September 24, 2010
When a traditional holster won't do, it's time to get tricky.
People, especially those new to concealed carry, are often overly concerned about concealment. Not that concealment is not required; we just don't need to be concerned with every little bump. Thinking each bulge broadcasts that they are carrying a gun, folks can get paranoid and go unarmed when they shouldn't, and that just won't do. But there are times a traditional belt holster doesn't cut it—due to temperature, social situations, dress restrictions or other concerns—so finding an alternative carry method may be the difference between being armed or having to leave your gun behind.
The good news is that the marketplace has a multitude of manufacturers offering versions of the perfect carry method, some of them quite ingenious. Today's alternative options, far more varied than those of the not-too-distant past, include outerwear, underwear, pocket, deep concealment and off-body choices.
Vests are quite commonly used for concealment of a belt or shoulder holster but can also be used to carry a firearm. Concealed Carry Clothiers (concealedcarry.com, 888-959-4500) as well as several other manufacturers make vests with concealment pockets designed to hold removable Velcro holsters.
Concealed Carry Clothiers' casual-wear designs don't have a tactical look. Besides the obvious benefits as a method of carry, an advantage of using a vest is that a person innocently bumping into you would probably not recognize the feel of the gun in a vest or coat pocket as readily as one worn in a belt holster.
Typical vest carry has the gun located on the support side. When drawing, the support hand holds the garment open and the gun hand retrieves the pistol.
When carrying in a vest or an outer jacket pocket, I find it beneficial to place spare ammunition or other equally weighted object or objects in the opposite side to balance the load. Not only will it be more comfortable, the added weight will help keep the clothing hanging straight.
Care should to be taken to keep control of the vest as you walk and when it is windy to maintain proper placement of the garment in case there is a need to draw.
Another concealment clothing option is the shirt. 5.11 Tactical (511tactical.com, 209-527-4511) offers the Tactical Shirt, which features two concealment pockets on the upper chest. The openings of the pockets are invisible to the casual observer and are a great way to carry a lightweight gun. Looking carefully, it may be possible to see a slight bulge of the gun, but it is not easily recognizable as such—certainly not enough to be of concern.
The pockets are held closed by Velcro tabs that secure the gun and keep the pocket opening flat against the shirt. Even though it is called "tactical," the 5.11 shirt offers a casual appearance that will not betray its inner secrets. The draw is fairly easy. Just snake your gun hand into the pocket. The Velcro will release, offering easy access to the gun.
Increasingly popular, waist or fanny packs are a viable alternative to a traditional holster. Available in small, medium and large sizes, they can accommodate just about any size handgun. Closure is by zipper or hook-and-loop fastener. My preference is a zipper because it's quieter to open than hook-and-loop types. Take note of the zipper's quality when purchasing a waist pack. Compare models and choose one with a smooth zipper. The larger the teeth, the more reliable it will be because dirt will be less of a factor.
Most handgun fanny packs are designed with a elongated tab that sticks out between the hook-and-loop fasteners or dual zipper heads to open the pack. Pulling the tab downward separates the case to offer unfettered access to the gun. The tab can be pulled with either support or strong hand. When comparing products, check to see that the tab is of ample size to be easily accessed under stress.
Like just about everything else, there are good waist pack designs and bad ones. The most distinctive design difference is how securely they hold the gun. Avoid packs with a generic, loose "pocket holster" that holds many different gun models. If the holster doesn't fit your gun properly, the gun may fall out of the pocket and end up on the ground when you open the pack during a draw.
One of the best methods I have found to secure a gun inside a waist pack is a wide neoprene strap. A good example of this is the Escort or Elite Waistpack manufactured by Galco (usgalco.com, 800-874-2526). While the gun is held securely by the elastic material, it releases easily during the draw.
Pocket carry offers a unique advantage: You can keep your hand on your gun without arousing suspicion. Having your hand on your gun cuts your draw time in half and eliminates the draw completely if you keep your gun in a coat pocket and shoot through the clothing.
Use of a pocket holster is essential for carry in pants pockets because it maintains the gun in an upright position, breaks up the outline of the gun to keep it from printing and helps keep the gun free of pocket lint.
There are three types of pocket holsters delineated by their method of releasing the gun: the push-off holster, which uses the thumb to push the holster off the gun before lifting for the draw; the retention design, which has a hook to catch the holster on the pants during the draw; and loose-fit holsters, which stay in the pocket by friction.
My experience has shown that the first two options work best. One fine example is the pocket holster by Aholster Company (aholster.com, 423-972-1348). Made of Kydex, it is rounded to shape to your leg, offers a relatively flat-faced front to keep the gun from printing and the retention is perfect—just enough to keep the gun holstered yet easy to retrieve.
Pocket carry does not have to be restricted to small guns. I comfortably pocket carry two Ruger SP101s all day long. It is a good idea to refrain from putting anything in the pocket besides the gun because small objects such as keys and coins can get caught and foul the draw.
If all these other alternative carry methods aren't possible in a situation, it's time for the deep concealment holster, which buries the gun under clothing for maximum concealment. Some go deep inside the waistband, others underneath an outer shirt.
One example of deep concealment is SmartCarry (Concealed Pro
tection 3, smartcarry.com, 727-581-7001), which is a belted pocket worn in the front, beneath the pants, deep under the belt. I was introduced to this method years ago by a fellow student at training seminar. He came into class with a full-size 1911 carried in this fashion, and I was quite surprised at the stealth; I could barely make out a slight outline of the butt of the grip.
The SmartCarry is custom ordered; you supply your waist size and carry gun. The draw is accomplished by either pulling your waistband out with your support hand or simply burying your gun hand between your body and pant.
The success of this method of carry is somewhat dependent on the size and shape of your body. Being of short stature with a short rise, I found the SmartCarry was best reserved for smaller guns, but like demonstrated by my friend, full-size guns can work as well.
Similar in concept, the PagerPal (Concealed City, pagerpal.com) is a deep concealment holster that slides deep inside the pants, under the beltline, and attaches to the belt by way of a pager pocket. The modern incarnation is now called Cell/PDA Pal.
A generic holder encases a cell phone, PDA or any similar-size device and is the only part that shows. To draw, grasp the phone or PDA and lift the holster up from inside the pants to access the gun. If worn in the front, the support hand can reach into the pocket and push the Cell/PDA Pal up from the bottom to expose the gun. Available in three holster sizes, they will accommodate just about any gun.
And then there's the Bellyband, a wide strip of elastic cloth with a pocket to carry a gun. It may also be worn low on the waistline, partially under the beltline or just above it. This Galco offering has pockets for two guns and can carry other accessories as well.
For best concealment, the outer shirt should be large enough not to crowd the gun to avoid printing. The material also needs to be dense so it doesn't shape itself to the gun, and it can't be transparent for obvious reasons. Drawing from a bellyband requires you to either reach under, lift or open your shirt, which can be accomplished using either a one- or two-handed technique.
Here's a tip for making access easier: If you are using a button-down shirt for concealment, replace a few of the lower buttons with hook-and-loop fastener, then sew the buttons to the outside of the shirt to make it appear normal. The hook-and-loop fastener makes getting the shirt out of the way easier, faster and more reliable.
Kramer Handgun Leather (kramer leather.com, 888-KRAMER-1) makes a deep concealment shirt called the Confidant. Worn under a regular shirt, it places a gun beneath the armpit like a shoulder holster does. It works well for small and lightweight guns. You will need a method to lift or open your shirt quickly to access the gun, so modifying a shirt as I suggested above may work here too.
The last category of alternative carry is off-body. These are holsters that you carry rather than wear. They include day planners, handbags, briefcases and the like.
Of all the alternative options, off-body is my least favorite, and I don't recommend it. It has two huge drawbacks. First, if the container is out of reach, you may not be able to get to the gun if you need to. Second, someone else—from a crook to an innocent child—could gain access to your firearm. Off-body simply doesn't provide the 100 percent control of the weapon that you need.
Enough said about that. I want to wrap up with a few words about training, regardless of what alternative method of carry you've decided to go with. While some carry methods may be more conducive to a two-handed draw, try to develop a one-handed strategy as well. Learn to keep your support hand available for dealing with your family, blocking attacks or striking your opponent. In a hand-to-hand struggle, putting forward pressure on your attacker is the best way to gain and maintain a physical advantage, but you won't be able to sustain it if your draw requires both hands.
It is essential to practice your draw and shooting skills in the manner in which you might actually use them—especially so with alternative carry methods because they often require a more complicated draw stoke. If you carry at work and are at a desk most of the day, be sure to practice from a seated position. If your office chair has arms, use that type of chair in your training as well.
If you carry while driving, practice getting around or releasing your seatbelt. Don't forget to train to draw tight to your body so you don't hit the steering wheel. Running to cover is often a lifesaving tactic but may require the ability to draw and/or shoot on the move. Those skills should be rehearsed as well.
If you decide to add one or more of these or types of carry to your repertoire, practice your draw slowly at first and speed up as you acquire muscle memory. Regardless of how you choose to carry, keep in mind that the most important element to winning a gunfight is to have a gun.