More women are coming to the conclusion that they should learn to defend themselves, and many turn to firearms as an equalizer. Working with the female students of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, many have questions about how to integrate concealed carry into their lives.

Once you’ve picked out a gun, found ammunition and researched proper training, the job of carrying a firearm has just begun. How does a woman integrate a gun into her wardrobe as safely, securely and comfortably as possible? Face it, carrying around a block of metal stuffed with heavy lead projectiles can be a challenge. Add to that the problem of keeping it invisible to everyone else and you begin to understand why it’s termed a “lifestyle” to carry a firearm for self-defense.

Concealment is of utmost importance. Producing a gun is a last resort in an emergency and ups the ante in a big way—keep it as your “hole card” until needed. Also, the comfort of your fellow citizens around you is important to maintain if you want to be thought of as one of the “good guys (or gals)”. Hence why I’m not a big advocate of open carry in public, even though it is legal in some states.

Carrying your gun on the belt is still the best way to have it secured and ready to access. I never liked to wear a belt, but when I decided to go to carry daily, I changed the clothing choices I preferred from soft, elastic-waist knits to jeans, chinos or trousers with belt loops. Fortunately, most of us have these things in our closets already. The belt itself is very important, as it is the foundation of the carry system. It should be sturdy and designed to carry a holstered gun. For a woman’s curved hips, a contoured belt is much less binding and infinitely more comfortable than a straight belt. I would recommend buying your belt, holster and any spare ammunition carriers from the same manufacturer to ensure the best fit of the components. Plan to invest some money—like shoes, you get what you pay for in quality, functionality and durability.

Holsters

There are a number of holster styles and materials. Inside-the-waistband holsters (IWB) are the most concealable as a significant portion of the holstered gun is tucked between your body and pants, with the belt over the top holding it in place. Some are designed with a gap between the holster and belt loop to allow a shirt to be tucked over the butt of the firearm, concealing it completely (tuckable IWB). Outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters are worn on the belt, outside the pants, with the body of the holster outside the belt. Some of these are set as flat to the body as possible and contoured to follow the curve of the torso.

Both IWB and OWB holsters frequently have what is termed “rake” or “cant,” which means the cup that holds the firearm can be tilted, forward or rearward, to make it easier to reach for the gun and to set the butt more closely against the body for better concealment. Where you choose to carry your gun will determine which degree of rake is most comfortable. Some experimentation will be required to find what works best for you. The most extreme rake can be found in small-of-the-back (SOB) holsters, which rest over the spine. Though I would not recommend placing a gun over the spine due to the risk of serious injury should you fall on it, these holsters are available and some people find them useful.

A holster should be molded to fit a specific firearm. A holster designed for concealed carry should cover the trigger guard completely to prevent anything contacting the trigger until the gun is drawn. One that covers most of the gun except for the grips is going to be more comfortable against the body than one that allows sharp parts and hard edges to poke into the skin. Less chance is given for a control to be inadvertently moved during carry (such as a safety lever pushed out of position). Every person I know that carries a firearm on a daily basis went through a process of experimentation and elimination before finding the optimal combination of holster and belt for their firearm. The fit is as individual as anything else you wear. In order to avoid too many holsters filling up the inevitable box of gear in the closet, stick with a good, basic design from a reputable manufacturer who asks for the specific make and model of your firearm to ensure a proper fit.

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