Comfortable concealed carry is a skill.
We break down the mystery behind what makes holsters comfortable in a step-by-step process that you can follow. We cover how to troubleshoot and solve all the most common holster comfort issues, such as:
- Your holster pinches or pokes when you bend over
- Holster is uncomfortable against the skin
- Holster rubs or abrades when you move
- What to do if you’re overweight or have a challenging body type
- Holster pulls or stretches the skin
- How to sit with an appendix carry holster
- What kinds of modifications can make holsters more comfortable
Contrary to popular belief, carrying a gun is NOT supposed to be painful, and you ARE supposed to have a full range of motion. Pain is not normal, and it’s not something you have to just “get used to.” There’s a system and a process to getting comfortable with concealed carry. By the end of this article, you are going to know exactly how to use the foundation principles of comfort to identify, prevent, or resolve the most common concealed carry comfort issues.
Nothing we’re going to talk about today is specific to any particular holster or company. That’s because comfort is not a product that you can buy – it’s a skill and a process. All bodies are shaped differently, so there’s no one magic solution for comfortable concealed carry. What works for someone else might not work for you. But the good news is that you can learn the basic comfort principles and apply them to your holster and your body.
Discomfort vs Pain
I’ll be honest, carrying a gun is never going to be as comfortable as not carrying a gun. You’re strapping a heavy piece of metal and plastic to your body and that’s not without a cost. However, there’s a difference between discomfort and pain.
Discomfort is something that’s annoying or uneasy, but the main difference is that it goes away if you’re not focusing on it. Like wearing a bra or breaking in new boots, eventually your brain tunes it out when you have more interesting things to think about.
Pain is your body warning you of actual or potential tissue damage, and that’s a big deal.
Pain doesn’t go away when you’re not focusing on it – it either stays the same, or it gets more intense. Don’t ignore pain or try to “tough it out,” or you’ll end up causing physical damage to your body.
Now, both discomfort and pain do have a physical and a psychological component, which means they are personal and subjective. Everyone has a different level of tolerance, and that matters because you can’t just talk someone into ignoring their experience. Telling people to “man up” or get over it just isn’t good advice. Instead, help them learn the comfort skills so they can control their own comfort level.
Additionally, here’s a piece of insight I picked up from my friend Annette Evans over at On Her Own:. Sometimes people feel “uncomfortable,” but the source of the discomfort isn’t physical. They might not be fully confident in their knowledge, skills, or gear, which tends to magnify any comfort issues and make them feel much more severe. If you’re new to concealed carry, or if you’re changing to a new carry position, invest some time into good quality in-person training. Troubleshooting comfort problems is a lot easier when you’re feeling capable and informed as a baseline.
Any time you buy a mass produced product that has to fit your body, you should expect to have to adjust it and customize it to some extent. That’s normal. Think of it like fitting a prosthetic. You’ve got a mechanical device that you’re carrying in very intimate contact with your body for long periods of time. The gun is a heavy chunk of metal and plastic with flat sides and hard corners, while your body is organic and curved. The interface between those things needs to be customized to fit the unique human shapes underneath it, just like a prosthetic transforms a mechanical object into an extension of the human body.
But comfort isn’t the only thing that matters – the holster also needs to do all the other things a holster needs to do – like be safe, secure, accessible, and make the gun conceal well. It can’t JUST be comfortable with no other considerations. As you experiment with these comfort techniques, you’ll notice that you can’t go too far toward any one extreme without making sacrifices in other areas.
Speaking generally, when you’re trying to find the most comfortable carry position, you want to keep the gun in a spot with enough surface area to support it, away from joints, and in a place where you have full range of motion.
We call that finding your “concealment boundaries,” and that means finding the correct ride height and centering for your unique shape. If your gun is out of bounds, it’ll cause problems. It’s pretty easy to find your boundaries for carrying strong side, since the gun isn’t near your joints. Appendix carry, which is on the front of the body, takes more work because small differences in positioning matter more.
If you’re reading this hoping I’ll tell you which carry position is most comfortable — well, I can’t. All bodies are different, and there’s no shortcut for doing the self-assessment steps for yourself.
But the good news is that the foundation principles of comfort apply to all carry positions and all body types. Some of the techniques do require adaptation, so use your common sense to apply them to your body and your chosen carry position.
To determine your comfort boundaries, use your unloaded gun, in the holster, and move the whole thing around on your body. Since your legs move up when you sit or bend, start in the seated position. That way you’ll know exactly how much space you’ll need for your legs, and you’ll be able to sit and bend comfortably. As you experiment, notice how when you go further out to the side (away from your belly button), the higher the gun needs to be positioned to avoid hitting your leg. By simply testing out different movements and paying attention to where your body hinges, you can figure out where the boundaries are for your individual body shape and anatomy.
If the gun is too low, it hits your legs (or other relevant anatomy), so moving it up is the obvious fix. If you feel like your gun is too high and it’s catching under your ribs, there’s actually a technique tip for that – tighten your abs as you sit or bend, and push your stomach out, allowing the gun to float ahead of the ribs instead of hanging up underneath.
If your gun hangs up under your belly soft tissue (also known as the Tactical Muffin Top), then usually the best answer is to move it higher. Then you can add a wedge to help with concealment and fill in any gap between the gun and body. We have a whole video series on concealment and wedges, so check that out.
Two things to keep in mind. One, you only have a limited space inside your concealment boundary. The size of your boundary matters, AND the size of the gun matters – it’s relative. If you are a tiny person with a huge gun, you’re more likely to have comfort or range of motion issues (check out the Concealment Percentages video by Armed and Styled).
Secondly, your ideal ride height may or may not correspond with the beltline of your pants, so you might need to consider changing to higher or lower rise pants, or using a carry system that doesn’t attach to your clothing. Since your ideal ride height depends on your body type, that’s something you’ll have to experiment with and figure out for yourself, but I will say the most common error people make is to carry too low.
Plan on taking some time to experiment with your own concealment boundaries, and make sure to watch the Concealment Mechanics videos so you can see examples of how to find the concealment sweet spot on different body types.
Five Common Sources of Concealed Carry Comfort Problems
You always want to treat the root cause of discomfort first, and then address any remaining issues. That way you’re not making unnecessary compromises. The general rule is to focus on ergonomics first before adding padding or softness. “Ergonomic” means it interfaces correctly with your body. “Softness” is just the window dressing on top.
Pressure points are areas of concentrated pressure, and they’re a common source of pain or discomfort. The potential for harm depends on both the amount of force applied, the time it’s applied, and the surface area and shape of the object.
Pressure points can cause pain, bruising, skin damage, and even pressure ulcers over time, although most healthy people will voluntarily stop carrying before they get to that point (which isn’t good, either).
For concealed carry, one of the most common pressure points people encounter is the muzzle of the gun digging into their pelvis and creating a painful hot spot. This is especially likely if you’re carrying a smaller gun with less mass below the belt line (see the Keel Principle video).
Another source is putting a flat gun on a sharply curved body part, where the gun only has a small amount of surface area to contact. You can also get pressure points from areas on the holster that end abruptly or don’t interface well with your body. For example, the gun touching your thigh when seated isn’t normally a big deal if the muzzle of the holster is rounded. But if the holster ends abruptly and the weight of the gun is resting on a narrow band of material, that smaller surface area can create a pressure point that becomes painful over time. Choosing something with a rounded muzzle can help, but you could also just move the gun higher as we discussed in the carry position section.
The really neat thing about pressure points is that eliminating them usually means making the gun lay flat against the body – which not only makes it more comfortable, it also happens to give us better concealment. So you can kill two birds with one stone by getting the gun into your sweet spot and adjusting it to lie flat. If you watched our Basic Concealment Mechanics series, you already know how to do that. If not, click the link above and review.
One of the most common pressure point mistakes I see is when people use stiff belts for inside-the-waistband carry. If your belt is too stiff, it will bridge instead of conforming to your body. Check out our video about that.
Another thing to consider is that your body moves. You may not have a problem when standing, but you may run into issues where the holster encounters your body when bending or sitting for long periods of time. In that case, go back to the concealment boundaries step and see if you can find a better spot on your body that’s further away from your joints.
The last thing you can do is add pads to bridge or soften pressure points. That works, but you may lose some concealment, since the pad tends to act like a snowshoe and resist the Concealment Mechanics. General best practice is to resolve any concealment mechanics or sweet spot issues first, then add the minimum amount of padding necessary to get the job done. Adhesive velcro loop actually works great as an ultra-thin but cushy layer of padding.
Friction is the next most common source of concealed carry comfort problems. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to define friction as excessive movement of the gun relative to the surface of the skin – the gun is rubbing or sliding.
To solve friction issues at the root, first try to minimize the movement of the gun. You can do that by repositioning the gun in a lower movement area of the body. If you’re carrying low and your gun gets nudged up every time you move your leg, try carrying higher so there’s less interference. You can also secure the gun better with a more stable belt or holster system. If you can’t get the gun to be still, the next step is to add an undergarment or liner to protect your skin. That can be as simple as an undershirt or high waisted underwear, or it could be a liner applied to the holster itself, such as moleskin.
Skin shear is the movement of the top layers of the skin relative to the bottom layers. Imagine going down a metal slide in shorts. As the skin is pulled, it strains and damages the underlying layers. This can be caused by just the gun itself, but it’s especially likely when using a holster with silicone or sticky material. If you do a lot of running, be especially watchful of this because repetitive bouncing can add up to a skin shear injury.
Like friction, the first key to solving skin shear is to minimize the movement of the gun. Get it on a low movement area of the body, away from joints, and make sure it’s secured. You might want to experiment with stretchy vs non-stretchy belts and carry systems to see which works best for your body, because that can vary depending on how much soft tissue jiggle you get when moving.
You can add a low friction undergarment or liner, like compression shorts or a rash guard. You can also look at using lubricants like Body Glide to help the gun slide over the skin rather than sticking to it.
The last thing that can help is reducing the weight of the gun, which helps reduce the amount of force transferred by bouncing and other movements.
Placing solid objects on the body prevents heat loss and moisture evaporation. When your skin is chronically damp and hot, it weakens, which makes all of the above injuries more likely to happen, and more severe if they do happen. It can also contribute to infection and irritation.
“Skin microclimate” refers to the conditions at your skin’s surface. While we can’t eliminate the inherent issues involved in carrying a gun against your body all day, there are things we can do to manage those conditions as best we can.
Hygiene and moisture management are important. Use washable holster and wedge materials, and clean them regularly. If you’re using pads or wedges, grab a couple of extras so you can switch them out periodically when they get wet. You can also use breathable or wicking liners and undergarments. Materials with natural or synthetic antimicrobial properties can also help, such as sheepskin or antimicrobial fabrics.
If you’re having problems with skin health, you might need to consider minimizing the amount of time you spend carrying, when it’s feasible to do that. This depends on your lifestyle and risk assessment, and it requires weighing the pros and cons of each choice. For example, you might decide to use a pocket holster around the house instead of carrying inside-the-waistband.
The last thing we’ll cover is imbalance. That’s when you have too much weight or leverage in one area of the body. Imagine carrying a heavy gun on your ankle and running a marathon.
Imbalance can cause pain immediately or over time. It can cause posture or gait changes, and it can actually make you lose mobility or worsen chronic issues.
One way to solve imbalance is to move the gun closer to the center of the body, if possible. If carrying a gun on your hip makes you stand crooked, try carrying it in the appendix position, so it’s closer to your core. If you carry on one side, you can also try adding weight to the other side of your belt t o balance the weight of the gun.
Another tactic is to reduce the size and weight of the gun, and minimize the amount of time you spend carrying. It’s a good idea to ask a professional about exercise or physical therapy, especially if you think imbalance may cause problems for you down the line. Prevention is the best solution.
If you’ve read this far, you may be curious about what solutions others are using to get better concealed carry comfort. Head over to the PHLster Concealment Workshop facebook group to see and share experiences with others. The group Guides section has hundreds of archived user posts on a variety of helpful topics.
Thanks for reading!