AIWB Holster Selection:
If you are thinking about switching to AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband) carry, or you currently carry AIWB with a standard IWB holster learning about the features of a dedicated AIWB/Appendix holster can help you make better decisions when trying to optimize your carry gear.
A purpose built AIWB holster will have some or all of these features:
- Straight drop (no cant)
- Belt Wedge
- Muzzle Wedge
Generally speaking all AIWB/Appendix holsters will have zero cant, unlike most IWB holsters which usually have some amount (usually around 15 degrees) of forward cant. Having no cant, also referred to as neutral cant or straight drop, facilitates an easier and more natural draw stroke in the appendix position opposed to the traditional forward cant of an IWB holster. Absent of the other features listed above, a holster that only has zero cant will not make for an optimal AIWB holster.
A belt wedge is a more specialized feature that separates an AIWB/Appendix holster from a normal IWB holster. Not to be confused with a muzzle wedge (which is explained below) a belt wedge is built into the ‘blocking’ of the holster where the belt attachment is. On a holster with a belt wedge the shape of the area where the belt attachment (e.g. plastic/metal clip or loops) interacts with the belt/waistband of your pants acts to push the grip of the pistol in towards your body and also sometimes rotates the end of the grip by the magwell in towards your body. However, if the belt wedge is too large it can cause “belt bulge” which is when the thickness of your holster causes printing.
Muzzle wedges come in two varieties: a wedge shape that is molded into the holster body itself, or a removable wedge, which is usually made out of some type of foam and attached via hook and loop closure. Muzzle wedges work by pushing the muzzle of the pistol away from the body which in turn pushes the grip of the pistol in towards the body. This offers a concealment and comfort benefit for the majority of users.
Removable foam wedges are more versatile that a molded-in wedge as they can be had in different sizes to help tailor the fit to any given individual, they also break-into the users body which provides better concealment abilities, and the foam construction offers added comfort over the hard plastic holster body.
A Wing/Claw is a specialized attachment on many AIWB/Appendix holsters which serves to rotate the grip of the pistol inwards, pushing the magwell area of the grip against the body. Wings/Claws also increase the stability of the holster on the belt, and the up and down movement that the grip of the pistol will often have on the belt-line is significantly reduced. Wings/Claws often become more effective as pistol size increases, i.e. the wing/claw will be more beneficial with a compact pistol than a subcompact, and a full size more so than a compact.
The presence of these features separates a purpose built AIWB/Appendix holster from a standard IWB holster and will have a significant impact on the comfort, concealment, and effectiveness of your carry set-up when carrying AIWB/Appendix.
Getting the most out of your AIWB/Appendix holster:
Going beyond the features that make a purpose-built AIWB/Appendix holster, we will look into other concerns that can help you to make your AIWB/Appendix set-up as effective as possible. Some considerations that have a significant influence on how your gear carries are:
- Ride Height
- Holster Length
- Carry Position
- Pistol sizes/shapes
Any quality AIWB/Appendix holster should have adjustable ride height of some sort. Ride height plays a significant role in concealability, comfort, and draw speed. Normally a lower ride height will offer better concealment than a higher ride height, however some features of well-designed AIWB/Appendix holsters (such as a foam wedge) can mitigate this. Draw speed from a lower ride height is usually slower than a higher ride height. A lower ride height reduces the amount of space between your belt and the grip of your pistol making it more difficult for your strong hand to obtain a master grip on the draw. If your belt significantly hinders your draw stroke then your ride height is likely too low and should be raised.
A higher ride height, by creating more space between the grip of the pistol and the beltline, facilitates a quicker and more consistent draw stroke. Higher ride heights can compromise concealment due to the fact that more of the pistol is above the belt line, thus creating more leverage for the pistol to rotate outwards. Features on your holster such as a foam wedge or a wing/claw will reduce this occurrence. Comfort between ride heights is user specific; some will notice no change in comfort between ride heights while others will have a preference one way or the other.
When it comes to AIWB/Appendix carry a longer holster is almost always preferable. The longer a holster is the more stable it is on the belt line and the harder it is for gravity to cause the pistol to roll outwards away from your waist. Most users also tend to find that comfort increases as holster length increases, and a foam wedge will function better on a longer versus shorter holster body. It is generally advisable to use the longest holster that is still comfortable, if you are carrying the sub-compact or compact size of a particular pistol consider using a holster for the full-size version if compatible (e.g. carrying a G26 or G19 in a G17 holster).
When carrying AIWB/Appendix the holster usually ends up somewhere between 12:00-1:30 (for a right handed shooter) or 10:30-12:00 (for a left handed shooter). It will take experimentation to find the best position for your holster; very slight movements can make a huge difference in both comfort and concealability. The size of your holster/pistol will also make a difference; you may have a full size pistol in a different spot than you would carry a small, single stack pistol. A claw/wing and muzzle wedge will make it even more important to keep experimenting until you find exactly where on the belt line your set-up works best for you.
The type of pistol you are carrying will have a large impact on comfort, concealability, and draw speed/consistency, sometimes even more so than the holster itself. AIWB/Appendix carry is conducive to carrying larger pistols, and many users find larger pistols to be more comfortable than and just as concealable as a smaller pistol. Larger pistols are also easier to draw and as such usually lead to faster draw times and more consistent presentation.
The overall shape of a pistol is usually more important than its physical dimensions when it comes to concealability. The shape of the grip and the shape of the back of the frame and slide have a pronounced impact on how it will carry. While this is a topic that will be covered more thoroughly in another article, this brief comparison should help you see the types of things that influence concealability.
The below images compare a G19 to a 92 Brigadier, many users find the G19 to be the ideal size for a carry gun, and most would find the 92 much too large to carry or conceal. Those with extensive experience with AIWB/Appendix carry have actually found that in many cases a 92 conceals better than a G19, and by looking at the overall shape we can see how this happens.
The shape of the rear of the pistol, angle of the frame, and the magazine base pad will have a sizeable influence on the concealability of the grip and can either cause printing or blend in with your cover garment depending on the overall shape. The shape of the slide will also contribute to the amount of printing or lack thereof. At any given ride height certain pistols will have a longer portion of the slide that sticks above the belt line than others, and on top of that some slides are more blocky while some are contoured and swept forward. A more contoured, forward swept slide will conceal better than the opposite, and has added benefits when used with an AIWB holster with a wing/claw and muzzle wedge. Tucking the grip in on a pistol with a blocky rear slide can cause the slide to stick out and print, but a more rounded slide that sits lower in relation to the belt line tends to avoid these printing issues. The images highlight these differences, illustrating how the overall shape of a pistol determines how well it will conceal.
Specialized AIWB/Appendix holsters have many distinguishing features that separate them from IWB holsters and offer a level of performance not otherwise possible when carrying in the appendix position with a standard IWB holster. Beyond the characteristics that make an AIWB/Appendix holster functional there are a myriad of elements that can help you extract the best performance out of your AIWB/Appendix set-up, from the holster’s configuration and placement on the waistline to the pistol itself. Understanding what makes an AIWB/Appendix holster and how to optimize its employment will help you increase the effectiveness of your carry gear.