When it comes to the concealed carry of a handgun, we love on-body carry — a gun holstered and affixed to a gun belt inside or outside the waistband. We also love our shoulder holsters and ankle holsters and pocket holsters … pretty much any type of rig that puts a gun on-body for secure, stable carry and relatively fast access.
Other carry methods have their place too, albeit with some attendant difficulties. Yes, you can carry a handgun — and a large one or even more than one — in a shoulder bag. But unless you plan to keep your shoulder bag on your shoulder all day, never taking it off, this is not quite as on-body as some would like to think.
So, while some shoulder bags can get very close to on-body carry, they’re really not, because the very nature of a shoulder bag is to be an extra carrying solution you can put on and take off as needed throughout your day. It doesn’t mean shoulder bags are poor concealed carry options; it just means you need to acknowledge their limitations.
Shouldering the Burden
All things considered, the term “shoulder bag” constitutes a wide array of styles and designs. And when it comes to concealed carry, each year brings new and interesting solutions. Bag manufacturers are producing thoughtful designs with hidden compartments, integrated holsters and, for the most part, a more casual, non-tactical look.
Here, four pieces of gear highlight the myriad options available for concealed carry in a shoulder bag: One is a small cross-body bag, one is a briefcase, one is a messenger bag, and one is a backpack. They’re different styles, but they each make use of a shoulder (or two) for an effective concealment solution.
Falco Shoulder Bag With CCW Holster
Functionally named, Falco’s Shoulder Bag with CCW Holster is a smallish, cross-body solution for carrying a few essentials plus a handgun. Measuring 8.2 by 6.5 by 2.8 inches, it is made from soft fabric and even qualifies as “stylish.” It’ll hang on your left or right side equally well, either mode offering quick access to the rear concealed carry compartment, which is accessed via an easy-open flap with hook-and-loop closure.
Inside the compartment is a universal holster that can accommodate a variety of gun types and sizes and can also be set at whatever cant desired. Depending on what gun you carry in the compartment, there may be a propensity to print on the back of the bag. But this doesn’t matter too much because that’s the side of the bag that’s always resting against your body.
Inside the bag is a typical array of pockets and compartments: places for a phone, wallet, keys, pen and so on. A main flap covers all this, attaching via a magnet but looking like a standard buckle.
And that’s it. Simple, stylish, functional.
Accessing the gun in the carry compartment normally requires two hands — one to hold the bag steady and another to pull the compartment open. You might be able to drive your hand into the carry compartment while the bag is on your shoulder, the strap providing leverage against the downward push, but then drawing may require something to stop the bag’s upward travel. Regardless of how you carry and draw, just make sure you practice so that you know the limitations of the bag.
Available on Falco’s website, the Shoulder Bag with CCW Holster retails for $79.95 and comes with a five-year warranty.
ITS Tactical Discreet Messenger
Another aptly named shoulder bag, the ITS Tactical Discreet Messenger offers a tough-but-civilian-looking shoulder bag full of tactical goodness. With dimensions in the 15- by 11- by 4-inch ballpark (the bag may expand or contract just a bit, depending on use), this bag will hold legal-sized documents and a bunch of other office-type items with ease. And, of course, it’s got a well-designed spot for a concealed handgun and all your other EDC gear too. It just doesn’t look like it.
Made from genuine Martexin weather-resistant waxed canvas, the ITS Discreet Messenger sports a tough-but-casual look appropriate for settings from the boardroom to the field. It is currently only available in Surplus Green and Wolf Gray, but those are the only two colors you need. With two AustriAlpin COBRA buckles holding the main flap in place, gear inside is secure. Admittedly, all this ruggedness adds up: The bag weighs 3 pounds empty.
If you think the outside of the bag is cool, the inside is what will really win you over. First, the main flap sports a hidden pocket with a concealed front loop panel, meaning you can attach a corresponding hook accessory, such as a holster, to the pocket. Then, paracord zipper pulls on the right and left sides of the back offer access to another inner compartment. Expandable, interior pockets are lined so you can better see what’s in them and offer modularity with ITS Zip Bags. And the entire side of the main compartment is lined with loops to allow for hook-equipped accessories to be installed throughout.
Regardless of how you carry and draw, just make sure you practice so that you know the limitations of the bag.
The one accessory I added was an ITS Tech Sleeve, also hook-equipped and offering a super safe ride for my MacBook Pro. This 15- by 10-inch, 500 Denier padded nylon sleeve offers several pockets for stowing all kinds of gear, from cords to extra magazines (not the monthly periodicals I read but rather handgun reloads). It’s a must-have for this bag.
A 2-inch adjustable shoulder strap keeps the bag secure, whether in a traditional or cross-body configuration. For added stability, an adjustable waist strap is available (and removable too).
The Messenger retails for $299.99, and the Tech Sleeve is $34.99. Other ITS accessories are available, and all of them are made in Texas.
Drago Tactical Laptop Briefcase
For the tactically minded who don’t mind looking it, Drago’s Tactical Laptop Briefcase is exactly that. Measuring 18.5 by 13 by 5.5 inches, this case sports exterior MOLLE webbing and comes in tan or black. Pockets inside and out are arranged exceptionally well, and since the case is basically a rectangle, you can maximize every square inch of space available for your papers, books, laptop and other gear. The problem is, you’ll fill this case up because you can and, depending on your load, it can actually become too heavy to carry with the shoulder strap. In fact, I often remove the shoulder strap and carry it like a regular briefcase.
A semi-hidden compartment with hook-and-loop closure offers fast access to a handgun, provided you have it held in place with an accessory holster (not included). Plus there’s an adjustable water-bottle pocket on one of the ends. As such, this bag often rests close by where I can quickly access it. Pack it right and it’ll stand up straight, offering easy and immediate access to your gun and gear. Traveling a lot? Add the shoulder strap and use the rear slot for attaching it to wheeled luggage.
Its simple design and smooth lines won’t make you look like you just parachuted out of a c130.
Inside, a padded laptop compartment offers decent protection for my laptop, which, at a diminutive 13 inches, slides back and forth if the bag tilts in any way. Pockets for phone, pens and more provide some additional organization.
Drago’s Tactical Laptop Briefcase sells for about $60 to $70 at various internet retailers.
5.11 Covert Boxpack
Back to more subtle options: 5.11’s Covert Boxpack puts 32 liters of storage power on your back, complete with a fast-access pocket in which you can hide a handgun. It’ll hold a lot of big stuff — the main compartment on this backpack measures 19.5 by 10.5 by 9.5 inches — but its simple design and smooth lines won’t make you look like you just parachuted out of a C130.
The Boxpack is a roll-top backpack, meaning the opening to the main compartment rolls up and latches in place. This makes it a great choice for protecting whatever you’re carrying, even when facing adverse weather. Made from 1680D ballistic polyester with a water-resistant finish, the Boxpack offers a wide selection of externally accessed pockets, each of them well-thought-out.
And since Boxpack is a backpack, it, of course, has two shoulder straps, both reinforced and padded, along with a slide-adjusting sternum strap. Sure, you can carry it on one shoulder, but why would you? You’ve got two straps; use them. It’ll keep the weight of your load evenly distributed across your shoulders, making it easier to hike or, if necessary, run.
Everything on the Boxpack is tough, rugged and durable. Its drawback, compared to the other shoulder bags mentioned here, is the time and effort it takes to access the concealed handgun compartment. That’s a move you should practice again and again.
5.11’s Covert Boxpack retails for $69.49.
Caution: Think Twice
As convenient as off-body carry can be, there are several important realities to remember:
- People sometimes forget that they’re wearing guns that are attached to their pants, let alone tucked into a backpack. Always be conscious of the fact that it will be even easier for you to forget that you’ve got a gun in your bag than it will be to forget that you’ve got one in your pocket.
- Bags and luggage of all kinds are prime targets for thieves. If you set a bag down, you’re setting yourself up to lose it.
- Kids go through bags, so act accordingly.
- Carrying a pistol or revolver in the dedicated pouch of a concealed-carry-oriented bag does not release you from the responsibility of using a holster of some kind. That trigger and trigger guard need to be covered, even with just a snap-on Kydex unit like those available from Clipdraw.com.
- If you ever carry in a bag of any kind, and if you ever also use that backpack or bag for travel, you will need to completely unpack and inspect that bag before bringing it into a TSA-controlled area. No fair losing that Pre-Check status because you forgot to remove your spare magazine.
Ed Combs, Senior Editor