The differences in concealed carry for men and women are profound. There are considerations far beyond the simple difference in body types. Women tend to have higher hips and a shorter torso but clothing styles also differ. A woman may don a business suit during the day, a dress on Sunday and jogging pants around the park. While men also juggle a balance of safety and security with clothing choices, an inside the waistband holster and perhaps a belt holster will answer almost every problem.
Frankly, the choice boils down to a fashion decision. Some choices—often recommended—such as a holster purse, are slow on the draw. Off body carry isn’t the best choice, but circumstances may dictate it as the only choice. If you do adopt a purse for carry, there are many options. While the gun-specific purse is one choice, the standard purse already in the closet is also a good choice given specific treatment. The pistol must be isolated from keys and other gear. Among the neat tricks savvy women use is a magnetized purse broach. This magnet keeps the keys in one place for security and convenience. Another good choice that is essential for purse carry is a purse holster. These do not have to be as rugged or heavy duty as a holster worn on the pocket, they only have to clip into the purse and keep the pistol stabilized as you carry the purse.
Often, the draw from a purse requires two hands. One hand is required to rip the gun purse open, and the other to draw. With the gun sleeve or holster clipped inside the purse, the draw may become a one-hand affair. Fanny packs are a cross between on and off body carry as the pistol is isolated from the body. Whichever type you choose, be certain to practice the draw. The hand must blade into the purse quickly, grasp the handgun firmly and draw the handgun quickly. Then you move into the firing stance and onto the target.
Whatever type of carry you adopt, avoid a common fault of female students: That is not properly grasping the handgun on the draw. Get a good firing grip on the handgun and, if needed, give it a yank to clear the holster. You will not have time to fumble around and adjust your grip on the handgun as you draw.
The inside the waistband (IWB) holster has many advantages. The holster rides inside the pants. This allows a shorter covering garment to be worn as the holster does not protrude past the waistband. This is less important with a short handgun, such as the snub nose .38, because a good high ride holster hardly extends past the waistband. But if you wish to carry a larger handgun, such as a Glock 19 or SIG P250, the four-inch barrel becomes a consideration. The IWB simply buries the majority of the slide.
A drawback with some IWBs is comfort. Carrying the holster inside the pants demands acclimation. Many don’t realize it and the IWB may be carried inside of a skirt as well if the fit is tight enough and the pistol light enough. Also, while women have a higher waist and more difficult time reaching to the back to draw, many women find the appendix position comfortable. With a properly designed holster, crossdraw with the IWB is also an option.
Many women seem to regard IWB as a man’s option but this simply isn’t true. A compact handgun such as the SIG P290 or the three-inch barrel 1911 is ideal for IWB, but larger types may be concealed as well. The larger the handgun, the less recoil in a given caliber and better hit probability. The IWB is a good option for concealing serious fighting pistols.
Another option that seems well suited to female shooters is the belly band. The natural swell of the hips makes for greater security and less chance of slippage with female shooters. There are poorly made bellybands and others that work well. A belly band that retains its shape and keeps the pistol secure offers the option of positioning the handgun around the belt line in practically any position, angle or cant.
The advice to purchase your slacks or jeans a size larger in anticipation of concealing a handgun is well taken, but not always necessary. It depends upon the clothing and how wide the handgun actually is. A Ruger LCP or LCP 9 isn’t very thick and even a three-inch barrel 1911 is only an inch thick. Bodies differ and everyone cannot use the same holster. That is why there are so many types. Tolerance to weight and discomfort vary widely and are not always tied to body size. For many reasons even a tall and heavy human being sometimes cannot tolerate weight hanging on their belt. It is a mental leap that must be made in order to deploy life saving gear.
Off the Belt
When you move away from belt carry, things get complicated. It is true that ankle carry works just fine with smaller handguns up to the snub .38 category. The under-the-skirt thigh holster is particularly advantageous for women and among the most concealable of women’s holsters.
The problem is that the draw is compromised. The ankle carry is so slow that officers in a major agency once deemed it ‘‘the dead man’s draw.” The rub is that this is the ideal position for carrying a backup gun. The ankle holster is only a fast draw if you are knocked on your back and able to raise the leg to the hand or if you are seated. That is why it is such a good choice for backup carry for cops and so popular. It is more difficult to find fault with the thigh holster for under-the-skirt carry. The pistol may be drawn from a standing position, which is not true with the ankle draw.
Pocket carry is particularly attractive as the handgun may be carried without a dedicated gun belt. Only a relatively light handgun may be carried in this type of carry. The SIG P290 and various snubnose .38s are at the outer edge of usefulness in this type of carry. The handgun should never be simply thrust into the pocket. The handgun should be carried in a properly designed holster. The holster should have a toe that catches the pocket ensuring that the holster stays in the pocket as the handgun is drawn. When drawing the handgun from concealed carry, the hand must be bladed into the pocket and the handgun carefully drawn, which violates the rule of getting a proper grip before you draw the pistol. The problem is that if you attempt to draw the pistol using a conventional grip, you have to essentially make a fist in the pocket. The hand cannot then be removed from the pocket.
Within the confines of this report we have given you a comprehensive but still incomplete view of a women’s holster. One thing that is noted in training classes is that without regular practice you will not react quickly enough on the street. Drawing and firing the handgun quickly and accurately is a perishable skill. The draw must be practiced constantly to be smooth, safe and efficient. It is difficult to draw the handgun from some of the concealed carry modes without covering the body. This means we must engage in meaningful practice on a regular basis and constantly be aware of both muzzle discipline and trigger discipline.
When it comes to handgun selection we could start the engine of pointless argument but you must decide what your life is worth and what type of handgun you may reasonably master and use well. I cannot imagine trusting my life to anything less than a .38 Special or a 9mm Luger. Some have differing opinions but these do not include men and women that have extensive law enforcement or combat experience. A certain minimum caliber is required and that means an efficient load-bearing device is required to carry it comfortably in concealed carry. A woman can face and defeat a larger, stronger attack with the proper mindest and the proper gear. Women’s holsters are part of an important equation.
Purse Holsters and Gun Sleeves
A combination of pocket holster and purse holster, these devices clip into the purse and keep the pistol separated from other material in the purse. They afford a much better draw than attempting to dig about in the purse or bag. An average purse won’t do for serious carry so choose this gear wisely. There should be a good reason for leaving the strong-side holster and moving to another type. The strong-side holsters from Don Hume offer excellent retention and a good draw angle. These are serious concealed carry holsters that ride high enough on the belt to be concealed under a pulled out shirt, given a short handgun. Don Hume is an old line company with much to recommend.
They also offer a full line of first class IWB holsters. The DeSantis IWB Tuck is quite a product available at a surprisingly low price. From Looper holsters, The Betty is among the most versatile and brilliant designs to come across the board in some time. This holster is useful for the ever-popular Ruger LCP. I could go on, but the point is… I have given you a few thoughts and ideas. Think over the choices and predicate the choice on your own situation.
What do you look for in a woman’s holster for concealed carry? Share your ideas in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.