If a gun and concealment holster cause pain and discomfort, most SWAT readers simply buy a new holster. What would you do, however, if most holsters jabbed the gun mercilessly into your ribs or hips, and comfortable holsters required voluminous garments to conceal the gun? Would that make carrying concealed harder? Welcome to the armed woman’s world!
The female build is to blame for most of the holster discomfort. Most women are shorter from shoulder to waistline than most men. As a result, drawing quickly and smoothly from many holsters proves nearly impossible. In addition to the woman’s typically shorter torso, the hip curving out from the narrower female waistline plays havoc with the fit of holsters designed to sit on this relatively flat region of the male anatomy. Women who carry a gun in a belt holster face the challenge of attaching a flat gun and holster atop a curved hipline.
Dropped and offset holsters address both issues nicely, but concealment in even the best of this breed requires extremely baggy clothing. Though well equipped for the range, the owner of a dropped and offset holster still needs a comfortable concealment holster for daily carry.
Fortunately, a few well-made holsters and various concealment methods promote comfortable carry—even for women.
Motorcycling and waist packs work great together, where the waist pack fits in naturally, as it will in many other recreational environments. Here, Diane Walls demonstrates the Coronado Leather waistpack and the Hawg Nine it contains.
BUILD ON A BELT
Though we give the most attention to guns and holsters, few concealment systems work as designed without the support of a well-made gunbelt. Like a house’s foundation, a sturdy belt cures movement of the gun and holster on the belt.
An oft-heard objection when introducing women to concealed carry concepts is, “I never wear belts! They’re too uncomfortable.” When faced with women who vow that they’ll never wear a gun belt, bear in mind that, despite the mental picture the term conjures, a sturdy gunbelt is not necessarily thick, wide, nor masculine. Galco’s Concealable Contour belts are classically simple, but accessorized with attractive hardware that lends them a fashionable quality. Creative folks may choose to accessorize a gunbelt by replacing a simple brass buckle with dressier hardware from fashionable belts.
A contour belt increases wearing comfort substantially. Unlike a straight leather strap, a contour belt is cut on a gentle curve with the smaller dimension at the top of the belt. Thus, the belt’s lower edge won’t dig in and bruise. Further, the contour reduces the pressure of the belt against the stomach.
An inch and a half of sturdy belt can poke into the tummy when women are seated. The best relief is a belt that is thinner in the front, though the sides and back remain a standard width to fit regular holsters and better support the weight of the handgun. Finally, a high quality one-inch-wide gun belt increases comfort, though it limits the owner to holsters custom made to fit on a thinner belt. Nonetheless, a thinner gunbelt may prove less objectionable and deserves consideration.
Without doubt the most unusual gun belt I’ve ever seen is the creation of a woman who wears only skirts. Convinced of the need to carry her Glock 26 on-body, she asked a saddle maker to craft a custom all-in-one belt and holster, resplendent with silver buckles and decorative touches. With the holster hidden beneath her sweaters and vests, the big belt suggests Western-style accessorizing.
Galco Concealable Contour Belt is the foundation of this set, which includes magazine pouches from Wild Bill’s, an Alessi GWH holster and flashlight holder from Galco.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Location of the gun and holster contributes much to women’s concealed carry success. While some ladies carry comfortably behind the hip, many find positioning the gun and holster just in front of the point of the strong side hip considerably less unpleasant. A sub-compact handgun sits with acceptable comfort against the flat of the abdomen and below the bust line, from which the drape of a blouse, vest or jacket camouflages the gun. Drawing from this location is also far easier for shooters with short torsos, because the elbow completes the drawstroke so much lower.
Called appendix carry, a holster worn forward of the hip need not be specially made for this position. Both IWB and outside the waistband belt scabbards work for appendix carry, unless they sit too high. Blade-Tech’s Ultimate Concealment Holster (UCH) and Galco’s Scout Clip-On holsters are good examples of gear that works well for appendix carry, because the cant is neutral.
A longer-barreled handgun may fail in appendix carry if the barrel jabs into the leg when the woman is seated. In these instances, a radically canted cross-draw holster offers the same type of concealment and comfort, while getting the gun barrel out of the way. Perhaps the biggest downside to cross-draw carry is the difficulty of integrating it into shooting classes, since drawing from a cross-draw holster points the gun at anyone standing on the non-dominant side.
Other contraindications to handguns carried forward of the hip show up when wearing an open-fronted garment like an aloha shirt or a vest for concealment. “Tuckable” holster designs offer relief, since the shirt completely covers the gun. Otherwise, the holster must be moved back to avoid flashing the gun when leaning over or if a breeze catches the shirt or vest.
On the plus side, appendix carry is far less likely to print the gun’s outline through clothing while sitting or bending over—a consideration with hip holsters. Appendix carry really suits a heavier female figure, since for ladies, extra weight usually doesn’t change the contour of the abdomen so much as it pads hips and the posterior.
Women who wear a conventional strong-side belt holster find relief in designs with a significant muzzle-back cant. The angle eliminates muzzle pressure against the hip, as well as moving the grips away from the rib cage. While it cannot completely eliminate gun and torso contact, a deep rake like that of Alessi’s GWH holster goes far to increase comfort.
The GWH holster illustrates another useful principle for women buying holsters. The holster mouth sits above the belt only as much as necessary to accommodate a good grip when drawing. The lower the holster, the smoother and easier drawing from it will prove.
A belt holster’s advantages include defensibility against gun grabs and commonality with most training venues, but reality dictates that some women simply will not adopt belt carry. Should we leave these women without ways to carry a gun for self-defense? Though alternative carry methods impose some compromises, they merit consideration.
Think about shoulder holsters.
Thin guns like Kahr Arms polymer pistols conceal almost effortlessly in a shoulder holster hidden by a short jacket. Further, a shoulder rig positioned vertically eliminates risk of the muzzle end of the holster printing through the back of a covering garment.
Bellybands, like Galco’s “Underwraps,” position the gun similar to a shoulder holster, or hide it under the bust line. Holster pockets are sewn into the four-inch wide elastic band. Since no belt is involved, this carry method serves belt-less, casual clothes as well as dresses or skirts, on which wearing a belt is also impossible. With the bellyband and gun secured tight against the body, a pretty blouse covered by a little jacket conceals the gun with several thin layers instead of a thick, bulky jacket or the odd-looking vests that mark so many gun carriers.
When trouser fashions feature wide legs, a small semi-auto in an ankle holster provides another low-profile way to carry a gun. My North American Arms Guardian .380 spends more time in a neoprene ankle rig than any other holster. Its polymer counterpart, the Kel-Tec P3AT, is slightly slimmer, even easier to conceal and certainly less bruising against the ankle over a long day.
Few women admit to using a garter holster or the kangaroo pouch of the SmartCarry alternative. Still, these deserve consideration for times when concealing a gun seems otherwise impossible. Both require very small guns like the Kel-Tec or Guardian, so entail the unfortunate compromise of downsizing to .380 caliber, yet that remains preferable to attending a formal dress function unarmed.
Alternative carry methods for larger guns include waist packs and holster purses. Given a choice, I prefer the former, because it remains attached to the body. With casual clothing, a colorful nylon waist pack from DeSantis or Uncle Mike’s or one of Coronado Leather’s sleek leather packs simply looks like a hands-free way to carry a wallet or phone.
I consider using a holster purse a double-edged sword. They absolutely solve the problem for women who cannot work out another discreet carry method, and the models sold by companies like Coronado Leather and Galco are both beautiful and fashionable. On the plus side, no one looks twice at a woman carrying a handbag. However, keeping the gun secure from purse thieves and safe from children when the purse is set aside is cause for considerable concern. Though both Galco and Coronado Leather put small zipper locks on some of their gun compartments, the potential for purse theft continues to worry me.
MAKING ON-BODY CARRY WORK
Despite the challenges of finding the right holster, the motivated woman can find ways to conceal a defensive handgun. How well concealed the gun is depends on several factors. The first is selecting a handgun of reasonable size ratio to her build and stature. Consider two women of my acquaintance: the bulky Glock Model 29 so beloved of the six-footer poses impossible concealment challenges for the shorter of the duo, who conceals her Glock 26 beneath a charming variety of vests.
Wardrobe choices are critical to concealment success. As we saw while discussing alternative carry methods, it is absolutely possible to adopt the skimpy fashions popular these days and still carry a small gun like the .380 Kel-Tec or NAA Guardian in an ankle rig, garter holster or kangaroo pouch device. Guns of larger caliber and larger frames call for compromises in clothing. Looser jackets, vests and sweaters and belted slacks figure prominently in the armed woman’s wardrobe.
Modifying women’s fashion choices is a touchy business. We fail miserably if, when offering a woman ways to carry a gun for self-protection, we prescribe guns, holsters and clothing that suggest we expect her to adopt a masculine appearance. Instead, identifying sensible gun and holster choices, combined with alternative carry methods, are the keys to regular, successful concealed carry for women.
[Gila Hayes operates the Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. with her husband. A reserve officer, she serves as firearms instructor for a small Western Washington department.]
2019 West Quail Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85027
Alessi Holsters Inc.
2465 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Amherst, NY 14228
2506 104th Street Court South
Lakewood, WA 98499
DeSantis Holster & Leather Goods Co.
431 Bayview Avenue
Amityville, NY 11701
Uncle Mike’s Law Enforcement
Overland Park, KS 66214-1734
Coronado Leather Company
1059 Tierra Del Rey, Suite C
Chula Vista, CA 91910