety is greatly affected by what you pack, how you pack it, and where you carry it. This holster was designed appropriately to permit sufficient hand grasp of the gun when it was holstered so the hand grip would not have to be modified. I was able to keep my trigger finger straight along the outside of the holster easily and to grip the gun quickly and correctly to prevent negligent discharges, accidental trigger movement, and without accidental disengagement of the manual safety or hammer movement. There did seem to be a slight excess amount of leather near the butt of the gun which only very slightly hampered my full grasp and could be a safety concern, but not likely. A very small amount of trimming can be done to fix this easily.
7. EASE OF REHOLSTERING & ACCESS: 9
It was easy to reach and draw my handgun quickly and to re-holster it without looking or using two-hands after just a short practice time, even though I had not used an IWB holster previously. There should not be a problem in an emergency or even when sitting in an automobile. The mouth and holster is sufficiently rigid to allow a handgun to be returned to it using only one hand. It does require practice, but not a significant concern at all.
8. EASE OF PUTTING ON & TAKING OFF: 9
This was a challenge for me, as a previous non-IWB holster user, and I don’t believe I am a slow learner. Now don’t quote me on this, but It took me quite awhile over several days to get the hang of dropping my drawers, putting and positioning the holster inside my pants, getting the right location at 4 to 5:00 o’clock and cant, and just putting the holster on and taking it off. Do this without the gun in the holster! I get scared thinking what if I had to do this quickly and under stress or having to adjust and maybe do this when using the restroom. Could I do this safely kept coming into my mind. Practice I guess is the answer.
9. ACCOMMODATIONS: 10
Without a doubt, you can wear both open and closed cover garments with this holster and not have a concealment or operational problem. There is no design problem that would prevent using any type of coat, shirt, sweater, zippered jacket, or any garment with this holster. No special clothing or extra accommodations in dress or draw needed when using this holster? I did find that buying my pants a size larger did help with concealment, comfort, and my peace of mind in using it in every way. Just my idiosyncrasies, no problem.
10. RETENTION: 9
The holster did retain my handgun adequately? The pressure of my body pushing against the holster actually tightened up the retention and made it more secure in the holster when I wore it. Although when the holster was not in my waistband, the handgun repeatedly fell out of the holster when I turned it upside down. But who is going to stand on their head with their gun holstered? Also, a very good belt over top of the gun and strong clips are both integral for retention. C-hooks offer even a lower profile on the belt to make the handgun more concealable. The holster was snug and helped to reduce draw resistance because of its construction and my good gun belt.
Total Points: 95 points out of 100 possible = 95% = RECOMMENDED.
I hope my process, this analysis and review help you to identify your criteria and evaluate your individual factors to select the best holster for your purpose, needs and priorities.
Photos by author with some from AlienGearHolsters.com.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2014 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.
About Col (Dr) Benjamin Findley
Col Ben is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services weapons training, Special Ops duty at various bases, and is Air Force qualified as “Expert” in small arms. Ben is an NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, FL Concealed Carry License Instructor, Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network Affiliated Instructor, and USA Carry Registered Instructor and has been teaching many years.
Contact him for reasonably-priced firearms training for small groups or individuals in Pensacola or at your location, including courses in NRA Basic Pistol Shooting, Fundamentals of Firearms Shooting & Safety, Basics of Firearms Self-Defense for Women, and FL Concealed Carry License training at ColBen@FloridaHandgunsTraining.com. Visit his website at FloridaHandgunsTraining.com for details.