We won’t beat around the bush, here. Carrying concealed with your weapon “off-body”, or in a container that is not attached to your person, is a contested topic. Check any article or message board and you’ll find strong opinions on both sides of the fence, which is probably why you’re here now, reading. Good news! We’re not going to advocate that one carry method is better than the other (situations change to fluidly to do so), but we will go through the five critical questions and considerations you should keep in mind. We’ll help you make the decision to carry on-body with confidence.
1. Know where you’re going
Pretty self-explanatory question, right? This is the most important question to consider, too. Depending on where you go, there are more considerations within this question to keep in mind. Where you’re going will dictate how – or whether – you’ll be able to carry off-body.
Keep it hidden: Say you’re going to carry at work, on campus, or in public. In these environments, accountability of your off-body carry container will be critical. Will anyone have the right to check or withhold your personal belongings? Is there an explicit policy against carrying in the workplace or on-campus? We’re not telling you to break the rules or local laws, but be mindful of who will have access to your off-body carry container.
Keep it with you: You need to know if you’ll be able to keep your carry container with you at all times. If you have to leave your weapon’s container behind, will it be locked and secured? Will it be left with another person, and if so, will they be aware of your weapon and can they legally carry, too? Are there areas where you cannot bring your concealed carry container?
Women are generally allowed to keep purses and small clutches with them for personal reasons, but men may not be able to carry their briefcase or backpack everywhere they go. If the place you’re visiting dictates you can’t keep your off-body carry container with you at all times, develop a back-up plan, have a reliable (legal/licensed) back-up person to carry for you temporarily, or go with an on-person carry method.
2. Know what carry container you’ll be using
There are numerous ways to safely and comfortably carry off-body. Some may be better than others, and some may work better than others depending on your environment and the need to access your firearm quickly. Let’s go over some of the most popular off-person carry containers, their benefits, and their drawbacks:
The purse/pocketbook: This is the most popular off-carry method for women by a healthy margin. You probably carry their purses or pocketbooks everywhere you go, regardless of the environment. Purses generally offer quick access because of shoulder or wrist straps and their under-arm location, making retrieval of your carry weapon pretty quick and simple. With that in mind, here are two considerations for carrying in your purse:
1. Never keep other items in the same compartment as your carry weapon. They’ll get in the way and could make for a dangerous situation, especially if you’re fumbling around when seconds count.
2. Make sure the compartment your weapon’s stored in is snug and secure. Your carry weapon shouldn’t “slosh” around in its compartment and the zipper, clip, hinge or latching method should be tight and not at risk of coming undone. You should be able to store your weapon in its compartment with a retention system or holster. Plenty of companies make concealed-carry purses with quick-access compartments that store your handgun securely. If you’re going to carry daily, we strongly advise you invest in one.
The backpack: This is one of the most popular carry methods for men. Backpacks are comfortable, convenient, they offer plenty of storage, and they can easily be carried anywhere you go, barring rules or local laws. Backpacks are generally slow when it comes time to draw, so if speed is of the essence, you should consider another carry method or invest in a backpack designed for quick retrieval.
The same two considerations apply to men as they do women and purses:
1. Your weapon’s compartment should not have any other items in it.
2. Your carry compartment should be able to store your weapon snuggly, so it isn’t shifting around. You should be able to secure your weapon inside its compartment with a holster or retention system.
There are single-strap concealed carry backpacks that are designed to flip back to front with quick-access compartments. Investing in one of these packs can save your life if you’re singled out as a target in an active shooter situation. Lastly, don’t use a “tactical” backpack to carry. Using a tactical backpack only hints that you may be carrying – avoid the PALS webbing, “operator” or unit patches, and military logos. Go with a civilian pack that’s simple and unassuming.
The Smart Device Container: In recent years, society’s grown accustomed to lugging around smart devices. Tablets and phones have gotten bigger and more connected to our daily lives, so it makes sense that we now carry them with us inside nifty protectors and covers. Well, those same containers make great conceal-carry devices.
Of course, any smart device is more likely to be left on a table or seat or handled by another person around you, so keep accountability and concealment in mind when choosing to carry within your smart device’s container. Plenty of carry-specific smart device containers exist for Android and Apple tablets and phones, making handgun concealment and retrieval easier and safer.
The briefcase: This is the go-to carry option for the office worker or executive. You can generally bring your briefcase with you wherever you’re going and you won’t raise any eyebrows, but retrieval could be slow and cumbersome. There are briefcases specifically designed for concealed carrying and they usually sport an extra quick-access pocket or compartment designed for your handgun. As with all other off-body carry containers, we recommend investing in a by-design briefcase if you choose to carry daily.
This is also pretty self-explanatory. Test out your off-body carry method at home and on the move. Practice retrieval and drawing your weapon in a safe manner before going out and travelling, working, or visiting an establishment. Can you draw fast enough if you’re singled out as a target? Do you have to put down your container of choice to retrieve your weapon? Can you retrieve with just one hand, or do you need both?
Decide how to best carry your off-body container, and consider whether other options are better. Test out the different compartments built into your off-body carry container and determine which one offers the fastest retrieval and the most secure storage. Once you’ve committed to your off-body carry container of choice, we again strongly recommend investing in one designed for your handgun. A by-design container, be it a purse, backpack, suitcase, pocketbook or smart device protector, will offer safer carrying, more concealment and faster retrieval. Your life could count on those seconds.
4. Train for the environment and the situation
Having to draw in a crowded food court will be a lot different from having to draw while you’re sitting at work – and those two situations will be dramatically different from having to retrieve your weapon while you’re sitting in your vehicle or traipsing down a dark alley in center city. Before carrying off-body, you should train for the environment you’ll be in, and the situations you might encounter that require you to retrieve your weapon safely and quickly.
If you sit down for a bite to eat or a Friday night film in a crowded theater, where will you place your backpack or purse? Can you set your briefcase next to your dominant hand on the subway while you head into the office? Are you sitting, standing, or moving with a crowd that’ll allow you adequate time to safely draw your weapon? If your backpack or purse is slung around your shoulder, can you safely and subtly draw without presenting yourself as a target? Can your off-body carry container be easily snatched by a passerby?
Even when sticking to one preferred off-body carry method, the situation that requires retrieval of your weapon can change, and the manner in which you utilize your off-body container can therefore change, too. You should be prepared for every scenario and environment you could be in, regardless of how brief, hypothetical, or unlikely it may seem.
5. Determine that off-body carry is best
We said we wouldn’t pick a side on the argument here, and we won’t – but you should still consider wholly and without question whether off-body carry is better than on-body. There are plenty of comfortable on-body carry methods that adapt well to nearly any type of clothing (read through our Carrying Concealed guide to find out!) so you should weigh the reason you would carry off-body against why you might instead carry on your person.
Why you might carry off-body
1. Dress – you may be wearing clothing that would “print”, or reveal, a concealed-carry holster, or you may simply not have any location to otherwise store your weapon on your person. This is especially true of ladies in dress and men in tailored clothing.
2. Location – You may be in an environment where sensitivity is high and concealment matters above all else – an off-body carry container guarantees concealment better than any on-body carry method.
3. Travel – You may simply be unable to accommodate a holster on your person while traveling. This may be because of close proximity to other pedestrians, seating arrangements, or dress rules and clothing requirements. Beaches and special events are great examples. If you’re driving you may have to take your holster or weapon off, and you may find difficulty in reattaching your weapon to your person. Retrieval from an on-person carry method could be difficult while driving, too.
4. Weapon – Simply put, you can carry a much larger weapon with off-body carry. Effective on-person concealment will depend largely on the handgun you choose. The larger the gun, the less likely concealment will be. Comfort and convenience can also become difficult to maintain, too. With off-body carry, you can easily fit a larger revolver or full-frame handgun into your container of choice, without sacrificing concealment or comfort. Obviously, a larger handgun will be more effective as a deterrent or when eliminating a threat.
There are plenty of considerations to make when carrying your handgun off-body. In summary, you should know where you’re going, what kind of off-body carry method you’ll be using, you should train with your carry method of choice, and you should practice and anticipate every scenario and environment you may find yourself in. Lastly, you should be sure that off-body carry’s a better choice than carrying on your person. With these considerations and questions in mind, be safe, be confident, and exercise your 2nd Amendment right armed with knowledge!
Howard Murphy has been an active member of the concealed carry community for over 20 years and is the editor for holsterhero.com. His passion for all things “guns” was born from growing up hunting and sport shooting in his home state of Wyoming.