The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for Concealed Carry, Part 1: Cold Weather

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*This is the first article in a series about dressing for concealed carry. Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF! The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for Concealed Carry ⇐ Claim Your Guide

Dress for Success: Cold Weather Brings Big Changes

Written by George Harris

For many of us, carrying concealed is a day-in, day-out reality. In order to maintain consistency, we should select a specific handgun or type of handgun along with a carry location for that handgun (and extra ammunition). We can stay proficient through the regular practice of drawing, holstering, handling, reloading, performing immediate action, moving to cover, etc. We keep in mind that weapon retention is a factor in carrying, particularly when we’re carrying off-body or when someone, through an inadvertent lapse on our part, discovers that we have a gun and decides that he or she should have it instead of us. Covert drawing and reholstering should also be a part of our skill set, as conditions and situations escalate and de-escalate — sometimes very quickly. We now should feel good, after a little practice, about our ability to operate our equipment and feel confident that if we ever had to put it to use, the outcome would be in our favor.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in an area where temperatures are mild and pleasant year-round. Odds are that where you live, the temperatures start to drop later in the year and some sort of falling weather — liquid or frozen — takes place, accompanied by heavy winds just to make it more miserable. Our friends at the USCCA Headquarters in Wisconsin know this as well as anyone.

Concealed Carry in Changing Weather Conditions

When we venture out into these conditions, it is likely that we will add some sort of protective clothing to our normal style of dress to protect ourselves and our concealed carry equipment from the elements. It is likely that if the weather is severe enough — and it often is — the clothing we don to protect us from the elements will change the dynamic of accessing our equipment, performing necessary lifesaving tasks and returning it to the original location when necessary.

A small black Bersa concealed carry pistol lying in a pile of simulated snow and ice.

Cold weather opens a whole new can of worms when it comes to concealed carry.

For instance, the simple bulk of cold-weather clothing, such as heavy sweaters and jackets, limits our flexibility and range of motion. Such added bulk might even restrict movement to the point of not being able to comfortably reach the carry location at all.

Unless we practice drawing, handling and reloading — along with immediate action, movement and recovery to the carry location — with our cold-weather clothing, we are cheating ourselves in the preparedness department. It’s comforting to have a gun with you when you venture out, but if you can’t get to it when you need it, it becomes perhaps more of a liability than an aid.

When you factor in all of the situations and conditions of year-round carry, it might be prudent to have an alternate carry method or location in your repertoire. This means acute awareness as to where you are carrying and sufficient practice as to achieve the desired level of proficiency without having to stop and think, “What am I carrying today and where am I carrying it?” In some cases, two guns might even be the best option to accommodate entering and leaving a variety of dissimilar environments.

These alternate carry locations need to make sense and be realistic to your working and living environments.

Alternate Concealed Carry Locations

As an example, carrying in an ankle holster while wearing overshoes or rubber rain boots would make it very difficult to access the gun if the boots covered the ankles or even higher. The same would apply to a great number of other cold-weather footwear options. Bulky boots make it difficult to clear the pant leg from around the boot to access the gun for an expedient draw. Another consideration with ankle holsters in inclement weather is exposing the gun to rain, snow, road salt or other contaminants and how the operation of the gun would thus be affected. In cold weather conditions, there are better options than the ankle to carry a gun.

Pocket holsters have become a popular method of carrying concealed handguns over the last few years simply because they are convenient and comfortable. There are two categories of pocket carry that bear consideration: below the belt line and above the belt line.

Below the belt line most often means concealing your handgun in one of the front pockets of the trousers, though some prefer the wallet holster concealed in one of the back pockets. Cargo pockets are a carry location that many overlook, however. And a form-fitted internal holster that maintains the position of the gun becomes a valuable option, particularly when you are seated.

The wooden grips of a SOLO concealed carry pistol emerging from the interior pocket of a winter jacket laid out over a gray shirt with a USCCA logo

Concealed carry jackets feature numerous pockets for access during cold weather.

The considerations here are ease of access and reholstering, as well as a loose fit or enough bulk in material to conceal the outline of the gun.

Above the belt line pertains to the upper outerwear. Some coats and jackets are cut long enough that they prevent easy access to the front and back trouser pockets. A good option here is to use the slash pockets of the jacket, provided they are deep enough to conceal the handgun and a pocket holster. Technically speaking, a revolver can be fired multiple times from a jacket pocket, eliminating the need to draw before engaging the target. I’ve done it just to see if it works, and it does. Realistically though, you have to be at near point-blank range to reliably hit your target. (Apart from safety concerns, it also makes a real mess and trashes the jacket for future use.)

Some jackets have built-in pockets in the upper chest area for concealment purposes. Some have Velcro; others have zippers, buttons or snaps to keep the pocket secure. I’m not a huge fan of these simply because of the range of motion necessary to access the gun and what the muzzle must cover on the way to the target. It’s always better to consistently have a gun one place or another, but I think the side pockets make the most sense.

Another concern regarding jacket carry is what happens when we take it off. You can’t just hang it in a closet and forget about it. The gun is your responsibility and potentially your lifeline, which means you have to have an alternate carry method and a private place to transfer it to that carry location when you remove the jacket. Moreover, reversing the process when you recover the jacket to go back out in the elements must be given some thought as well.

What About Off-Body Carry?

One carry method that won’t change throughout the year is off-body carry. Whether you carry in a purse, document bag, briefcase or another hand-held item, being in constant contact or within arm’s reach of that item is imperative. A sturdy strap or tether keeping your carry device attached to you at all times might be a bit troublesome, but it is necessary to have the gun available and in your control 100 percent of the time. Retention is also a major concern when out in public with an off-body carry device; purse-snatchers and other street thieves are at work 24/7/365, so you can never let your guard down. Another reason for the strap or tether is to combat distraction or absent-mindedness. Think about how many times you have laid something down — cellphone, car keys, hat, etc. — and walked off, only to discover later that it was no longer with you. It happens to all of us more than we’d like to admit.

Waist carry (inside or outside of the pants), cross draw, appendix carry, point of the hip, behind the hip or small of the back all have to be weighed against the same parameters as the other methods of carrying. A waist holster is a good option, provided the outer garments are left open or are easy to open to facilitate the draw and reholstering of the gun (as well as accessing extra ammunition if a reload is required).

If the jacket is worn open, unzipped or unsnapped, a simple strong-hand sweep clears the garment to facilitate the draw and return to the holster. If the jacket is worn zipped up or otherwise closed at the front, it has to be loose and short enough to clear the gun for a draw. This is done by simply reaching across with the support hand and lifting the edge of the garment clear of the firearm, similar to the movement used when wearing a sweater or untucked shirt. If the gun is carried on the waist in warm weather, with a little judicious clothing selection, there is no reason to change the carry location. It takes just a little extra practice with the additional clothing to make it work.

For those who are fans of the shoulder holster, most, if not all, of the same parameters for the other methods of concealed carry apply. The main concern in drawing from the shoulder holster is opening the jacket to access the gun. If one hand is clearing the garment from the carry location and the other is drawing the gun, this pretty much leaves snaps or Velcro fasteners as the best options to hold a jacket closed in the front.

Firearms Access Is Crucial in Any Kind of Weather

Realistically, in driving rain or on a bitterly cold day, having your coat open tells any onlooker capable of cognitive processing that something is not quite right with the picture. By attracting such attention, the very concept of concealed carry could be jeopardized. Conversely, wearing a shoulder holster with the outer garment open at the front is much like wearing a shoulder holster with a light jacket or suit coat.

Wearing a set of coveralls or an insulated suit for winter activity that completely covers your body from shoulders to feet makes it virtually impossible to access a gun carried in a conventional manner. A full rain suit presents the same issue in that your normal concealed carry location is inaccessible without partially undressing. A good option is carrying your gun in a waist-level pocket on the dominant side, with your extra ammunition in the opposite pocket for ease of access and balance. Some clothing designed for inclement weather has pockets in the chest area as well, and such garments can be treated similarly to our previous description of a heavy outer jacket.

A pocket holster is recommended in all cases for weapon stability and protection as well as to break up the outline of the gun to the outside observer. It also helps in achieving a smooth, snag-free draw from the pocket.

Regardless of clothing and circumstance, having a gun that you can get to when you need it is always better than having a gun that you can’t readily access without partially undressing. As is so often said, timing is everything. Taking a page out of the knife fighter’s handbook, the ability to discreetly have the gun in your hand at the ready, as well as being able to put it back where it came from unnoticed if danger passes, gives one the tactical advantage of time and surprise.

Be prepared by staying proficient with your choices of concealed carry — regardless of the season. Practice often, and practice as if it were your last session before the test of your life.

Hot Tactics for Cold Weather: Turn Up the Heat on Your EDC

Written by John Caile

For those of us who live in areas where the coming of fall means a significant change in weather, we should give some serious thought to the effect that colder temperatures and adverse weather can have on our defensive capabilities. I live in Minnesota, and I can almost see those of you fortunate enough to live in the Sunbelt smiling smugly. But even in Florida, many residents run for sweaters and down vests the minute temperatures drop below 60 degrees. Regardless of where you live, changes in temperature can require changes in strategy.

An obvious factor to consider is your wardrobe. On the plus side, extra layers — from down vests to jackets to topcoats — make concealment much easier. Even sweaters (loose fit and dark colors recommended) can help hide your carry gun. But you should also consider the effect such additional items of clothing have on your ability to quickly draw your gun.

Here’s a simple test: With your gun unloaded and carried in your usual manner, dress as you intend to for cold weather. Now, attempt to rapidly draw and acquire a target. Most people are surprised to find out how long this can take. There are a number of ways to improve this situation.

First, make sure you’re not bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story. The finest handgun in the world is useless if it’s buried under layers of buttoned-up or tightly zippered clothing. When I carry in cold weather, I generally wear just a down vest or jacket and only occasionally a topcoat, and I tend to leave them unzipped and/or unbuttoned. This gives me quick access to my strong-side belt holster and doesn’t really affect my comfort all that much since I seldom spend hours on end in the cold.

But what if you do spend hours on end in the cold? You might consider an alternative carry location. For example, if your gun is small enough, try a pocket holster in an outside pocket of your jacket or coat. A compromise? Sure. Then again, carrying almost always involves compromises. Every situation is different, so find a method that works for you.

No matter what the season, never, ever carry a gun in a pocket without a pocket holster. A pocket holster keeps the gun upright and easier to grasp and can also help prevent a very nasty negligent discharge, which, Murphy’s Law being what it is, will likely occur at the very moment you need your gun most.

Got Gloves? Can You Still Access the Trigger?

Oh, by the way, did you remember to wear gloves when you tried drawing your gun? You might be shocked to find out that, while you might be able to get at your gun, your glove-covered fingers are now too fat to fit into the trigger guard. This is no minor issue. Fumbling with a gun in the middle of a violent encounter can be life-threatening. One solution is to find a pair of thin, very snug-fitting gloves that give some protection against cold while still allowing smooth and easy access to the trigger. I have several pairs that I purchased precisely for that reason. You might have to try out a dozen pairs until you find one style that works. (While doing this, please try not to scare too many of the other customers in the store.)

A man uses both hands to aim a black Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistol. He is wearing black leather gloves and the external hammer of the firearm is cocked back, ready to fire.

If you need to wear gloves due to bad weather, make sure you train with them — including drawing from concealment, firing and reloading.

Another tactic for those living in cold-weather climates is to make sure that your carry gun has a trigger guard large enough to allow access to gloved fingers. This is the very reason that many modern AR-style rifles have a larger-than-normal trigger guard — to accommodate police and military personnel who frequently wear gloves.

In winter, I often carry my SIG Sauer P239 for just that reason: It is one of the few guns I own that allows my gloved finger to fit easily into the trigger guard. Now, buying an additional gun just for cold weather can be cost-prohibitive for many people. But if you are in the process of selecting a carry gun, you might want to take gloved-finger access into consideration. Finding out your gun is not glove-friendly after you’ve plunked down a lot of hard-earned money can be frustrating, so try before you buy.

If the above options do not work or are simply not practical for you, you might want to consider rapidly yanking off your gun-hand glove as part of your drawing sequence. In fact, I often avoid wearing gloves at all when merely darting to or from my car since I won’t be outside long enough to freeze my fingers.

OK, so you’ve come up with a wardrobe that allows reasonably quick and convenient access to your firearm. What now? Well, as in all things related to self-defense, practice is essential. In the middle of winter, I see people in comfortably heated indoor shooting ranges blissfully blasting away, dressed in T-shirts or other summer wear. This is certainly enjoyable, but it is important to practice while dressed exactly as you would be for cold weather, especially when drawing from concealment.

True, many indoor ranges prohibit drawing from the holster, and many people in major urban areas do not have access to an outdoor range. But you can always practice drawing from concealment at home (again, unloaded firearms only). Top shooters spend a remarkable amount of time running just such dry-fire drills.

Just remember that the sequence of movements is likely to differ somewhat from your summer routine, so you must repeat the process hundreds of times in order to make the actions virtually automatic. And the more closely the clothing you train in matches the way you are going to be dressed when carrying, the more effective that training will be.

Situational Awareness in All Climates

Another less obvious (but serious) problem with foul weather is the effect it has on our situational awareness. Walking through a dark parking garage in cold temperatures is quite different from the same activity on a warm summer evening. For one thing, having our ears covered with earmuffs or hooded parkas reduces our ability to hear potential threats. Ditto carrying umbrellas in places like Seattle, where winter means heavy rain instead of snow.

Another issue is that the worse the weather, the more we tend to be in a rush to get to our destination. Research has proven that being “in a hurry” significantly reduces our ability to pay attention to what’s going on around us. We need to discipline ourselves to pay particular attention to our surroundings, even in bad weather.

Car thefts (and worse, carjackings) become more common in many areas that experience extremely cold temperatures. Why? Stand outside any convenience store during sub-zero weather and you will only have to wait a few minutes to see someone pull in and leave his car running in the parking lot as he hurries inside. Thieves and carjackers know this. If you leave your vehicle unlocked (as a shocking number of people do every winter here in Minnesota), thieves can simply get in and take off.

Even if you lock the car, the fact that it’s running makes it especially attractive to carjackers. As you come out of the store and hit your spare electronic key fob to unlock the doors, you might suddenly find yourself confronted by one or more bad guys who could very well be armed. And if you are now looking down the barrel of a gun, your own firearm has become practically useless.

Again, being in a rush to get inside, you might not have been as observant of who was standing around the store entrance or sitting in their own vehicles. Pay attention to your surroundings, even when (or perhaps especially when) it’s cold and miserable.

Lastly, remember that having your equipment in tip-top shape is always essential. This includes carrying a clean, properly lubricated gun, but don’t spend too much time agonizing over what kind of lubricant to use in cold weather. Remember that unlike a deer rifle or scoped hunting handgun that will be carried outside clothing and subject to extreme cold, defensive handguns are almost always carried close to the body where they remain almost at body temperature, regardless of the season.

Besides, the choices of quality lubricants today are almost endless, including metal conditioners that work even though they feel dry to the touch. Just remember to follow the product directions for applying.

As far as ammunition goes, about the only change that some police officers make in colder weather is to carry slightly heavier weight bullets (such as 180 grain versus 165 grain in .40 S&W). The thinking is that heavier bullets have a better chance of penetrating thick winter clothing. True? Probably. Essential for private citizens? Only you can make that call.

Winter can affect how we protect ourselves, and it makes good sense to consider all of the potential issues well before the cold weather sets in.

*Can’t wait to find out more about dressing for concealed carry? Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF! The Ultimate Guide to Dressing for Concealed Carry ⇐ Claim Your Guide

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