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Is This Popular Covering Garment a CCW Tip-Off?

by James Tarr   |  February 13th, 2012 45

The modern tactical vest, first popularized by 5.11 Tactical, is a very well thought out, functional item. I first saw them used in the field in late 2002/early 2003 by spec-ops troops working EP (executive protection) details in Afghanistan. I personally own an Orvis Travel Vest (the granddaddy of all modern tactical vests), a Banana Republic vest from the 1980s (back when they actually made clothing suitable for wearing into banana republics), and a new Woolrich Elite vest very similar to the ubiquitous 5.11 vest.


The tactical vest is a popular choice for IDPA and other shooting competitions, but the author believes the vest is a dead giveaway that you're carrying concealed in a real-world/street setting.

If you attend an IDPA match, you’ll see that the great majority of competitors wear 5.11 tactical vests as their covering garment during the competition.


RELATED CONTENT: Getting Started in IDPA


That is perfectly fine. What I want everyone to realize, however, is that these kinds of tactical vests are the fashion equivalent of the unmarked cop car when it comes to real world carry. I highly caution against wearing them as a covering garment for your legally concealed handgun when out on the street.


The tactical vest is as much a victim of its own success as anything else, but the fact of the matter is, when I see anyone wearing one, no matter where I am, I immediately assume they’re armed. There is a reason why, locally, we refer to the 5.11-type tactical vests as the Shoot-Me-First vests or the IDPA Cape. They have become synonymous with concealed carry, and a lot of the bad guys know this as well.


Now, if your intention is to let everyone around you know you are carrying a gun, without the burden of true open carry, that’s fine. Wearing 5.11 apparel, you can be immediately recognized by those in the know as a member of the in-crowd, much like driving a Prius is a symbol to the “I care more about the Earth than you” liberal crowd. If, on the other hand, you are concealing your pistol because you want to pass unnoticed amongst the general populace, the tactical vest is not for you.


If you just must wear one on the street, get it in black, or green; any color other than “contractor” khaki. Your concealing garment should help protect you, not make you a bigger target.

  • hathus

    excellent point, i totally agree… not only 5.11 type vests but button up chamois shirts left untucked makes me assume that you are packing also… hoodies and regular jackets conceal just as well as a tactical vest and dont scream look at me im hiding something… try to look normal

    • Dammitgene

      Go to your local Harley-Davidson Dealer, loosen those purse-strings (H-D stand for hundred dollars) and pick up one of their sleeveless Shirt-Jac's. Make sure it is loose enough to cover your weapon and, at worst, you'll be thought of as some Harley-Davidson wannabee.

  • Bill K

    You can almost see who is and have to guess at who might be, by the top they are wearing, I believe. As mentioned look normal, not like a walking advertisment for CCW. Bill K

  • Jonathan

    I have worn a ScotteVest travel vest for years as I love all the pockets. I am a new CCW holder and am now realizing how many of my friends (most of which shoot IDPA) use a similar vest. I have gotten so used to wearing this vest I don't know what I should do. I can't think of any other garment that would work as well as the ScotteVest. Any suggestions??

    • bgbrown125

      Keep wearing it……. The general public will not know that you are carrying concealed.

    • Chuck

      I also wear ScotteVests, but I wear them for their photographic uses,eg lenses, flashes, filters, etc. Never thought about them as identifying me as a CCW user (and not many folks I talk to do either).

  • mike

    does anyone who makes concealed carry clothing make a regular sport jacket looking item?

    • Guest

      I, in fact, wear a regular sport jacket as a concealment garment. Works fine with either inside the waistband or outside the waistband holsters.

    • Carl Stevenson

      Look at the "firehouse presentation jacket" and other items from Duluth Trading Co.

      They are extremely durable, fuctional, and make great cover garmets.

  • bob

    If I see a guy over 40 with an untucked polo shirt I know he's carrying. So unless it's a t shirt better off with a real jacket.

    • J. Bender

      Hey…My kid tells me I'm in "style", not tucking in my shirt.
      Still wear white sneakers tho…

    • Guest

      I have only had my CCW for 2 years but have been wearing un-tucked polo shirts for over 20 years.

    • Kenneth Hershberger

      Bob, you obviously are neither over 40 nor overweight. Anyone else knows that overweight guys look better with our polo shirts untucked. It has absolutely nothing to do with carrying.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    I can say having carried concealed since 1996 that there are few off-the-rack clothes cut for concealed carry. Most blazers and sport coats are trimmed in the area where a regular OWB holster rides; therefore, you may be limited to an IWB holster for dress-up or just expect that obvious bump.
    And as for pocket carry in a dress jacket – forgetaboutit. Maybe an ultralight j frame or a Kel-tec, but not even a compact semi-auto.
    I learned a long time ago: Dress for the gun, not for fashion, if you want to carry concealed on a regular basis.

  • greg

    kinda like a fanny pack. that is a tip off also especially to a knowledgeable person.

    • bgb

      Do you have any idea how many of us ole coots that have been using the fanny pack as a carry all, even w/o guns

  • greg

    iwb holster in appendix position and a thick tee can work.

  • Bob Schroeder

    I live in Florida and light clothing is normal. My carry is a sub compact Ruger LC9. It fits fine in the pocket with or w/o a pocket holster. It has a modified trigger with 3/8 inch pull to break ( With 7 +1 in 9mm Corbon, it packs 470 ft lbs of stopping power. Weighs 20 oz. fully loaded. Great self defense gun, easty to shoot and accurate.You can't tell I carrying.

  • Richard Venola

    Khaki doesn't exist. Coyote Tan, Flat Desert Tan, Flat Dark Earth, Light Dark Coyote Desert Dust– anything but khaki. Get tuned into your 64-piece tactical crayola set.

  • Charles

    People that have a Concealed Carry Permit seem to believe that everyone wearing a loose fit shirt or a vest is packing.
    Well, as a fat man I have been wearing loose fit shirts and vest for twenty years, long before concealed carry even existed. And I have learned that a waist band on your loose fit light yellow shirt, or a fleece vest over your plaid flannel shirt seem to work well.
    And a pocket pistol in a pocket holster is still the best.

  • steve lamanen

    I agree with Mr. Tarr … why give away your tactical advantage? I find the IWB carry method very effective; with the proper carry tools. Business professionals are discovering our belt design gives them a tactical advantage… we can’t make them fast enough.

  • Will Carry

    I have a "shoot me first" vest. I thought it was hilarious when I first heard that term and I stopped wearing my 5.11 vest. It is a well made vest but it has too many pockets. I lost a $5 bill in there months ago. I can feel it but every time a reach into a pocket to get it, it's the wrong pocket.
    I really don't think wearing a tactical vest will put you in any more danger from attack. The fashion police may ridicule you but I ain't never been a slave to fashion. I just make sure my weapon is concealed and let people think what they want.

  • WD40

    Gents, as a full time federal law enforcement officer, I can assure you that sportcoat is the way to go. Get it either in your own size and have it let out a little on the strong side, or just purchase one size extra. Or – get an ankle holster. They actually work, and they really conceal unless you are sitting. We carry G19s in them and they work just fine.

    • WD40

      PS: The best sportcoat is Orvis' blue travel blazer. it is not capable of wrinkling, has a million pockets that will fit virtually anything, and wears like iron

  • Frank

    Actually it is not a "shoot me first" vest it is a "shoot6 me after the Open Carry Guy" vest. :)

    Gun people think everyone is carrying, regular people don't notice anything. (part of the reason they become victims so easily).
    I have stopped to get gas or a drink on my way to or from a match and I have never noticed anyone looking at me with my tactical pants, 5.11 vest, Hiking shoes and cap with my gun range name on it.
    I think you could duct tape a Glock to your forehead and go to Walmart and probably no one would notice.
    I can also promise that even though a jacket makes an excellent cover garment, you can't wear it except for 3 months out of the year with out melting into a sweaty puddle where I live.
    An untucked shirt, T-shirt or Button up shirt is what we have to deal with.

  • Tom F.

    I too like the LC9 for carry. Small and lightweight for easy conceal. I have to check out that short throw trigger as it is got to be much better than the stock trigger.

  • Norm

    Come-on, folks. You've been hanging-around fellow concealed carriers for way too long

    The none concealed-carry world is clueless about these vests. They have no idea if you are or aren't carrying a gun, much less a cell phone. You and I know it but we look for it. The average citizen never thinks of people carrying guns….

    And who cares if the bad guys know you're carrying. Let them know-it and prey on a softer target.

    As for hoodies, they scream thug or gang-banger. I trust no one wearing a hoodie with the hood up. They are obviously trying to hide something and it's usually never anything good.

    So if you own a tactical vest or a button-up untucked shirt, wear it and enjoy it!

    • mef55

      I agree with Norm. The non-gungeek public is absolutely clueless. In Ohio our first CCW law required us–really–to expose our firearm when in the car, so here we were removing our covering garment as we got into and out of car, casually exposing our gun because the law essentially insisted we do so. The law changed and eliminated that silly requirement after a very short time, but I can tell you people never looked twice at us with our holstered guns fully exposed to the world. If they don't see exposed firearms, what makes you think they look at a type of vest and think "gun?" The only comments I've gotten on my 5.11 vests have been from photographers who've asked where to buy them. Practice awareness and avoidance and stop getting hung up on things like this. –Mark

  • Guest

    Here, here. I agree Norm. It's paranoia.

    With 70% of our population overweight or obese most people dress like slobs anyway with their shirts and t-shirts untucked.

    The none concealed-carry world has no idea you're carrying a gun. You and I know it but we look for it. The average citizen never thinks of people carrying guns.

  • Frosty

    check out the 511 concealed carry short sleeve shirts
    looks like tommy bahama
    snaps instead of buttons, velcrow on hips
    does not scream "I'm a cop, shoot me first"

  • SemperFlyBoy

    I agree that, to me, a tactical vest is a pretty good indicator that a person is probably carrying. However, like many of you, I see a lot of these covering garments because I frequent the range and watch or participate in matches a lot. The question would be better asked of someone who is not a shooter. I live in a semi-rural area where the only people who wear blue blazers (and white belts) are car salesmen. Huntin' gear is common apparel. This plus the fact that less than 2% of the local population has a concealed carry permit makes me imagine that 98% of (at least our) locals would not look twice at a vested individual. If you are a CPA on your way to work in the big city, your mileage will definitely vary.

  • Glocksshooter

    Cool weather makes it easy to wear a vest without anyone taking much notice. I don't wear a tactical vest, however. My favorite vest is a Filson vest that has two large flapped pockets on the front that have brass snaps on the flaps. Use it either to cover a own or iwb holster, or put a small snubby revolver in a pocket holster in one of the front pockets. The heavy waxed-cotton doesn't print. I also like to wear Carhartt shirt jackets as cover garments. They are cut long, and come in black or other earth-toned colors. Very casual/outdoor look for each garment.

  • Snug

    Too bad we can't skip the crap and have open carry. "An armed society is a polite society."
    P.S. Carry open and practice,infinitum.

  • Alan

    Its not the uninformed public you need to worry about when you are armed but, law enforcement who are against CCW holders and the bad guys. The cheap plain old lined windbreaker is an excellent cover, just keep the gun company patches off of them.

  • Jones

    I carry a Smith 642 in an Aker pocket holster all the time, When the weather allows, that is if it's cool enough that I won't look odd I'll wear a "bush jacket" or some other coat that's long enough to cover a hip holster carrying a 1911. Obviously won't work on hot days. I don't think vests conceal very well and they advertise our armed state to some people. From an ideological standpoint, I like open carry but from kindness along we shouldn't frighten the grass eaters.

  • ckerst

    I used to wear a vest like that everyday as a photographer, also here in Florida there common as dirt with fishermen. To the guys that consider an untucked shirt a dead give away all I can say is you must not look around much. The only people I see tucking in their shirts are old or have to for whatever job they're doing. I carry an XD45 all the time IWB with a tee shirt or a button down casual shirt and nobody has ever noticed.

  • richiecotite

    people really wear that out and "concealed" lol?

  • Dudley Dowrong

    Ive carried concealed for 40 years now and live in a climate where you very rarely wear anything heavy unless you want to draw attention to yourself (Louisiana). The name of the game is Concealed where no one knows you carry. Unless you are a very close associate of mine no one knows I carry. I carry a S&W Airweight in a Desantis pocket holster (front jeans pocket). Glock 19 or 27 in an IWB Crossbreed and on the beach the glock 27 in a Thunderwear Holster (bathing suit just stay out of the water) All three locations can acquire a sight picture in quick fashion with practice. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU and put in many practice hours both dry (invest in lazer ammo) and at the range. Psst.. Carry doesn't stop because you are in your home.

  • Anthony

    I carry a Sig 229 or Kahr cw9 depending on where I'm going and what I am wearing. Some places you might go (say out to dinner) such a vest looks more like fishing trip attire. So instead I have a variety of holsters for each handgun. This way I can keep my concealed weapon the way I prefer, concealed. My gun does not dictate my wardrobe.

    • mef55

      "My gun does not dictate my wardrobe."

      Your gun should, in fact, dictate your wardrobe. In an emergency you are going to reach for a habitual location…only you don't have a habitual location, because sartorial splendor is apparently more important than having well-ingrained habits that will allow you to react immediately and without thought in drawing and presenting your firearm when an attack calls for it. Your immediate thoughts will be concentrating on more important things like what the attacker is doing, rather than "where is my gun today, and what gun is it anyway, and what trigger system does it have," etc. I hope you practice a LOT.

  • OregonKid07

    I wear a Galco shoulder holster over a tee shirt and under a sport shirt or other short sleeved shirt. I live in Florida and am overweight so extra large shirts are normal wear for me. Sloppy dress is the way to go, whenI dress up my sport jacket or suit coat cover my XD 40 very well.

  • george delapp

    I agree they make you look very out of place in any setting except a photographers convention. I have found that black teeshirts cover and hide a gun outline better than most other shirts I have tried then I wear a long sleeve button up shirt over that I know this works well because I have carried a gun this way for a long time and even before it was legal if I felt the need I even have had close interaction with law enforcement people and have never been questioned or detained while carrying I also carry a commander sized or full sized 1911 most of the time.

  • Bring

    Maybe do a follow-up article listing some items of apparel that function incredibly well for concealed carry, like 5.11 Tactical's line of covert and concealed carry shirts. Just my opinion!

  • remat457

    Depends where you live. Out here in the Seattle-area people regularly wear fishing/photographer vests. For some reason we want to always appear like we are about to go hiking (vests, hats, backpacks, hiking boots, etc) . I wore my 5.11 vest (khaki) to work just to see what the reaction was and all I got were people asking if I was going fishing after work.

  • Bob Justice

    I always wear photog vests because I don’t like carrying all my stuff in my pants pockets. My ample junk makes enough bulges in my pants. On the rare occasions when I do carry, I use an inside the belt holster or just stick a .25 auto in my pocket! No one has ever sized me up for wearing a tactical or photog vest. Never been stopped by any cops or mall rent a cops for my vest. and it has tons of bulges. Medicine, pen, knife, wallet, business card holders, candy in case of low blood sugar, a flashlight, keys, pocket watch, cell phone, I have more stuff than my wife’s purse!

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