August 20, 2018 4 min read 3 Comments

Early holsters were a simple straight up and down affair, with the bore axis pointed straight at the ground. This arrangement worked for a long time, as most gunmen rode on horseback and used a belt holster much like patrol officers carry today. Guns were hastily drawn straight up into a firing position. As Americans transitioned from horses to automobiles, they found that the technology from the nineteenth century needed updating.

neutral cant holster and revolver

Worked great until Henry Ford came along and ruined it for everyone…Classic example of a neutral cant holster.


Prohibition-era El Paso was a liquor smuggling hotspot, with daily gunfights and tough as nails lawmen. One law officer embroiled in this mayhem, Tom Threepersons, recognized the need for an updated holster and developed the famous Threepersons pattern. This was the first holster to cant the gun forward, which reduced the height to width ratio and made it possible to carry and draw while seated in a vehicle. It also placed more of the gun above the waistline to facilitate seated carry.

This 15-degree forward cant was incorporated into other holster developments and is still used by the FBI today. Many holsters have the option to adjust the degree of cant to suit the individual. Even leather holsters can be found with multiple belt slots for multiple options.

Neutral Cant

Neutral cant is typically seen in OWB and open carry applications, like those carrying full-size duty guns on a gun belt. This geometry works best when the holster is located on the side of your hip or when using a lower-riding holster, because the path of the draw stroke is in line with your arm and shoulder. Vertical cant typically does not work for concealed carry because the locations where the geometry works will exaggerate print issues. Also, depending on barrel length and resting height above the waistline, you may not be able to draw high enough to clear the holster.

Forward Cant

Forward cant works best for those carrying behind the hip. The aforementioned FBI cant places the holster at a 15-20 degree angle.

forward cant leather holster

Forward Cant Holster–muzzle angled to the rear


Moving the holster further back on the belt line allows the wearer to better conceal a firearm. The drawback (get it?) is that a neutral cant no longer provides a smooth draw.  By using a forward cant, it makes it easier to draw the firearm in a natural sweep when carried behind the hip.

Negative Cant

This typically applies to cross draw or appendix carry options. Angling the pistol backwards towards the natural draw line makes drawing in front of the hip much easier. A negative cant (muzzle forward) allows easy access for the carrier, and aids in concealment.

Why would you need to adjust your holster angle?

Different body types and different carry methods call for different holster angles to be the most effective. We can use the same adjustable holster for a variety of carry methods–appendix carry calls for a zero-degree or even a negative (muzzle forward) cant, where IWB behind the hip calls for a more aggressive angle to smooth the draw stroke. Women, whose waistlines and hip structures are completely different from males, often find a holster with less cant to be ideal.

Whatever your reasoning, you should take advantage of your holster’s adjustability and experiment with different angles to see what works best for you.

For most injection-molded or Kydex holsters, this will require a screwdriver. Your holster will either have multiple screw holes that your mounting system uses to attach to the holster body or a friction lock that allows the holster body to rotate in relation to the mounting system.

handgun with holster and bullets

Adjustable IWB holster: The top screw slot on the mounting clip is elongated to allow for a positive or negative cant, depending on application. The large screw on the rear edge adjusts holster tension and keeps your gat secured.
Concealment Express Photo

Be sure to conduct your testing with an unloaded firearm, preferably with the ammunition in another room. Test each position your holster allows for by remounting the holster and practicing a few draw strokes. Once you have identified a position that feels good, head to the range for some live-fire testing. Unfortunately, not all ranges allow shooters to draw from the holster, but if you can find one, take advantage of it. Otherwise, continue safe dry practice where you can develop a feel for your new carry gear.

While you are adjusting the holster angle, you should also adjust the retention tension. This is done by tightening or loosening the screw that clamps the holster shell together on the rear facing edge of the body. Minimum acceptable tension allows you to turn the holstered gun upside down and give it a few good shakes without having the gun fall out (this testing is best done over your mattress). Too much tension and you lock the gun in the holster and won’t be able to draw it out. Nobody wants to be the dancing FBI guy whose gun went flying on CNN. Make sure your rig is secure.

And speaking of secure, you should be hanging your holster on a secure, purpose-built CCW gun belt. No skinny/floppy fashion belts from the mall, regardless of your carry style. A floppy belt will lead to a floppy holster and either out you as a CCW or potentially have the holster disengage from the belt. All the testing and adjusting of your holster cant won’t make a difference if it has a 30-degree flop on the belt.

Live a little

Many holster customers will run it as it comes from the manufacturer, never taking the time to experiment with the adjustments or angles. This is one type of experimentation that you will never have to testify before Congress about, so whoop it up and see how it feels. And they don’t ask about it on a 4473 either. Adjustable holsters also help minimize the accumulated  “box of holsters” most shooters have sitting in a closet or the garage. You’ll need to be very far off the ideal setup if you can’t adjust a good modern Kydex rig to meet your daily needs, so give it a shot.

3 Responses

John Adado
John Adado

November 06, 2018

Great article and makes a lot of sense


November 06, 2018

Great article, really liked the history lesson, thanks


September 21, 2018

Good advice, we are not “cookie cutter” copies of one another, our best fit requires a little tailoring.

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How to Adjust the Cant of Your IWB Holster