or the rest of our Realities of Concealed Carry series, go here. Having a concealed carry gun doesn’t mean squat. Having access to a gun in a self-defense encounter might help you. Or it might not. There are many other factors that could determine the outcome of a self-defense encounter. Some can be, at least partially, under your control while others are not all all. Here are a few examples of both: Your ability to spot trouble coming before it's too late. Your ability to quickly process the situation, overcome the “this can’t actually be happening” disbelief, plan decisive action, and commit to your plan. Your ability to access your gun quickly (and safely) enough to make a difference given the nature of the encounter. Your ability to handle a gun under stress. Your attacker’s abilities and determination. Your attacker’s friends or lack thereof. Dumb luck. To illustrate the point that just having a gun on your person may not mean all that much, let’s consider an example to set the stage. You’re standing in line at a convenience store, responding to a text message from home. Being a lawfully armed citizen, you’re carrying your self-defense handgun. Maybe it’s in an inside-the-waistband holster under your jacket. Or perhaps it’s in a pocket in your concealed carry purse. Suddenly, the “customer” in line behind you whips out a gun, points it at you and the store clerk, and screams “Everybody down on the floor! Now!” Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Armed Robber has a friend waiting over near the beer cooler to help keep an eye on things. He's also waving his gun.

Would you self-defense firearm have helped you in this situation? Almost certainly it wouldn’t have made much if any difference in that vital instant. With an armed robber or attacker immediately behind you and another elsewhere in the store, you're at a severe disadvantage, even though you are armed. Could you draw and surprise the robber (and his buddy) and turn the tables? Only in the movies.

I mention this as an example to illustrate two important concepts.

First, by definition, in any defensive encounter, you’ll be behind the eight ball from the get-go. Way behind. You don’t get to decide if, when, or even where the festivities start. All of that is up to your attacker. By definition, you start behind because you’re responding to an aggressive action, not initiating one.

The second concept is that of the dangers of a false sense of security. Too many of us feel “ready” and even “safe” simply because we have a gun. That in itself means virtually nothing and overcoming this false sense of security is one of the first hurdles to overcome in your training journey.

shirt and jackets for conceal carry
With inside or outside the waistband carry methods, you’ll need a proper shirt or jacket to conceal the handgun.Tom McHale

Before going into detail on the above example, many of might assume that we could defend ourselves in "a convenience store robbery" situation. However, until you allow your brain to process the specific details of how sudden criminal acts might go down, you’ll never realize how insecure you are, even if you are carrying a gun for protection.

So, realizing that you’re starting any encounter at a big disadvantage, how can you boost your odds to be a bit more favorable? The real answer is professional training, practice, and ongoing commitment. That process starts with deciding on how you’re going to carry. Your self-defense instructor will help you evaluate this decision in more detail, but we can at least get started on the topic here.

Making a Carry Method Decision

There are dozens of concealed carry methods, and enterprising armed citizens are inventing more every day. Your first step is to embrace the reality that in a defensive encounter you’re going to be clawing your way out of a world of hurt. That has a lot to do with your choice of carry method because all options involve tradeoffs. The more you can honestly evaluate those tradeoffs (and avoid that false sense of security) the better choice you’ll make.

To keep things simple, I like to think of two opposing factors for a given carry method: ease (speed) of access and concealment. By definition, these are opposites.

The more deeply concealed your gun is, the harder and slower it will be to access. As an extreme example, I can bury my gun in the bottom of my backpack, cover it with laptops and books, and it will be perfectly concealed. Without an x-ray machine, no one could ever know I was carrying. However, it’s going to take me time, effort, and at least two hands to retrieve that firearm.

On the other extreme, I could carry using an old west style gunbelt and holster that has my gun positioned outside of all my clothes just under my firing side hand. That offers fast access but absolutely no concealment.

The trick is for you to figure out what tradeoffs you’re willing to make given your daily life routine and land somewhere in between those two extremes.

There’s one other variable to consider as you evaluate carry method choices. Violent encounters aren’t all the same.

As an exaggerated hypothetical example, consider a case where your “bottom of the backpack” carry method would be just fine. Maybe you’re at work and hear gunshots on another floor or down the hall. In a case like that, you have time to access your gun, unless you're in an extremely unlucky location.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, in a surprise street mugging or attack, you won’t. I only mention these admittedly extreme examples to help you evaluate tradeoffs. If there is a reason you have to choose a deep concealment method with more difficult gun access, it’s important to recognize that you’re forfeiting potential protection from certain types of encounters. In short, you’re accepting more theoretical risk in return for the convenience of deeper concealment. Make sense?

Common Carry Methods: Pros and Cons

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of some of the most common concealed carry methods.

Inside the Waistband Holsters (IWB)

These holsters fit between your belt and pants or skirt and your body. Most of the handgun except the grip is beneath your clothing layer.

inside waistband conceal carry option
With most pants and skirts, inside the waistband carry is an option. It offers good concealment, great gun security, and a fast draw.Tom McHale


  • Concealment is relatively easy since much of the gun is under clothing.
  • Gun security is excellent as the clothing layer helps keep the gun close to your body.
  • While you need an untucked garment to cover the grip, it doesn't take much - a t-shirt can do in many cases.


  • This method can be uncomfortable, especially when sitting since the handgun is squeezed between your body and clothes.
  • You'll need to buy pants or skirt a size or two larger to make room.
  • You'll need to practice sweeping or moving your covers garment out of the way when drawing.
  • While tuckable holsters exist, for best results you'll want an untucked shirt, vest, or jacket for best overall concealment.
  • Women, this method doesn't work with dresses or any "one-piece" outfits.
  • Softer IWB holsters require two hands to reholster your gun. Be sure to use a holster with a reinforced mouth.

Outside the Waistband Holsters (OWB)

OWB holsters mount to your belt (always use a proper gun belt!) and the entire gun and holster reside outside of your pants or skirt.

belt conceal carry option
The biggest advantage to the belt carry methods is that if offers fast and consistent access to your gun.Tom McHale


  • OWB carry provides the easiest and fastest draw as the handgun can be positioned near your firing hand and with a little space between the gun and body.
  • It's fairly comfortable for long periods of time.
  • You can carry large or compact handguns.


  • Concealment is more difficult as a longer covering garment is required to cover the frame and muzzle of your gun.
  • Opportunity for more of a "telltale" bulge as the gun is outside of your clothing layer and not pressed as tightly into your body.

Ankle Carry

Ankle holsters include a gun pouch, usually with a Velcro or snap strap for security, attached to a wide band that wraps around your ankle. Long pants with adequate lower leg size cover the whole setup.


  • Concealment is fairly good with long enough pants.
  • It's easy to mount and remove your gun and holster.
  • If you sit for long periods of time or drive a lot, access can be easier than with other methods.
  • More comfortable in a car or chair.


  • Drawing requires a lot of movement and two hands. You must either take a knee or lunge enough to reach your handgun while pulling your pants leg out of the way with the opposite hand.
  • When sitting, pants tend to ride up, possibly exposing your gun.
  • Running or aggressive walking can result in your gun flopping around, or in the worst case, loss of your firearm.

Off-The-Body Carry / Purse Carry

Manufacturers have designed purses and other bags with dedicated gun compartments which offer security, concealment, and protection of the trigger area from loose items.

blackhawk diversion conceal carry slingpack
There are lots of specialized bags that appear perfectly benign, yet contain conclealed carry holsters, like this Blackhawk Diversion Slingpack.Tom McHale


  • OTB carry is convenient, especially if wardrobe requirements prevent other methods of carry.
  • It's easy to remove your gun when entering prohibited zones like schools.
  • Concealment is excellent.


  • Every time you set your purse or bag down, even for an instant, your gun is not in your direct control, thereby subjecting it to possible access by children or others.
  • A purse or bag is subject to loss, theft, or purse snatching.
  • The draw is often slower and may require unzipping a concealment compartment.
  • May be difficult to access your gun when driving depending on where your purse or bag is in the car.
  • Reholstering can be a challenge when your purse or bag is full of other items.

Belly Bands

Belly bands are flexible straps of elastic, Velcro, and sometimes leather that wrap around the lower torso area. Pouches in the band hold your gun, spare ammo, or anything else you like.

conceal carry yoga pants
Specialized clothing like these yoga pants from Undertech Undercover offer unique carry options.Tom McHale


  • Depending on your attire requirements, you can mount the band higher or lower on your body.
  • Generally comfortable.
  • Can store spare ammo and other gear in other pockets on the band.
  • Great concealment.
  • No belt is required, so this method can work for physical activities like walking or jogging.
  • You can tuck in a shirt or blouse over the belly band and gun.


  • You'll need two hands to reholster.
  • Access can be slower since the belly band will be underneath other layers of clothing that you'll have to move during the draw.
  • Can be hot in warmer months.

Pocket Carry

Many subcompact guns are small enough to carry in a pants or jacket pocket. Since one of the most important jobs of a holster is to protect the trigger from inadvertent movement, always, always, always use a proper pocket holster and keep all other items out of your designated gun pocket.

pocket holsters conceal carry
Pocket holsters not only protect against inadvertent discharge and keep your handgun oriented correctly, they break out the outline too for better concealment.Tom McHale


  • Convenient and easy to "gear up" and no rearranging of clothing is required.
  • Good concealment and pocket holsters help break up the outline of your handgun.
  • In sketchy situations, you can grasp your handgun while it remains in the pocket holster for faster access.


  • Eliminates one of your valuable pockets for other items like wallets, change, phones, etc.
  • Different pockets may restrict your draw when changing pants or skirt. Test each with your hand on the gun to make sure it's large enough to allow you to remove the gun with your hand in a proper firing grip.
  • To re-holster, you'll need to remove the holster, insert the gun, and re-insert in the pocket so this will require two hands.
  • You'll be limited to use of a smaller sub-compact gun.


There are many other methods of carrying out there, and we only had space to touch on a few of the most common ones. Whatever method you evaluate, remember to consider safety first. Will the carry system protect the trigger, keep your gun secure, and minimize the risk of point the muzzle at yourself or others?

Once you resolve that, apply some serious thought to the concealment / access tradeoff and how those factors apply to your lifestyle. Remember, the goal isn't comfort, it's security, so you may have to make some dramatic wardrobe adjustments.