Opening Up To Off-Body Carry

posted on November 25, 2013

Today’s armed citizen has more options than ever before when it comes to carrying a handgun or long gun intended for self-preservation in an off-body mode. That’s good to know when one considers the advantages of having a defensive arm nearby in situations where on-body carry might not be  practical or comfortable.

But along with the advantages of being able to have quick access to the greater capabilities of a long gun and of traveling with a lower profile than when carrying a handgun in an on-body holster, off-body carry also requires an extra degree of vigilance on the part of the concealed carry practitioner. The possibility of a gun being inadvertently left behind or taken is far greater when it is not physically attached to the user.

The truth is that whatever method you choose to carry a gun for personal protection, you must always be aware of the status of the firearm and the means by which it is secured to its carrier.

There are times, places, user groups, and activities where modern and functional discreet packs offer the only effective means for carrying or transporting a firearm. When instructing concealed carry classes, one example I point to is the use of small, simple pouches for bicycling or motorcycling. While hardcore cyclists might make better use of a holster slipped into one of the zippered compartments their tight-fitting garments often contain, the great number of casual or average-attired street riders peddling around America these days would be better-served by a conveniently sized, well-positioned, stable and readily accessible waist pack. One that is comfortable and as unobtrusive as possible will still allow the gun to be drawn with relative ease.

The same thing is true for motorcyclists. I always rode with a heavy vest or jacket that had a strong-side, external slash pocket with a secure but easily opened hook-and-loop closure, which allowed easy access to an immovable holster and small revolver inside the pocket. Many people, though, dress far more casually. A modern, non-contrasting pack or pouch might not only work better with those clothes but might also ease mounting and dismounting the bike. While carrying a gun and other valuables, such a bag might also attract less attention when momentarily stepping away from the bike to eat, stretch out or go to the restroom.

I think waist packs also have a real advantage for certain vacationers. Consider the activities you might find yourself doing when the family heads off for a week of car-based sightseeing. How many times might you (sometimes in a single day) be in and out of the car or changing clothes to suit the climate and activity. Also in the course of that single day, you’re likely to be sitting as much as standing: perhaps confined behind the wheel of a car or by a booth in a diner.

Are you going to change your holster every time the conditions change? I doubt it. And while paddle holsters are versatile; and pocket holsters discreet; and tuckable, inside-the-waistband models a good compromise, none of them works equally well in all manner of situations or scenarios. So as much as I might decry the dated “fanny pack” concept, for many applications a more recent iteration of that design, from makers such as DeSantis or Uncle Mike’s, might be just the ticket.

For people walking about town or spending a day hiking trails, a myriad of field packs and urban backpacks allow their wearers to bring along a handgun that’s not only completely unseen when casually opening and closing the bag, but also positioned so that it can be drawn whether the device is on or off the body. Blackhawk and other makers have backpacks and slingpacks that look reasonably natural in a wide variety of environments and are well suited for carrying firearms, and other daily essentials.

People who, like me, are a bit old-fashioned, believe the briefcase is still the go-to package for transporting necessities during the work day. A search of catalogs from some of the more reputable manufacturers reveals that there are many gun-carrying options for those who prefer this venerable carrier. Tactical briefcases, discreet options and examples in several sizes and materials are available in the ever-expanding market.

But with an eye toward urbanization (and with many previously anti-gun cities now allowing concealed carry within their borders), there is also a whole subgroup of shoulder bags and so-called “Messenger Bags” that subtly fit into that look and lifestyle as well; giving people in more fashion-conscious environments the ability to blend. Woolstenhulme makes contemporary bags that look great and, like all good ones, carry the gun separately from other contents so that the firearm is readily available and unobstructed by other items of cargo. Blackhawk also makes several bags that fall into this category.

Of course, carrying a bag or a briefcase around with you all day once you’re at the office or your place of business isn’t always possible. There, a portfolio or a day planner/calendar might be a better choice, but, once again, you need to think things through. In our constantly evolving electronic society, more and more people rely on the calendars stored in and synchronized between their laptops, tablets and smart phones. So in some working environments, a handheld appointment book-something so common everywhere just 10 years ago-would look as out of place today as some of those older-style waist packs I described earlier. Therefore, need and environment must both be examined before you settle on an appropriate design.

As much as I find myself using an electronic device these days, I still use a “real” notepad for jotting down certain things and for roughing out sketches of the projects I’m working on. As such, something like Galco’s Hidden Agenda works very well for both those tasks and carrying a gun-something that most of its competitors’ models don’t do-when I am working somewhere that my activities or mode of dress won’t allow me to position a gun on my body.

I have designed purses suitable for concealed carry for others, and I teach with them regularly. They too, are something that has seen tremendous advancements in recent years. Traditionally, they were dated, often unattractive and not always functional. Today, the better ones are well designed in terms of both appearance and performance. Galco’s full line of designer purses reflects the sense of style and penchant for detail that has been its hallmark for decades. But relative newcomers such as Woolstenhulme and Gun Tote’n Mamas are doing a great job with purses as well. And products found on websites such as show that others, too, are advancing the state of the art in terms of purses suitable for carrying firearms.

Not everybody is looking to conceal only a handgun in an off-body manner. Some people also have a need to carry or transport a long gun in a similarly discreet way. Traditionally, however, the design of long-gun cases left little to an observer’s imagination. Even the so-called “discreet” rifle and shotgun cases were almost as obvious as the time-honored leather and canvas shotgun slips of our duck-hunting forefathers.

Blackhawk’s “Diversion” line not only includes a number of long gun cases that nicely fit into the Backpack, Daypack and Courier Bag categories we’ve already discussed but also includes its Racquet Bag, a wonderfully misleading design that has two full-length internal compartments, each capable of accommodating a firearm (or a broken-down AR platform) up to 29-inches long. And with an eye toward newer and more contemporary ways of hiding in plain sight, the company also offers a very common-looking but well-constructed Board Pack that is completely at home in a number of environments. That design and Blackhawk’s gym-inspired Workout Bag are also great ways of carrying your firearms to and from the car without revealing to passersby that you are transporting firearms.

Obviously there is a lot to think about regarding ways to carry a firearm with you when it cannot be attached to, or concealed upon, the body. The methods of doing so can be quite varied. But there are two traits they all share that you must always be aware of.

One is that your method of carrying a firearm-the tool upon which you might base the defense of your life-could become the reason that you need such a defense. That briefcase, purse or backpack could be why someone singles you out, not just for robbery, but perhaps for something worse. And now the gun you are carrying to save your life could be (unknown to the attacker) taken in that attack and unavailable to you.

The other consideration is the casualness about safety and responsibility that such gun carrying methods can sometimes bring about. When no longer needed, fanny packs can be tossed on car seats, tabletops and bedspreads. Purses can be left on counters or hung on the backs of chairs. Backpacks can be set on the floor, rested in shopping carts or set down next to us on public transportation or restaurant seating. Briefcases can be left behind to remain unattended on or alongside our desks. The same can be true of those portfolios and planners that I mentioned. Even discreet long gun cases can be too easily left alone for just a moment because after all, it is “just a moment” and “nobody knows there is a gun in it anyway.” Bad idea!

If you do plan on using any of these methods to go armed throughout your day, then you need to be just as much on guard against these mindset issues as you do those external threats that warranted your carrying the firearm in the first place. These off-body solutions can solve some problems but like many things in life, they can bring about others of their own making. However, if you approach them logically and carefully, they too can be resolved in your favor.

Check out this gallery for more concealed carry options.


Walther Ronin Dyal
Walther Ronin Dyal

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