The Real Deal About Appendix Carry

It’s becoming one of the most popular concealed carry position for men and women, but what are the practicalities of appendix carry?

appendix carry
Appendix carry may not be for everyone, but if you're having issues with other carry positions, you should give it a try.Tom McHale

LET'S START THIS DISCUSSION with a pop quiz. Don't worry, it only represents 5 percent of your final grade.

  • Will you shoot yourself in the (fill in the blank) if you carry in the appendix position?

  • Is concealment easier in the appendix carry position?

  • Can you draw faster from the appendix carry position?

  • Can a fat guy appendix carry?

We’ll explore these questions, and more, in this discussion about appendix carry. As a long-time inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster user, I’m accustomed to toting around the bulk and weight of a handgun inside my belt line. What I hadn’t invested time and effort trying is true appendix position carry.

My default position for an IWB holster on the waist is generally at the 3:30 to 4:00 o’clock position (I’m right-handed) depending on the specific gun and holster combination. So, is it a big deal to shift my handgun several inches counter-clockwise? Let’s find out.

Appendix Tulster Kydex holsters carry holsters
I did most of my testing with two pistols, a Glock 32X and Springfield Armory XD-S, both with Tulster Kydex holsters.Tom McHale

I embarked on the great appendix carry experiment using two pistols that are far more appropriate (read: easy) to carry in that position than the much larger pistols I normally tote around: a Glock 43X and a Springfield Armory XD-S 9mm.

For comparison, I usually use either a Sig Sauer P229 Legion 9mm, a Beretta APX RDO with a Trijicon RMR optic, or a Beretta PX4 Compact Carry 9mm. While two of those are labeled "compact" on the box, none of them would be considered small. However, I have no issues carrying any of them in the standard IWB side position.

a tulster holster concealed carry
Tulster holsters are great for either appendix or strong-side carry. You can order a variety of cool finishes like this carbon fiber pattern.Tom McHale

For this experiment, I've been using two similar Tulster holsters for the 43X and XD-S. These are high-quality pieces of gear, and the side benefit is that they work just great as traditional IWB holsters too if it turns out that appendix carry isn't your thing. The body is made from vacuum-formed Kydex and the single large clip is injection molded.

A slot in one of the two clip screw holes allows you to adust the cant angle from 0 to 30 degrees. There are subtle features for serious users too. The trigger guard area is undercut, so it's easy to get a proper high grip on the pistol before starting the draw motion. You can also order models shaped for common handguns with a light attached.

Last but not least, the company offers customization options. Note the custom carbon fiber and Kryptek finish on the two models shown here.

collage of concealed carry holsters
Some holsters, like this Tulster model, have adjustable cant angle. Be sure to try both vertical and canted. Canted might conceal easier but you’ll have to bend your wrist sharply to draw.Tom McHale

Appendix Carry Pros and Cons

Safety

man drawing gun from appendix carry holster
I found I had to crank my wrist aggressively to get a firing grip before starting the draw.Tom McHale

We often joke about the “privates area” being in the line of fire, but that’s not really the issue. Whether you’re of the opinion that “danger” issue of muzzle position is perceived or real, the fact is that the muzzle of your pistol points directly towards your femoral artery from certain positions.

When standing or walking, the muzzle may or may not be pointing in an undesirable direction. That depends on your specific body type. If you have a little extra of the “spare tire” in the waist area, that pushes the grip forward which causes the muzzle to angle back toward the body. If you’re lean and mean, the natural gun position when standing may very well be pointing straight at the ground.

When sitting, it’s impossible to avoid muzzling yourself as the pistol is anchored to the torso and doesn’t move with your leg as it bends. Of course, the gun is holstered, and assuming you’re geared up with a proper model, the trigger guard is protected, so the handgun can’t fire. Serious appendix carriers consider this form of muzzling a moot point as the gun is holstered and for practical purposes, rendered inert since the trigger is covered.

Drawing

Most agree that the risk associated with a properly holstered gun is low. It would take a sequence of seemingly miraculous events for an accident to occur. However, drawing changes that status quo.

Not only does the gun move, and potentially muzzle the body when coming out of the holster, the trigger becomes exposed, and without perfect technique and trigger finger discipline, the opportunity for a discharge in an undesirable direction exists.

To be clear, the risk associated with lacking technique is no different than with any other method of carry. If you carry on the strong side, it’s up to you and your consistent draw motion to make sure you don’t muzzle yourself bring the gun forward and that you keep the trigger finger out of the guard until you’ve made a decision to shoot.

The bottom line from a safety perspective with the appendix carry draw, in my view, is that it’s no different from most other modes of carry. It’s up to you to learn and practice the correction draw motion until it’s perfected. There is one difference to point out, however. Be aware of muzzling people to your side as you draw from the appendix position.

When a handgun is mounted near the three o’clock position, the muzzle rises from pointing at the ground in an arc that points straight ahead towards the target. With appendix carry, the natural lifting motion of your arm using the elbow points the gun more to the side until you force the muzzle forward.

It’s up to you to make sure you’re not muzzling someone. Practice raising the pistol muzzle towards the target before rotating your firing hand to drive the grip into its natural vertical position.

a tier 1 axis slim gun holster
The Tier 1 Axis Slim holster offers a detachable pouch for an extra magazine. Note the paracord attachment. That allows the magazine and gun compartments to bend around the body.Tier 1 Holsters

Holstering

There are a couple of schools of thought regarding safe re-holstering procedures. Since, by default, the muzzle will be pointed at some part of your body during the operation, it’s important to do it right.

Appendix carry differs because with strong-side IWB carry, you’re not necessarily pointing the muzzle at a vital body part when the gun goes into the holster. It varies with holster and body shape but in the worst-case scenario, the path of an errant bullet would be along the exterior of the leg. Don't get me wrong, that's not good either, but it is less likely to be a fatal consequence.

Method one of appendix position re-holstering calls for a modified beer belly push. By moving your belt buckle forward relative to the rest of the body as you re-holster, you’re pushing the muzzle and theoretical bullet path away as well, so a negligent discharge should travel straight to the ground if you do the technique properly. It looks strange but eliminates the need to drive the muzzle inward towards the body.

Method two borrows from pocket carry. Remove the holster completely. Then insert the gun fully and re-pack the whole bunch back into your belt. Since the trigger guard is safely covered, it’s impossible for the gun to discharge if you get hung up on belt or clothing as you’re re-mounting the holster.

With either method, take your time. Actually, when re-holstering with any carry method, try to set the world record for slowest and most deliberate re-holstering method. There is no need for tactical re-holstering in your skill set. If you ever need to “safe” your gun immediately, for example, when police are responding to a self-defense encounter, you can set your gun on the ground and stand on it while showing your hands are clear. Speed re-holstering is dangerous. Don’t do it.

Speed of the Draw

One reason that appendix carry is in vogue is that the draw can be faster – significantly. If you stop to think about our body engineering, the hands and arms are optimized for operation in front of the body, not on the sides, and especially not behind the centerline.

When drawing from concealment, all the “work” is in front of you, and that’s a natural position that supports dexterity. It’s why we train to do things like magazine changes right in front of our face – that’s the normal and most efficient working area where we’re most likely to experience a positive outcome.

A related factor to draw speed is distance. Imagine carrying outside the waistband at the typical 3 or 4 o’clock position. From a natural standing position, your firing hand is close to the handgun and simply raising it starts to approximate most of the draw motion. Now think about doing the same thing when the handgun is concealed.

Unless you’re wearing an open cover garment like a blazer, you’ll need to reach all the way across your body with the support hand to move clothing out of the way.

concealed carry holster techniques
Note the difference in reach to move your cover garment out of the way. With appendix positioning, a simple bend of the elbow puts your hand in the right place. With strong-side carry, it’s an aggressive and awkward reach.Tom McHale

It’s a long reach and an awkward motion. The farther to the back you carry, the harder, and slower, that motion is. When carrying in the appendix position, you can simply bend your support arm at the elbow to lift a shirt out of the way. Little reach and motion is required. The same applies to your firing hand.

A bend at the elbow is all you need to start a draw motion. Both the garment clearing and draw are tight and efficient movements with minimal wasted body part travel.

man with concealed carry appendix holster
Simply raising your arm, using the elbow as a hinge, puts your hand in the perfect position to draw. Appendix carry features great economy of motion.Tom McHale

All of that translates to fast. The more efficient your motions are and the less distance your extremities travel., the faster you get your handgun out of the holster and into firing position.

man with concealed carry appendix holster
Given the way your arm hinges, it’s easy to muzzle someone to your side during the draw, so be sure to avoid this.Tom McHale
displaying appendix carrying holsters
One way to avoid muzzling the side is to raise the barrel forward rather than lifting your forearm using the elbow.Tom McHale

Concealment

a shirt demonstrating concealed carry tips
With its front positioning, concealment is easier—there’s nothing protruding outward from your side to create a visible bulge.Tom McHale

Appendix carry ninjas get high marks in the concealment department. There are a lot of advantages, so let’s breeze through some of them.

  • Since your handgun is in the front, you have little risk of brushing someone or something on the side. In crowded areas, this can be a real concern with traditional strong-side carry positions.
  • Hugging is actually easier. With strong-side carry, you have to quickly present the "off" side if someone comes in for that hug. When carrying in the appendix area, you can simply lean forward at the waist. Few people want to make contact that low on the body, so the odds of keeping your secret are good.
  • A cover garment bulge is more visible on the side than in front. Think about someone looking at you head on. On the side, there's nothing behind the strong-side carry area, so a protrusion shows. When the gun is positioned in the front, your body is behind any "bulge" so it's largely invisible.
  • Unless you're challenged with some extra spare tire, your chest also aids in concealment. If your chest sticks out farther than your waist, that causes your cover garment to hang loosely in front of the gun rather than on top of it.
  • While technically not "concealment" we should note that security is excellent in the appendix position. Your gun isn't exposed off to the side. The more "interior" positioning keeps it under your control.

Appendix Carry Tips

So, after giving appendix carry the good ol' college try, and talking with a number of appendix veterans, I’ve got some tips that may help you out.

Ride Height

With most pistols I tried, carrying while standing and walking was easy and comfortable. When the body and legs are in the same line, there’s no pressure and carrying in the appendix position isn’t much different (in terms of comfort) than on the strong side.

Things got interesting when I sat in a chair or got into a car. Without some adjustment, I often found a holstered muzzle jamming into the top of my thigh. That’s less than ideal. To solve the problem, at least with subcompacts like the Glock 43X and Springfield Armory XD-S, I learned to raise the belt and holster just a tad as I sat down.

That made all the difference. With the configurations I tried, I always had some contact between my leg and the base of the holster. Raining the belt simply minimized the pressure. Of course, there’s a limit to how high you can go, so larger guns, or at least models with longer slides might become problematic.

a concealed carry holster with a gun
Definitely experiment with the ride height. Raising the whole rig makes a big difference when sitting.Tom McHale

Grip Length

If you carry at the one o’clock position, give or take, there’s plenty of room for a full size grip to extend towards your side without spoiling concealment—technically speaking.

However, in reality, my extra poundage in the waist area caused grip length to be more of an issue than I expected. If your gut has a tendency to push the pistol forward relative to the belt, a longer grip will exacerbate that effect and will be more likely to print through your cover garment at the bottom end.

It’s not a big deal, just something to be aware of. Both the Glock 43X and Springfield Armory XD-S worked pretty well for me. Considering that the 43X has a full height grip, that was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t want to go to a larger pistol, but if you’re more on the lean side, you probably can.

Holster Geometry

You can increase your odds of appendix carry success by paying careful attention to holster geometry and matching available features to your gun and body shape. There are two positioning angles to factor into your appendix carry planning.

To help describe these positions, imagine the pistol in its carry position with the muzzle pointed straight towards the ground. Got that mental picture?

Grip Position

The first geometry factor is one of rotation. The right appendix holster must position the gun so that the grip is encouraged to follow the curve of your body in the clockwise direction, assuming you’re right-handed. Unless the grip is pushed back towards your spine, it’ll create a bulge right up front in your cover garment.

The Tulster holster does a solid job of keeping the grip pressed in towards the body regardless of whether you carry in the appendix or behind-the-hipbone position. Other holster makers take a different approach.

For example, Tier 1 Holsters have a “wing” on the outer end of their AGIS and Axis Slim holsters. This spacer device pushes against the belt which causes rearward pressure on the grip side of the holster. That helps bring the grip in closer to your body for better concealment.

tier one holster wing grip
Note the wing on this Tier One holster. That pushes the grip end closer to the body.Tom McHale

Vertical Alignment

The other angle that impacts comfort, ease of draw, and concealment is the vertical alignment. If you put a level alongside the slide of your pistol, what’s its orientation? Is it “leaning forward” so the grip is forward of your belt while the muzzle is pointing more towards your body? Is it exactly vertical? Or is the grip being pulled in to your body and forcing the muzzle to move slightly forward?

It’s the last of those that is generally preferred for appendix carry. When standing or re-holstering, there’s an extra margin of comfort if the muzzle is not pointed into your body. This orientation also helps with concealment since the grip is pulled in tight to the body and won’t protrude through your cover shirt.

The G-Code Incog Eclipse uses a unique approach to help attain this positioning. The section that attaches to the holster pouch is normal, but the clip segment bends sharply forward. This arrangement shoves the grip of the handgun into the body while encouraging the muzzle to point more forward. That’s a benefit for concealment and safety.

three different appendix carry concealed carry holsters
To get the right fit for your body and gun, you might have to evaluate different options. Left to right, holsters from Tier 1, G-Code, and Tulster.Tom McHale

The Net-Net

The whole point of this appendix carry trial was to give it a fair shot and through experience, figure out the real pros and cons. What did I learn?

I get appendix carry. There are some compelling benefits with concealment, gun security, and speed and ease of the draw. Those are big benefits when considered in the context of why you carry a gun in the first place.

I get the controversy. Holstered or not, your pistol will point in uncomfortable directions. I get why some schools and instructors ban the practice. I also get why others not only tolerate it but encourage and teach appendix carry.

If you’re going to give it a try, start with a gun that’s friendly to the method, meaning one with a short to moderate barrel and slide. Also be patient with your positioning experimentation. Small adjustments in the side-to-side location and carry height can make big differences.

So, is it for me? I don’t think so. Maybe I have a few too many extra pounds, but I don’t find it very comfortable, especially when sitting or driving. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in the “handgun carry should be comforting, not comfortable” school of thought, so I’m not looking for the flannel shirt version of carry methods.

While strong-side hip carry adds weight and pressure to the side, I just can’t get over the muzzle pressure to my leg when sitting and I struggle with my gut pushing the grip too far forward. I also have to admit the pessimist in me just won’t ever be settled with the whole “muzzle pointing at a big artery” thing.

On the bright side, the Tulster holsters I’m working with make outstanding strong-side carry rigs, so there’s a positive learning that will help me out.