When you stop and think about it, all forms of concealed carry represent a compromise. Unless you’re stumbling through life carrying your gun at eye level, like characters on The Walking Dead, you’re always going to have to sacrifice some degree of speed, concealment, and/or gun security with any carry method.

Let’s be clear about the carry methods discussed here. If you subscribe to the popular assumption that belt carry is the most accessible way to carry a gun, by definition, all of the methods discussed here are even more of a compromise. I get it. Belt carry is the best and only way to carry a gun. Any other methods are (fill in the blank): irresponsible, stupid, wrong, ridiculous, impractical, the worst idea ever, and/or will cause massive outbreaks of bunions. But seriously, as handy and accessible as belt carry can be, there are simply times and situations in which it isn’t an option. Some environments and situations require a little creativity.

For example, if you spend your day driving, a traditional IWB (inside the waistband) or OWB (outside the waistband) belt holster is less than ideal. A cross-draw setup works better in the car, but not as well once you get out because you have to cover it. Perhaps your work environment requires a neat and tidy tucked-in shirt. Perhaps you wear a dress every day. Maybe you spend your days in a place that requires ultra-deep concealment. Perhaps your employer isn’t as concerned with your protection as you are. There are a million reasons that you might need to resort to concealed carry tradeoffs.

Let’s explore a few, keeping in mind the three functions of a good gun holster:

  • Allows quick and safe access to your gun
  • Protects the trigger
  • Ensures your gun remains under your control

1. Undershirt holster

In the early days, I had an embarrassing experience with a spandex undershirt holster. It was a model with padded pockets placed well below the armpit and angled toward the front. A small single patch of velcro kept the gun in the pocket. To make a long story short, I bent over to pick up something from the ground and a Glock 32 launched through my shirt collar, landing on the ground about six feet in front of me. Fortunately, designs have been dramatically improved since then and two “styles” stand out as solid performers.

5.11 Tactical makes a concealed carry undershirt with padded pockets on both sides. Two Velcro sections keep the pocket closed, thereby containing your gun and spare magazines carried on the opposite side. Be sure to use a gun small enough so that it doesn’t apply pressure to the Velcro closures or gun security will suffer.

Undertech Undercover takes a slightly different approach. The gun pocket is elastic and placed up high. Your underarm applies downward pressure on the grip, thereby keeping things secure. There’s also a strap, but I’m less enthusiastic about that as it’s one more thing to fumble with when you’re already reaching into your shirt. It’s slightly slower to access than the 5.11 approach, but gun security is better.

The biggest advantage of this carry method is fantastic concealment. The biggest disadvantage is quickly accessing the gun. You’ll have to move your outer shirt up and out of the way, or open a buttoned shirt to get to your firearm. Don’t count on being able to rip buttons off like in the movies, you’ll want to replace the middle-area buttons with Velcro tabs and “fake” buttons for your outer shirt. Oh, one more thing: use discretion when hugging others.

By the way, there are styles and fits for men and women, so it’s an equal-opportunity carry method.

2. Bellyband

Bellybands make the list for top unconventional carry methods because of their flexibility. You can wear it around your belly, of course. You can also wear it lower around your hips and it becomes the ultimate concealed tuckable holster. Everything is inside of a tucked-in shirt and there are no telltale clips on the belt. You can also position your gun where you want: strong side, cross draw, appendix position, or whatever floats your boat.

Is a belly band holster like this Galco Underwraps the most flexible non-traditional method?
Is a belly band holster like this Galco Underwraps the most flexible non-traditional method? Image courtesy Galco.

In particular, I like the Galco Underwraps Belly Band for three reasons. It’s wide and comfortable, which means you’ll actually use it. It’s got a bunch of pockets, so you can choose different locations in which to carry your gun and any accessories you want to hide, like knives, magazines, or even a light. Heck, you can even use it for a small wallet or money clip if you’re worried about Fagin’s boys picking your pocket. What I like best, however, is that two of the pockets are covered with sturdy leather. This provides stability and a solid amount of trigger protection. It would be a real challenge, and very unlikely, for a foreign object or movement to be able to activate the trigger of a gun stored in one of those pockets.

3. Shoulder holster

A good shoulder holster like this Galco Miami II is a great option if you spend a lot of time seated. Image courtesy Galco.
A good shoulder holster like this Galco Miami II is a great option if you spend a lot of time seated. Image courtesy Galco.

While shoulder holsters are certainly glamorous in the movies, they also have real-life practicality in certain situations. If you spend your days driving a car or truck, it’s a great carry position. You can draw your gun with minimal interference from seat belts and the bend in your body while seated. The same logic applies to desk jobs, but the caveat is that you need to wear a blazer or jacket all the time. Shoulder holsters can also work with a loose cover shirt and you can generally access the gun by reaching up under the front of the shirt.

Some designs have the muzzle pointed down while others have it pointed behind you. Remember, a good holster protects the trigger, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Practice a safe draw so as soon as the gun clears leather, you’re rotating the muzzle towards the ground as you bring the gun forward.

Access is fast and I like that I can balance the weight by carrying the gun on one side and spare magazines on the other.

4. Flashbang

I don’t (yet) have “moobs,” so I only relay experience from the dozens of happy Flashbang users I’ve met. They’ve reported to me, often in more detail than I want, how well this carry method works for them. The Kydex clamshell does a fantastic job of protecting the trigger, and if worn and drawn properly, the covered gun points sideways, not at important body parts. As with any carry method, conventional or unconventional, safe gun handling and practice are your best protection—always.

Unless you wear a dress or similar women’s fashions every day, you’re not allowed to comment on this one. So all you men shush, as we say down here in South Cackalackee.

5. SmartCarry

While this method doesn’t work as well for me, I have to include it because it does work very well for thousands of happy customers. We’re all different and different methods work for different folks.

The idea behind SmartCarry is a pouch that straps around your waist and hangs low in front of your business. It works for men or women, provided you have a little room in the pants. Pleated pants are always better as they have a little more breathing room where the gun will reside.

While carrying in the correct very low position, the muzzle is already below important things, so the potential issue is with the draw. As with any holster, safe draw technique is important.

Concealment is hard to beat, as strangers rarely examine that area of your body unless you’re exceptionally hot. When worn properly, you can stand, walk, run, and sit without holster interference.

Honorable mentions

You might notice that ankle carry didn’t make the top five. Boy that was a tough decision, but in the end, all of the other methods keep the gun in close proximity to your hands, and body contortions are not required for access. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with ankle carry provided you understand the limitations. It’s great for a backup gun. It can also work as a primary carry method if you spend a lot of time sitting or driving. In these circumstances, your hands are already just about close enough to the ankle holster to draw, and the pants legs are already partially raised. It’s a lot easier to draw from an ankle holster when you’re sitting.

I also didn’t include pocket holsters, not because they’re not awesome—they are. I only leave them out as the other methods mentioned in the top five allow carry of regular-sized guns, too.

There are as many methods of carry as hypocrites in Hollywood, so how about letting us know what your favorite is?

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

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16 thoughts on “The 5 Best Nontraditional Concealed Carry Methods

  1. I have a Belly Band, and it works pretty well for mid sized to compact guns. Full size, like a Glock 21 are just too heavy for it.

    Regarding shoulder holsters, I don’t care for the ones that carry horizontal as it points the muzzle of a loaded gun at whoever is behind you.

    1. I agree about the shoulder holsters. Also, the horizontal position requires a very short barrel length…meaning less accuracy and velocity…
      Mine points almost straight down, with a velcro ‘break-away’ in the front… I practice the high reach draw, and I don’t have to deal with that top front button of a sport or dress jacket. Of course, ANY draw of that type, where you have to draw, and then turn the weapon 180 degrees to the front means you MUST be careful and COVER the trigger guard and NOT put your finger on the trigger until READY to fire!

      1. If I’m wearing a shoulder holster, I generally wear a shirt designed for concealed carry. 5.11 and others have a nice selection that look like regular shirts, but have snaps or Velcro under fake buttons to make opening them faster.

  2. Please excuse me for ‘violating’ your “Shush Order” for men, concerning the FlashBang draw… BUT…
    *I* use it inside my motorcycle jacket! The stiff structure of the jacket — even the Summer Textile jackets — provides plenty support for almost any ‘carry’ pistol. Since I am left-handed, I sew in a strip of leather, horizontally, that I can attach the snap-strap thru — just as it fits on a “ladies’ undergarment” — on the right side of my various riding jackets [and even on a couple of “Dress” Leather jackets that I wear when not on my bike!]. All of my jackets have multiple inside pockets — for cell phone, wallet, MP3, etc. — so I have choices for where to carry an extra mag or more. And the stiffer construction of the riding jackets ‘cover’ any “printing” as well. Just leave the jacket partially un-zipped for warm riding, and attach a “grab-strip” to the zipper tongue on Winter jackets or colder conditions.
    I position the leather strip so that the weapon is positioned at the same approx. location as with ladies. (I DO have enough chest muscles to create a small ‘cavity’ there. (-; )
    And for the real “enthusiast” it would be very simple to put a strip on BOTH sides, to carry a ‘back-up’ semi-auto, or even to carry a small ‘wheel gun’ holster… not saying that I necessarily DO that…just that it COULD be done.. (-;
    BTW — I can make my own holsters, so it was not hard to make –oops, I mean I COULD make — a revolver holster work perfectly. Or, just install 2 snaps with leather strips, that would easily position just about any kind of 2-belt-loops holster for whatever weapon you want to carry! Just don’t try to hang a Desert Eagle 6″ barrel .50 cal with rifle scope…

    And Remember to WATCH for MOTORCYCLES!
    {You would NOT want to cut ME off in traffic!} (-:

    1. Just keep in mind that MOST of these “Off the Belt” carries are going to be “heavy” on other types of clothing.
      So don’t over-load yourself. Is a FlashBang going to make your ‘garment’ — and therefore you — look ‘droopy’?
      Or will carrying 2 weapons in the manner I speak of above going to feel like 100 pounds after a few hours of wear?
      And, for me, the so-called “SmartCarry” is DUMB-carry!! No matter how much ‘room’ you have, or don’t have, for the weapon…if you are carrying a weapon big enough to do anything, you will have to wear a BELT that is tight enough to still hold up your pants! And you will NOT be able to just reach in and pull out a gun!! You will be AMUSING to your assailant, as you will look like a monkey with his hand stuck in a cookie jar! And when he gets tired of watching, he will just shoot you, and take whatever he wanted…if you don’t shoot yourself first.

      1. Obviously, you’re never used or researched the Smartcarry holster. You don’t even need a belt, as the Smartcarry has one built into it and all the weight is carried by it. You can wear it under sweatpants comfortably, or any garment without a belt.

      2. Well…NO, I never have spent my money to buy something I would NEVER use…
        “included belt” or not…I would NEVER wear a firearm in that location. And I never wear my pants so ‘loose’ that I could just reach in and grab something and remove it in less than a second… I ALWAYS wear a belt that is tight enough to hold my pants up snugly — or the draw string securely snug and tied.
        If you are comfortable with such a set-up…feel free to wear it! Which is why I said, “As for ME…” Just be SURE that you get plenty of practice drawing from that arrangement.
        Yes, I have seen a few people wearing that holster, and with pleated or loose-fitting pants, it can be very effective at concealment. 2 of the people I spoke with were so well concealed I had no idea they were carrying! I just am not convinced of an effective draw in an emergency situation…nor the HIGH risk to myself.
        And again, as it applies to ME…I have a pretty well conditioned body and trim waistline, and do not wear ‘baggy’ clothes! (-:
        This is an exchange of ideas and opinions… No one single method is right for every person in every situation. So, we all share our ideas, with the hope that either I learn something new and helpful from someone else, or someone sees something they like from me…

      3. I DID say “Most” meaning there are certainly exceptions… such as ‘belly bands’ and shoulder holsters, etc… and if you are getting “technical” the SmartCarry is STILL on a ‘belt’, whether the belt also holds up your pants or not… (-;
        But clothing like elastic-top slacks and sweat-pants, or coats and jackets or vests. WILL ‘sag’ and ‘print’ and swing with the weight of the weapon…and will usually also make it harder to draw the weapon…
        Not being “disagreeable” … just pointing out something to consider in your decision…
        I have tried a number of ‘un-belted’ carry options — hoping for the best — but have found, for me, that none of them gave me a satisfactory result… except the shoulder holster. But it is not as comfortable as I would hope for, although it might become more comfortable with more use…
        I sometimes do a pocket carry with a smallish .38 +P Revolver in a sturdy leather jacket, or my Motorcycle Riding jackets, and because of the stiff structure and tight fit (when they are zipped or snapped at the waist) they do keep the weapon secure and do not ‘print’…

  3. I noticed there were no ANKLE HOLSTERS mentioned. I really never found one I liked except one that was made from neoprene rubber like the leg of a scuba divers wet suit. I haven’t seen ne of those in many years. The best was a holster built into left side Wellington Boot or lace up boot. It was capable of carrying a Detective Special, PPK and was made before compact Glocks. It has not been made in years and is just begging for someone to make them again.

    1. Very few people use an ankle carry as their “First shot” weapon…most ankle carry is for a ‘back-up’ after you have used your primary weapon… or in situations where it is just next to impossible to wear/carry a weapon any other way.
      But I agree that it seems fewer and fewer holsters are even being produced. There ARE still a LOT of people who DO carry there. I sometimes carry a .22 pistol in a neoprene holster that I made myself. I took one of those under-shirt waistline straps, with a strip of velcro to pull it snug. I cut it at a length that would fit tight around my calf. Then cut part of the ‘left-over’ material in a shape that would hold my weapon in place and hand-stitched it in place. I can wear it low — right at my ankle — or a little higher to clear tallish boots. I know it is not a ‘first choice’ defense weapon…but it is “less lethal” in most public situations, and therefore less risk for “collateral damage”…but still capable of suppressing the threat in many situations.

    1. I did. Versa-carry says “firearm should not be carried in “cocked & locked” condition, or with round in the chamber”. Probably because you are jamming a firearm in your belt with only one side of the trigger covered. No Thanks

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