Being involved with Concealed Carry on so many levels affords me a great opportunity to share my experiences. Like many people my primary means of learning seems to be the hard way, through making mistakes. Over the years I have developed a three part carry system to help with my everyday carry needs. They are the base components, my lower unit and upper unit.
On the Job Training
As I look back, I would have loved had there been some sort of resource to answer questions or give direction. There really wasn’t, many of the lessons learned were from trial and error. The number of holsters I have gone through is staggering, but each of them provided me valuable feedback. The most important feedback possible and what I share whenever I can is to define your mission. What are you trying to accomplish, what are your left and right limits. Those new to concealed carry typically look at everything like a nail with one big hammer.
Three Part System
A better approach is to consider a system; where each part connects to form a complex whole. Similar to layering in inclement weather you have to start with your base. The parts that make up your base include, but are not limited to the firearm, holster and belt. When looking to carry concealed it behooves you to put much thought into what firearm you will start out carrying. I emphasize start because it is likely you will evolve as you become more experienced. Setting basic criterion such as compact frame holding a minimum of 10 rounds of 9mm ammunition is a great jump off point. Your next part is the holster and for optimum concealment it should be positioned inside the waistband. Some basic criterion for holster selection should be it retains the firearm, protects the trigger and secures to your body. Lastly is the belt, it needs to be rigid enough to support the weight of your loadout and hold up your pants, but not so rigid it pulls the handgun away from your body. You want to choose your base components wisely since it will effect the rest of the system.
Comfort is Key
The next part to your concealment system is your lower unit. Whether you are wearing pants, shorts or something else in between you want to choose wisely. Find wardrobe options that support your base components, not the other way around. Ideally, since we are carrying inside the waistband adding an inch or two to your waist size will increase your comfort and provide additional options. Comfort is the first priority when selecting your lower unit wardrobe. They say the devil is in the details so belt loop width is important, it must match your belt. Front pockets should be horizontal to help conceal supporting equipment such as knives and flashlights. Back pockets should be patch pockets without flaps or closure options for those times you need to carry additional equipment. Not every piece of wardrobe will be the same so you will want to test each piece prior to relying on it for the mission at hand. Can you perform simple tasks such as bending over, squatting down and light activity, if not consider other choices.
Balancing Concealment With Access
Next is your upper unit; it’s primary function is to conceal your base. Since some will choose to carry on the waistband as opposed to inside they are relying on the upper unit for complete concealment versus sharing the task with the lower unit. Relying on camouflage 101 principles; such as hiding, blending and or deceiving are good reminders for concealed carry. Hiding your base from the casual observer is priority number one and what we rely on heavily when carrying concealed. Your upper unit wardrobe choices should be of a heavier material, cotton blends as an example. Dark or neutral colors, think earth tone colors over good old fashion black. Breaking up the silhouette with stripes or broken patterns only increase your ability to hide your base. Whether a single layer or multiple layers, whether button down or open front, your defeat methodology should be able to clear the cover garment. It’s one thing to do a good job of concealing, but you need quick access to your firearm so it will be balance you are constantly adjusting.
Carrying concealed is lifestyle where your ultimate goal is to carry everyday. This three part system approach will better equip and prepare you for that ultimate goal.
2 thoughts on “Your Concealed Carry System”
Great article! This is a critical aspect to the lifestyle of a CCW holder – for those who carry every single day, not just when they feel like it. I agree with so many points in here. (Is it bad that my response is probably longer than the article itself? I guess I am passionate about this topic.)
1) Define the mission. Absolutely! For instance, what I carry during regular work hours and what I carry during non-work hours are different. Primarily because my dress requirements are vastly different. As such, I have to make adjustments given the mission. Paraphrasing something I heard Travis Haley say and applying it to this topic, we need to be able to adapt; never absolute.
2) I like how you you discuss the overall system, because it definitely is a system. If done correctly, the clothing system should help meet the demands of the mission (while still being appropriate for daily weather and not completely out-of-context for the given environment).
3) Hiding – One piece of gear that has been important for me has been the Raven pocket shield. In NPEs, being able to keep a light, blade, etc., concealed has been helpful. Sometimes, pocket clips are something I don’t want to advertise given the type of environment.
4) Agreed on firearm choice and overall evolution. This is a journey and as we learn more, we continue to refine our choices. I too have purchased many holsters and firearms trying to find the best solution. What have I learned? There is no one-size-fits all solution. Different situations dictate different requirements and gear (back to “define the mission”). One common mistake I see is when someone first gets into CCW, they want to buy a micro-gun or small J frame revolver because, after all, it is easy to conceal. Heck, throw a small gun into your pocket and now you’re a concealed carrier. Problem-solved, right? Not quite. First of all, everyone needs training – not just one class either, but regular training. Second, once you get training, you realize shooting a small gun sucks. They have a lot of recoil, heavy triggers, not a lot of real estate to grip, ammunition capacity is low (maybe even unacceptable?), and the sights are typically crappy. Let’s be honest, at the range, who likes to shoot a lot of rounds through their .38 Special air-weight revolver? I don’t. Plus, guns chambered in .380, I have found to be unreliable (i.e., very susceptible to malfunctions), let alone the debate about the caliber’s effectiveness. I will not carry a .380 anymore – but, yes, at one time I owned a .380. I learned why they are not for me, and I now can speak intelligently (in my opinion) about why I would not own or carry a .380. If it’s a back-up gun, ok, maybe I can understand, but most people realistically carry one and only one gun.
5) Belts – Agreed a rigid belt is important. It needs to be able to hold the weight of the firearm and any other life-saving equipment being carried. I also have gone through many belts – including some expensive options. I prefer to stay away from belts that are too rigid (the kind that look like the belt is wearing the pants, even when you are not in them: reference Sage Dynamics EDC Belt video). I also don’t like cobra buckle belts because the buckle tends to be bulky, adds more weight to my pants, and prints more than I prefer. I am more of a fan of lighter, plastic buckles or loops. On a separate note – belt color. I like to go super plain with belt colors. You will not see me with a zombie toxic green or a crazy-colored belt that draws attention if I am reaching up for something on a shelf in a store and my belt inadvertently shows. I usually go with plain black.
6) Lower – Agree that belt loop height? is important. I tend to stick with 1.5 inch belt loops and belts. I would also argue that the location and width of the belt loops themselves are also important. I have some pants where the belt loops are in the wrong location and interfere with where I can place my holster. If I carry strong-side, I like to carry at the 3 o’clock and some belt loops are placed in a way where I have to ride the holster behind the hip – which I find uncomfortable and I don’t like. Another issue I have with some pants is where the belt loops are wider than normal belt loops. Wider belt loops seem like a great idea because they should do a better job of supporting the weight of my belt and gear – but with certain holsters that have 2 soft loops close together, it makes it difficult to squeeze that wide pants belt loop in-between the 2 soft loops on the holster. Hope that makes sense. It’s not as much of an issue if you have a wider pancake-style holster, such as a Raven Phantom, where the connection points are spread out over a greater surface area and don’t interfere with traditional belt loops in the 3-o’clock location.
Agreed with horizontal front pockets – I prefer those to the more vertical pockets. My challenge tends to be with shorts. For whatever reason, I find most shorts have vertical front pockets. If you have any recommendations for shorts (even pants), please let me know. I am always trying to find a better option. Preferably, some that are reasonably priced (price tag not in the 3 digits).
Last note on the holster and how it relates to the lower system – even though most people have 1.5 inch belt loops, I find, especially with holsters that come with soft loops, that the holsters come setup to fit a 1.75 inch loop (the top hole). People should be adjusting the soft loop on their holster to the center hole to get the 1.5 inch soft loops on their holster to match their 1.5 inch belt. It’s a small detail, but it does help.
7) Upper – Agreed with many of your points. For instance, breaking up the silhouette with stripes or broken patterns is great. I was curious why you prefer dark or neutral colors such as earth tone colors over black? My thought was that black would do a good job of hiding, but maybe not?
In general, I tend to like pullovers (T-shirts or golf shirts) instead of button-ups. I find button-up shirts can be difficult to clear for me. A couple of issues with button-ups… Many button-ups come with a tail in the front and back, while the sides are a little shorter. If the shirt tails are too long, I find the shirt gets hung-up when I try to clear-it. I think a box-cut shirt, in general, is easier to clear than a button-up shirt with tails, although I really don’t own any box-cut shirts. When wearing a button-up, I also like to keep the bottom button or two buttons unfastened. Otherwise, it’s hard to get enough of the shirt to tear-up when clearing the cover garment. (In contrast, I find pullover garments tend to be elastic at the bottom and stretch). Lastly, I find these types of shirts harder to find, but I like the idea of snaps instead of buttons. In an emergency situation, if I need to clear a cover garment that is a “button-up” type shirt – I find traditional buttons have no give and I may not be able to always clear my shirt high enough, since those buttons will not allow the shirt to stretch. With snaps, my hope would be that even if the shirt is not elastic at the bottom, the shirt would break free with the snaps and I could still grip-and-rip the shirt up to get access. If you have any comments on that, I’d appreciate that as well.
8) Overall look – Finally, I go for a look that is “normal.” I do not want to look like a 5.11 commercial or someone who just ended their shift on the SWAT team. My goal is to blend-in and not get attention. On that topic, you will not see me wearing anything with a firearms logo or manufacturer name in public. To me, that’s the equivalent of open-carry and gets unwanted attention. I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I am carrying and potentially introduce conflict.
Thank you for writing about this. Most people tend to focus on guns, holsters, and sights only. Clothing choices and overall system are so often overlooked.
Thanks so much for that well crafted message and I apologize for the delay. We got behind on several projects and some activity had to be put on the back burner.