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

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author John Caile that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 11, Issue 7, October 2014 under the title, “Hot Tactics for Cold Weather: Turn Up the Heat on Your EDC.” 

For those of us who live in areas where the changing seasons mean 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.

Wardrobe Malfunction?

An obvious thing to consider is your wardrobe. On the plus side, extra layers, from down vests to jackets and 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 several 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 top coat, 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? Well, then 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. Pocket holsters keep the gun upright, make it 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.)

Oh, by the way, did you remember to wear gloves when you tried drawing your gun? You may be shocked to find out that, while you may 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.

If the Glove Don’t Fit…

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 may 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!

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 now have a larger than normal trigger guard — to accommodate police and military personnel who frequently wear gloves.

In winter, I myself 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 may 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 may 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.

Practice in the Elements

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 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

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 their car running in the parking lot as they hurry inside. Thieves and carjackers know this. If you left 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 locked 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 may suddenly find yourself confronted by one or more bad guys, who may 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 may 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.

Equipment Check

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 may 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 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 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.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Teacher In CA December 22, 2018, 4:44 pm

    There is dedicated outerwear for CCW.. They have a means to attach the holster to the outer pocket and to keep it concealed.. LINK~~

  • Dan McGee December 21, 2018, 2:32 pm

    Just completed an 10 hour outdoor defensive handgun course in Michigan in December. It was fairly cold and one of the things that surprised me was how much my holster tightened up as the day went on (and the holster got colder). The retention became very aggressive, to the point where I may consider a different holster for winter carry.

  • bruce December 21, 2018, 10:34 am

    Very useful advice on cold-weather carry, but it failed to address an important cold condition. What if you’re in the Arctic, temperatures at 40 below and your hands are deep into those floppy thermal mittens. How do you throw those off and reach into your parka pocket in order to neutralize some threat? I suggest doing a little adjustment work on your one of the mittens to accommodate a miniature carry that folds into your hand, so you won’t have to expose yourself to the cold to get off an emergency round.

  • triggerpull December 21, 2018, 9:36 am

    I spend almost half the year shooting outside in wintertime conditions. I can tell you that almost every laser-accurate load I’ve developed in the summer will have it’s POI affected by cold weather operations–I don’t care who’s powder it is I haven’t seen one yet that doesn’t drop off in velocity.

  • Wilko December 21, 2018, 8:12 am

    When wearing a heavy coat I wear my carry gun in it’s normal, everyday position. I add a Ruger LCP 2, in its pocket holster, in my coat pocket. To keep my hands warm I keep them in my pockets. I lube all semiautomatics with Slip 2000 EWL, which is not affected by extreme temperatures, low or high.

  • Wlliam December 21, 2018, 6:49 am

    Very informative thank you ! Always good to keep different situations !! In mind ! Be safe !!

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