How to Carry a Full-Size Handgun, Even in the Summer
Tom McHale 05.15.19
I learned something about making assumptions. According to linguistic scholars, the Latin root of the word “assumption” is “ass”, meaning… ass. That’s how I usually feel about making an assumption before considering the facts and applying a few minutes of brain power.
I made some assumptions early in my concealed carry career back when payphones freely roamed hotel lobbies and airport gates. One of those assumptions was that I needed to carry a small handgun, especially in the summer. When I look back on those days, I now see it wasn’t really a question of “having to” but more an issue of “wanting to.” That’s an important distinction.
The problem with this minimalist approach became clear as I gained more carry and defensive shooting experience. I just didn’t have the same degree of confidence with puny subcompacts that I did with larger pistols. It’s not just the capacity difference, but that’s certainly a factor. The other consideration was my ability to shoot well – and quickly. You can certainly hit your target with a subcompact gun, but for me, it’s a heck of a lot easier with a larger pistol. The size and increased surface area, weight for recoil management, and longer sight radius allow me to perform better – much better. So, I switched. I stopped my eternal search for the smallest and lightest pistol I could find, bit the bullet, and started to carry a normal-sized pistol.
Especially in the summer, when you’re likely to be wearing shorts and t-shirts rather than blazers, jackets, and winter coats, it’s tempting to think it’s impossible to conceal a compact (mid-size) or full-size handgun. If you only carry outside the waistband, there’s some truth to that. You’ll need a bulky and long untucked shirt to do it, but it can be done. Inside the waistband carry, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. With 63% of the average handgun covered (that’s my carefully researched made up statistic) by your pants, shorts, or skirt, all your light summer cover garment has to hide is the grip.
And that brings us to the eternal question. Can you conceal a compact or full-size handgun grip while wearing average summer attire? The short answer is… yes! With a few tips and tricks, it’s not really harder than concealing a subcompact pistol carried the same way. Sure, the grip is a bit longer and the pistol itself may be thicker, but those are obstacles easily overcome.
To avoid assumptions (because you know what they say about assumptions) of cheating, we’re not going to talk about “easy” carry methods like backpack, purse, or fanny pack, but traditional inside the waistband carry.
Since a large portion of the slide will be behind the pants, shorts, or skirt, that’s really free concealment. Whether your pistol has a three-inch subcompact barrel or a 4.5 inch compact version doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the grip itself and there are two secrets to hiding that under light clothing.
First, a moderate forward cant (forward lean) not only makes the draw a bit easier for most people, it effectively shortens the grip’s horizontal length. If your pistol is completely vertical, the grip is going to extend backward to its maximum length. When the pistol is canted forward, that same grip angles sharply upward so the horizontal distance (exactly parallel to the ground) used by the grip itself is less. With that vertical orientation, you’re going to have a tougher time with the butt of the handgun extending out past your kidneys with a three or four o’clock carry position. The slightest lean forward will create a bump in your cover shirt. When the gun is angled, that pistol butt is extended upward rather than straight backward, making it easier to hide.
The second issue has to do with drawing the grip in tight to the body. If you’re facing forward, towards the 12 o’clock direction, and the pistol is mounted directly on your side, it’s a lot harder to hide a grip that’s pointed straight back toward the six o’clock position because it extends away from the curve of your body. If the holster draws that grip in tight, it will “wrap” around the curve of your back and be easier to cover because very little is sticking out.
Let’s take a look at two different holsters that just might help you carry the gun of your choice, even in the summer.
Clinger Holsters No Print Wonder
The secret to the Clinger No Print Wonder is that it gets bent out of shape.
It’s a Kydex IWB holster that’s sized to your specific gun model. The entire holster body is shaped perfectly and uniquely to a specific gun model, which helps with positive retention through friction. The trigger area of the holster is also depressed which gently locks the pistol into the holster body. One of the things I like to do is test holster security by inserting an unloaded gun and then turning the holster upside down. If the gun doesn’t come loose, that’s a good sign. If you can shake the holster and the gun still remains in place, that’s even better. I’ve been working with four or five No Print Wonders, all for large guns, over the past couple of years and every one passes this test with flying colors. Even an all-steel 1911 stays put when tipped over and shaken.
Here’s what really makes it unique. The back belt clip is attached to a Kydex “wing” that extends from the bottom of the Kydex shell. The front clip is attached to a flexible “wing” that bends. The original models used leather for this clip extension but the newest one I’ve seen uses thick rubber. When you attach the holster to your belt, the unit wraps around your body because the rigid rear attachment point forces the front hinge to bend. The result is that the holster pulls the butt of your pistol in tight to the body. This is the secret to the Clinger’s effectiveness. When the pistol grip follows the shape of your body towards the kidney, there’s nothing to protrude and print through even a light cover garment. I routinely use this holster to carry a Sig Sauer P229, 1911, Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 full-size, and Beretta APX full-size with only a short sleeve polo, tee, or button-down shirt as the cover. It works.
Both front and back belt clip tabs come with multiple holes so you can adjust the cant angle to your preference. The default settings work great for me and dramatically reduce the front-to-back length of the grip itself. There’s room to increase that angle if you want more.
Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 3.5 IWB Holster
Hybrid holsters that have a large leather back panel combined with a thin Kydex gun shell have gotten a bad rap recently. Here’s why. With wear, sweat, outward body pressure, and humidity, the upper portion of the flap tends to bend toward the outside. This will eventually impede re-holstering efforts and if you’re not careful, you may end up trying to jam your gun into a holster while pushing that leather into the gun pocket. I get it. You want nothing to interfere with safe re-holstering as bad things can happen. The other knock is that gun security is not as good as with carefully shaped leather or Kydex holster models. The soft and flexible backing doesn’t always provide enough friction and pressure to “lock” the gun into place. If your try the “turn the holster upside down and shake” test with a well-worn hybrid holster it can easily fail and dump your pistol on the floor. That means that if you ever run or fight, you might just lose your gun in the process.
The Alien Gear Cloak 3.5 IWB Holster dodges both of these hybrid issues. The backing of this holster isn’t made from leather than can soften and get floppy over time. It’s made from four layers of stuff, each with a specific purpose. The inner part is a vented neoprene for comfort and gentle friction against the body to keep it in place. Next is a layer of thin steel to provide structure while keeping the flexibility that make hybrid holsters so popular. Outside of the steel, a layer of ballistic nylon is applied before getting to the final layer of a polymer material the company calls Alien Skin.
The result of all this is that the Cloak Tuck deftly avoids both potential problems of Hybrid holsters. Retention is excellent. While adjustable for ease of draw, most any rational setting will keep the gun securely in place even with a vigorous upside down shaking. The combination of steel, slightly “sticky” Alien Skin material, and shaped outer shell provide positive security. The other benefit of the layered construction with steel reinforcement is that the top shield of the backing won’t start to bend or flop and get in the way of re-holstering efforts. I’ve used these holsters with big and even huge pistols including the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 full-size, Beretta APX, Sig Sauer P320 full-size, Sig P229, and even an FNX 45 Tactical. These also work very well.
So, if you think that you “have to” carry a smaller pistol in the summer months, consider whether it falls into the want or need category. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to carry a smaller gun. It’s easier, lighter, and generally more comfortable to carry. However, if you feel more confident with a larger handgun, you can certainly conceal and carry it if you put your mind to it.
You can do it. I have full faith in you.