A look at the pluses and minuses of off-body and on-body techniques
Like most men in law enforcement, I have little or no fashion sense. My closet contains clothes in “earth tones” (brown, green, black and tan),
along with the occasional blue (jeans) and white (T-shirts). I dress as if I’m preparing for some sort of tactical event, where the ability to camouflage myself is the key to survival.
You’ll find no chartreuse, periwinkle or mauve in my wardrobe! My wife, on the other hand, has a mix of different types of clothing. As a fellow law enforcement officer, she also has some drab colored stuff, but for her, that’s for wearing while on the job or on the range.
The rest of her gear is what I categorize as “girlie stuff” – dresses, blouses, skirts, etc. True, not what you want to be wearing during an end-of-days scenario, but it all looks a heck of a lot better during date night.
CARRYING CONCEALED MEANS THAT
my wife, like most women, has to decide how to “tactically accessorize” before going to work, shopping or just out on the town.
In other words, she has to pick a carry option for her firearm that works with what she is wearing.
Both of us are very strong believers in carrying concealed all the time. We do it to protect our children, each other, the public and ourselves.
Tactical accessorizing is pretty easy for me. I pick a weapon I like
to pack and I choose my carry options, generally carrying it either OWB (on the waistband) or IWB (inside the waistband).
At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, I can generally frame handgun with relative ease, especially given that I generally purchase clothes with concealed
carry in mind. I have plenty of “cover coats” and “cover shirts” designed to wear as over garments to cover up my weapon.
This usually consists of a shirt or jacket one size larger than I would normally wear. For women, it’s not so simple. The average American female is 5-foot-4, while the average male comes in at 5-foot-9. Men are obviously bigger and heavier, so, in simple terms, more body mass equals more space to conceal a handgun.
A 115-pound female isn’t going to be able to conceal an M1911A1 on her person, regardless of whether it is carried inside or outside the waistband. However, she can generally hide a small- or medium-frame gun with little or no difficulty. From a fashion standpoint, most women aren’t going to want to wear extra-large clothing to cover up their piece.
Women do have a distinct advantage, though, in terms of additional options for concealed carry.
They can opt for off-body carry. This involves the use of purses, handbags and other accessories to carry a handgun. Now I don’t want to exclude my brothers who have embraced their more feminine side and opted to carry a “murse” (man purse). They are popular in Europe, so maybe there is something to it.
I use a tactical murse to carry at the gym, so I’m not totally opposed to the idea, especially if it goes with your man bun hair-do … Generally,
though, women are the ones who carry purses on a regular basis.
OFF-BODY CARRY HAS both advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few: Advantages of off-body carry Ability to carry a larger weapon:
If a suppressor-equipped HK USP .45 SOCOM is your preferred carry weapon, you can carry it in a purse. For more practical applications, though, large-frame handguns such as a SIG P226 or .45-caliber Glock 21 can also easily be carried in this manner. This means more firepower.
Also, it allows female law enforcement officers to have the ability to carry the same weapon on and off duty. Carrying extra magazines: This is
crucial and often overlooked when doing concealed carry. You can run
through a single magazine pretty quickly during a gun fight, and then
an empty gun is just an expensive club (especially that .45 USP).
Carrying other weapons systems: This includes OC (pepper) spray, a Taser or stun gun, impact weapon, etc. Also, it’s nice to have items like handcuffs and tourniquets available.
Like the ubiquitous hammer in search of a nail, a firearm is not the
solution to every tactical scenario, so it’s good to have options.
Disadvantages of off-body carry Weapon retention: Naturally, it’s easier to retain a handgun during a violent physical encounter if it is strapped directly to your body.
Most holsters, whether they’re made of leather, kydex or nylon (or some other material), are generally fairly robust and can withstand someone trying to pull on them. As long as they are matched up with an equally strong belt, they should hold up.
Also, a purse or handbag can be taken away more easily, especially if it’s worn casually over one shoulder. Handbags get stolen all the time while their owners are wearing them.
Lack of proper handgun holders: Most purses don’t come with a built-in holster with a retention system. Generally, these types of holsters need
to be purchased from vendors that manufacture purses specifically for
Off-body carry options Purses/handbags: There are a variety of purses and handbags on the market that contain an integral holster. Cameleon handbags has some nice ones, as does the NRA Store. A word to the wise for any men reading this: Don’t purchase one of these for your special lady without consulting her first.
If you are fashion-challenged like I am, you will buy her a bag that
she won’t use because it doesn’t go with anything she owns. True story, happened to me. I bought my wife a gun purse that she has never used. That’s what they invented gift cards for. Tactical handbags: Think murses
for women. Not too fashionable, but definitely practical. 5.11 makes
some good ones. Backpacks are good as well.
Techniques for off-body carry: Like any carry option, you need to train with it. I recommend carrying the purse bandoleer-style, that is, slung over the neck with the bag on the weak side. This allows good retention if someone tries to take it from you. Dry-fire practice followed by live-fire range training is a must.
The shooter needs to clutch the bag with the nondominant hand. Then, open the bag and retrieve the handgun with the dominant hand.
A variation on that is to use the non dominant hand to open the bag. Either way works, and with a little practice it can be drawn as fast as from a holster on the hip or waistband. As with any concealed carry technique, there is an inherent risk of striking yourself during a negligent or accidental discharge.
So, again, get in plenty of dry-fire practice first. Also, if you routinely carry a handgun on your hip, you need to retrain your brain to draw from the purse. Through years of muscle memory, you may be conditioned to go towards your waistband to retrieve your firearm.
One thing that needs to be avoided at all costs is carrying a handgun (either in or out of holster) in the main compartment of the purse with no form of retention anchoring the gun to the purse itself. In other words, tossing a loaded gun in a purse without attaching it to the bag somehow.
From a safety standpoint, this is inherently dangerous.
From a tactical standpoint, it eliminates any advantages that off-body carry offers. From a “don’t get your stuff stolen” standpoint, an unsecured gun flopping around in a purse is an enticing item to a would-be thief.
Similarly, if you off-body carry, it is essential you keep the purse on your person at all times when out in public.
ON-BODY CARRY SIMILARLY has pluses and minuses to consider. Advantages of on-body carry Ease of draw and re-holster: Since this is the technique that most men and women use, we train on it most frequently, thus making us better at it.
Weapons retention: It’s easier to retain a weapon that is attached to you in some way. As with drawing and re-holstering, most people practice some form of weapons retention technique while the weapon is in the holster. Generally, all it takes to retain the gun during a struggle is to put one hand on top of the handgun, covering the back of the handgun and the holster’s retention device.
Can be drawn with one hand: Off-body carry always involves both hands, one to draw the weapon and the other to hold the purse. On-body carry may require both hands if an over garment needs to be pushed out of the way to draw the weapon, but generally the non-firing hand isn’t being used. That frees that hand up to do things like delivering a strike while
trying to create distance.
Disadvantages of on-body carry Printing: In concealed carry terms, printing is when you can see the outline of all or part of the firearm under clothing. The only way to avoid it is to wear loose-fitting clothes. Most women aren’t going to want to cover up an attractive outfit with a sweatshirt just to hide a firearm.
Clothing options: If a woman is attending a Kenny Chesney concert and wants to wear her favorite “skinny” jeans and a tight top, it’s going to be pretty hard to conceal a handgun on her person.
On-body carry options Outside the waistband (OWB):
Arguably the most common method for both men and women. Before the advent of IWB, this was the only show in town. Probably the quickest to draw from but harder to conceal.
Women may tend to avoid this one since it definitely requires a larger over garment to cover it up. Also, OWB doesn’t work as well with a woman’s hipline. Since women tend to be curvier this can cause the holster to extend further than intended, causing excessive printing.
Inside the waistband (IWB): This is the way to go for women. This
style of carry conforms better to a woman’s contours. It allows for
maximum concealability while still allowing for quick draws.
Whether it be in front (appendix carry) or towards the side or closer to the back, this is the optimal on-body carry solution. Many companies
make good quality leather or cloth holsters, such as CrossBreed.
The Kydex ones are great too.
Shoulder holster: I’m not a particular fan of this form of carry, but in very limited circumstances it has a very useful application. When my wife was pregnant with our first child she was working light duty at her police department. In the latter months of the pregnancy, a belt-mounted rig was out of the question, so she used a shoulder rig to carry her Glock 26. Galco makes high quality, attractive leather rigs for anyone looking to purchase one.
Ankle holster: Ankle rigs are great because that is one of the last places a person generally looks when trying to tell if a woman is armed, especially if they aren’t familiar with alternative carry techniques. Using an ankle rig requires some extra training to successfully draw it in an emergency situation. It basically requires the user to get on a knee to access it when drawing from a standing position. This actually provides a
unique advantage when dealing with an armed suspect because it briefly
takes the user out of the suspect’s line of sight and fire.
Obviously, this needs to be done quickly and without errors, thus the need for practice. Unfortunately, they don’t work with a lot of women’s clothes. It is an obvious no-go in a skirt and wouldn’t work in tapered pants. It also isn’t as fast as a belt-mounted rig.
Belly bands: The belly band is as good, if not better, than IWB holsters
in terms of concealment. They leave little or no print. They are made of
elastic Velcro or cloth and generally have room for a medium-frame
handgun and an extra magazine.
However, it can be difficult to quickly draw a handgun from a belly band.
Depending on what clothing is worn, you may have to untuck your shirt to
get to it. Most use a Velcro retention band to hold the gun in place, which requires two hands to access it.
Yoga pants holster: A couple of companies manufacture yoga pants with built-in holsters. They provide great concealability, but limited retention. Most have a strip of cloth with Velcro on it as the retention device.
Bra holster: I would put this in the gimmick category, like those
bayonets you can buy for Glocks. The holster attaches to the front of the bra and can carry a small frame handgun like a Ruger LCP.
They aren’t very concealable and have limited tactical applications. I
bought my wife one for Christmas as a joke. She laughed, and never
took it out of its package.
SO THERE YOU HAVE it. I encourage women to try all of the aforementioned techniques and pieces of equipment (except for the bra holster). Find which one, or ones, work for you. No single carry technique is going to work all of the time. Sometimes off-body is the best bet; other times on-body is the way to go. Whichever ones you choose to use, make sure you spend lots of time both at home and on the range, practicing deploying your preferred weapon system from them.
Editor’s note: Nick Perna is a sergeant with the Redwood City Police
Department in northern California. He has spent much of his career as
a gang and narcotics investigator.
He served as a member of a multijurisdictional SWAT team as an entry team member, sniper and team leader. He previously served as a paratrooper in the US Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco. He is a regular contributor to multiple print and online periodicals dealing with tactics, gang and drug investigations and veterans’ issues.
Story by Nick Perna