The great thing about Inside the Waistband (IWB) holsters is that you get to go to the clothing store and order pants a full size larger than normal. Larger pants allow you to stuff a big, fat handgun fit between your pants and your tender midsection.
Let’s think about this for a minute. I’m really about a 36-waist size, although I am sharing that information with you in confidence and I really expect that you won’t tell anyone else. When I go to buy pants, I have a choice of whether to buy size 36 or, if I add the margin for IWB carry, size 38. Hmmm. What to choose... 36 of course! Yes, we’re all just a little bit vain, right?
Also see: 10 Ways to Conceal Carry
There is one advantage to using your normal size pants with IWB holsters. All that extra pressure resulting from stuffing an APX or a Full Size Px4 Storm in your regular-size pants serves as a constant reminder — it reminds you to curb the appetite.
Not only do inside the waistband holsters force you to buy pants that are larger than your normal size, they can offer the added benefit of rupturing your kidneys. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but they sure can be uncomfortable if you don’t do it right. Do yourself a favor and wear pants that are sized appropriately! It will make a huge difference in comfort.
So, wearing larger pants or skirts is the big and obvious tip for carrying inside the waistband. However, there are some other tips that will help you not only conceal your handgun but do so without major discomfort. Here are a few things we've learned over the years.
Undergarments are the greatest invention ever
There are a few other things that the slick marketing ads never tell you about IWB holsters... Have you ever wondered how they sandblast barnacles off the bottom of World War II vintage cargo ships? They use recycled inside-the-waistband holsters and vigorously rub them against the hulls, that’s how. Do you wear an undershirt? Always? Do you live in a hot or cold climate? Do you even wear underwear? Wait, don’t answer that, I’m getting bad visuals again. The reason I ask these personal questions is that carrying a gun can feel like sandpaper on your sensitive belly area after a couple of hours. Did I mention that most guns are made of hard and very uncomfortable stuff like steel and perma-dura-polymer-plastic? Ouch. Wearing a t-shirt or other undergarment makes all the difference. Not only does it virtually eliminate the discomfort of abrasive handgun grips on your skin, it actually helps with supporting the weight. The friction of your holster and gun against an undershirt helps to distribute the weight around. It makes a surprising difference.
Tuckable holsters are made in such a way that you can holster your gun inside the waistband and tuck your shirt in over the gun grip and between your pants and the holster. It’s a swell idea. You can wear an IWB holster with a large gun, wear a tuck-in style shirt, and no one will be the wiser. No cover garment is (technically) required.
Herein lies the problem. With any moderately sized gun, you’re adding 1.1 to 1.4 inches of gun width to another ½ inch or so of combined holster width. All this is supposed to fit inside of your waistline without creating a noticeable bulge. Hmmm. When I rig one, I feel like I have a conjoined twin living on my right hip. Do others notice? Probably not, because most people are generally not fixated on your midsection unless you’re exceedingly hot. I’m just not willing to take the risk of being outed that way. I’ll use them, but always with some form of cover garment, like a sport coat, for extra peace of mind.
The other self-conscious thing with tuckable holsters are the clips that are exposed on your belt. Again, other concealed carriers might notice, but everyone else is usually too immersed in their smartphone to take in such details. Even the most minimal of cover garments will solve this problem too. In fact, to me, the biggest benefit of tuckable designs is that you don't really need to worry so much about cover garments. If a jacket swings open, so what? Nothing is showing except a fabric bulge or belt clip.
Most IWB holsters work best when worn just behind the hip bone. Placing the gun just behind the hip bone helps with comfort and concealment as the gun grip aligns closer to your back. If you've gained a few extra pounds over the years, a more rearward placement can help too. Most of us tend to accumulate extra weight on the front and sides and not so much closer to the back. If you fall into this category, then you might try carrying your inside the waistband gun at a 4:30 position or so. Even small movements in location can make a big difference, so experiment.
One note of caution. Opinions vary, but I really don't like carrying too far towards my back. If your gun is behind your spine and you fall from accident or fighting, it can spell bad news having a steel object between your backbone and the ground. Same goes for the kidney areas.
Grip treatments like skateboard tape, G10 material, or stippling jobs that rough up the texture are great for handling. An aggressive grip texture can really help you control your gun, especially when your hands are sweaty, it's raining, or in the worst case, you hands are bloody.
On the other hand, the more aggressive the grip, the more you're going to suffer from IWB carry. Even if you faithfully use undershirts, you'll find that over time you tend to shred your clothes. We're not necessarily recommending that you sacrifice grip texture for comfort, it's just something to be aware of before you start adding oyster shells and barnacles to your grips. If you carry a gun with removable grips like the 92 series, you can find lots of wood grips that won't shred your midsection but still offer a no-slip texture.
For cover garments, heavier fabric works better. Even a t-shirt can be an effective cover garment if it's made from good and heavy material. We’ve had better luck with sturdier materials like cotton as opposed to light nylon shirts. Another factor to consider with those nifty polymer sports shirts is static electricity. If your shirt tends to get that way it will stick to your body and show the profile of your gun. If you wear these, you might invest in a can of no-static spray to apply before you venture out.
Starched shirts are your friend. While not necessary, the stiffness and creases in a starched shirt do a wonderful job of breaking up the outline of your gun. Even though most of the gun is concealed under your pants or skirt, the grip remains exposed.
Patterns are also your friend. A “busy pattern” shirt will help hide the outline of a gun better than a solid color.
Learn how to pick things up from the ground like the Queen of England. Wait a sec; royalty has others to do that for them! But if you have to do it yourself, don’t bend at the waist. If you do, the bottom of your gun grip is likely to “print” its outline on the back side. Use those knees and do your best “mime in an elevator” imitation!
Using a proper gun belt is critical - even for an IWB holster! It will not only support the gun, and your pants, it will help distribute the weight properly. Trust me on this one, 90% of belt-carry comfort and stability comes from using a proper gun belt. Even a wide and thick one from the department store won't cut it. Gun belts are made from inflexible leather so they'll maintain their shape over time.
Last but not least, experiment. Carrying a gun inside your waistband is never going to feel like laying in a bed of snuggie pillows while someone is feeding you grapes. It'll take some commitment and a willingness to tote around a couple of pounds on your belt, but that doesn't mean you can't improve the experience with some trial and error.