WHEN I FIND MYSELF attending a social function during which I will have to tell people outside of this industry what I do for a living, I never walk through the door without several canned answers socked away for the questions that I know are coming. After I’ve answered the most common one — “How much really is there to write about concealed carry?” (Answer: “You’d be surprised.”) — the next is always an incredulous, “So you write about guns, backup guns, flashlights, holsters, ammo, knives … how do you carry all of that stuff?”
Well, I tell them, I do so very carefully and with very small modifications to my wardrobe.
Law enforcement officers have a distinct advantage when it comes to carrying emergency gear: They only have to conceal a backup gun and/or a holdout gun and anywhere from one to five handcuff keys. (I won’t go into the particulars of how and where these items are secreted, as it’s none of anyone else’s business.) All the rest of their gear can be carried out in the open on duty belts. Now that more and more departments are switching over to exterior body armor carriers, even more gear can make the rounds, integrated into the fronts and sides of their vests. That’s cops though. Private citizens need to be more discreet.
For those willing to wear them, modern “tactical” pants (sometimes referred to as “BDU,” “cargo” or “fatigue” pants) are the backbone of many concealed carriers’ wardrobes. In this line of work, I assess quite a few different styles of “tactical pants,” which, in this day and age, can mean anything from pretty straightforward BDU pants available in multiple colors to borderline secret agent stuff. Everyone claims their pants are the best value for the money, but styles and appearances aside, I have a few benchmarks that pants need to meet if I’m going to wear them.
For me (and, granted, I can wear different clothing to work every day than the average Joe), the big cutoff is sectioned thigh pockets. By this, I mean thigh pockets that, inside of them, have narrow vertical pockets that are purpose-designed for securing small pieces of equipment, such as multi-tools and flashlights. I can fudge it on one side and just carry my wallet in an unsectioned pocket, but to have my Leatherman tool and flashlight clanking around against each other on my left thigh is unacceptable.
Pulls on zippers can sometimes be too small to be of much help under duress. If you’re willing to put up with it, opt for hook-and-loop closure.
Some pants take this even further, installing additional wider pockets behind the tall, slender ones. A few pairs of Propper-brand pants that I wore as part of my uniform contained not only the light/knife pouches but also wider pockets behind them that allowed for compress bandages, notepads and other wide, flat items that otherwise might be left behind.
Some of the non-tactical-looking units feature pockets concealed within the outside seams of the legs. Though extremely handy and very effective at concealing the fact that there’s a pocket hiding on your thigh, the zipper pulls are usually small enough that they become difficult to manipulate in a gross-motor-skills environment (meaning while you’re not as calm as you normally would be). A better option is usually the pocket-within-a-pocket design executed on the normal pocket rather than the thigh one. They are sometimes secured with zippers, but again, the pulls on the zippers can sometimes be too small to be of much help under duress. If you’re willing to put up with it, opt for hook-and-loop closure.
A quick word on what are referred to as “external magazine pockets” on many tactical trouser designs: Most of them are specifically designed for law enforcement officers responding to immediate crises. They’re not designed for all-day carry of a Glock 36 mag; they’re designed for a cop who is scrambling to stop a rapid mass murder and who needs somewhere to stash the AR mag that his patrol sergeant just tossed to him from the window of a moving squad car. Though these pockets are extremely useful for phones and other personal gear, they can be a pretty conspicuous place to drop something the size of a candy bar that weighs more than a can of Coke.
Rig Your Rounds
IWB mag carry is an excellent option for certain folks but not particularly good for others. If you’re one of the individuals who, through genetics, hard work or both, is old enough to legally carry a pistol and still maintains the same waist-to-chest ratio as you did at age 19, IWB mag carriers are a godsend. For those who’ve developed a protective layer of insulation for those long winter nights, the mags can be a little more challenging.
For the most part, the thinner folks have an easier time with inside-the-waistband magazine carry because they are less susceptible to the magazines poking into their bodies while seated. In fact, I know of several extremely wiry old dudes who carry a pistol in the appendix position and two magazines on the opposite side of the belt buckle, almost making for a frontal police-duty-belt-style positioning of their gear. For others who have more around the middle, the most comfortable spot to carry a mag might be almost small of the back. I encourage all to explore IWB mag carry, but do understand that it’s going to be a big personal-taste issue.
The best way to keep atop it all is to occasionally ask yourself: “Is this piece of gear doing exactly what I bought it to do, exactly how I want it to do it?”
I prefer the N82 (pronounced “Nate Squared”) model because it hosts most of the magazine down below the beltline. Regardless of belly levels, I find it to be the most comfortable thanks to its large leather pad that prevents the magazine from contacting the body at all. However, others prefer the more minimalist offerings from such holstermakers as Eclipse, White Hat, Versacarry and Foxx, whose IWB mag carriers are extremely discreet, secure and unobtrusive. Some others elect to sidestep the whole question of how much they will be poked by their mags and opt for side-mount carriers on the outside of their belts, such as those offered by Dale Fricke Holsters. I see nothing wrong with either style, though as I’ve spent most of my training time drawing magazines from vertical carriers, that’s what I stick with.
Speedloaders and speed strips are usually carried outside the waistband, and though the speed strips are thin enough to carry IWB, most of the products available keep them on your beltline or in your pocket. Speedloaders are wide enough that they also usually ride outside of the beltline. Though a lot of the carriers available are extremely law-enforcement-influenced, JOX Loader Pouches and CrossBreed offer very modern takes on a very 1980s idea with carriers that offer good retention and fast draws. Again, this will be a matter of personal taste.
Outside-the-waistband carry is certainly the easiest way to carry ammunition and flashlights, and with a little footwork, you can find a single unit that will carry both quite comfortably. These are very popular with plainclothes law enforcement and others who do not wear duty belts but who require serious crisis mitigation equipment, and quality units from companies like Ares Tactical usually cost anywhere from $40 to $70. Any IWB options will be subject to the same issues encountered with regular old IWB magazine carry.
The only major concern I’ve encountered with waistband-mounted flashlight carry is accidental activation. Just ask Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski. Many of the flashlights he and I have assessed for this magazine over the years were as secondary lights while on duty as law enforcement officers, and few things bring the differences between flashlights into the open as quickly as duty use. The downside of this is that, depending on how it’s worn and carried, that flashlight, especially if it’s fitted with an end-cap switch, can quickly become a borderline fire hazard. (One of us may or may not have almost set his pants afire with an errant activated flashlight.)
There are more options for knife carry — from IWB to OWB to vertical to horizontal to neck to pocket — than for pretty much any other piece of EDC equipment. How to carry your knife is going to depend on a lot of things: whether you pocket carry your sidearm, where other items are secured on your person, the whole works. I try to keep it as casual as possible; I’m not deep into the neckknife or switchblade scenes, but to each his own. If you wish to be particularly hardcore, you can exclusively carry your knife on your off-hand side, as some very serious individuals do, to throw off a potential attacker who might see it there and assume that’s your strong-hand side. However you decide to carry it, the most important thing is to ensure that you can always access it when needed, and that it draws no more attention than necessary.
Controlling all of your EDC will forever be a work in progress. New technologies emerge and personal tastes evolve, as do ranges of motion and other potential physical limitations. The best way to keep atop it all is to occasionally ask yourself: “Is this piece of gear doing exactly what I bought it to do, exactly how I want it to do it?” If not, it might be time to head to the gun shop or out into cyberspace to do a little shopping. Most of the gear that I’ve mentioned here has either appeared in our “Gear We Love” department or is actually advertised in these pages; as always, if you have any questions about what might perform best under your specific circumstances, I’m easy to find.
N82 Tactical: n82tactical.com
Eclipse Holsters: eclipseholsters.com
White Hat Holsters: whitehatholsters.com
Foxx Holsters: foxxholsters.com
Dale Fricke Holsters: dalefrickeholsters.com
CrossBreed Holsters: crossbreedholsters.com
JOX Loader Pouches: joxloaderpouches.com
Ares Tactical: arestactical.net