1911 Carry Options and Techniques

posted on October 26, 2010

Facts are facts. A full-size, steel frame 1911 with an eight-round magazine weighs about 2.75 pounds. That's a lot of weight to carry around all day. Aluminum-framed 1911s are about a half-pound lighter, but are still as heavy as a quart of oil. 1911s are not just heavy, they're long too.

Of course a 1911's size is part of what makes it easy to shoot. The pistol's length and sight radius helps with sight alignment and its weight helps dampen recoil. Just as importantly, the weight is distributed evenly between the frame and slide. This makes the 1911 one of the few balanced handguns. For these and other reasons, the 1911 is one of the best fighting pistols ever designed.

Truth is, it doesn't matter how great a handgun is if you don't have it with you when you need it. If you expect your 1911 to save your life you must carry it. To keep the toting of your 1911 from becoming a chore, you'll need to find a carry method that best suits you, the activities you engage in and the way you dress.

Because of its size there are really only five ways to carry a 1911 concealed; inside the pants, on a belt holster, with a shoulder holster, in a specially designed garment or in an off/on-body tote of some sort. I've carried 1911s for almost 30 years and have learned a thing or two. Here's my take on these carry options.

Inside the Pants

For me this is the most comfortable and concealable way to carry a 1911. With 3/4s of the pistol tucked inside your pants, all you need is an un-tucked shirt for complete concealment. An inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster is the best way to pull this off, but I still sometimes just shove a naked gun behind my pants and belt, especially if I'm only going to be out for a short spell.

This is known as Mexican Carry, and while it is not very secure, it is comfortable. Alternatively, you can use a string holster. This is a deep cover technique that supposedly originated with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Even though it looks cheap (and it is), it is comfortable and secure.

Belt Holsters

In my experience, belt holsters are the most comfortable way to carry a large handgun like the 1911. They're also the most difficult to conceal. Your options are strong side, cross draw or small-of-the-back. If you stand all the time, a small-of-the-back holster is very comfortable. If you think you may have to draw your handgun while seated, the cross draw is the answer.

While I often wear a belt holster on the range on in competition, I hardly ever use one for concealed carry because for complete concealment, you need a long coat or a shirt that hangs so low it looks like a dress.

There are several types of belt holsters to choose from. I've found the most comfortable to be the thermoplastic-paddle or belt-slot holsters, but because these push the handgun out from the body, they are more difficult to conceal. A well-designed pancake holster will pull the pistol into your side. This keeps it from printing but can be uncomfortable if you're very active. To keep from wearing an excessively long cover garment, choose a high-ride model.

Shoulder Holsters

I've tried wearing shoulder holsters, but have found them extremely uncomfortable. I feel like I am wearing a backpack. They are, however, a great way to conceal a pistol as large as a 1911, especially if you wear a suit and never take your jacket off. If this style of dress meets your needs and you give the shoulder holster a try, consider a double magazine pouch on the off-side to help balance the load. Galco makes exceptionally well designed shoulder holsters.

Specialty Garments

More and more, we are seeing clothing that is purpose built to conceal handguns. Thunder Wear—a girdle type holster you wear behind your trousers—was one of the first. I know an instructor at Gunsite who swears by this method. I tried it once and felt like I was wearing a chastity belt. Your mileage may vary.

5.11 makes a great moderate to cold-weather jacket system called the Aggressor Parka. It has hidden pockets with a unique holster system that locks in place via the hook-and-loop fastener system. If you know you are going to be outside in temperatures of 50 degrees or cooler, this is a great carry option.

Another unique 5.11 product is their Holster Shirt. This is a t-shirt like garment made from moisture-wicking 80-percent polyester and 20-percent spandex. It fits tight and has underarm pockets large enough to conceal a 1911. These pockets hold the handgun tight against your body and are easy to access if you combine the Holster Shirt with one of 5.11's Covert Casual shirts. The Covert Casual shirt looks like your everyday button-up, but actually fastens with snaps so you can rip it open and grab your handgun.

Off Body Totes

You can also carry a 1911 in a briefcase or a man purse. I'm not fond of either because if I think carrying a handgun is necessary, I want it on my body. And, I don't think I'm enough in touch with my feminine side to pull off the man purse. Fanny packs are also popular for concealed carry, but one large enough for a 1911 can be uncomfortable due to its size and the weight of the pistol.

In the Car

Regardless of the carry method I employ, when I'm in a vehicle, I generally unholster the handgun. This may not seem smart, but I don't throw it in the floorboard or lay it on the seat. I've installed one of Blackhawk's SERPA Quick Disconnect attachments to the backside of the console in my Durango. It lets me lock in a SERPA holster, which holds the pistol in place no matter how rough the road gets.

You Still Have to Practice

Choose the carry method that bests suits you and your lifestyle, then practice with that holster. Don't just go to the range and shoot—work on presenting the gun to the target like you would if it were a real threat. If you find you can't do this smoothly and quickly, you may need to try another carry method or technique. Comfortable concealed carry of a 1911 is important, but it still has to be practical. 


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