Carrying concealed is a choice between solid retention, ease of use and comfort. It is always my intent to relate what works over what is prettiest or most comfortable. What I can say from experience is that belt holsters are the best for concealed carry, specifically inside the waist band (IWB). There are environments and needs for shoulder holsters as a result any serious concealed carrier should train with a good shoulder holster if you can afford it. How does this make sense? This is the purpose of the article.
In my lengthy experience carrying concealed, over 20 years of 8-12 hours a day, I hesitate to promote comfort (click here to read my article The Top Five Most Comfortable Concealed Carry Holsters) I would rather promote what works and give you reasons for that. The reality is with concealed carry holsters you want a few very important things. A holster must cover the trigger and it must fit your specific gun.
Additionally it must be solid and able to keep shape to promote a safe holstering or draw for use! There are several very good shoulder holster selections available. However, it is a very restricted approach to carry. Carrying your handgun using an IWB holster (Click Here To Read my Review of Crossbreed IWB Holsters) allows the greatest amount of practical ability and movement. This does not mean the IWB holster is best, it really is reliant on your specific needs. First we need to look at safety needs and requirements.
How you carry is as important as what you carry. This is an indisputable reality when it comes to concealed carry. If you use crap to carry and by default protect your tools, when it comes time to use your tools you may find that crap has caused you to not be able to defend yourself.
There are literally dozens of incidents of malfunctions caused by how someone carried and or a lack of their training. Be safe and be smart always. Concealing a firearm requires two things to be done safely every time. A way to cover or keep up control of the trigger, and a way to hold the firearm securely on or close to the person. A solid holster (Click Here to See M.D. Creekmore’s Favorite Handgun Holsters) is a good start, though sometimes, a bikini style snap on trigger protector for pocket carry also works.
Know why you carry concealed!
There is a very real moral and legal obligation attached to carrying for self defensive purposes. You will be held to a higher standard of care, meaning, your every single move if the need to defend yourself ever occurs will be put through a fine tooth comb and you could be judged in a public forum as well.
In today’s world it is highly likely you will spend time in jail regardless your innocence and you will absolutely see a physical monetary cost as well. I carry to insure the continuing happiness of myself and my family. I carry because only federal politicians and super rich people can afford body guards. I carry because I am my own best defense in any situation that may occur. Why do you carry?
Never intentionally show anyone that you are carrying and avoid trouble at all costs. Again I cannot stress enough the importance of concealing your carry. In today’s political climate especially, it is essential to remember that police will respond to call outs where a gun is involved. They will detain or question you and in most cases legally you are required to respond to basic questions. Avoid this issue by simply not exposing your firearm or defensive tool.
Waist band carry is by far the most popular and safest approach to concealed carry.
The most popular current approach is appendix carry, or directly behind the belt buckle above the groin. This is no more or less safe than any other method of carry, and while this approach is more suited for fit people I have several friends who carry this way and have a bit extra weight.
This approach suits right and left handed carriers well and is extremely easy to hide both a firearm and magazine in a combination holster setup. A version of this is found here on Amazon. I will say that personally I find this approach to be difficult for myself at this time, given my shortened stature due to missing parts in my back and my rather odd shape overall, it is not a method I can comfortably carry in.
This approach works well with training, I would suggest gaining some experience prior to use of this approach. I have seen people hide full size 1911s and long slide Glocks in this way, though honestly, I am not sure how everything fits in some cases.
Next you have the 1-3 or 9-11 o’clock carry. Assume your nose is 12 o’clock and your arms are 3 and or 9 o’clock and you get the drift about my use of clock based measurements. I prefer this approach and generally carry in a 2 o’clock position as I am right handed. I have and can however carry on my left side and do so every once and awhile as I also train with that side.
This method is comfortable for men and women regardless size, what is important is finding a holster that allows for ease of use and comfort without pinching your side. I use one with a sweat shield that extends above the back of the handgun, this prevents any pinching from occurring and promotes less potential for excess moisture buildup as during the summer months regardless your place you will sweat or get rained on.
This carry method is by far the easiest to use for the novice through professional and with some minor adjustments can easily hide even full sized handguns. Here is a link to a solidly manufactured holster that can be found in your pistol size and will work very well, CYA Holsters costing around $40 apiece which is standard pricing these days for a good holster.
Lastly, with waist band carry you have behind the back or in the small of the back carry. This approach was made more popular with hollywood than . In fact, most people will find that having to reach behind your back is similar to reaching cross-draw and can in fact have detrimental affects on your ability to engage a threat easily and without wasting energy or time.
I have only met one person that could use this approach well, and I have met many who use it. I should add the belly band as well, personally I and several others who tested this approach did not find it to be beneficial. It works well for very deep concealed carry, but not so great for advantageous judicious use of deadly force applications.
Meaning, it takes to long to use and in fact in some cases caused malfunctions with the firearm with those who tested the ones I had.
Shoulder Holsters for Concealed Carry
Next we look at shoulder holsters, while I do not carry using a shoulder holster most of the time, there are some very real benefits to doing so. The essential part of using a shoulder holster is making sure it is properly fitted to your body and designed specifically for your handgun. My suggestion is to avoid inexpensive models made from nylon and cheap leathers for focused use. This means that you holster choices will start around $100 and go up for this particular approach.
What you want to know is, why use a shoulder holster? If you have a suppressed handgun, shoulder rigs are really perfect. If you are using a heavier handgun, and generally speaking 1911 handguns weigh over 35 ounces to start and that is without a magazine loaded with 8 whole rounds. A properly fitted shoulder holster can easily allow a more comfortable carry experience.
Wearing that much weight on the belt can over time cause issues with the spine. Lastly, in some cases a good shoulder holster can allow for a higher instance of concealment over many other approaches. Shoulder holsters need you too reach across the body to draw the handgun, and doing this ensures the muzzle is pointed behind you for the first seconds of the draw.
This can be unsafe unless you practice regularly, and while some ranges may allow practice with your draw, no legitimate public range will be okay with you drawing from a shoulder rig. Be ready to practice with an unloaded firearm at home.
What are the downsides of both methods of carry?
Belt based carry options have very few problems, however, they are relatively extreme. Primarily the issues that arise directly relate to the spine itself. This weight regardless natural or extra natural (other than natural-handgun, knives, wallet, keys etc.,) in nature will cause the pelvis to tilt which adds strain to the lower lumbar region.
This is made more clear if you carry the weight without fitting it well. For myself this means my extra pounds of fat (Read my Article Concealed Carry For Fat Guys Here) and the various items I carry on my person that are extra natural do directly impact my already degraded spinal condition. I am able to somewhat negate this issue by decreasing the weight of the objects carried.
By using polymer framed handguns versus the far weightier 1911 models (Is The 1911 a Good Concealed Carry Handgun) I am able to increase my firepower and decrease my weight. Additionally on bad days with the back I carry my lighter load-outs, still allowing me superior firepower but at a reduced capacity. My chosen carry options regardless place are, Glock 19 with 1 to 2 spare magazines, Smith and Wesson MP Shield 9 with 1-2 spare magazines. Both of these are half and a third the weight of a standard 1911 with one magazine loaded.
Additional issues with belt carry are related to real concealment of the firearm itself. While it is easily concealed on the waist area, it is the draw that is less concealable. One can argue that this is not a reason, and indeed with solid, regular practice you can cut your profile and be on target before the target realizes you are.
However, most law enforcement and every single repeat violent offender I have ever talked to easily recognizes the furtive movement related to drawing a firearm.
To counter this there are several solid options. If you are in an urban area seek cover first or concealment at a bare minimum. You are not the Earp’s, do not attempt a gun battle with drunken assailants in broad daylight without cover and definitely do not be the guy that initiates the issues by starting a fight with someones significant other.
Avoid all issues by walking away, only respond with deadly force when and if there are absolutely no other options. I have drawn or started to draw my handgun 3 times in defense. I only did this because I had no retreat options available.
Yes, I am aware of the castle doctrine, no retreat and defense laws of the different states, what I am doing is offering a valid moral variation for your consideration. Does anyone deserve to die over a silly argument about a parking space or even a wallet? In the end it is your decision, however, why are you making that decision.
Shoulder holsters offer what amounts to greater issues for practical concealed carry in my opinion. Whereas the belt mounted holster is accessible with greater speed and can be easily concealed while not in use, the shoulder rig requires you to reach across your body to draw and unless you wear covering garments often disallows truly good concealed options. I prefer using a good shoulder holster when I am camping, hiking or hunting. In urban areas I want a belt holster for concealment and while in rural areas I tend to open carry where I live.
How does cross body draw affect the ability to safely recover and present the handgun for use? Do this simple experiment, sitting or standing facing a mirror in front of you. Take your strong hand and reach across your body, you want to place your palm under your arm behind and below your pectoral muscle. Now put on a light jacket and do it again, this time reaching under the jacket. Now extend your index finger and bring your other fingers back as if they are gripping a firearm.
Reach under your jacket again, this time look and see where your finger is aiming. Consider if you have your family or non aggressors behind you and remember, when under stress the body tends to tighten muscle involuntarily. Involuntary discharges are a real problem and there have been several studies in this regards. (Kaminsky, 2013) (Heim, Et al. 2006) I do have several other studies available feel free to ask! Why encourage more potential for friendly fire incidents?
Remember, if you are actually reaching for the firearm you will need to move the covering garment, repeat this experiment but this time try and figure out the best way to do it quickly and safely. Now try the same experiment but this time with the belt carry holster. Use the following process as outlined, it will work well and can be adapted to fit your needs easily.
Drawing from concealed carry with the weapon on the body, regardless place, has an easy approach that takes practice to master. Here is the basic approach which easily applies to any on body concealed carry.
- Place dominate hand firmly over the backstrap of the handgun firmly up into the beaver tail.
- Support hand reaches across your body and grasps the bottom of clothing hanging over a firearm and pulls up in one smooth motion.*
- Dominate hand grips the butt of the handgun with a strong, firmly seated grip. Ensuring that the web of the hand is firmly wedged at the top of the grip and under the curve where the slide rests.
- Ensure that your trigger finger is OUTSIDE and above the trigger guard along the frame, either straight or slightly crooked will work.
- Draw straight out of the holster, this means that if the holster is canted forward, you will draw straight out at a forward angle and so on.
- Rotate the barrel up and out pointing towards the target with your hand and firearm close to your body.
- Remove your support hand from the clothing and come up to meet your dominate hand and firearm. This step can be before you rotate or during, however, it is in this place because it is easiest to remember.
- Meet the dominate hand with the support hand and complete a crushed grip on the handgun as you extend the firearm out towards the target.
- Press the trigger with the first segment of your trigger finger smoothly until the firearm discharges.
- Do this while unloaded and clear to better understand the approaches. Ensure that your actions are safe and the handgun is unloaded.
- Once you have discharged the firearm at a threat, target or while dry firing carefully remove your support hand while maintaining the safe direction with the firearm close to the body and aimed forward.
- With your support hand make sure the covering clothing is clear of the holster and carefully with your finger along the rail re-holster the firearm. It is essential to do this AFTER making sure the covering clothing is clear of the holster.
Using these basics for drawing you can with a small amount of practice learn to draw and fire and through use of stable basics easily be on target regardless sight picture. The result is better combat accuracy and ability under duress. Remembering that fine motor skills and endless lists of approaches can cause confusion, keep it simple stupid!
Shoulder holster or belt holster for concealed carry? My response is the same I have for many things with regards to concealed carry needs. What are your needs? Do you live in a rural area or in an urban area? Do you plan on carrying daily and training at a minimum monthly?
Depending on your answers you will be able to answer the question posed easily given the information provided. Personally I prefer belt carry even with a failed spine and extra cushion. I do however own and use shoulder holsters though my uses with these are very specific and they are not regular carry options.
Free the mind and the body will follow…
Heim, C., Schmidtbleicher, D., & Niebergall, E. (2006). The Risk of Involuntary Firearms Discharge. Human Factors, 48(3), 413–421. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872006778606813
Kaminsky, S. (2013). Accidental Discharges by the Police. [online] Homicidecenter.org. Available at: http://homicidecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Police-Accidental-Discharge-Research-Brief-FINAL.pdf [Accessed 29 Nov. 2018].