After testing more than 21 inside the waistband (IWB) gun holsters since 2017, we think the Alien Gear ShapeShift 4.0 IWB Holster offers the best combination of concealability, comfort, and retention. It was the only holster we tested that passed all the requirements we had on our check list.
After 20 hours of research and actively testing 15 gun belts over 4 months we have decided that the Daltech Force Bullbelt Steel Core is the best gun belt to securely support your holster. It will carry all your tactical gear and holster without any sagging or stretching and looks like a real belt with a top quality finish.
If you are looking for a IWB holster that you can wear all day then this is the one to get, body sweat is simply wicked away by the neoprene padding. You will also hear a satisfying click when your gun is placed into the holster. That is because the ShapeShift 4.0 holster has the best retention of any IWB holster on the market that we have tested. It was because of this and other features unique to this holster that we made it our top pick.
We just can't resist the feel a good quality leather gives and the Galco KingTuk certainly delivers on that end. Even the back of the holster has a quality leather finish which makes it easy to mold the holster to your body shape. It also has a slightly slimmer profile than the Alien Gear Shape Shift holster.
This holster was made for those of us that need to carry extra ammunition. The ammo pouch can be adjusted to any angle as it is simply mounted on a velcro pad. The Galco KingTuk 2 has the same high quality leather found on the standard model plus adjustable belt clips that will conceal the holster more if required.
Why you should trust me
How we picked
The number of Inside the Waistband holsters has greatly expanded and diversified over the past few years. In particular, we’ve seen hordes of cheap IWB holsters showing up on Amazon with just slight variations in design, specs, and brand names. On the opposite end however there are a few companies that are constantly refining and adding improvements to their models of IWB holsters.
Depending on whether you plan to choose the holster as your main carry method or just use it occasionally different features and functionalities become more or less important when you’re choosing a IWB holster. To help make sense of what to prioritize among the dozens of available options we decided on common criteria through research and our own experiences. We then scoured the Internet for reliable expert reviews and owner input on which holsters were good enough to be put to the test, including reviews from Amazon, Reddit and many other sources.
- Availability: Its not much use recommending a holster that is only available for a few models of handguns. So our first check was to make sure a good number of handgun models was supported. In fact the Galco King Tuck is available for nearly 600 models of handguns.
- Safety: Nearly all the IWB holsters on the market leave a small gap above the trigger. For safety we want the trigger fully covered by the Kydex or other material.
- Material: We have to admit that leather has always been our favorite material for holsters. But Inside the Waistband holsters are one mode of carry where other materials can make sense.
- Gun cover: We want the barrel of the gun to be completely covered but most IWB holsters just leave a gap at the bottom of the Kydex for the barrel to protrude from.
- Customization: At the very least we want to be able to adjust the cant and rake of the holster.
- Retention: We also think retention is very important. This is one area IWB holsters are not good at as in most cases you will have Kydex on one side of the gun and leather on the other side, the leather will wear in and get more supple over time.
- Moisture control: Where you live can make a big difference to what IWB holster you should choose. In a hot climate you can sweat and this will result in a leather holster chaffing your skin if it is constantly rubbing against it. Leather should be fine in a colder climate though.
- Clips: What sort of clips are used and how well do they attach the holster to your belt. You don't want the holster coming off with the gun when it is withdrawn.
- Comfort: All of the above will affect comfort to some degree. We can control comfort with a cushion pad between the holster and our skin.
How we tested
Since 2017 we have tested a total of 21 IWB holsters, for this update we tested 9 holsters. All holsters were checked for build quality and any imperfections. We then had GunsToCarry staffers and volunteers wear the holsters and some were immediately uncomfortable and eliminated from the test.
IWB holsters are not known to have the best gun retention so we checked the remaining holsters by turning them in all directions and vigorously shaking the holster with a gun inside it. Nearly all failed with the guns falling out of the holster, the only one that passed was the Alien Gear ShapeShift holster. You have to actively release the gun before it can be withdrawn from this holster.
Next we wanted to see what effect sweat would have on comfort. As we were not sweating we simulated it by wetting our bodies where the holster was located and then did a workout on a treadmill. Wet leather is certainly not your friend when it is rubbing against your skin and all the leather holsters caused some chaffing to various degrees. Once again the most comfortable was the Alien Gear ShapeShift holster as it is not made from leather but neoprene which wicks the moisture away. Of course this is only going to work to some degree and if you were in Florida and profusely sweating it could become a problem. There is a work around though for the leather holsters if you want to wear them in warmer climates, that is simply to wear two T shirts. The holster would be placed over the first T shirt so it is only making contact with the shirt and not your skin, then wear a second T shirt over the top of all that to conceal the holster.
We knew that clothing could be a problem with IWB holsters so that was our next test. You will find many recommendations that you purchase larger pants to accommodate the extra bulk. We could not make any conclusive finding on this as each individual has their own style of trousers they wear. In most cases simply loosening the belt was satisfactory. If you are wearing tight fitting jeans then it may be more comfortable getting the next size up.
We should also mention that the ShapeShift holster we recommend is slightly more bulky than some of the other holsters due to a thicker plastic enclosing the gun. In fact the plastic Kydex on some holsters was thin enough to allow it to start cracking, so a thicker plastic is what you need in these cases. It also has a bigger footprint than other holsters. Some people have said that due to the bigger footprint they found it less comfortable than other holsters, having worn it myself I think the difference is very small and nothing to worry about. Though it could be that persons with different body shapes to mine find it does not fit as well.
Our pick: ShapeShift 4.0 Holster
Alien Gear keep making gradual improvements to all their gear and version 4.0 of the IWB ShapeShift holster has benefited from that. Improvements have been made to allow for a single mounting point that allows the base to flex more and thus conform to your body shape. Then there is the all new breathable layer of neoprene to wick away any sweat. Another plus in my view is that the trigger gaurd fully covers the trigger and the barrel of the gun is also fully enclosed by kydex, something you do not get on most other IWB holsters.
The retention in this holster is the best I have seen yet in a IWB holster and is fully adjustable. This is due to there being a tough polymer plastic on both sides of the gun. Every time I mounted the gun there was a reassuring click, it was not going to move unless I released it.
To top that off this is the most customizable IWB holster you can get. Alien gear have invented tool-less holster clips that allow you to adjust the cant and ride height. The clips have eliminated the screws which adds to the holsters comfort as there is no hardware protruding to the back of the holster leaving an uninterrupted and smooth neoprene base.
The only thing I did not like was that the holster was slightly bulkier than the others. This is due to the plastic on both sides of the gun and is necessary if you want the good retention it offers. If that is an issue for you and your looking for a holster that has a slightly slimmer profile then you should go with the Galco SuperTuk. However, you will have to sacrifice all the benefits that the Shape Shift 4.0 offers over other IWB holsters. Also I think it is important to mention that this holster does not come ready to wear, you will need to assemble it from a kit.
The icing on the cake is the Forever Warranty and a 30 day test drive. Alien Gear have committed themselves to replace anything on the holster that breaks.
Runner-up: Galco KingTuk
Galco make some really nice holsters and their Kingtuk IWB holster is no exception. The back of the holster has a comfortable center cut steer hide lining while the front is covered with a more supple leather. The leather is top quality and just gives the holster that over all luxurious feel, something synthetic materials cannot do.
This holster is ideal for colder climates where there is less chance of a person sweating. There are a couple of things we don't like. However, keep in mind nearly all IWB holsters have these issues. The only holster that does not have these issues is our top pick the Alien Gear Shape Shift 4.0 holster which is why we recommend it. Anyway here is what we don't like;
- First of all retention is not so good as the gun has Kydex on one side of it and leather on the other side. As we have said in other sections of this review the leather will wear in over time so the holster will eventually loose most of it's retention.
- The other gripe we have is that the gun barrel protrudes from the bottom of the Kydex holster, something we are not a fan of.
- And lastly the trigger is not fully covered, granted 90% of the trigger is covered with a small gap at the top leaving the other 10% exposed.
To balance that out there are also a couple of good points;
- It has a slightly slimmer profile than the Alien Gear Shape Shift 4.0
- The leather will more easily mold to your body shape.
- It comes ready to wear out of the box.
If these things are not an issue to you then this is still a great holster and will last you many years.
Also great: Galco KingTuk 2
Overview of IWB holsters
The main advantage Inside-the-Waist Band holsters offer over other types is that they conceal a firearm really well. A light shirt can be worn over the holster with virtually no printing of the gun outline showing through and the design keeps the gun close to the body reducing any chance of a bulge.
The holster can be brought closer to the body by simply tightening the belt. There can be some comfort issues with the holster being pressed against the body. In the hotter climates sweating can cause a problem and you can sometimes develop a rash where the holster contacts the skin. These days most of the good quality holsters now come with a sweat shield that acts as padding between your body and the holster. So if you do live in warmer climate a sweat shield is probably a must have feature you will need to make sure your holster has.
You may also need to wear pants that are one size larger to account for the holsters and handguns bulk.
If you decide to try an IWB holster that is not a hybrid (Kydex mounted on leather) then you will need to make sure the holster you purchase has a rigid insert at the opening. If the holster does not have a rigid insert at the holster opening the holster can collapse when a gun is withdrawn from it. This makes it harder to reinsert the gun if the holster has collapsed so make sure your holster has this feature. Not every model has this feature so double check before you purchase.
There have been some great improvements to Inside-the-Waistband holsters over the years. Alien Gear have taken the lead with their upgrades to earlier models and we like the way this company is always trying to improve all the products they sell.
We have no relationship with Alien Gear or any other companies and are not out to promote their products over others. The simple fact is the Shape Shift 4.0 has most of the requirements we were looking for and was the better IWB holster on the day. In fact when looking at other IWB holsters we now compare them all to the ShapeShift 4.0 as a reference. All the other manufacturers of IWB holsters should take note as there as there is still substantial room for improvements to their products. Most of the improvements needed are basic such as making sure the trigger is fully covered, cover the gun barrel and improve the holsters retention.
Inside-the-Waistband carry is not for everyone, it depends a lot on your body shape as to whether it will be comfortable. I suggest you try the holster in different positions if you do find it giving you some discomfort. But it certainly does offer the best concealment option if that is what you want. We think the IWB holsters we have reviewed and recommended are currently the best on the market. You may have a favorite IWB holster different from our recommendations that you like, if so please let us know in the comments below so that we can include it in our next review.