Discussing concealed carry of a firearm often devolves, given enough time and impassioned opinion, into a list of hard dos and don’ts. What kind of gun you should carry, and those you should not. Acceptable caliber. How much ammo is enough? Things like that.
One of the most common, based on my anecdotal observations, eavesdropping and data mining, is that your pistol should be carried on your body, not in a bag, pack, purse, briefcase, or other such luggage in what is known as off-body carry.
There are many persuasive arguments and historical precedent for why on-body carry is best, but simply declaring it best does not invalidate off-body carry in a blanket denouncement.
Nothing happens in a vacuum; for certain people in certain situations, off-body carry may mean having a gun close at hand when they otherwise could not, or when other circumstances would terribly complicate concealed carry.
So instead of throwing your hands up and leaving your pistol behind, or blundering on with a sub-par concealment solution, instead you can learn to make off-body carry work for you. In this article, I will provide you with a primer on doing just that.
Off-Body Carry Defined
To be clear, off-body carry is carry of your pistol in something other than a holster that is attached to your body, like a belt holster, ankle holster or something similar. Off-body carry could mean keeping the pistol in a backpack, purse, briefcase, fanny pack, chest panel, satchel or some other piece of luggage.
Some go so far as to even define keeping the pistol in a compartment inside the cabin of your vehicle off-body carry, but I make the distinction that doing so is actually not, as you do not carry your vehicle, it carries you (and the gun, in this instance) and is so left behind when you are not in the vehicle.
With off-body carry, the gun still goes where we go, on purpose, only we have a new set of perks compared to on-body carry but also a new set of challenges to overcome.
In short, if you have and are taking the gun with you, but it is not strapped on your body with a holster, it likely qualifies as off-body carry. In the following sections, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of off-body carry as it compares to on-body carry. I’ll let you know up front, it has more drawbacks than advantages, but those drawbacks come with the territory if it turns out that off-body carry is your only viable option.
Disadvantages of Off-Body Carry
Compared to concealed carry, drawing your pistol from a piece of luggage you have with you will, in nearly all circumstances, be slower than drawing from somewhere on your body.
The act of stabilizing the bag, case or whatever, bringing it into position to access the gun, accessing the gun past flaps, straps, zippers, Velcro or whatever, and then acquiring the grip and initiating the draw is far more complicated than clearing a concealing garment, acquiring the grip and then drawing.
Yes, you can start comparing very disparate modes of carry in either and arguing that way, like perhaps ankle carry versus an optimized quick-access sling pack, but that is not representative of the most common mode of on-body carry, which is somewhere on the waist line.
Some modes of off-body carry can get really slow, like a gun in the bottom of a voluminous purse, an ill-designed briefcase or rattling around in the bottom of a tool-bag. Design of the carry solution matters much with off-body carry. We’ll get into that a little later.
You might be able to get very fast with your off-body carry solution, under ideal circumstances, and you might even be so good that you can beat me with me drawing from my holster, but you will likely never be able to beat you drawing from your holster. The mechanics and additional steps required, no matter the type of carry solution, add up to too great a burden.
Another item of prime consideration is that the luggage itself may be the target of the attack! Briefcases, purses, camera bags and backpacks are commonly targeted by thieves and muggers. This means one of two things: if swiped outright, you’ll have lost your gun to criminal hands, in addition to whatever else was in the bag, etc.
Option number two, is that you will now be fighting over a loose piece of gear in order to access your gun, and one that may be tethered to you, affording another point of control and leverage to your attacker. This is a major concern, as it will severely complicate your chances of accessing the gun.
Understand that many encounters between civilians and scumbags occur at close range, and by the time the defender realizes they are under attack, or decides to preempt an imminent attack, the bad guy has already closed to bad breath aka striking distance.
With an attacker being so close to you, the chances of them interfering with or stuffing your draw is a huge concern and probable. Off-body carry complicates an already dire problem even more.
Aside from all of the above, your mindset and anticipation of problems must be tuned differently than with on-body carry. You must consider how much attention the presence of your luggage will draw in the setting you plan to take it into. For instance, if carrying in a backpack, and you decide to stop and eat at café, indoors, how out of place will your pack look?
Generally, when carrying off-body you must now anticipate situations in which your luggage will be set down, stowed, or otherwise separated from you physical control. News Flash: leaving your gun in a piece of luggage that is not under your physical control is a bad play, especially in workplace or other settings.
Sure, you can employ some type of locking system or device to help keep honest people honest, but this does nothing to ameliorate the fact that you don’t have your gun on you and that anyone who accesses the area where your luggage is can steal it.
This is not always an issue. Take your average lady and her purse. There are approximately zero reasons why a woman in a public setting ever goes without her purse. A tradesman on a job site will usually have his toolbox or toolbelt close at hand, or on him. Something like that will not raise any suspicion out of hand.
In summary, off-body carry is nominally to drastically slower to access the gun from than on-body carry, may end up with the luggage and ergo the gun it contains becoming the specific target of the attack, and can present significant complications whenever you are faced with a situation where expected to leave your luggage behind.
Advantages of Off-Body Carry
It is not all doom and gloom with off-body carry. Sometimes it is the default choice. For instance, you might be dressed in attire that leaves little possibility for carrying even the smallest pistol, but you might have a piece of luggage with you (briefcase, cooler, toolbag, purse, whatever) that not only can carry and conceal the firearm but also pass scrutiny as something that “belongs” in the setting.
No one looks twice at a business professional of either gender carrying a briefcase, someone in a metropolitan setting carrying a backpack or messenger bag, or nearly any woman carrying a purse anywhere.
This can be undeniably attractive as a solution to the problem of discovery or disclosing the presence of the gun, and is also very convenient, though I warn against choosing off-body carry for convenience’s sake alone.
Off-body carry can furnish the solution when concealed carry in one of the “usual” locations is compromised, like you might encounter if carrying a hiking pack with a waist belt for instance. These large, often padded belts will handily cover up a pistol carried at the belt, IWB or OWB, completely in many instances, and severely impede the draw.
Ankle carry, too, is no good as the extra ballast from a loaded pack makes bending over or taking a knee an exercise in balance in coordination. So faced with forgoing the waist belt or carrying the pistol in some janky way, you might simply decide to carry it on your chest, between the pack’s shoulder straps, in a zipper panel or micro chest rig.
This would afford easy access to the gun, concealment, and is not out of place in the setting, which is further alleviated by the usual lack of people when engaging in long-haul hiking activities. That is just one example where a carefully chosen off-body carry solution can, though not without drawbacks, completely ameliorate issues faced with carrying on your body while also ticking every one of the boxes by our carry objectives.
What’s more, your average off-body carry solution, of any kind, usually affords far more latitude in what size of gun you can carry, and often some needed or desired support equipment like additional ammo, medical supplies, and so forth that may not be easily carried on one’s person.
An average sized backpack will easily carry a fullsize handgun, several spare mags and medical supplies, with room to spare. Specially designed packs will hold compact rifles and submachine guns or shotguns.
This sounds like agent-wannabe hoodoo, but there are very good reasons why professionals or civilians may desire to carry more capable weapons in response to specific or known threats.
Even keeping with our handgun example, if the choice is a tiny pocket pistol carried on your body, or a larger, more capable handgun carried off-body somehow, which would you choose? That is not a “gotcha” question: both are valid, so long as you understand your primary objectives.
In short, off-body carry excels when you need to carry plenty of gun in a setting where your attire is either highly restrictive or your activity somehow compromises your ability to get to a gun located on your body. Off-body carry further provides a typically high degree of concealment compared to most modes of on-body carry.
The type of bag, container or whatever you want to carry your gun in will determine how successful you are overall with off-body carry, and will further play a major role in how you go about your business.
You can use a purpose-made bag or other piece of luggage for carry, which are typically ones that have hidden compartments built in and often holsters (or can accept holsters) as well, or you can roll with some other container or bag that is not, and simply make a place for the gun inside it.
No matter which you choose, you have a few mandates:
1. The gun must be kept in a compartment with nothing else! This is crucial to ensure as clean a draw as you can get, but also to preclude anything from interacting with the trigger or working its way into the trigger guard. Either could result in a discharge.
2. The gun must have a holster or some device to cover the trigger guard at a minimum while in the bag. Excepting perhaps guns with double-action triggers, you must keep the trigger guard securely covered while carrying your gun in a piece of luggage, same as with carrying it on your body. The risk of your fingers finding their way into the trigger guard when acquiring the shooting grip is too great otherwise.
3. You must be cognizant of the fact that your luggage may be a liability in an attack, either being the target of the attack itself or a means to control or restrain you if attached to you via strap, sling or similar part. This is something you must train for!
If you bag or luggage is designed for concealed carry of weapons, it probably has a means to securely compartmentalize the gun plus some attachment method for a holster of your choice or one that is included with it.
Bags of this type, whatever they are, will be engineered in such a way as to be very quick to pull in front of the body and then access the gun. Bags of this type are often ideal from a performance standpoint, but many of them have a decidedly aggressive look or branding which is a tip-off to the kinds of people you really don’t want knowing your have a weapon.
If you decide to go with a make of luggage that is non-purpose built, you’ll need to get a little creative. You might have to clear out a pocket, pouch or compartment to securely enclose the gun, and make sure it is both accessible when you need it and safe.
Remember: your pistol is not a rabbit’s foot! It will do you no good if you don’t have a prayer of getting to it when you do need it, and you can so poorly locate it in a bag, case, purse or whatever that you won’t be able to.
Practice drawing your unloaded firearm from whatever potential place you plan to keep it in your luggage. How does it work standing? Seated? Can you do it with one hand? Add your holster or at the minimum a device to cover the trigger guard.
Speed still counts. It is not enough to have the gun with you. It must be workable. Your life depends on. Don’t trust to braggadocio or conjecture: practice, practice, practice and test, test, test!
The number of ways to carry off-body is huge, as are the variables in selecting which is valid, both when, why and how. So instead of breaking off into a dissertation of crushing minutiae and but-thens, I’ll make a few blanket recommendations for off-body carry which have worked well for me and my clients over the years.
Remember, for most people these will not be their primary method of carry! These are, hopefully, alternate methods of carry with specific purposes.
Backpack – Specifically a concealed carry backpack of the kind commonly encountered by Vertx or Maxpedition, among many others. These packs may utilize one strap (a sling pack) or two, but all share the feature of having a dedicated compartment for the gun that has a Velcro for securing a holster and perhaps spare magazines.
I like sling packs for this reason: they can be very quickly rotated to the front of the body, around belly height, and then allow the gun to be drawn vertically somewhat resembling a standard draw. This can be quicker and cleaner than one might imagine with practice.
These also have the added benefit of being a backpack, and will let you carry around whatever other things you want or need with ease, and allow you to access them without revealing the gun.
One of the more practical and fast solutions if your environment requires it.
The default option for many ladies, and can work well if setup properly and practiced with. The key with purse carry is to make sure the gun is setup for an out-the-side draw, most easily accomplished with a special concealed carry model.
The draw looks like this: assuming a right handed shooter, the purse is carried with the strap on the right shoulder (never across the body! It is too easy to be controlled or dragged).
When it is time to draw the right hand brings the purse to the front of the body, where the left hand secures it. The right hand is now free to access gun, grip and draw, with the left hand joining as the gun is brought to it in front of the body and purse.
The single biggest drawback with purse carry is that the purse is highly likely to be chosen as the target of a thief or mugger.
For office professionals, a briefcase is likely the constant companion of your work days. These can be good places to carry your gun if you are unable or unwilling to carry on your person, but considering there are very few commercial models that are specific to the needs of carriers, you’ll need to be creative.
Plenty may have compartments or pouches inside that will hold a pistol, and others might have enough room to afford a simple panel or “false bottom” where you can install a holstered gun hidden from the sight of any casual passersby.
Opening the case and accessing the gun quickly is by far the biggest issue with briefcase carry, as they are typically secured with tiny latches and open via hinged, in the case of modern styles, or are secured via straps and open like a sort of doctor’s bag in the case of older or vintage designed models.
Either can be very slow, and clunky, to get into when seconds count. If you are not willing to modify one to afford faster access to your gun, you should consider another option.
Off-body carry is often derided, and sometimes derided fairly compared to traditional carry, but this does not change the fact that there are occasions where it is the only, or even an ideal carry solution.
Instead of relegating it to the butt of jokes or the calling card of an inveterate gun noob or non-believer, we should instead treat it as what it is: a technique with validity, even if that validity only occurs in niche circumstances.
Take the time to get familiar with a solution for off-body carry, and become proficient with it if you could ever conceivably be forced to employ it. There is little worse than dumping a handgun in a bag with no practical experience in drawing it from there.