With an ever-growing number of people purchasing and packing firearms, a whole other industry of concealment holsters has emerged onto the scene. A question I’m often asked is how a woman should carry a gun. I’ve been carrying a handgun on a regular basis for about 13 years now, which pre-dates my career as a firearms instructor and as a person who’s serious about pistol mastery. Some methods of carry have worked well; some not so well. Many holsters and carry methods on the market are patently unsafe; others are too inefficient to serve the wearer in an emergency.
This article about choosing concealed carry holsters for women is meant as a guide to selecting a carry method that works for the reader. It’s based on an accumulation of personal experience as well as five years of contact with women who carry. I’m not representing any certain brand, and thus brand names aren’t something readers will find here. What is presented is all the information you need to be a smart shopper of holsters.
There’s good and bad news. Let’s get the bad out of the way first: purse concealed carry is one of the worst methods. The reasons why—and some work-arounds if you absolutely must use this inefficient and insecure method—are discussed later.
More bad news: Much of the “pretty” stuff currently on the market is unsafe. Let’s get real here. You’re carrying a life-saving device that you hopefully have undergone training and regular practice to carry. Keeping it well-hidden and unknown to others should be part of your overall safety plan, not to mention accidental exposure of a concealed handgun is a violation of law in some jurisdictions. This is not a fashion show, and compromising safety for looks can cost you dearly—including, potentially, your own death.
Why are some of the pretty holsters—and many others used by both sexes—unsafe? Two reasons—here’s the most important one first.
– Any gun holster that permits entry of any object into the trigger guard while the gun is holstered is an invitation to take a round in your own body.
Safety Test #1:
Put on that lacy bandage get-up, or that girdle-type thing that goes on your waist or thigh, the little clip that holds the gun inside your pants using a rod up the barrel, or any other of many products on the market with a soft or no covering over the trigger guard. With an unloaded gun reset the slide if it’s a semi-auto, push your finger or a pen into the trigger guard, and try to depress the trigger.
If the trigger can be moved, even a little, consider the setup unsafe. While your plans likely don’t include walking around poking the trigger guard through your holster, there’s no guarantee that leaning or falling onto a stick-like object won’t fire off a round.
And yes, I’m assuming you’re carrying with a hot chamber. Thinking you’ll have time and presence of mind to chamber a round under duress is folly—and a topic for a whole other article.
Safety Test #2:
Again, with an unloaded firearm, set up the holster and gun. Now move, wiggle, jump, do a somersault, lie down, roll, and get back up. Hug yourself a couple times if the rig is around your mid-body. Now, look again at the firearm’s position in the holster. If it has begun to creep out of its container at all during this silly test, it will, I guarantee you, creep out to the extent that you lose or risk losing the firearm during a day-long wear.
But my holster has a retention strap to prevent gun creep, you say. Have you practiced with it sufficiently that you can undo the strap and draw without involving your non-shooting hand in any way? Does that strap make attention-drawing noise when you undo it?
I’ve got no beef with retention straps for those who have mastered their use. A good secondary test is to measure, using a shot timer, the time it adds to your draw with and without the strap secured. Settle for no more than 0.5 seconds. Sound unreasonable? As I’ll repeat, the average deadly force incident occurs in less than five seconds. How much of that you spend messing with a strap is your business.
SAFETY NOTE: some retention straps can fall back into the holster and potentially cause an unintended discharge (through your leg) when reholstering. Be sure the opening of the holster is clear before reinserting the gun. Don’t flag your non-gun hand with the muzzle in the process. Reholster reluctantly is a wise saying from Gunsite Academy.
Are we finally to the good news? Yes, at last. The good news is there are scads of safe holster choices that don’t pose the risk of an unintended discharge or dropping the gun while holstered. Is there a catch? That depends on how dug-in you are about certain factors associated with carry.
Compromise is the word of the day when selecting a woman’s concealed carry holster that is safe and keeps the gun as quick and easy to deploy as possible. Here are a few points to consider. Which ones you compromise on to establish your ideal system are up to you.
1. Ease of access.
On your waistline, somewhere between 12 o’clock and 9 o’clock for left-handers or between 12- and 3 o’clock for right handed shooters, is definitely the easiest and fastest location to draw from. Second-fastest is anywhere else on your torso. Third is on the lower leg or off-body.
It took time, but I finally tired of purse carry and went with AIWB (appendix, inside waistband). As a rule, my gun rides 1 or 2 o’clock for right-handed shooting that preserves the possibility of drawing with the other hand.
I have a co-worker who loves 4-to-5 o’clock carry, and I’ll admit, it’s comfortable. Keep in mind, there are lots of accounts of people having their gun stolen from their mid-back when standing in line at a bank or retail location. It’s almost impossible to bend down without the grip “printing” through the shirt.
Another friend who works in tight quarters behind a convenience store counter cannot risk her fellow clerks brushing up against her and detecting the gun on her torso. She tried an ankle holster, and had it modified with sheepskin so it doesn’t blister. She carries the smallest gun of all the examples here—a Ruger LCP. Though this is a slow-access method, she feels more confident armed at work and has worked out methods for using the ubiquitous counter for support while accessing the gun.
Yet another friend who works at a bank has tried every bra-mounted holster out there—the one that clasps the gun horizontally under “the girls,” wearing a belly band up under her armpit with access by lifting the shirt, and one that’s accessed through the neckline. She’s tried ‘em all—and finally settled for AIWB.
2. Manner of dress.
Safe and efficient concealed carry will almost surely require some adjustment to your manner of dress. I had to kiss tucked-in shirts goodbye, and say hello to sturdy belts. It wasn’t easy, as a well-defined waist is a physical asset that’s gotten compliments. Framing this decision as “would I rather get a compliment or be able to defend my life?” made it an easy call.
Other clothing decisions might be giving up low-rise pants for ones that can secure a pistol, selecting plaids or patterns over solids, doing away with capris or straight-leg pants for ones that can hide an ankle holster, choosing skirts over dresses, or simply wearing a size larger pants or shirt. I do confess, I miss wearing a dress sometimes, and really dislike how much effort it takes to find a skirt that can support a holster. Yet another friend decided to sew her own skirts with big belt loops in the design. They look great, and she can pack a Taurus Judge in there!
3. Size of gun.
This was by far the hardest adjustment for me. For years I carried a duty-size Springfield XD .40, in a purse. I shot it well, but drawing in a timely manner was another story. Trucking to horse shows with teen girls, and not being able to have the purse on me while doing things like carrying buckets, was a terrifying thought. I had to get the gun under my constant control.
With much chagrin, I decided a compromise to a smaller 9mm was in order. I tried a Glock 19. It was impossible to hide under most any clothing on my short-waisted frame. Fortunately, a friend was willing to loan me guns to try, and I was sure a subcompact 9mm would work. Even the diminutive Glock 43 and S&W Shield wore blisters on my thigh when I spent long days sitting at a desk or driving.
Finally, I capitulated and tried a .380 ACP. Both the Glock 42 and Kahr CT380 have proven workable. These are my current carry guns, the Glock with its night sights and weapon-mounted light being my nighttime gun and the higher-capacity Kahr being the choice at other times. I also carry an extra mag in my left front pocket … and always buy pants with good-size pockets.
A local woman shoots like demon with her Glock 26, is a semi-pro belly dancer in her free time, and said she carries daily. Thinking I might just hit the mother lode of holster secrets, I asked how she packs that Glock. Much to my dismay, she said she’s tried several IWB holsters but due to being short-waisted, has never found one that fits, so she carries in a purse. She puts her Ruger LCP in a waistband holster when walking in high-risk urban areas. Unwittingly, she’s another example of compromising and downsizing to get the gun on one’s person. Her husband is in control of her purse (and gun) during dance performances.
Choices and compromises
Even with unsafe choices ruled out, there’s a large menu of women’s holster choices, especially for ladies who have the less-preferred but still feasible option of purse carry. Decide what you can and cannot live with in a system. My personal musts are a silent draw and instant or rapid establishment of a firing grip while the firearm is still under cover. My clerk friend’s must was a system that no one could possibly detect while brushing up against her.
Decide what you cannot live without, and work from there.
“Work from there” means that you’ll probably try more than one holster before settling on a setup that works for you. If your budget is limited, don’t blow the bank on the first one you see. Costly doesn’t necessarily mean better where gun holsters are concerned. And try, please, to get the gun on your body and out of the purse.
Wait, what? You’re still going to carry in a purse? Fine, then. Read on.
The concealed carry purse is the unfortunately most common method women tell me they use, even those who’ve been licensed and carrying concealed for years. Let me be clear, purse carry has critical limitations. First, drawing from a purse is slower than drawing from most on-body locations. However, with the right equipment and practice, a person can draw quickly from a purse. Then again, I talk to a lot of women who conceal and carry in a purse; not one has said she makes a dedicated effort to practice or can even describe her plan for drawing the gun.
Since most women haven’t practiced drawing from a concealed carry purse, they probably don’t understand that dropping it to the ground, for a handheld bag, or firing one-handed if using a shoulder strap purse, are usually necessary for the purse not to interfere, dangerously, with point of impact.
Too many news reports show a woman’s concealed carry purse can’t be under the owner’s control 100 percent of the time. Children as young as two have gotten handguns out of them, with tragic results. Locking the purse with the chintzy lock that most holster purses include renders your purse just a burden in the event of an attack.
Finally, carrying in a purse requires diligent observance of the safety rule “finger off trigger until the sights are on target.” For many purses, breaking another safety rule, “never allow the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy” is nearly impossible to avoid during the draw or while reholstering. If your finger and muzzle discipline are mostly flawless and second nature, you might be ready for purse carry.
Despite these facts, purse carry has a couple advantages. The greatest is the ability to pack a bigger gun that’s easy to shoot and holds more ammunition. Another is the capability of establishing a firing grip on the gun while it’s in concealment, which can buy valuable seconds as well as send a strong non-verbal message to any astute, would-be assailants.
Some instructors promote revolvers for purse carry, based on that platform’s ease of firing repeatedly from inside a purse. Anyone who’s given that any thought will realize the likelihood of a miss is very high when firing this way. As wiser instructors say, “there’s a potential lawsuit attached to every bullet.” Except for distances close enough to touch the violent actor, shooting from inside a purse is an irresponsible plan that’s not likely to stop a crime.
A couple incidents have been cited in the news wherein women just dumped a loaded gun into a purse along with the typical contents—pens, keys, eyebrow pencils, and the like. Any one of these items can, and have, caused a negligent, injurious discharge while the gun was in the purse and the owner was going about her business. Responsible purse carry means, in part, choosing one of the hundreds of bags specifically made for concealed carry, with a dedicated gun section, an inner holster of some kind, and a reinforced bottom.
Safe concealed carry purse habits include:
– The gun being contained in a compartment that holds it and only it, plus maybe a spare magazine, assuming your purse has—
– an inner sheath or holster of some sort that keeps the firearm anchored in one predictable position inside the dedicated gun section.
– A closure for the gun’s compartment that is quick and easy to open. You should be able to grasp the opening device (a flap or zipper pull) in your fist and open it without having to use fingertips. This keeps access to your gun in a gross motor action.
– Having an easy procedure to cleanly draw without crossing the muzzle over any of your own body parts once the gun has left the inner holster.
– Carrying the purse in exactly the same position every time you use it, one in which your firing hand can easily get to the gun.
– If the purse is not a holster-purse but is pinch-hitting as such, the gun compartment must not be penetrable by any object, within or outside of the purse, during normal use.
– The purse is under your control at all times. That means on your body when you’re not in the car or at home. There can be no leaving it where it can be stolen or investigated by a curious tot, child, or teen.
Now does purse carry still sound like the easiest way to carry your gun? It’s not convenient to do well, but it is workable, and is the preferred method of many women. When the guidelines above are followed, purse carry can work, though it is not recommended, and frankly increases the risk of you becoming a victim. Settle on a system—and master it.
I hope this guide has provided knowledge that you can use for holster shopping. In short, your carry system should be one that:
– is worn on the body if at all possible
– prevents any object from penetrating the trigger guard
– keeps the gun in place until you draw it
– is comfortable.
Be open to trying different setups before you settle on the perfect woman’s holster for you.
Editor’s note —
The safe holsters found in this article are as follows:
Guardian Angel Holsters: Here is their Facebook profile.