“I’d like to carry a full-sized gun, but I’m too small.”

“I carry this pocket .380 because I have to keep it concealed.”

Generally speaking, I call BS on all of these types of comments. Yeah, I know, we’re all shaped and sized differently, so it’s impossible to make a universal statement. It’s also wrong to buy into the “universal” myth that if you’re smaller in stature than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson you can’t carry a full-size gun.

The bottom line is that you almost certainly can. Will it be easy? Not necessarily. Will you know you’re carrying a large gun? Of course. It won’t get lost in a pocket as easily as a Ruger LCP. But, as instructor Clint Smith likes to say, “Carrying a pistol should be comforting, not comfortable.” Even that’s not a binary issue, carrying a large gun can be surprisingly comfortable if you do it right.

While we’re going to focus on methods to accomplish this task, I’ll briefly mention that there are many significant benefits to carrying a larger gun.

A larger and heavier gun is much, much easier to shoot accurately while under stress. Try unloading a magazine as fast as you can at a target even just a few yards away using a pocket pistol. Now do the same with a full-size gun. Measure the groups and you’ll see a big difference. Not only is felt recoil less with a large gun, enabling faster follow-up shots, the sight radius is longer, making aiming easier.

No one that’s survived a defensive encounter has been disappointed that they had more ammo in their gun than was required. Face it, this world is getting scary. Even if you don’t believe that terror attacks are headed to a mall near you, evil dudes are getting smarter with their tactics. Many criminal encounters involve more than one perpetrator. Warranted or not, I’ll always feel better with more rounds at my disposal.

No handgun is a magic monster-stopper. Handguns make relatively small holes. That’s it. A larger gun gives you more options that help mitigate the inherent compromise of handgun calibers in general. In a magical world where all sizes, weights, and felt recoil impulses were equal, wouldn’t you rather carry a larger caliber? If capacity and size weren’t issues, I would always choose 9x19mm over .380 ACP and .45 ACP over 9x19mm.

With all that said, let’s consider ways to carry even a large handgun on your belt.

Outside the waistband (OWB) is a really great and comfortable way to carry a large gun, but since we’re focusing on concealed carry, we’ll set that one aside. Yes, I know you can conceal an OWB gun under a shirt or jacket, but for brevity, I’m going to focus on even deeper concealment options.

If you’re carrying inside the waistband (IWB), there are only two “size” issues to consider: grip length and thickness. Assuming you carry in a three to five o’clock position on your waist, you don’t have to worry about barrel length. The barrel will be behind your pants or skirt, and since it’s on the outside of your hip, you don’t have to worry about it getting in the way when you bend or sit down. All you have to hide is the grip. Most of the slide, cylinder, and frame will be hidden behind your pants.

Thickness is the easy one to understand. The fatter the gun, the larger waist size you need in your clothing. For example, If you’re a size 30 waist, you might need size 32 pants to fit a larger gun inside your beltline. Gun width also impacts the potential “bulge” showing through your shirt or other cover garment. Whether you can conceal the thickness bulge doesn’t have much to do with your size. It’s more a function of your cover garment. A larger-fitting cover garment is more effective than a slimmer-cut shirt or jacket. Also, try using fabrics that are “stiffer” as they won’t follow the contour of your gun like a poly polo shirt might. Last, use patterns. A solid color cover garment is more likely to highlight creases and wrinkles caused by the underlying gun.

If you want to keep your clothing trim, consider carrying a thin gun design like a 1911. If you don’t care for .45 ACP, that’s OK, there are plenty of 9x19mm 1911 pistols on the market now. I find that 1911s are some of the easiest guns to carry IWB as they’re so thin compared to other designs. You don’t even need to limit yourself to a 1911. Other guns with single-stack magazines can be equally narrow.

A hybrid holster like this Galco KingTuk is great for large gun carry. The wide belt attachments help stabilize and draw the gun grip towards your body.
A hybrid holster like this Galco KingTuk is great for large gun carry. The wide belt attachments help stabilize and draw the gun grip towards your body.

The grip-length challenge is a little less intuitive. Imagine looking at the side profiles of two people, one with a 30-inch waist, and another with a 42-inch waist. If you used giant calipers to measure the “depth” front to back, the skinny one would have a lot less space to hide a protruding gun grip. If the grip sticks out farther than their back, it’s gonna be harder to conceal, especially when that person bends forward.

There are a couple of ways to address this difference in body “thickness.” Try a holster with a more aggressive cant, or forward-leaning angle. As the rear of the gun moves forward while the muzzle moves back, the grip starts to point more upward than backward. As a result, less body thickness is needed to hide it.

Next, experiment with holster type and position. A good holster can encourage your gun to follow the contour of your body. Placing it a position behind your hip bone will direct the handgun grip to follow the curve of your body towards the kidney area rather than sticking out straight backward. I have great success with hybrid designs like the Galco KingTuk. The belt loops are far apart, so they encourage the holster to wrap around your body, pulling the gun in closer. You’ll find other benefits to the hybrid design. The large back panel helps distribute the weight of a larger gun across more of your midsection while protecting your tender parts from gun metal. As they use Kydex gun pockets, they’re also surprisingly thin.

Whatever you do, don’t blindly succumb to the myth that it’s impossible to carry a full-size gun if you’re smaller in stature. Yes, it will be heavier than that pocket .380, but that’s what proper belts and quality holsters are for, to distribute that weight.

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.

Images by Tom McHale

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12 thoughts on “Concealed Carry Myths: You Can’t Carry a Full-size Gun

  1. On the one hand you talk about one of the benefits of a full-size gun as having more ammunition capacity, but in the next breath you talk about single-stack guns like the 1911. Seems like you lose much of the benefit of moving to a full-size gun if you focus on single-stack options which limit your increase in capacity to only a couple more rounds than a subcompact. There are double-stack 9mm options that are very similar in thickness to the 1911 that greatly increase capacity and should be looked at if you are considering a move to a full-size carry sidearm.

    1. Even with a single-stack, you still get controllability benefits of a larger gun, even though you’re only getting a couple of rounds more capacity. Excellent point about the double stack 9mm 1911 designs. That’s way overdue I think as it’s a great option!

  2. I am a small guy, but carry a full-sized 1911 daily with 2 spare mags. It isn’t hard to hide when you appendix carry full size firearms.

  3. Hey, G-man! How ya doing?

    My EDC is a full sized XD .45, and I really have never had a problem with it. You have to make the decision to carry, and then adjust your clothes accordingly. I wear looser pants to accommodate the IWB holster, and don’t tuck my TY’s in.

    If I’m in business clothes or a non-permissive environment then I adjust to using a sub 9mm in a pocket holster, and at times, even a sub .32 with a laser in a cell phone case. But if I can possibly do it, I carry a full sized .45 and an extra mag. It’s not really that hard to do.

  4. When I am out with the griz, I carry a S&W Model 29. I have discovered that I can conceal the beast under shorts and a T-shirt. Probably wouldn’t get me through a checkpoint, though I did have a half hour conversation with an LEO without her showing sign of noticing. She was a WY LEO so maybe she saw it and thought nothing of it. Compared to that concealing a full size service pistol is easy.

  5. I’m 5’4″ 145 lbs 69 years old, I carry a glock17gen3 full size IWB. I went fishing today wearing shorts and a tanktop. I was around dozens of other fishermen, who I didn’t know. We had a great time, and not once did anyone notice or say anything about seeing my gun under the tank top. It’s not about carring a gun Its about how you carry yourself, attitude, attitude, attitude. If you dont notice it no one else will eather. I am used to the weight now and today I forgot I was carrying it. And had a great time. I refuse to be a victim. ……….

  6. I call BS right back. I’m not even a small person. I’m 6’4″. No way can I conceal, comfortably, and without printing, anything bigger than a Kel-Tec P3AT. None of the full-size rigs listed by the author are fit for more than the specific pose used to take the pictures. You cannot, absolutely cannot, expect to go about normal life and not be made utterly miserable. You can’t even sit down.

    I’ve had a Florida CWP since the day I turned 21. If there were a real-life way to carry my 1911, I’d have found it by now. I’m making my own custom leather variation on the Sneaky Pete type holsters. You simply cannot IWB a full-size pistol and tolerate it for 16 hours of normal human activity.

    Open Carry, or accept your fate with a Kel-Tec .380. Period.

    1. Not doubting you, and not knowing your build I’m certainly not going to contradict you.

      I am 5’10” and a fit 209 (most days). I wear loose pants, usually 5-11 covert carry or else loose jeans. I pretty much always wear T’s or tank tops, and I generally always carry my XD .45 and have never had a real problem. I frequently also carry a PF9 BUG with spare mags for both.

      I had to learn how to dress around my gun because unless I’m in one of the neighboring Nazi states where I can’t legally carry, I am always armed and it doesn’t matter what I am doing. I like my PF9 and it shoots well and reliably, but my preference is for a full sized gun with a lot of punch and a decent ammo capacity.

  7. Let me add, for the sake of anyone who cares . . . and I’m sure there aren’t many of you ;-), I carry my full sized XD in a Crossbreed IWB holster. I love this thing so much I had a second made for my 1911 just to have some options. I joke with my wife, who carries too, that girls accessorize with shoes and bags, but I accessorize with which gun I’ll carry that day.

    I tried an Alien Gear holster, and it was the most uncomfortable IWB holster I ever wore because the backing did not completely protect my skin from the grip of the gun. Just personal preference.

    To go back to the article, the width of the gun to me at least, is a major consideration. My XD is just a bit narrower than my Glock 21, but that bit makes a difference.

  8. This message is for Mikial and any others who feels their Galco King Tuk or Alienware Iwb holster is uncomfortable on the skin. I wear the Galco King Tuk Iwb with no undershirt. I hate undershirts I used to wear wife beaters for my holster. (tank top undershirts). I went to Target and bought a couple roles of Moleskin from the pharmacy area. They stick on and you can use a sharp blade or good scissors to trim the edges and if the bottom of the Moleskin becomes unstuck and starts rolling up like mine did I used some large waterproof soft Band-Aid and you stick one side on the back and hook the bandaid up around on the front side of the holster. You don’t want those rubber type bandaid they will stick to your skin you want the bandaid that are soft on the outside. Moleskin works great and you can peel it off. I have had the same Moleskin on for over 3 months and it still isn’t stinky. I haven’t tried it with a full size but it works great for my mp9 shield.

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