Pick Your Position: How You Carry Matters

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Kat Ainsworth that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 16, Issue 6, August/September 2019 under the title, “Pick Your Position: How You Carry Matters.” 

To the uninformed, it might seem like little thought goes into carrying a gun. However, those of us who carry firearms for self-defense understand the multitude of decisions and intricacies involved in concealed carry. Yes, we learn along the way — at least I hope we do — but most gun owners immediately understand the enormous responsibility they’re taking on. Aside from the mental and moral side of carrying, there’s the choice of gun model, caliber and ammunition selection — not to mention choosing a holster and deciding where on your body to carry. After that, there’s endless training because, let’s face it, shooting is a perishable skill.

Here’s the thing: Far too few gun owners put serious consideration into how, physically and positionally, they carry. Tactics and the realities of an up-close-and-personal fight for their lives are things they rarely consider. After all, they have a gun. They’ll be fine, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Your firearm is a tool — one you must know how and when to wield. You also need to come to grips with the fact that the draw time and accessibility of your chosen carry method are of paramount importance. If you’ve never considered that the location of your holstered gun could make or break a fight for your life, you’re long overdue.

Strong-Side OWB

This is perhaps the most popular method of carry, and for our purposes, we’ll be discussing concealed strong-side, outside-the-waistband carry — not open carry. Carrying your handgun on your strong-side hip on the waistband of your pants gives you relatively smooth, fast access. In the winter, when temperatures dip below freezing, I sometimes carry this way because it removes the need to dig through layers of clothing to reach my gun. Consider a pancake holster for superior concealment and comfort when carrying this way. And put thought into your clothing. You can draw a gun holstered strong-side OWB with just a sweatshirt or jacket over it more quickly than one beneath three or four layers of fabric. Never neglect to think about how easily you can get to your gun.

The biggest drawback to strong-side OWB is concealability. Your outer layer will need to be long and loose enough to conceal the gun but baggy enough to facilitate a faster draw. Your clothing should be long enough to continue covering your handgun if you reach for something on a high shelf or if you bend over. Form-fitting, zippered winter coats are out because they are difficult to pull out of the way in a timely manner. Moreover, you may find your seat belt to be uncomfortable and that it hinders your draw time.

All of that said, there’s a reason strong-side OWB is widely accepted: It places the handgun high on your waistband in a natural location for your hand’s reach and allows for a smooth draw. Should you be knocked to the ground, you’re more likely to have access to your hip than you are your back or abdomen. Take care with exact holster placement though; placing your gun in the wrong spot on your strong side might lead to the gun becoming pinned under your body or incredibly challenging to grip. This is just one reason training is so vital.


Carrying inside the waistband is a common practice among concealed carriers. This method has the edge over OWB because it allows you to conceal your handgun fully. In warm weather, I can hide full-sized handguns in IWB holsters while wearing an untucked T-shirt or tank top. Keep in mind that putting a holster and gun in your pants requires you to buy pants one size larger. Adding the holstered gun to your ensemble will add around 2 inches of width to your current size, so your belt will need to be longer too.

When deciding where on your waist to holster up, consider whether you’ll be able to draw your gun if you’re stuck in a close-quarters-battle situation. Will you be able to maneuver both your clothing and your hand to get to the holster? What if you’re on the ground? There are basically 12 potential carry positions on your body from 12 o’clock (the center of your beltline) all the way around to 11 o’clock (just to the left of there). The average gun owner carrying IWB places his or her holster between 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock (8 o’clock and 10 o’clock for a lefty). This means your gun is located immediately behind or ahead of your hip. I’ll repeat it: Hit pause and imagine you’re down in the dirt. Now imagine getting to your gun. What is the most likely scenario?

IWB has many advantages. In a CQB, you’ll be able to reach your gun or at least be able to shift enough to draw. You might find IWB uncomfortable at first, but a proper holster and some practice can settle that. Having the right holster is vital, so ask around among folks of a similar body type and see what they prefer.


Carrying a handgun cross-draw can be done IWB or OWB. Ideally, your holster will be in a spot on your non-dominant side, with your pistol’s muzzle angled toward the potential threat. This, however, will also depend on how well you learn to position your body — usually called “blading away” — from strangers. To successfully carry this way, don’t put the holster so far over that you have to twist your torso to reach it. Carry your cross-draw holster IWB or AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband) in front of your off-side hip, not behind it or alongside it.

Problems with cross-draw include having your arm pinned or your body covered in such a way that prohibits drawing. Although you can certainly employ this method, it’s not what I prefer. In my experience, trying to access your gun cross-draw in a close-quarters scenario is significantly more challenging than drawing from a strong-side OWB or IWB holster. Keep in mind you’d be forced to reach your strong-side arm across the front of your body to draw your gun and get it on target. This not only costs you seconds but also can be flat impossible with an adult trying to hold you down or hit you.

If you’re dead-set on cross-draw carry, you’ll also have to train for an off-hand draw. That means learning to rotate your support hand with palm outward, taking a classic firing grip but in reverse. Practice turning the grip of your handgun up and to the outside toward your back, then rotating the pistol into firing position. This is a slower method in general and presents more failure points than other carry methods.

Small of the Back

Some gun owners like to tuck a holster at the small of the back. This is usually but not always done IWB. Allow me to bottom-line this one for you: Don’t do it. Carrying at the small of your back requires a far less efficient and awkward reach behind your body to access the gun. It also means using your off-hand to yank your jacket or shirt out of the way while twisting your strong-side hand to grip and draw. You must then clear your body and swing the firearm around to the front to face the threat. Yes, you can train for speed, but it remains unnatural and inefficient.

Then there’s the risk of injury. If an assailant charges you and you fall to the ground, landing on your back, your handgun will be positioned directly over your lumbar spine. Imagine the possibilities for fight-ending, crippling pain and permanent damage to your back (not to mention the pressure the gun will put on your spine daily).

One more thing: Trying to draw your gun from the small of your back is not subtle. It loudly telegraphs what you intend to do. You don’t want an attacker to know that and have the time to stop you.

If you insist on small-of-the-back carry, do it IWB, canted toward your strong side so you can get your hand on the gun’s grip a bit more easily. Also, when choosing between holstering your weapon so you’ll have to grip it with your palm either in or out, remember the need for a natural draw. Turning your arm at an odd angle takes time and increases the risk of injury.


Appendix inside the waistband happens to be a favorite of mine. Carrying AIWB means your gun is holstered at the front of your body inside the waistband, typically in a strong-side orientation. Opponents claim you’ll shoot off vital parts of your body if you put your gun there and probably also perforate your femoral artery. These risks can easily be negated by using the right holster and getting the proper training.

Carrying AIWB keeps your gun concealed and gives you fast access. Lifting my shirt with my off-hand and drawing AIWB allows for rapid presentation using minimal movement. In a hand-to-hand scenario, you’ll be able to get your gun faster if it’s holstered at the front of your body rather than the back. Then there’s the fact that an assailant will have a much harder time taking your gun from you when it’s retained AIWB, unlike the ease of stealing a weapon carried small of the back. Even a strong-side OWB gun is easier to take away from someone than one carried AIWB.

Reaching your gun while seat-belted into your car is also more doable when carrying AIWB. It tends to be more comfortable too. And if you, like me, have a back injury, placing your gun against your abdomen rather than your hip or back can significantly minimize discomfort.

You are at the highest risk of an AIWB-related injury when reholstering. You can remedy this in a few different ways. First, repeat after me: There is no award for being the fastest to reholster. Pay attention to what you are doing. Take your time. Tilt your upper body rearward when reholstering AIWB to change the angle of the gun’s muzzle in relation to your body. Also, get the right holster. Holsters such as those made by Jon Hauptman of PHLster and Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment are made with raised portions or wedges specifically meant to angle the muzzle of your gun away from your body. Above all, if it is practical to do so, remove the holster entirely, re-insert the firearm and then rig it back into place.

Methods Marketed to Women

A brief word on corset, garter and bra holsters, prefaced by saying there are absolutely instances in which you’ll be carrying in a less permissive environment. In those instances, the use of, say, a belly band holster may be required. In my opinion, however, holsters and carry methods marketed to women are gigantic failures.

I’ve heard women claim the act of raising their shirts to access bra holsters and subsequently revealing their bras will shock their assailants, which is a claim so ridiculous I don’t have the option of ignoring it.

If you think you’ll dissuade a man who probably plans to rape you by flashing him, you’re sadly mistaken. If you think the precious seconds lost to being forced to raise your shirt or jacket high enough to reach a gun held high on your body by a corset or bra holster don’t matter, you’re wrong. The action involved in dragging your clothing high enough so you can clear your gun from such a holster is completely awkward when seconds matter. Are you willing to bet your life I’m wrong?

Then there are garter or thigh holsters. Ladies, sacrifices must be made in the name of defending your life. If you’re going to carry on your thigh, you’ll need a great deal of practice and a well-made holster. You’ll also be stuck with a smaller gun because micros are about all you can effectively carry in this way.

The Realities of Violence

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, approximately 600 women are raped every day. Based on reported rapes, 90 percent of adult rape victims are female. Women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know; men are more likely to be attacked by a stranger on the street. But when it comes right down to it, numbers don’t matter.

You cannot predict if or when you’ll be attacked. You can only train to be prepared. (As John Farnham says, don’t do stupid things in stupid places with stupid people.) Part of your training is to understand the need to be able to lay hands on your gun and draw it in close quarters.

How you carry your handgun has a significant impact on how quickly you can draw it and get on target. If you’re carrying in a way that hinders a smooth draw or increases the odds your gun will end up trapped between your body and the ground, it might be time to change things up. If you’re carrying in a holster that offers little to no retention, especially one that could let your gun fall out while you’re grappling with an attacker, it’s time to get a proper one.

No one is coming to save you. You are responsible for your own safety, so choose a responsible carry method that offers you the highest chances of not only surviving but also prevailing.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • jd November 10, 2019, 1:48 pm

    Nothing was said about pocket carry. Yes, a full size gun does not go into the pocket. But too many times the full size gun (heavy) does not carry well and it is left at home. My Kahr CM9 goes everywhere in my pocket. sometimes I have to touch my pocket to make sure I have the gun with me. It is very comfortable and most important it is with me. very concealable. Yes, it is slower than other draws but I don’t figure I can out draw a bad guy with his gun already out anyway. But I practice drawing and getting off the “X” as I draw, and getting some cover. Situational awareness counts also as I can stand unnoticed with my hand in my pocket as a potential threat develops. It is hard to draw when seated but balance the number of threats that could occur seated and the number that could occur while you are standing/walking. Get up or slouch if you detect a threat and be ready/aware.

  • Scotty Gunn November 8, 2019, 5:26 pm

    IWB does NOT require you to buy one size bigger. Unless you wear skinny jeans or the like. Then you shouldn’t be carrying as your wrists are too limp to hold the gun up.
    I have carried for 35 years daily, 98% of the time IWB. Full size 1911’s, glocks , berettas,etc. A one inch thick gun in a thin holster (usually kydex now) doesn’t take up a lot of room.

  • Zupglick November 8, 2019, 1:58 pm

    I noticed no mention of shoulder holster carry. I am a slightly overweight gentleman (OK, I’ve got a beer-belly) and waist carry is slightly uncomfortable. With a shoulder rig I can reach my weapon from almost any position and it’s easy to conceal with a light jacket or vest. Seat belt does not interfere and it’s easy to draw from a sitting position.

  • Nick November 8, 2019, 1:18 pm

    Most holsters I see are built wrong. “FBI can’t” comes to mind. The draw goes against your forearm’s natural angle. I caught that in one of Travis Haley’s YouTube videos. It’s about efficiency. As you move your arm around your body, watch the natural angle change. The holster should be lined up.

  • Scott Dismukes November 8, 2019, 1:10 pm

    Apologies for wording of my purse carry comment – I meant that purse carry was “very wrong”, not that your not covering it was “very wrong”. I know you have limited space.

  • Scott Dismukes November 8, 2019, 1:04 pm

    You didn’t mention purse carry – which I believe to be very wrong. When walking down the street, I see very few women strapping the purse across their torso – it’s usually just hanging loose on a shoulder – easy pickings. When a woman goes to the grocery, where is her purse? Very rarely strapped to her, but left sitting in the cart. What may happen as she retreats down the aisle to get something she passed is not only will a thief get her purse, but her gun. When driving, where is the purse? Passenger seat, right? Where is the purse after she slams on her brakes? Footwell. Now she has to battle her seat belt, contort herself to search deep into the footwell for the purse, then she has to find the gun in and amongst everything else in it. Even those purses with a separate compartment for the gun won’t land so the gun is readily available. By this time that road rage assailant is well and truly upon her.

  • Dj November 8, 2019, 6:02 am

    Sir ,
    Where have u had holsters made for the SOB carry with proper cant for palm out draw .
    I have struggled for yrs with this palm in holster.
    Thx for ur time

  • Will Drider November 5, 2019, 2:16 am

    I know this is a reprint BUT there are problems therein. Drawing from 4,5 or 6 is no more obtrusive than grabbing a cell phone or wallet. What makes it “broadcast” is the support hand lifting upper clothing!
    You can go from T-shirt to multi layers but the “Requirement” for support hand clothing manipulation is stupid! They push it a “a positive way of gaining access”; how about we practice perfect one had draw instead?

    Its not that it’s a tell tale sign (your justified if your drawing: RIGHT). The problem is you need that support arm for physical defense, corralling a loved one, holding bag/stuff/infant! ONE HAND DRAW MUST BE THE PRIMARY from any position of carry! We have thumbs and they are perfect for say: compressing your trouser material as you sweep upward forcing upper clothing layers out and over your hand thereby allowing a clean unobstructed grip.

    This same movement works for “Small of back” (SOB: ). First, you must understand that you SOB holster is probably WRONG. You bone/musculature sits naturally with the “palm out”when placed at or above the SOB position. DO IT! I’m not going to bother with all the angles of dangle, now put you palm flat on/above SOB, hold it there like the holster Mfrs want: feel all the additional twist of muscles and joints? It gets worse as you get old. If you want to fight countless centuries of biological evolution, do your thing. BUT: a correct SOB holster places the GRIP towards the strong side NOT the Slide and angles appropriately. NOW we get back to proper single hand draw, same as above: Palm Out, thumb up depressed into trousers slides upper layers up/across and clears path until fingers slide between back and grip, palf rides over butt seats web/palm in position then draw; muzzle sweeps down in line with hand/forearm to presentation: NOT ACROSS body. Don’t be a snowflake and freakout: UNSAFE MUZZLE! We TRAIN don’t we? No different, our hands just reverse as they came.

    I’m not pushing this because I can’t twist, I can actually draw with either hand at any holster position. I’m pushing it because we MUST draw single handed, EVERY DRAW can be made with the thumb up sweep.

    It would be great if Mfrs made SOB holsters with proper position and cant. A support side holster placed in SOB position places the grip to the strong side for palm out grip but normally the cant is opposite of whats needed. I’ve had several made for this position.

    IMHO I don’t think anybody that CCs with an OWB rig is maximizing concealibility. I also don’t by the extra one to two inches in trouser waist and belt for IWB. Every day in shorts, bluejeans or dress trousers I snatch the belt as tight as it goes than stuff a IWB holstered G23 in there; clipping over the belt. No Printing, no grip sticking out like a broken rib. I don’t faint and don’t have a pistol impression in my body after a very full day.

    The on you back, sombody on top arguement is weak. Top persons weight will be on his knees not ass and you. Arch/kip, roll punch or crush genitals: this isn’t Marquess of Queensberry rules! Come on, you have a “blade” don’t you? Encounters are not one dimensional, if your fighting back, you have not lost and the attacker knows he has not won!

    I’m normally IWB @ 2 but when I need a full size pistol it goes Sob especially if I’ll be seated for long periods.

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