The number of American citizens legally carrying a concealed weapon has dramatically increased over the last several years. This is a great thing. Whether you're a conscientious citizen who jumped through the hoops to get a concealed carry permit or a brand-new cop carrying off-duty for the first time, you need training on how to carry concealed.
Before jumping right into the training aspect of everyday carry (EDC), let's talk about some of the changes required for successful and comfortable concealed carry. The first reality is that you are probably going to have to change the way you dress. Most of us don't have an impossibly narrow waist and incredibly broad shoulders, so the first thing to do is get some shirts that provide extra room around the waist to hide the butt of your pistol. Regardless of whether you carry appendix or strong side, the pistol butt is usually what gets people "made." Because I carry appendix (front of body, just off center to the strong side), I easily get away with wearing a T-shirt as a cover garment. This is one of the reasons I started carrying in the appendix position nearly 20 years ago, even though most trainers at the time scoffed at it.
For those who carry at 3 or 4 o'clock on their strong side, T-shirts might not be the best bet, and you may need to add button-up shirts to your wardrobe. Some of the best purpose-built concealed carry shirts are those made by 5.11. The company understands the market and offers a wide variety of cuts and styles, providing a good fit and great concealment for people of different body types without the appearance of wearing your fat uncle's button-ups. I gravitate toward the Freedom Flex button-up for its athletic cut, but my friend and collaborator Alfredo prefers the extra roominess of the Ares button-up.
Pant selection provides a little more flexibility. Generally, ensuring that the waist is an inch or two bigger than otherwise needed is all that is required to keep a pistol holstered inside the waistband (IWB). If you do not carry IWB, then it's a moot point — or it used to be a moot point. EDC has come to encompass much more than just a gun and a reload. Easily accessible pockets for carrying items such as spare ammunition and tourniquets, as well as athletic cuts and stretch materials that allow for freedom of movement and all-day comfort have started to become a virtual necessity. There are several great companies making EDC-compatible pants; my current favorites are 5.11's Defender Flex series and Arc'teryx's Xfunctional AR pants. If you only carry a pistol and maybe a spare mag, then most pants will do. However, if you're diligently running a TQ, a couple of reloads, a knife, a light and maybe a snack, then get a pair of these. You'll thank me.
In addition to suitable pants, a good belt is one of the most important pieces of your EDC. Look here, cheapskates — if you are serious about and dedicated to the EDC lifestyle, you're going to have to drop some cash. Offerings from Ares Gear, Mean Gene Leather and Galco should be at the top of your list. Yes, they cost more, but they're worth every penny. Especially come hour eight of carrying a real fighting gun and being on your feet. Cheap belts sag after a short time, putting the gun in a poor position, and increasing wearer fatigue and discomfort. Crappy gun-show belts are probably more responsible for people leaving their gun at home than crappy gun-show holsters. Buy once, cry once. There are no free lunches in life.
Speaking of holsters, if you've been in the game for a while, you've likely got a box full of them somewhere. It's OK, you can admit it. We all do. This lifestyle is about finding what works for you, and sometimes that takes trial and error. Right now, my go-to holsters are the Raven VG-2 and VG-3 for appendix and the Galco SSS Side Snap Scabbard for when I'm wearing a dedicated cover garment or in "soft" uniform. I've been testing and evaluating the PHLster Gen2 Skeleton Holster and mag pouch, and they seem very promising.
As with belts, cheap holsters cause big issues down the road. Cheap plastic breaks, cheap Kydex cracks, and cheap leather loses its shape. The latter can even cause negligent discharges if the deformed leather invades the triggerguard during a reholster. Don't buy novice-grade holsters and expect professional-grade performance. If you use a hybrid holster (such as a Kydex holster body riveted to a leather or synthetic backing), realize that even the best ones start to wear earlier than nonhybrids.
They are extremely comfortable, so don't rule them out, but they require frequent inspection and fairly frequent replacement. They will eventually crack and split, and while companies such as Galco have radiused the corners and increased the thickness of the Kydex to help with the issue, they haven't eliminated it.
TIME TO TRAIN
So, you've got your CCW, a nice new blaster, some sweet new clothes and cool new carry gear. What now? I'm glad you asked! Get off your ass and practice. EDC demands more than just good marksmanship skills. You need to diligently work on perfecting your draw stroke. Ensure that your weapon is completely unloaded, move to an area where there is no ammunition at all and practice. Draw the pistol, get it up on target and press the trigger. Reset the trigger by cycling the slide and reholster. Repeat as necessary — which is often. Start with hundreds of draws a day until your draw is smooth and efficient and you can press the trigger without the first shot disturbing the sights. I use a reduced-size target taped to the wall but a light switch plate works, too. It really doesn't matter; you're refining a psychomotor skill, and that demands repetition.
Practice using every type of cover garment that you think you'll use in real life. If it's cold enough outside to necessitate wearing a heavy jacket yet you only practice in a T-shirt, you are setting yourself up for failure. Once you're comfortable drawing the pistol, acquiring the sights and pressing the trigger, you need to find a range that will allow you to practice from concealed. If there is nothing close to you that allows it, find an IDPA club and compete there. It's not a perfect tactical training scenario, but it will allow you to put together your fundamentals and your concealed draw, and that will serve you well in the long run. It will also get you involved in the shooting sports and associating with good, like-minded folks. That's always a win.
The last thing I want to address is the commitment to consistency that you'll need to internalize if you want to be worth a crap when the balloon really goes up while you are out and about.
Excellence is a long, drawn-out process that requires hours of mind-numbing repetition in conjunction with hours of expensive and rigorous training on the range. In the arena of personal defense, especially personal defense involving a firearm, there is no room for error or mediocrity. Get out and train in the mode that you are most likely to need in real life. If you conceal carry a stock Glock 19, don't waste your time taking an HRT class with a plate carrier and a full-size 1911. Remember, poor CCW decisions reflect badly on all of us. If you're going to the bar to tie one on, leave the gun at home. If you're 200 pounds overweight, you're more likely to die of heart disease than a physical attack.
Prioritize your threats and train from there. Street-level violence is very real, but most conflicts can be mitigated by exercising avoidance. Avoiding shady locations and shady people is always preferable to engaging in a gunfight. The EDC lifestyle isn't for everyone. If you're going to be in it, be in it all the way.