October 06, 2023
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If you want to conceal carry a large handgun on your body, you have just a few placement options. First is a shoulder holster, which nobody ever thinks of these days, as they aren’t popular. The second is carrying the pistol on your waistline—either in an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster, inside-the-waistband holster (IWB), or appendix carry (AIWB—appendix inside-the-waistband). We’re not talking off-body carry here (backpack, briefcase, purse), this article deals with actually wearing the gun. Worn, not borne.
I’ve been carrying a handgun pretty much daily since I got out of college in 1990, and 99 percent of the time I carry a full-size handgun, as my thinking is that if I’ve only got a pistol on me, I want it to be the most capable pistol possible. For over a decade I daily carried an all-steel 5-inch .45 ACP 1911. When I switched to a Glock 34 (the 5.3-inch barreled 9mm which was the same size but weighed nearly a pound less), it felt like not carrying a gun, so I discovered it’s all what you’re used to. Favoring full-size handguns to carry, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips that make it easier.
Clothing For Big Handguns
First, I have to say that I am speaking as a man and talking about men’s clothing. Women’s fashion is generally a mystery to me (other than knowing what I like to look at), and generally, women wear clothing that is completely unsuited to conceal carry a firearm. Whereas most adult men wear pants (that aren’t skintight), held up with belts. Second, you will have to make compromises. If you want to carry a big gun, you will generally have to dress for it and around it. You will also need a holster to enclose the gun and a quality belt to support the gun and holster. If you carry inside your pants, you’ll need to buy pants that are larger than your waist size, usually by two inches or so. That goes for your belt, too. As for covering garments, the looser the better, and patterns always do a better job of hiding bulges than solid colors. Random patterns are better than plaids—there are tactical reasons why I wear Hawaiian shirts, in addition to being a fashion trendsetter.
Depending on your body shape, you maybe have a harder/easier time concealing a pistol in various places on your body. The bigger/taller/skinnier you are, the more closely you’re built like a human coat hanger, so the easier you’ll be able to hide a big gun on you. Weather plays an imortant role, too. Summer in Florida is miserably hot no matter what, and you won’t want to wear any extra layers. During Michigan winters, I could hide two Oompa-Loompas armed with shotguns under my coat. The belt plays an important role as well. Honestly, if you want to wear one of those wilderness-type tactical nylon belts with cobra buckles, go for it. However, they scream, “I’ve got a gun!” as much as a tan 5.11 “shoot me first” tactical vest. Leather belts are the way to go, and the thicker the better. The best leather isn’t leather but rather horsehide, as its much tougher and less prone to stretching, but it is more expensive. If you don’t want to go with a full 1.5-inch wide belt, try to get one specifically intended for concealed carry that has a double layer or some sort of stiffener so it lasts more than a year.
Holsters and Carry Style
The brand and style of holster doesn’t really matter, as long as it properly encloses the triggerguard. The closer the holster is to your body, the more you’ll feel it, so material and padding will matter more. No matter what, you will end up with a box of holsters you’ve bought, tried and discarded as they didn’t quite work as well as you wanted. The only way to know what is right for you is trial and error involving hours of daily carry.
Now, for types of carry. Should holsters are more popular than you might think, based on sales, but they are the definition of “dressing around your gun.” You will need to have a jacket or suitcoat on, or perhaps a baggy sweatshirt, although drawing from a shoulder holster under a sweatshirt won’t be that quick or easy. The advantage of a shoulder holster is the ability to carry a big gun in such a way that hides it well, usually with spare magazines under your other arm. You don’t even need to be wearing pants to wear a shoulder holster. Hey, no judgement! You do you. The Galco Miami Classic/Classic II is the standard against which all other shoulder rigs should be judged. It’s functional, stylish, and Don Johnson wore one on Miami Vice—that’s a win-win-win.
Outside the Waistband
For outside the waistband (OWB), I carry strong-side OWB, which means a belt holster outside my pants on my hip, covered with a Hawaiian shirt in the summer and a sweatshirt or thick cotton/flannel shirt in the winter. A gun carried here is the hardest to conceal of all the other options discussed here, but it’s the quickest to deploy. You want a holster that tucks the gun in somewhat close to your body (for concealment) but not so close you can’t get a good grip on it for a speedy draw. I prefer polymer/Kydex holsters simply because they don’t stretch out and last forever. They are not as pretty as leather rigs. though. For years, I carried a 1911 in a Kramer (horsehide) Vertical Scabbard, as horsehide looks like leather but endures abuse like plastic. I’ve used Blade-Tech belt rigs and for most of the past year have been running a SIG P226R in a Safariland 5198. With a spare magazine on my off side, of course. As a general rule, any holster approved for use by IDPA (and there’s a list) is a good place to start.
Inside the Waistband
For inside-the-waistband (IWB), there are more IWB rigs on the market than there are stars in the sky. You will have to try them out to see what works for you. When carrying IWB, I actually find it easier and more comfortable to carry bigger guns, because the muzzles of shorter guns poke me in the curve of my hip, but your experience will likely differ. With the gun inside your pants, you don’t have to worry about your covering garment riding up and flashing the bottom of your holster or the muzzle of your gun. You can wear a shorter/thinner covering garment. Whether carrying OWB or IWB, you have to be aware of you, your body and your covering garment when you’re out in the world. I’ve had the wind blow my shirt open as I walked across parking lots, flashing my gun. While bent over in the aisle of a grocery store, I suddenly realized a nearby woman wasn’t staring at my butt but rather the butt of my gun. Luckily, I looked like the cop I used to be, so I just smiled and nodded and went our separate ways.
Appendix Inside the Waistband
Regarding appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB), honestly, I think one of the reasons for the current popularity of appendix carry is that more people want to carry their tricked-out Roland Specials. Those aren’t small guns, and there’s no better way to conceal a large pistol on your waistline than stuffing it down the front of your pants. I want everyone carrying big guns with impressive capacities, so if the fight comes, they are more likely to win. The more you like and carry your gun, the more likely you are to practice with it, so win-win.
Let me back up a bit, in case you’re not up on the lingo. A “Roland Special” generally means a mid- or full-size pistol wearing a slide-mounted red dot and maybe a weapon-light clamped to the rail. Even if you start with the compact and concealable Glock 19 as your base gun, once you add a red dot, weapon-light, and maybe a spare/extended magazine, that’s a lot of cubic inches. Stick that outside your belt on your hip and you will definitely have to throw on a baggy covering garment. If the pistol is inside your waistband on your hip, as opposed to outside, it is easier to conceal, but there is no better place on your body to hide a big gun than inside your pants at the front of your body. For most people, fat or skinny, you can stick a full-size gun in a holster there, and a simple loose t-shirt will conceal it completely.
I’ve tried it but never liked carrying AIWB, for several reasons. First, I’ve never found it comfortable, either while standing or sitting down, where your gear tends to jab your wedding tackle. Second, I just am not comfortable with a gun pointed at or adjacent to my family jewels. You should always be careful when re-holstering that there isn’t a drawstring or the hem of a shirt caught in the triggerguard of your pistol, but that’s doubly true when the muzzle is heading down there. As AIWB is hugely popular, there are a lot of choices on the market. I just received a Safariland IncogX, which comes with a spare magazine pouch, and as I recently just dropped some weight (which means my pants are loose enough for IWB) I’m going to try it out. The only way you learn is by doing, but hopefully these few general tips will help out.
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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