You spent countless hours researching your options before purchasing your carry pistol. You picked up your pistol and bought a holster off the shelf at the gun shop almost as an afterthought.
Now you CCW permit rides in your wallet or purse, your pistol sits on a shelf at home, and your holster lives in the bottom of your underwear drawer.
Not quite what you imagined when you decided to carry, is it?
The majority of people I meet who have concealed carry permits rarely carry their pistols, if ever. When asked, they give one or more of the following three reasons:
• The pistol is too uncomfortable to carry.
• I can’t conceal it effectively.
• It won’t work with my clothes.
In almost every case, it is because that person invested in a holster, not in a system.
Sometimes it is a poor holster, or not suited to concealed carry. Often the holster is a good holster. But carrying a pistol is a serious choice that requires a serious commitment. Part of that commitment requires choosing a system that works for you. In this article, we will go step-by-step through the choices that must be made in refining your concealed carry system.
1. You need to choose whether you will carry on the body or off of the body.
In almost every case, I discourage off-body carry. In a few cases, it is the best or only choice, however. Carrying off the body requires great care in keeping the pistol secure. A concealed carry purse may not be such a good idea when you place it on the floor in a restaurant and the toddler at the next table is crawling around the floor. You will also need to pay close attention to keeping the pistol accessible and training to retrieve it quickly without fumbling.
We will assume that most people will carry on the body for these reasons.
2. You need to choose where on the body you will carry the pistol.
Strong side just behind the hip is the recommended position for carry on the belt. This position will work exceptionally well for most people because it is in an accessible location, is easily concealed, and can be protected.
A cross-draw position is often ideal for people who spend a lot of time seated in a vehicle. While it has some disadvantages, it allows comfort and easy access when seated, and is not blocked by a seat belt.
Many women find that appendix carry works best for them for both comfort and concealment.
Small-of-the-back carry in any orientation or type of holster is strongly discouraged. This position offers very poor concealment, is uncomfortable and inaccessible when seated, and is highly dangerous as it is common for serious spinal injuries to result from this carry position.
Shoulder holsters can be an option for some people, but are generally not the best choice for most, and restrict clothing choices more than other carry methods.
Pocket holsters can be a very good option, especially in cold weather when large coats are worn, or in very hot weather when minimal clothing is worn.
Ankle holsters are an option, but restrict the type of pistol that may be carried, and restrict the positions the body may be in when drawing the pistol. It also restricts the type of clothing that can be used.
3. Your choice of carry location can affect you pistol choice. Pocket, ankle, or appendix carry may require a small pistol, while strong-side IWB or cross-draw may allow for a full-sized pistol.
4. Your choice of carry location and pistol choice will affect your holster choice, and all of these will affect your clothing decisions. Once you have chosen how you will carry, you need to assemble your concealed carry system.
Concealed carry system components
Of course, you must have a pistol in order to carry one. Choose a pistol that has a proven record of quality and reliability. Be sure it is a pistol that you shoot well. Make sure it is appropriate for the style of carry you have chosen. Shoot it enough to gain confidence in its reliability and shoot it often to maintain your skills.
Ammunition matters. Don’t go cheap, but don’t waste money on designer ammo that boast unrealistic effectiveness (stay away from pre-fragmented frangible ammo, for example, which despite marketing claims has proven to have dismal performance in real-world shootings). Stick with good proven hollow points from reputable manufacturers. Look at what police departments are commonly carrying as a good indicator of what works well. Loads using Speer Gold Dots and Remington Golden Sabers are popular among police departments in my area, and Winchester and Hornady make some bullets and loads that are used heavily by law enforcement.
Be sure you shoot enough of your carry ammo to prove its performance in your particular pistol. It is well worth the cost.
You should always carry at least one extra magazine when carrying your pistol. I consider two extra magazines to be the minimum. This means that you will have at least three magazines for carry purposes. You also need to have at least three magazines that are dedicated to training. Magazines are consumable, and will be worn out with training, so keep an extra set for training.
Don’t cheat on the holster. It needs to be a good design. It needs to be made from quality components. It needs to hold the pistol safely and securely. The holster needs to be stiff enough that it keeps its shape over time. You don’t need the most expensive holster, but don’t go cheap.
You need a magazine pouch to carry your extra magazines. It needs to be accessible, concealable, and present the magazines correctly for fast reloads. It should hold the magazines in a position to be drawn with the non-firing hand.
If you are using a holster that will be worn on the waist, you need a quality holster belt. Notice that I did not say a quality belt. I said a quality HOLSTER belt. It needs to be a belt designed for carrying a holster. I cannot stress this enough. The belt is at least as important as the holster, of not more so. Be aware that some of the belts advertised as holster belts, instructor belts, rigger belts, or tactical belts are actually poor platforms for supporting a holster, and fall more into the category of what I consider tactical fashion. Many also advertise that the wearer is likely to be carrying a pistol, since they are not what normal people wear. The best choice, in my opinion, is usually a classic leather belt designed to support a holster. A good belt of this type will easily last 20 years, and does not look out-of-place or advertise that the wearer is carrying a pistol.
In many cases people who think that they have trouble getting a holster to work well, or who go through multiple holsters trying to find one that will work, actually just need a quality belt.
One of the most common statements I get from people trying to decide on a holster is, “I’m not going to change how I dress.” My response often is, “Then you won’t be carrying your pistol.” I spend many hours trying to help people find a carry solution that will work with how they currently dress, knowing that they won’t find a solution because of the way they dress.
I speak with people often who want to carry on the waist but refuse to wear a belt, or who want to carry IWB who won’t go up a pant size. Guess what? If you always wear sweatpants, your options are limited, and that paddle holster you’re considering isn’t one of them. It’s time to change how you are dressed.
Now many people who carry concealed want to look the part. But the point of concealment is to avoid looking the part. I don’t like “tactical concealed carry clothing” that is worn only by people who carry. I don’t like “concealed carry vests,” fleece vests, or obviously branded concealed carry clothing. Anything that stands out as being worn only for the purpose of concealing a pistol seems like a bad idea to me.
I have been impressed with clothing such as Woolrich’s concealed carry line, which is designed to look like normal clothing, with patterns engineered to hide the shape of a pistol if it prints, and nothing that looks out-of-place.
If you are wearing a pistol on your belt, then you may need to try several brands of pants in order to find belt loops that line up in the right place. If you carry in a pocket holster, then you may need to experiment to find pants or skirts with pockets that are the right size and shape to carry a pistol. Women will find appropriate pockets especially hard to find, since both women’s pants and skirts usually have fake or very shallow pockets.
If you are wearing a shoulder holster, then a covering garment must always be worn. Many people are surprised to discover that shoulder holsters can be somewhat difficult to conceal. They sometimes print front and back and it is common for the shoulder straps to show through the covering garment if the wrong kind of clothing is used.
The bottom line is that clothing is part of your concealment system, and if you are truly dedicated to carrying, then you need to accept that adjustments to your wardrobe are likely necessary.
You need serious training. If you have not had it, you don’t shoot well enough. You don’t know enough. You are not ready for a fight. You are not prepared unless you have had the right training. I have seen people who could shoot incredibly tiny groups with a pistol at 50 meters who fell apart the first time they had to shoot a scenario in a training course that involved movement, multiple targets, reloads, or malfunction drills. No matter how good you can shoot at the range, you need to be trained to fight; it is not the same thing.
We prefer Israeli method training, as it is simple, practical, and designed to work well for individuals in self-defense situations, but there are several methods that are very practical for self-defense. Try to find instruction that is simple and practical, and avoid flashy Hollywood-type training or training that is based around military or law enforcement methods that require teams.
I know people who carry more stuff on their bodies every day than Navy SEALs take on missions. That is fine, but more practical people will limit how much stuff they carry on a trip to the grocery store. There are a few things that make sense, and your personal situation may dictate what you carry. Most people would benefit from having a flashlight at hand, and a cell phone is good to have as well. I keep the local police dispatch number in my phone so that I can call the police in situations that may not be a full-blown emergency worthy of tying up 911 lines. I have had to use this number on several occasions. I carry a knife and also carry a lighter for starting survival fires if necessary, since I often travel in remote areas of Alaska. What you carry will depend on you, but I consider a flashlight and a phone to be good companions for your concealed carry pistol.
Once you set up a good concealed carry system, consisting of a pistol and magazines, holster, belt, magazine pouches, clothing that works for your style of carry, and proper training with regular practice based on what you learned, you will find that you will be able to carry with confidence, comfort, and effectiveness. Leave out one component, and you may find yourself leaving your pistol at home.