Depths of Concealment: How Deep is Too Deep?

Testing the concealed carry method is perhaps the tale of the tape when success is truly discovered.

» QUESTION: In recent history, I have been approached by several individuals with significantly different backgrounds and lifestyles regarding levels of concealment and how to achieve what they desired within the constraints of what they were willing to consider. In each case, the conversation turned to maximum concealment with the least amount of effort. That is, the least amount of change in their everyday routines of what they wore, where they went, how they got there, what they did when they got there and so on. Some were male and some were female, and each person came to realize that carrying concealed for his or her individual purposes was not a “one-size-fits-all” type of answer. Has this also been your experience?

» ANSWER: Concealment relevant to firearms or other weapons simply means carrying a weapon in a manner in which only the person carrying knows what, where and even if he or she is carrying. No matter where that person is or what he or she is doing, the secret remains with that person alone unless he or she chooses to reveal that secret to another person.

Accessibility is an important factor in that when the weapon is needed, it must be relatively easy to access, preferably with either hand. This might not be possible in every case since carrying concealed sometimes requires making compromises. Continued thought and awareness about how we go about everyday life might cause a change in carry technique to better accommodate our needs.

After the weapon is no longer needed, it might be prudent to put it back where it came from or at least store it to free up the hands for other actions or to show the cops or other identifiable good guys that you aren’t a direct threat to them.

Retention of the concealed weapon and associated gear, such as magazines or speedloaders, is an area not often given much consideration. Should we find ourselves in a sudden physical confrontation, maintaining possession of our equipment is important. Loss of defensive equipment disallows the use of the equipment at best and, in the worst case, your adversary becomes armed with your equipment. Perhaps just as important is maintaining your gear in its carry location where it is expected to be when you have need to access it and defend yourself.

Recovery and/or storage is an arguable but important factor to consider. After the weapon is no longer needed, it might be prudent to put it back where it came from or at least store it to free up the hands for other actions or to show the cops or other identifiable good guys that you aren’t a direct threat to them when they arrive. If you have a gun in your hand when the cavalry enters the scene, they will usually direct their attention to the immediate threat — you. This wastes valuable time in dealing with your original threat and might, in fact, result in charges against you, even though you weren’t at fault in the original confrontation. My recommendation is to have a place to easily put the weapon, regardless of its type, with either hand. Options are good to have when in a fluid environment.

The phrase “deep concealment” can mean many things and is actually pretty difficult to nail down. For the covert operator in a law enforcement or military role, it can mean being able to survive a pat down by an equally skilled operator without being exposed as armed. For the everyday private citizen who tries to abide by the laws of the land, it would be very unusual to find a circumstance under which that type of concealment would be necessary.

In consulting with my colleague Tom Marx, who I consider the foremost authority on concealed carry holsters and gear, having designed and produced a number of each, we came to the conclusion that layers of clothing might better define levels of private citizen concealment. We also concluded that the deeper the concealment under this definition, the more difficult it would be to access the weapon, particularly under stress and with one hand.

Velcro or magnetic fasteners, as opposed to buttons, might help to ease access somewhat.

An example could be a businessman with a pancake holster located on the dominant side behind the hip wearing a pullover sweater, suit jacket and a rain coat or overcoat. His spare magazines are located similarly on the opposite side of his body. Concealment in this manner of dress could be maintained throughout the business day in most environments, but access with one hand with any degree of expediency could be all but impossible at times. Much the same could be said with an inside-the-waistband appendix or cross-draw carry.

A businesswoman carrying concealed in a bra, corset or other holster in the role as a substitute for underwear will usually find a problem with access of the weapon after she is fully dressed and out the door on the way to work. Velcro or magnetic fasteners, as opposed to buttons, might help to ease access somewhat, as would being cognizant of which way the garment overlaps in the front.

That overlap, where the ends of the garment are joined, is a serious consideration. For example, men’s shirts are configured with a left-over-right design that lends itself to a right-handed shooter using the left hand to clear the way to the gun and the right hand to effect the draw. For the southpaw, this is a potential disadvantage.

For reasons unknown to me, women’s blouses button with a right-over-left overlap, which favors the left-handed shooter and makes it a little more difficult for the right-handed female to clear and draw the gun. These are but a few examples of how multiple layers of concealment need to be thought out, refined and trained with in order to reach the goals of accessibility, retention and recovery, let alone concealment.

Inside-the-waistband holsters, especially the tuckable types that allow the shirt or blouse to be tucked in over the gun, are viable options for layered concealment. In either case, a substantial belt is required to stabilize the holster and gun. In addition, the belt should conform to the mode of dress so as not to attract unnecessary attention from a casual observer. A tactical belt in a pair of dress slacks is sure to draw unwanted attention.

A good option is to acquire one of several brands of trousers designed specifically for pocket carry that have extra material sewn in to mask the bulge of the gun.

Similarly, the apron-type holster originally made popular by Thunderwear is designed to be worn at or just under the belt line, concealed by the trousers or skirt as well as the tucked or untucked shirt or blouse. Both inside-the-waistband and apron holster carry provide multiple layers of concealment conducive to deeper levels of concealed carry when the occasion requires it.

Carrying concealed, when the draw is made at or from just below the waistline, requires a size or two increase in clothing dimension for two reasons. Comfort is paramount, but imprint is another. If any method of concealed carry is uncomfortable, rest assured that it won’t be long before changes are made. Any clothing worn for concealed carry must be loose fitting or have contours that break up any outline of a gun, holster or associated gear so even the experienced observer shouldn’t be able to tell whether you’re carrying.

Those who favor pocket holsters have to be conscious of imprinting. Even with some of the better-designed pocket holsters, the bulge that contains the gun in form-fitting casual wear is a telltale sign that something out of the ordinary is being carried in that pocket. A good option is to acquire one of several brands of trousers designed specifically for pocket carry that have extra material sewn in to mask the bulge of the gun. The trade-offs between concealability, accessibility, retention and recovery are fairly balanced with this method of carry as long as the carrier selects the right pair of pants.

For the ladies wearing dresses or skirts (and, I suppose, gentlemen wearing kilts), thigh holsters could be a plausible option for deeper concealment, not so much from multiple layers of clothing but from the element of surprise. There are several different types of thigh holsters on the market, ranging from elastic friction fit to suspension types with straps extending from the waistline. Each has its purpose but is largely dictated by the weight of the gun as well as the size and build of the person wearing the gun.

As you and your environment change, you have to be flexible and adaptable to achieve success. The goals are the same regardless of the depths of concealment.

Ankle holsters are pretty easy to detect if they’re specifically sought. Fortunately, most people aren’t focused on the feet and ankles of everybody they meet. The outline of the gun, gait of the person when walking or observation of a seated ankle-carrier will usually reveal there is at least one other gun in your proximity.

A better option, in my opinion, is wearing an open-top boot with an inside-the-boot holster. The boot should be covered with trousers that can easily be pulled high enough to expose the gun while effecting the draw. With two physical layers of concealment and the unlikelihood of casual observation, this method could be considered a deep level of cover in most circumstances.

The question of the best manner in which an individual can conceal a sidearm goes further than the options listed above or even other less prevalent options available to the public. Somatotypes and ranges of motion are constants with most of us. As a general rule, larger people have more options for concealing a gun than smaller people. The differences between how women are proportioned and shaped dictates what method of concealment will work best for them. (Men, don’t kid yourselves; we have to be conscious of size and shape to make the best choices for carrying concealed too.) Size is usually also related to range of motion. It does no good to carry a gun on the ankle if you can’t draw it without sitting (or falling) down. Testing the concealed carry method is perhaps the tale of the tape when success is truly discovered — regardless of the depth of concealment desired.

The considerations vary as much as the lifestyle does, which means that multiple methods might be in order as clothing, climate and social environment change. Something as simple as getting in your motor vehicle and buckling the seat belt might require a change in carry location just to facilitate ease of access. As you and your environment change, you have to be flexible and adaptable to achieve success. The goals are the same regardless of the depths of concealment desired, and 100 percent concealment with ease of access are of primary concern with retention and a recovery location factored into the mix as well.