9 Critical Concealed Carry Lessons: Ep. 5 Holster Selection & Where to Carry

Deciding how you want to carry is important. And finding the right holster to fit that style of carry is essential.

Deciding what gun to carry is only part of the equation, you also need to make a choice on where you are going to carry it on your person. Combined with a holster and a belt, it becomes your carry system.

There are an infinite number of ways to carry your firearm, ranging from the practical to the “you must be kidding.” At least once a week I see some new exotic deep concealment option, most of which in my opinion is snake oil. As Col Tonn frequently told me, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you oughta.”

Check out all the episodes in this series:

Small of the Back

There is a natural hollow in the curve of your back, though that hollow gets a little harder to see as you get older. Many people see this area, commonly referred to as “small of the back” (SOB), and think it is an ideal place to carry a gun. Provided your clothes stay in place, it does hide a handgun quite well and allows you to carry a larger gun with no consequences. Because the grip of a pistol ends up facing up your spine, above your gun belt, it is just as easy to carry a Glock 17 as a Glock 19, for example.

Drawing from the small of the back when involved in fisticuffs becomes a real challenge.

I actually carried this way for awhile when I was younger. At first glance, this method works great. Spending some time doing it, however, rapidly exposes weaknesses. First, the draw is slow and from an unnatural angle. If you are at contact range when you need to deploy your weapon, your odds of getting it out and in use are slim.

Next, it is very easy to muzzle yourself when you draw, particularly if you are trying to draw fast. I am not saying that can’t be overcome with practice, it can. You can draw safely from SOB. It’s just unlikely when the shooting starts.

It is also very easy to start printing with this method. If your shirt rides up in the back even a little, your business is on front street. SOB is loud if you sit in an unpadded chair, such as those commonly found in a diner. That might sound stupid sitting at your computer, but in the real world, people notice.

Last but certainly not least, SOB increases your odds of hurting yourself in a fray not involving a gunshot. If you fall backward, you are now landing on a thick piece of steel or polymer placed directly over your tailbone. That fall is not going to feel good and may take you out of the fight before it starts. Since I live in a place prone to ice, I say “no thanks” to SOB.

Strong Side

Strong side may not be the fastest, but it is the most comfortable in my opinion.

Probably the most common method, this is the gun tucked behind the hip bone on your strong side hand. It usually rolls out of my mouth as “strong side FBI.” The “FBI” in that means a slight forward cant to the gun. Straight up and down is fine too, but I find the cant hides the gun a little better for me.

I like strong side because it is the most comfortable for me and of the three methods I’m discussing today, it has the second fastest draw time. If I am carrying a bigger gun, like a Glock 23, I use a Crossbreed holster. If it is something smaller like my XDS or XDE, I like a clip on model made by Jacksons Leather Works. I have been using the same Jacksons holster for four years and it is awesomely durable.

Why do I favor comfort over fastest draw strokes? It makes me more likely to carry the gun, and I can do so longer. That might not matter to Vin Diesel or John Wick, but it matters when you do this every day.

Appendix Carry

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Carrying the gun at the front of your body in the twelve or two o’clock positions is not without controversy, and not my favorite method, but it does have advantages we must acknowledge.

First, there is no question it’s the fastest way to get your gun in the fight. Not only is this true tucked in your pants, look at the competitions where they have a choice of holster placement. All winners at Cowboy Action end up with the gun basically at or near the appendix carry position, albeit a bit modified from a traditional concealed carry setup. And those guys draw quick.

From a carry perspective, I challenge you to try this with an empty gun if you haven’t already. It is noticeably faster, even with minimal training time. It has the shortest path to employment, which also means you are arguably more likely to be able to use it if an assailant is already on top of you.

There are, however, two main drawbacks. If you are a Calvin Klein model, this might be comfortable. For a plus-sized gun model like myself, not so much. I have found one holster setup that makes this tolerable, and it is also the only one I would trust for this style of carry: The Desbiens Gun Leather HardCore #4 Reverse Cant.

This brings us to negative point number two. Appendix carry is basically pointing a loaded gun at your twigs and berries, and femoral artery — all day long. I did a 100 empty gun draws and reholsters before I was willing to try this live, and I never had a firing pin fall. Still, it makes me nervous and I am not alone in feeling that way.

Appendix carry gives you the fastest draw time but it also means your sidearm is pointed at your family jewels and femoral artery.

Worst case scenario with strong side, a negligent discharge blows my butt cheek off. Not fun for certain, but not likely to kill me. Appendix, you are playing with coffin nails. I have patched a couple of femoral bleeds in my days as a soldier, not pretty. Not something I would gamble on to save a half second of draw time. This is a personal decision, though, do what your pay grade can handle.

Conclusion

Whatever you decide, your holster is not the place to cheap out. Make sure you buy high quality, your life might depend on it. Buying a cheap holster is like having a Ferrari that you only fill up with E-85 fuel. The system can’t work if all the parts aren’t up to the task. If you have opted to use a laser or flashlight on your concelaed carry gun, Crimson Trace® has a fantastic holster finder on their website.

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Robert August 16, 2017, 9:30 am

    I also prefer the crossdraw. Two quick reasons are that if you are driving a car and have the seatbelt on. You are not going to be able to draw at all if you carry your gun on your right side. The second reason is by crossdrawing it is quicker to be on your target with one sweeping over and up and on target. It is very comfortable to carry this way.

  • Ray August 11, 2017, 6:04 pm

    Thank you for the information! As of right now I am unable to carry on the waist due to being in maternity pants and 8 months pregnant. But being that pregnant visibly makes me an easier target in the criminals’ eyes, so I use the Manroe holster to carry for now until I can get back into pants with belt loops. Just an FYI to anyone considering the Manroe holster, spent the money and get a GOOD bra that actually fits you! Holds everybody up nice and tight!

  • David Cook August 10, 2017, 9:06 pm

    I’m surprised that you left out the Urban Carry. I have one for my 9mm and love it. It’s comfortable, fast to the hand with some practice and you can sit, stand AND it doesn’t threaten shorty and the kids but rides close on either side. Good conceal carry specific to your weapon and will allow lasers.

  • Jerry Weber August 10, 2017, 4:50 pm

    Unfortunately a couple of duffle bags full of bad ideas . Love your videos !

  • Joe H August 10, 2017, 4:48 pm

    Appreciate the knowledge! Here’s one though, the ankle carry…. attacker comes near or on you, you fall down and fake seizure, pull yer pistol while they’re deer eyed.

  • John W. Flores August 10, 2017, 2:49 pm

    Trained for first time with pistol as a U.S. Coast Guard recruit in the late 1970s, and we used the old Model 1911 Colt auto. Carried that .45 caliber model all through four year enlistment on drug operations. Side holster. Now I have a 1911 model with shoulder holster for traveling, especially at night. Two well-placed shots from the .45 auto is great self-defense. Not much kick, if you’re used to it. Never had to shoot anybody, and hope to God I never do.

  • Dave Brown August 10, 2017, 2:25 pm

    Try The Small of The Back Again! Yep try it again, but this time reverse the handle or grip as it is called. Easy way using a right hand in the pants holster is to put the clip on the opposite side, and manly holster are made to be reversible. Slip it in to the right of center and put your handgun into it. Oops everything is backwards, Yes It Is!! All U need to do is backhand it, or point your palm out, slide it in with your palm out, grap you gun and pull. The muzzel will be pulling out point down and away from you. Easy to carry and get to even laying on your back. I have been trying this stuff for over 40 years, yep I was around when they said Try A Double Tap (to bad they now teach empty the mag taps). I still try other methods of carry but this one really works. I have finally decided not to try any other method of carry (well I will try it, but I always go back to this). My least has some thin Tan Leather added to the rear side as I can carry it out in the yard with no shirt on and no body even notices as the leather wraps around both sides. It took a while but the handle side leather is loose so it doesn’t slow my draw. Is it perfect, to me it is. I enjoy reading and watching your stuff.

    Dave (on a side note I have been the token white guy on lots of reservations. Even on a couple that truly don’t like us white guys, yep 21sr Century and it still goes round and round. And don’t go getting a wedge there brother as not to many moons ago I lost my best friend, and he is now in that great hunting and motorcycling land in the sky………. I plan to visit him in about 25 more years, and I know they will let this white guy in).

    • UncleNat August 11, 2017, 1:54 pm

      I agree–Clay’s small-of-the-back setup looks terribly uncomfortable–I use left-hand holster IWB in the small of the back (grip pointing down)and it’s pretty smooth with some practice. Most comfortable in Winter–too sweaty in the summer. The other drawbacks you mention are still applicable. Great article and series–I’m digging it the most!

  • Robert Patridge August 10, 2017, 1:47 pm

    I am pushing 70 and have physical problems. They include arthritis which restricts my arms so anything behind the front pocket is limited. I do wear a concealed carry vest all the time and like it lots because it provides pockets for smarthphone, by checkbook and wallet plus insider pockets for carry. It hangs below my belt line so concealment would not be much of an issue anywhere. The topic however is which holster type do I prefer. Well, for me, it is pocket holster for my Sig p239 .380. I have observed several “quick draws” on YouTube with the SOB and ITW and side carry. I can tell when the shooter is reaching and timed them. From initial movement to putting one down range was clocked at a certain time lapse. I shoot at an indoor range and had my spouse timed me from initial movement to hitting a target in the 8 – 10 area with the first round at 10 feet. As an old man, with arthritis and diabetis, my first round within the kill zone was about the same as the YouTube expert just to point downrange. I have no intention to play Matt Dillion across the street or Rambo across the valley. My intention is to stop someone pulling a knife or pulling a gun on me inside 10 feet. I do not know if the knock down power of the .380 would do that therefore round placement needs to be spot on like head or lung. An instant drop or stop. People who do those fancy aimings and wear those dandy clothes sure look intimidating. And they send a message that says, go ahead and shoot me. In my view, people who dress to impress are sending the wrong message. You can spot these guys from their T-Shirt with some Dirty Harry type message and a big tattoo on the bicept. The right message is I am no threat to you so please leave me alone. Concealment goes beyond some trendy camo pants. By the way, my 101st Airborne tatto is well hidden under a long sleeved shirt at all times. I look like a Sunday school teacher.

    • Conrad Wall August 10, 2017, 5:02 pm

      I completely agree with Robert about a front pocket holster. Also agree with his main reason for carrying. That said I prefer a Kahr PM 9 with Trijicon sights since it’s more powerful the the .380. Sure, the accuracy is not as good as a longer barreled pistol, but good enough for the close ranges he mentions. I have been very satisfied with Rosen leather holsters. Expensive but very well built and worth it to me. It absolutely does not print in my Kahkis or in dress pants. Don’t have to wear a vest or anything else to be concealed Only thing I give up is not having ANY other thing in my right pocket for safety reasons.

  • Frank Galovic August 10, 2017, 1:36 pm

    Years ago I heard this story: Men would carry pistols in their belt in front. It was comfortable and the pistols were handy to get to. The problem became when the men bellied up to the bar. The pistols had a habit of going off, so, pistols quickly became “side arms”.

  • GradyPhilpott August 10, 2017, 1:17 pm

    For me the appendix carry is the most practical and the most comfortable. I even lost about 75lbs. to make appendix carry even more comfortable and more practical.

    As for the dangers, all I can say is that with the right holster, the right firearm, and some care, I don’t feel that the position is dangerous at all.

    Being retired, I’m almost always wearing jeans and t-shirt. If I “dress up,” it usually means wearing a nice shirt with a square shirt tail worn out and a pair of slacks.

  • joe August 10, 2017, 12:58 pm

    Give “VEDDER HOLSTERS” a look see. Great holsters —-great reviews. I just got myself and my wife one and we love ’em. Top quality, top customer service. I’v carried for MUCHO years and found this to be the best ever.

  • joe August 10, 2017, 12:40 pm

    Nice video BUT—–why didn’t you cover the “cross-draw” carry? I prefer that over all of them.

  • Brian J Joyce August 10, 2017, 12:19 pm

    I have been carrying concealed for 42 years with overlapping 12 years in uniform in local law enforcement and 23 in plain clothes as a federal Special Agent.
    I decided early on I wanted to know as much as possible about weapons I might encounter against me or to carry for my greatest advantage.
    I have worked part time in gun shops, read countless gun magazines, been trained as a firearms instructor, trained as a SIG armorer and carried a firearm just about every day.
    I have owned numerous handguns, my favorite, and I have two legal size filing cabinet drawers full of holsters.
    It is similar to the search for the holy grail to find your carry system.
    I became a Police Officer in 1976. We were issued .38 Spec. revolvers but could buy our own .357 Magnum to carry. I carried a Colt Python that I loved but was not meant to hold to this usage. I transitioned to S&W Model 66. We were qualyfying with reloads, when we changed to magnums the S&W L frames took over, Rugers were very strong but were not used very much. In plain clothes you could get away with semi-autos from .380 up.
    I got assigned to narcotics and swiftly purchased a Walther PPK/S. James Bond cool. We went on a Search Warrant and most every one was carrying .45 ACPs. I took a look at my mouse gun and changed to a Star PD .45.

  • Rick August 10, 2017, 11:53 am

    Des makes some good kit, here’s the but JRC custom leather aiwb CDA2 is far superior and more comfortable due to being able to adjust it so give Jim a call. Also John at 5 Shot Leather with his SME is another better built solution. Not trying to knock Desbian just letting you know of some even better products and I completely agree buy quality kit so you can buy once and cry once.
    Rick

  • Will Drider August 10, 2017, 11:27 am

    Missed a primary consideration: Does CC location support draw/access with BOTH hands? The reasons are obvious, no need to elaborate on it.
    Small of the back (SOB), think outside the box. Why force a extra twist in your arm, it is unnatural. Place your hand flat in SOB location first palm in per common design. Now repeat palm out. Which is more comfortable? Also note that draw from palm out naturally takes a muzzle path that does not sweep your body! This method also allows your thumb to clear the path of access under cover clothing better then a twisted hand pinky first approach.

    I am surprised the Cross Draw location was not covered. Protects gun access, safer muzzle angle and equally fast to strong side appendix. At the start of any hostile confrontation, no one keeps their hands at their side, they defensively center to various positions.

  • JoshO August 10, 2017, 11:19 am

    I’m with Clay: I just don’t think pointing a weapon at your junk is a good idea. If you’re a seasoned gunfighter then you might not have to worry about drawing under stress but when the bullets are flying your trigger discipline might not be as impeccable as you think it is while you’re getting that shooter out.

  • Duece August 10, 2017, 10:54 am

    Clay, great video. This is your strong suit — sharing your wealth of experience w/o bias (or sales pitch).

  • Jean O'Donnell August 10, 2017, 10:37 am

    Clay, I truly appreciate your candor on the overwhelming amount of alpha sierra on the web about concealed carry and blades. Have you any advice for ladies? From our perspective, it is protection from being jumped from behind which is how most creeps try to grab us. Due to our curves, it is very difficult to EDC concealed unless it is in our hand bags. Most of the CC devices for women are ridiculous IMO. I have a Flashbang, and one can get pretty good at the draw, but one can also harm the girls on the way out. What is your take on CC for women besides having a big and well trained boyfriend by your side?

  • Tenbones August 10, 2017, 10:27 am

    I am retired law enforcement and I have tried most, if not all, concealed carry options from ankle carry to shoulder holster. One of the things I am beginning to notice is that as I age my ability to carry in certain positions become less practical or viable. Arthritis has caused me shoulder and back problems so now the comfortable ‘FBI’ position has given way to a similar carry at 3 o’clock or 2:30, appendix carry is now a no-go due to a degrading in my “crossfit” body which also limits IWB options. Ankle holsters are now out because of loss in back flexibility. So what does that leave me? Well, I find the PPS in a Nemisis pocket holster works about as well as anything and if I am going to carry a larger gun a concealable belt holster at 3 o’clock works well. As we get older learning to adapt to our particular situation is a big advantage.

  • John L August 10, 2017, 10:20 am

    Regards the $20 holster. Agree with one exception. The Clinger Comfort Clean holster was a Godsend for me. Works great for IWB any position or pocket carry. No clip and no need to wear bigger pants. If out all day I use an Alien Gear Cloak Tuck. But for a quick walk or trip to the store this holster fits the bill. Before, I just wouldn’t have bothered, now I carry much more often.

  • Vic vapor August 10, 2017, 10:17 am

    good article, Clay,
    Small of back… tried it one day and while standing in line at shopping check out, could not stand having someone close behind me with my firearm back there.
    Strong side iwb.. another good commenter described the gun getting pinched and hard to draw and tough to access sitting, so that seems out also.
    Got to stay with the appendix carry…. if I scooch it over to the left side, I can draw slow from that weak side and it rides comfortable for driving and access. I had a good talking to with my Taurus snubby and Ruger LCp to try to keep the primer dimpling in a forward facing mode only please.

  • Tom Drake August 10, 2017, 10:06 am

    I have a 5 shot 45 acp 20 oz (empty) Pit Bull for Charter Arms that I carry on my hip in a pouch outside of my belt and shirt in plain view. Totally concealed and easy to carry. I live in south west Florida, so I can wear a tee shirt or go shirtless and still be legal. Can you say that? Think about this for moment: if you go to the beach, do you leave your shirt on or lock your gun in your car. I don’t have to unless I’m go swimming. Have a great summer.

    • Vic vapor August 10, 2017, 10:26 am

      I can agree with that, TD,
      here in Florida the beach puts having the protective device close by to the real test.

    • JoshO August 10, 2017, 11:16 am

      That’s great but you’re not fooling anybody with that pouch. The clueless might not ask themselves “what’s in there?” but every single one of us knows what’s in there. If you don’t care about that great but you’re not fooling many people.

  • SLD August 10, 2017, 10:00 am

    Uh….you forgot about the easiest to get to and most concealable area, that being (for righties) the right pocket. A fat boy like me cannot carry in my waist and I don’t like having shirt tail in the way when I am trying to draw the weapon. Even in a bathing suit I can carry my Colt .25 in my DeSantis holster and in ANY other pair of shorts I can and have carried all of my J frames and my 9mm and even my .45. Easy to get to, concealed and very fast. Yes I am hampered when sitting in my car but then I have my .44 in the middle box, etc.

  • Luca Brasi August 10, 2017, 9:33 am

    Clay –
    Thanks for the reviews – I really enjoy these.
    Most comfortable for me is leather OWB, best concealed AlienGear IWB – both strong side. I used to think if you had a few extra pounds you could carry almost anywhere concealed. Actually I found the opposite to be true. I dropped 20 pounds and you can hide a 5″ 1911 when you’re skinny and no one has a clue.

  • Leonard Bucharski August 10, 2017, 8:36 am

    Hi Clay;
    I am a retired law enforcement officer and now run a one-man holster shop down here in Texas. I like you do not like the S.O.B. holster and discourage its use, due to the weapon muzzling either the user of other people. I have carried in just about every conceivable place on the body and still return the FBI carry location. Maybe it’s due to carrying a handgun on duty for over 34 years in this location. I recommend leather over the “plastic” mainly because I have never found a “plastic” holster that fit the handgun like it should. Don’t get me wrong I can and do make “plastic” holsters for those who want one, just don’t like them. I also recommend outside the waist with a cover garment to conceal. There again just personal preference, don’t like buying my pants one size larger to allow for the handgun, I also have a “cross-fit” body.

    Lenny Bucharski
    Bruno’s Custom Leather

  • Michael Granger August 10, 2017, 8:36 am

    I live in a state where you can conceal carry with out a permit or open carry with out a permit I have a glock22gen4 and its Just to big to carry around all day, so I’m looking at the S&W shield .40 cal subcompact with the Lazer built in, what is the best holster to use,I carry on my right side but my arms are kinda long so what ever I carry it’s just not comfortable or quick.

  • Ken August 10, 2017, 8:14 am

    Clay,
    You are a breath of fresh air on the subject of guns and related subjects.
    Stand by, the grits is about to hit the fan!!
    Appendix carry works great for me. Always has am sure it will get me the rest of my journey.
    I will not blow my balls off because——– I carry with nothing up the pipe.
    quarter second slower to target but no risk to my junk.

    • JoshO August 10, 2017, 11:32 am

      If you have both hands that’s fine — what if that badguy has your other arm? I think I know what Clay would say about ‘Mossad draw’…not good things.

  • Aaron August 10, 2017, 8:09 am

    Love the information you share, but please stop wearing black shirts in your videos. You are showing off primarily black products. No one can see them!

  • Infidel7.62 August 10, 2017, 7:58 am

    I have been carrying for over 30 years and the only time anyone ever knew was once while I leaned forward with a Colt Officers in an SOB holster. Never carried SOB again.

  • Ted August 10, 2017, 7:49 am

    I purchased a “car jacker special” from Mr. Jackson as I drive quite a bit. I found that it also works in every
    day carry. It holds my Colt 380 or 32 tightly and it’s not aimed at any of my cherished male parts. It was well worth the money.
    Check it out on his website.

  • CDR_C August 10, 2017, 7:30 am

    Seems I say this a lot – but…..what about crossdraw? As secure and fast as appendix, covers well under a jacket, you close your body / shoulders to draw (as opposed to opening the body / shoulders when drawing from 4 o’clock), Comfortable and accessible while seated / driving. Etc.

    OH – and no mention of shoulder holsters. For times when a jacket is worn, that’s worked well for me.

    • DIYinSTL August 10, 2017, 8:30 am

      Just my two cents: Yes, cross-draw is comfortable and makes the gun accessible in a car. The two down sides are concealability and a dangerous draw. It may work OK with a compact but a full or carry size that has a standard grip will poke the butt forward making it obvious something is up your shirt. The strong side carry will have the muzzle and heel of the butt in line with the torso if canted or the grip traversing the torso front to rear if there is no cant in the holster. 3 and 5 O’clock just hide more gun a lot better. A typical cross the body draw will paint a good 120 degrees down range and even your own weak arm if carrying open. Definitely more dangerous than the few degrees on the horizon you paint with a strong side draw. Don’t get me wrong – I love my custom alligator cross draw holster. I’m just a bit bummed it works poorly (for me) to conceal a gun.

      • Tom Hammond August 10, 2017, 11:22 am

        I am old-school and favor a modified weaver stance. Everyone nowadays talks about crossdraw carry having a danderous draw – but that is only true when using isosceles position. From a weaver stance, strong side (3 o’clock) carry has your muzzle sweeping a much larger area than a crossdraw.

        • Ray August 22, 2017, 1:50 pm

          40 years in LE, El Paso SO, US Customs Agent, DEA and I carried my 45 1911 and my 9mm Browning HP butt forward over my right hip (The Mexican carry)..Never found a holster that suited me so used a rubber band wrap on the grip..Most of us carried this way back then mostly because if we needed to get out of the car and do foot survailance we left the gun in the car in those 120 degree days on the Texas border, as we were in and out of the car several times in a day…It was handy and fast…I still carry a Chiefs Special the same way in my retirement..Most of the Mexican plain cloths officer used the same carry, in fact I think they invented it, and I assure all they were more gun fights than the US military on a bad day..:)

  • Doug Walker August 10, 2017, 6:16 am

    Hi, Clay
    I tried a crossbreed holster with my S&W shield and I found that IWB hip carry puts the soft leather inside against the hipbone and the solid kydex outside which tends to ‘bend’ the pliable leather outward pushing my gun tighter into the unbendable kydex and making it impossible to draw unless I loosened my belt, “not a good idea”, I sent it back.
    (I have a ‘much’ larger front end than you, making appendix carry impossible)
    my answer “for me” is solid kydex, I can tighten my belt reasonably, (I also use suspenders) and it’s surprisingly comfortable, sometimes I forget it’s there !!

    • Wilson Lanue August 10, 2017, 10:12 am

      Easy enough to adjust the tension on hybrid IWB holsters. Heating it with a hairdryer and moving an unloaded pistol in and out once or twice loosens the trigger-guard hold.

  • James Smith August 10, 2017, 5:57 am

    I used to strong side carry exclusively ( semi auto) . I also have a belly band ( which I don’t use much) for dressing up/tucked in shirt . When my belly expanded , strong side became less comfortable . While I agree pointing your gun at your crotch /appendix carry is less “safe” , BUT depending on the gun it is a good option . I use Concealed hammer snubbie double action only .38 Spl revolvers when i carry appendix ( which these days , is most of the time ) . If I were in LE ,, or any “duty” requiring carry , I would obviously Not carry appendix , other than a backup .

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