Back in the day, there weren’t many resources for questions about concealed carry. Simple trial and error taught me what did and didn’t work. These days there’s no end of information out there. The Internet offers an enormous amount of concealed carry advice; most of it good, some of it not, all of it fragmented.
The most important feedback I can give a new concealed carrier — and there are a lot of them out there now — is this: think of concealed carry holistically. Think of carrying a firearm as a three-part system, where each part connects to form a comfortable, safe, secure and efficient whole.
Part 1 – It’s All About the Base
Like layering in inclement weather, a good concealed carry system starts with your base. Your base includes the firearm, holster and belt.
Carefully consider what firearm you will start carrying. I emphasize “start” because your choice of handgun will evolve as you become a more experienced shooter and gain experience with the ins and outs of everyday carry.
A compact 9mm handgun holding a minimum of 10 rounds of ammunition is a great jumping off point. A small-but-not-tiny 9mm gun loaded with 10+1 rounds of powerful-but-not-overwhelming self-defense ammo enables reasonable concealment, controllable recoil, considerable accuracy and more-than-merely adequate “stopping power.”
The Right Holster
There’s a huge, not-to-say bewildering variety of holsters from which to choose, made from a wide range of materials, using a number of attachment systems.
IMHO new concealed carriers should stay away from anything other than a traditional holster worn on the hip (i.e., appendix, pocket, shoulder and ankle holsters). While outside-the-waistband holsters are the open carrier’s friend, inside-the-waistband holsters offer optimal concealment.
Find a store that lets you try holsters before you buy one. If you can’t — and even if you can — understand that holster selection is an ongoing process. Most gun owners have a shoebox or two full of rejected holsters. While it’s both expensive and time-consuming, it’s always best to leave uncomfortable and/or impractical and holsters behind as soon as possible, and move on.
A Good Gun Belt
A gun belt for concealed carry needs to be rigid enough to support the weight of your gun and holster and hold up your pants. That’s not going to be your everyday dress belt. It’s a belt designed for that job. Gun belts come in several different widths and styles, many with built-in reinforcement of some kind. A good gun belt isn’t cheap but it’s well worth the money.
Part 2 – Your Lower Body
Whether you wear dress pants, khakis, blue jeans or shorts, your pants should support the size, weight and shape of your gun, holster and belt.
If you’re carrying a gun in an inside-the-waistband holster, you may need to buy your pants a size larger than normal, to create enough extra space to fit your firearm. Make sure there are enough belt loops of the appropriate width (in a suitable position) to accommodate and support your gun belt.
Ideally, your front pockets should be horizontal to conceal supporting equipment such as knives and flashlights. The back pockets should be patch pockets without flaps or closure options, for those times when you need to carry additional equipment.
If you can’t or won’t change your wardrobe to dress around the gun, you may need to forgo my advice on the ideal starter gun and buy a slimmer, lighter firearm in a smaller caliber with a lower capacity (e.g., a 7+1 Ruger LCP II). Or opt for an outside-the-waistband holster.
[Obviously this advice doesn’t apply to women carrying in a dress, skirt, yoga pants, etc. That’s another subject of a separate article.]
Part 3 – Your Upper Body
What you wear on the top half of your body helps conceal your gun and holster, however you choose to carry it. There are two main considerations: visual and practical.
When someone can see the outline of your gun (or a part of your gun) even though it’s covered, that’s called “printing.” It’s not illegal, but it’s not ideal. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid printing. Shirts in a dark or neutral color are better for disguising a firearm’s outline or a sharp corner, as are shirts with stripes or broken patterns.
Whether your upper body’s covered by a single layer or multiple layers, whether your shirt is buttoned down or open front, you need to be able to retrieve your firearm from under your cover garment quickly and efficiently. That takes a careful combination of gun, holster, belt and clothing And it takes a lot of practice that you can do (with an unloaded gun).
Many people decide to carry a concealed firearm without realizing that they have to create a discreet, comfortable and efficient concealed carry system in order to do it comfortably and well. That requires the interplay of equipment and dress, and a great deal of experimentation. Trial and error. Time and money. Given the stakes, both will be well spent.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.