Concealed Carry Options for Women
I want to preface this by saying I am a man. I have little to no insight into the nuances of carrying a concealed firearm as a woman. However, I do like to consider myself an enlightened and pragmatic instructor capable of connecting my students with answers that I’m unable to provide based on my own experience. I have connected with several extremely knowledgeable women in my time as a firearms instructor, and wanted to consolidate some of their best information to make it more readily available to the gun-curious women out there. I will provide links to sources and products.
The majority of information readily available on the carrying of firearms is content that caters to men. Women are almost an afterthought in the firearms community, to be coddled (think of the Fudd gun shop owner who thinks every woman needs a revolver because it’s “easier than racking the slide” on a semiauto), laughed at (the douchebag who gives his girlfriend or wife a gun with excessive recoil and cackles when she hurts herself firing it, likely turning her off from ever wanting to shoot again), or frightened into carrying with statistics about assault and rape (you know exactly what kind of articles I mean).
One universal truth that applies to men and women is that when it comes to choosing a pistol to carry, the best choice is the largest gun that can reasonably be concealed. Larger handguns have less recoil and a longer sight radius, making them easier to shoot quickly and more accurately than smaller handguns. They also have a larger capacity. This translates to a win/win, as the key to survival in a gunfight is to deliver as many shots to vital organs as possible, as quickly as possible, until the threat stops. While there are certainly individual and situational considerations that apply to the equation of firearm choice, the general rule is that the bigger is better.
When we apply that general rule to women, we hit some roadblocks. Most women are built differently than most men (go figure), and have a variety of additional considerations to think about when it comes to concealing a firearm on their body. Thighs, hips, and breasts all create a very different experience with concealed carry than most men have, and most women don’t want to simply “dress around the gun” to get the job done (a young lady friend of mine told me the other day that if she starts carrying a gun, she won’t be able to wear the cute crop tops she really likes anymore).
There are unfortunately few outlets that provide women with quality information on good concealed carry practices and/or reliable holsters that are actually practical to use. There is also a plethora of really, really bad “made for women” products, some of which are great, some of which offer questionable gun retention or a drawstroke that is either inconvenient and slow, or disregards the cardinal rules of gun safety and is unsafe.
However, there are several reliable, high-quality options that will allow women to carry a more ideal handgun, if they choose to do so. There are also some very reputable sources of training and information on how to find those good carry options, and how to best employ them.
Melody Lauer is a reputable gun trainer and writer. She’s teaches classes with Citizens Defense Research and has written articles for Lucky Gunner and other sites. I had the pleasure of meeting Melody a few years ago at a ShivWorks Extreme Close Quarters Concepts class, where she proceeded to sewing machine my ribs with her training knife when I assaulted her in our practical exercise. Aside from the Clinch Pick she used to simulate tearing me a new hole, Melody carries a Glock 19 with a mounted light, along with a spare flashlight or magazine. Have a look at one of her videos, showing how she’s concealed this pistol in a Dark Star Gear appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB) holster:
This other video shows her moving and bending with ease, despite a larger pistol at her midsection:
There are several AIWB holster manufacturers on the market. Working with kydex can be done from home, and a number of people have jumped into the holster-making game without spending adequate R&D time to smooth out their designs. I personally like Tier 1 Concealed, which is on the pricier end of the spectrum but allows you to carry a spare magazine, and AnR Design, a more affordable option. Other highly reputable manufacturers include PHLSTER, Keeper’s Concealment, Dark Star Gear, and Raven Concealment. In this article, Melody talks about considerations when choosing a quality AIWB holster, and in this one, she talks about options specifically for women. Pay attention to the “tuck” section of her article (all of the manufacturers I listed above have claws available or included with their products).
Most AIWB holsters require a belt to keep the gun in one place, and to keep the entire rig from falling out of your pants. However, women (and even men) don’t always wear belts every single day. While a lot of companies advertise “belt-less” holsters, pocket holsters, and other novelty solutions to this issue, there are some tried-and-true products offered by reputable manufacturers, such as the Errand, by Keeper’s Concealment. Check out this review, again by Melody Lauer.
Some holsters can be altered to allow them to be worn without a belt. I’ve modified my Tier 1 Concealed holsters with clips from Discreet Carry Concepts that are designed to sit behind a belt and minimize visibility, but also allow the holster to be worn beltless. Here’s a picture of my girlfriend doing exactly that, but keep in mind that this rig is configured for my body, not hers:
Another potential option to carry without a belt is a belly band holster, and my goodness there are a ton of options out there, not all of them great. One brand that I’ve seen several female trainers recommend is CanCan. Check out this video of The Patriot Nurse showing off her Big SheBang by CanCan:
Another option by CanCan is their classic Hip Hugger, which is essentially what Melody Lauer is wearing in this video:
Some more great info on belly band holsters is available from Tiffany Johnson of Front Sight Press. Her article, “Think You Can’t Conceal?“, shows her concealing TWO full-size handguns, an extra magazine, and two knives, in a variety of outfits. Tiffany is full of great information about belly band holsters, but leaves some caveats: your draw will be slower, and they’re not as durable as kydex holsters. However, in this article, Tiffany walks us through how she modified her belly band with kydex inserts from Keeper’s Concealment (hmm, that company keeps coming up…) to increase rigidity and eliminate holster collapse.
So what about other carry options? As I mentioned earlier, the gun industry is saturated with novelty products aimed at women, and not all of them are great. Here, I’m going to lean heavily on Kathy Jackson, another professional instructor, former editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, and author of The Cornered Cat: A Woman’s Guide to Concealed Carry. Kathy has a couple articles any CCW-curious woman should read, “How Do I Hide This Thing?,” and “Concealed Carry for the Fashionable Woman.” Between these two articles, she touches on the major concealment methods we’ve already discussed, as well as ankle holsters, bra holsters, and purse carry (which is something we’ll touch on in just a moment).
Bra holsters are a product I’ve had several female friends ask me about, and the answer is…it depends. As Kathy Jackson mentions in her articles above, there are several shoddy products on the market, so if a bra holster is something that interests you, make sure you choose an option that has been proven to hold the gun securely and cover the trigger completely. One such product is the Flashbang Bra Holster, which is also available in a variety of fancier prints from Flashbangstore.com. Melody Lauer did a review of this holster several years ago, covering pros AND cons, check it out:
Before I wrap up, I want to talk briefly about purse carry. I generally do not recommend any kind of off-body carry for anyone, man or woman. Kathy Jackson has an article (“Should I Carry in My Purse?”) where she touches on the safety issues of purse carry, as well as the social awkwardness of keeping your purse with you constantly to minimize any retention/theft issues. Think about it, ladies: how many of you really keep your purse on your lap at all times without fail when you are at work, in a restaurant, at a party, or visiting with friends?
Although Kathy’s article falls short of actually saying “don’t do it!”, Melody Lauer has no such compunction about neutrality. In her two-part series on purse carry for Lucky Gunner, “Purse Carry is the Worst Carry,” she doesn’t hesitate to say she isn’t a fan. What’s more, in part 2 she tests the practical application of purse carry by actually firing common self-defense handguns from within a purse filled with every day objects, and got less-than-stellar results:
We filled a purse with average items like a comb, sanitary napkins, a notebook, some hand lotion, loose paper, and some coins. We set that three yards away from the target and then moved back another three yards before taking shots through the purse. With a 9mm Glock 26 loaded with Winchester PDX1, we attempted to shoot through the bag three times. All three times, the coins in the outside of the bag either stopped the bullet completely or deflected it so much not one shot was on target.“Shooting Through Purses.”
In addition to the highly reputable sources already touched on in this article, I strongly recommend checking out Annette Evans of Beauty Behind the Blast, and give a like/follow to her project for women navigating the world by themselves, On Her Own. While you’re at it, Citizens Defense Research, where Melody Lauer and fellow instructor John Johnston teach practical handgun courses such as The Armed Parent/Guardian, deserves a like/follow as well.
If you’re a woman that has made the decision to carry a firearm with which to protect yourself or your family, or you are curious about doing so, I hope this article has armed you (pun intended) with information about different concealment options that are available. Thanks for stopping by, and until next time, stay safe.