CONCEALMENT 23 Off-Body Carry with a Concealed Carry Bag or Fanny Pack Annette Evans Join the Conversation The gold standard of carrying a gun is to have it on your body somewhere, somehow. This being RECOIL CONCEALMENT, the challenge is to do it in a way that’s comfortable and hidden from other people. It’s not always easy, especially with certain fashion choices common to women — snugly fitting clothing, midriff-baring tops, belt-less bottoms, all often in thin and clingy fabrics. None of those really lend themselves to strapping a chunk of metal and plastic on without making it look like an awkward and funny-shaped growth. The obvious answer has always been to toss a gun into a purse and tote it along that way. There’s an in-between solution though: the hip bag — essentially, a purse worn, well, on the wearer’s hip: a dedicated Concealed Carry Bag. Now that regular, ordinary people, even fashionable people, wear hip bags and similar accessories, there are new options for carrying concealed firearms in an on-body bag that don’t look out of place. OFF-BODY CONSIDERATIONS Carrying in a regular purse has some really obvious upsides. There’s no longer any need to “dress around the gun.” The only obvious requirement is that the purse goes with the outfit. However, there are also a number of downsides. The biggest is the fact that the gun is no longer attached to the wearer, making it easier to lose or have stolen. So many of the settings where women carry purses are also settings where it’s normal and ordinary to take them off our shoulders. While many of us have learned that a purse shouldn’t be left unattended in a grocery cart, it’s a little tougher in places like restaurants or homes. The tendency is to hang the bag off the back of a chair, drop it on a couch, or otherwise get that weight off your shoulder. Even if the bag isn’t left somewhere for convenience’s sake, it can feel strange and noticeable to keep that strap on our shoulder or across our body because nobody else is doing it. Normal, non-gun-carrying, non-paranoid people don’t insist on keeping their purses with them at every moment, but if we who keep guns in our purses don’t, we risk losing a lot more than just our wallets. Any firearm should have its own pocket that’s both accessible and easy to open. The opening should be large enough to fit not just your gun and not just your hand, but your hand fisted around the grip of your gun in a full firing grip. The other problem with carrying in a regular purse is that they generally swing around on a single strap. Whether slung over one shoulder or across the body diagonally, using short or long straps, purses move when we move — and not always in the same direction. Two issues result: The first is the classic purse snatch or pick. A bad guy comes along and cuts the strap or grabs the entire bag and slips away with it, or simply reaches inside and takes what they can. Because the purse swings around naturally, the wearer might not feel the theft at all. There are slash-proof purses and those with locking compartments, but they come with their own perils of being caught up in a purse snatching gone violent or being unable to access a gun in a locked compartment when in need. The movement of the purse can also make it difficult for a concealed carrier to consistently and reliably reach in and pull out their gun as the bag and its contents shift throughout the course of the day, let alone when in a fight for their lives. NOT JUST FOR THE 1990s Motorcycle riders often use leg bags as a way to organize and bring along small items like wallets and cell phones — and you can easily add a gun to that mix. Enter the hip bag. They’re a descendant of the fanny pack, that bastion of uncool dads and clueless tourists. By crossing over with current fashion and practical trends, they’ve turned the corner from nerdy and clueless to chic and in vogue. The bags themselves run the gamut of design from sleek leather to chunky canvas, with everything from fringe and studs to embroidery and logos. Some are just a simple pocket or two that can be zipped shut; others are much more complicated and use flaps, snaps, and Velcro along with zippers to give the wearer a way to carry a multitude of items. Their key feature is how they’re carried: with a strap around the waist, and usually, a strap secured around the thigh. In some cases, they’re convertible to a more traditional purse, but they’re meant to primarily be used completely hands-free and attention-free by being attached to the wearer, which turns out are two things to look for in a concealed carry bag. They aren’t for everyone, but there are certain types of people and looks where hip bags can fit in quite well, and not just for people who are looking for creative ways to carry guns. Motorcycle riders have leg bags as a way to organize and bring along small items like wallets and cell phones. Since they often don’t have much storage space on their bikes and their protective gear may not have enough pockets, leg bags are a way to secure those items in a way that’s easily accessible and won’t get in their way when bent over the handlebars of their bikes. Riders can even reach into their leg bags when seated on their bikes, but they don’t have to worry about the bag flapping around in the wind or flying off their bodies when they’re riding. Backpackers and outdoors types, meanwhile, have retaken the world of the fanny pack, discovering that their relatively low profiles and small sizes are perfect for short excursions requiring limited amounts of gear and water. You’ll find them as waist packs, and they don’t have the thigh strap mentioned earlier, but they’re often designed to carry more than just the contents of your pockets, both in terms of volume and weight. The wide, athletic belts that are part of these waist packs are comfortable and sturdy in ways that the touristy fanny packs we may remember from our youths or parents never could be. The attraction of extra cargo space without needing to keep track of it has even spilled over into the fashion world, particularly for individuals who are comfortable with expressing their unique style sense even if it isn’t exactly what you might see on celebrities and models everywhere. A quick search on sites like Pinterest or Etsy will show you all sorts of ideas on how they’re being styled without falling into the “tactical” look. See, it’s not that the idea of using an attached bag for a gun is entirely new: Maxpedition has famously been making the FatBoy Versipack for over a decade, for instance. These styles of bags have been bulky and masculine with MOLLE straps and other militaresque features. They work for the stated purpose of holding a gun without needing to hide it under clothing, but they were a flashing “gun here” sign in many settings, hardly a concealed carry bag. Now that regular, ordinary people, even fashionable people, wear hip bags and similar accessories, there are new options for carrying concealed firearms in an on-body bag that don’t look out of place. MIDDLE GROUND The same reasons they’re becoming more acceptable among non-gun people are why they can work as a middle ground between concealing a gun directly on body, underneath your clothing, and carrying an entirely separate bag. They can make it easier to conceal the gun because its lumpy weird shape is hidden in a bag that’s meant to stick out and hold things. Instead of making your clothes lie unevenly, your clothes will continue to fit perfectly, and you just need to match the hip bag to the rest of your look. And unlike a purse, you won’t be tempted to put down a concealed carry bag because it needs to be taken off entirely and, if properly adjusted with a reasonable amount of weight inside, will be comfortable enough that you won’t want to remove it constantly. That attachment to your body also keeps the bag and everything inside in a more stable position so that it’s easier and more efficient to get to anything you have inside, like a gun. Unlike a purse hanging from a strap on or across your shoulder, a classic hip bag is attached at your waist and likely to your thigh, so dropping your hand into it is mostly the same no matter how much you’ve been moving around. Since they’re still a bag, though, hip bags still require many of the same considerations that purses and other off-body carry methods have. It’s imperative that the gun has its own pocket accessible and easy to open. The opening should be large enough to fit not just your gun and not just your hand, but your hand fisted around the grip of your gun in a full firing grip. That way, when you go to draw your gun, you don’t have to wriggle it out with a compromised grip that can mean you’re in danger of dropping the gun or shooting it badly and missing the attacker you so desperately need to hit to protect yourself. It’s even better if that pocket has a holster for your gun secured inside. The holster will help keep the gun in a predictable orientation so that when you reach into the pocket, you know exactly where the gun will be inside it. It’ll also protect the trigger from being accidentally pulled by your hand digging around in the pocket, or by other items that may be inside other pockets of the hip bag. Even if that lip balm or pen are in a different pocket from your gun, they can still interact with the trigger if the fabric between them is too flimsy, or if you’re pressed up against something that pushes things around in just the wrong way. With the advantages of putting your hip bag-carried gun in a real holster or trigger guard, there’s no reason to take the safety risk of not having one. And while hip bags are intended to stay attached, you should always have a plan in mind to secure yours if you might need to take it off. They can be bulky and make it difficult for you to sit down in tight seats, and they can still bounce around enough that you might not want to leave it on when you’re being very active. And just like a purse, being in friendly environments like home (yours or a friend’s) make it socially awkward to keep your hip bag attached to you. The practical and social pressures to separate yourself from your bag can be strong — and reasonable. You could come up with arguments to keep your bag attached, but they might make you stand out, which might lead to someone paying more attention to you or suspecting that you’re carrying something especially valuable, gun or not. Either way, you should come up with a way to lock up the entire bag, and not just the gun pocket, if and when you have to remove it from your body. Making it difficult for an unauthorized person to reach in and just get the gun is a start, but won’t prevent them from stealing the entire bag and taking the time to get into that pocket later on. Worse, if that pocket is locked when you actually need your gun, you’ll waste precious time opening it and may not be able to draw it in time to defend yourself. In this way, a hip bag isn’t so much different from true off-body carry because it’s easily removable in a way that regular clothing isn’t. It’s easier to keep on you and takes away a lot of the downsides, but not every single one of them. LOOSE ROUNDS Even though we’re in a golden age of concealment knowledge and products, even when it’s possible to carry on-body, it’s not always simple and it’s not always preferred. Off-body carry seems simpler, but the many downsides may not outweigh the singular upside of not having to dress around the gun. Hip bags, though? They can be the perfect compromise solution since they’re worn, hands-free, but act as their own concealment mechanism. The only trick? Making sure that they fit your personal style and that you don’t forget some of the purse carry considerations that carry over because the gun won’t be attached directly to your body or your clothing. Pre-Order your copy of the RECOIL Guide to Concealed Carry at the Gun Digest Store. More on Concealed Carry Rethinking Concealed Carry. Holsters and Handguns Best 9mm Pistols for Self Defense. Unsung Heroes of the 9mm CCW Variety. GBRS Group x TXC Holsters: Carrying Forward. No Look? No Way: Looking your Pistol into the Holster. 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