The right to carry a firearm off duty is a great responsibility, and one more and more Americans are taking advantage of. With it comes a host of issues one must consider such as type of gun, size of gun, carry method, holster type and carry accessories. Too often, people choose their gun and holster combination without giving it a lot of thought. There is a little more to it than just putting a gun in a holster and heading out on the town. But before you can choose your equipment you should come to terms with your behavior while carrying a firearm. You must recognize your actions will be reviewed by many people and possibly for many years after an incident so how you act is critical. I always think about hindsight when deciding what actions I will take.
The firearm you choose for off duty carry should allow you to live your life, not impede it. That being said, you must accept that no matter which gun you choose, it will be a small physical burden and a large mental comfort. Basically speaking, the larger the gun the greater the burden but also the greater the comfort. If you opt for an easy carry small pocket gun, you may be giving up caliber size and ammunition capacity. You will usually be giving up range and accuracy as well. You must understand and accept this and use this knowledge to dictate your tactics in the event you must deploy your weapon.
There are plenty of handguns to choose from so let me start by saying whichever gun you carry make sure you practice with it regularly. Some obvious considerations are the smaller the gun the easier it is to conceal. Another is to stick with an action that is similar to what you are familiar with. For example, if you regularly shoot a Glock, you may not want to carry a 1911. Experience shows that under stress you will revert to your basic level of training. If you haven’t practiced extensively with a manual safety gun it is likely you will forget to thumb off the safety when you need to the most. Also be aware of guns that have protruding levers that tend to get hung up on holsters and clothing such as 1911s with ambi safeties.
Outside The Waistband
The holster type you choose is dependent on several factors such as where/how do you like to carry, the size of gun you are carrying, and will the weather or your mission allow you to wear a cover garment. Let’s start with the most popular holster style, the belt holster or outside the waistband (OWB). This is a holster designed to be worn on the belt outside of the pants. It comes in a myriad of styles and materials. Some models allow the gun to cant forward while others position the gun higher or lower on the belt. A benefit of the belt holster is it allows you to carry larger handguns more comfortably. A downside is the need to wear a cover garment and the possibility the gun will print through the cover garment letting everyone know you are carrying. Another version of the belt holster is the crossdraw. This holster is worn on the off side with the gun canted toward the center of the body. This is a great holster design if the user practices with it. The crossdraw can be very quick to draw from and also allows the gun to be easily deployed while seated in a vehicle, which is great if you spend a lot of time in a vehicle in rough neighborhoods.
Inside the Pants
The inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster is a popular favorite among gun toters. This design allows the gun to be worn inside the pants with only the grip protruding above the belt line. This style is great for concealment and lends itself well to the jeans/t-shirt outfit. It also keeps the gun very secure on your body. One issue with IWB holsters is you need to buy your pants about two inches larger in the waist while another concern is re-holstering the gun. In the last few years this has been solved with all of the Kydex type IWB holsters. There are several versions of these but the basic design consists of a Kydex holster made specifically for your model of firearm and having a belt attachment point to keep it from dropping down inside your pants. Several companies are making very good IWB Kydex holsters allowing a smooth draw and easy re-holstering.
Bring Back Sonny Crocket
The shoulder holster is often dismissed or overlooked as being a relic of the 1980s Miami Vice crew. It shouldn’t be as it is still a great way to comfortably wear a large handgun and carry extra magazines on the off side. The only issue I have with them is people don’t take the time to practice drawing and re-holstering the gun. More than once I have seen guns dropped on the ground from shoulder rigs because the shooters weren’t familiar or proficient with their use. Make sure you buy a quality holster from a good company. I usually prefer leather models custom made for your exact model gun but there are some new Kydex versions for smaller guns that work great. Also look for tie downs on either side that anchor the holster to your belt. This will make drawing the pistol much smoother and also help with re-holstering.
The Classic Lite shoulder holster from Galco is an extremely comfortable option for carrying a gun under a shirt or jacket.
Ankle holsters have some unique characteristics to them. If you understand these, it will allow you to choose one that is best for you. Like all holsters, there are different levels of quality in ankle holsters. The less expensive ones will usually be nylon, are generic in sizing and fit a broad range of firearms while the more expensive ones will have a leather or Kydex holster made for specific models of guns. This isn’t to say the less expensive styles aren’t any good, I know plenty of guys who have been wearing them for years and love them. Regardless of price, some designs have nice padding on the back which really helps with comfort if you wear it all day while others try to be low profile and only have the nylon holster fabric between the gun and your ankle. You will typically find two styles of attaching the holster to your ankle. One is the cinch style where a strap goes though a loop and attaches back to itself. This cinch action is what holds the holster in place. This works fine if you are already resting the holster on your ankle or shoe but if you want it to ride higher it won’t hold it in place. The other style uses stretch material so even if the holster starts to drop the strap remains tight. Another aid to help hold it in place is the calf strap. This is a strap that attaches to the holster and cinches around your leg above your calf and under your knee. My personal favorite is the Galco Ankle Glove. I have been wearing one for almost thirty years and I still haven’t found an ankle holster I like better. It features a padded neoprene stretch band and a calf strap. No matter which one you go with, once again you must practice with it. Here are some basics on wearing and drawing from an ankle holster. If you are right handed the holster goes on the left leg with the gun on the inside. The easiest and smoothest way to draw the gun is to drop down with your right knee on the ground while you pull up your pant leg, then draw the gun. If you try to remain standing and bend over while trying to hold up your pant leg and draw you may fall over (which I have seen before!).
One of the most popular holster styles in the last few years has to be the pocket holster. This is largely due to all the great new lightweight, small framed firearms available. If you are willing to carry a small gun, the pocket holster is very convenient. It allows the gun to be easily carried concealed, typically in the front strong side pocket. Clothing becomes less of an issue as these little guns can be worn in the hot summer with light shorts and t-shirts. If you do a search for pocket holsters you will find a ton of them out there, so look for these features. The inside of the holster should be smooth allowing the gun to come out easily. The outside of the holster should be tacky or have some roughness to it helping it stay in the pocket. The holster may have a raised stud on the front for your thumb to push on, again helping the gun come out and holster stay in. Some have a flat piece of material covering the outside to prevent the gun from printing through the pocket. One final note: Do not try to re-holster the gun with the holster still in the pocket. They are designed for you to put the gun in the holster then put the holstered gun back into your pocket. People have accidentally shot themselves trying stuff the gun back into the pocket holster that has been crushed closed in a tight pocket. Also, the pocket holding the gun should not be used for anything else.
Finally, don’t overlook specially made clothing designed for carrying weapons concealed. There are many companies making pants and jackets with hidden holster pockets allowing you to comfortably carry your sidearm. Some of these companies include 5.11 Tactical, UnderTech UnderCover, Tru-Spec, Vertx, and Propper to name a few.
When carrying a gun it is a good idea to have extra ammunition either on you or available. If you don’t carry a spare mag on you, keep one in your vehicle, backpack or briefcase. Another good tool to have on you is a good flashlight. There are a lot of good pocket lights out there and you can shine a light in someone’s eyes for a lot less reason than you need to shoot them. Finally, take a few moments and practice with what you carry. You should be able to draw your gun whenever you need it.