Monday, October 21, 2013

Appendix-Inside The Waistband Carry: Practical vs Hype

I've been in the firearms community for well over six years. While appendix carry (the practice of carrying a firearm inside the waistband, forward of the hip bones) was around back then I couldn't give you the name of a single person I knew who carried that way. Then, again, perhaps my circle of gun-totting friends was a lot smaller back then.

Today, appendix carry (or AIWB) has risen in popularity and gained quite a foothold with many long-time shooters and trainers. The last two trainings I've attended had several AIWB shooters in them, my husband carries AIWB and several of the well-known instructors I have been following over the years carry AIWB.

AIWB is not a new method of carry by any means. For as long as people have been carrying guns they have been sticking them down the front of their pants. Hand a dummy gun to someone who's never carried a gun before in his or her life, tell them to hide it on their person and a good majority of the time you will see them attempt to AIWB carry it. It's even the preferred method of your average bad guy (sans the holster). It's a very logical place to carry and hide a firearm.

For a long time (and still in certain circles) the AIWB carry method has been demonized as unsafe or as a "gangsta" way to carry. It was purported that those with training and "in the know" carried behind the hip and only those who were careless and didn't mind being viewed as a "bad guy" carried AIWB.

But while the nay-sayers blasted well-meaning carriers with threats of blowing off manhood and bleeding to death from a negligent femoral artery shots, those who are willing to judge the method dispassionately and have confident handling of their firearms are finding it a valid and possibly ideal means of carry.

The benefits of AIWB have been well-established but in case you may have missed them here they are:

- Ease of access
Our arms, though capable of reaching behind our hip, are not naturally inclined to reach there. Our natural work space for our hands and arms is in front of our hip bones. We are strongest and fastest when we work in that area and we can better handle and access items kept in that area.

- Time
Because we are stronger and faster when dealing with things in our arms natural work zone (in front of the hip bones) it stands to reason that we can work things faster in that area as well. The draw (or presentation from the holster) is often faster when we only have to reach down a few inches vs back several inches. Many long-time shooters and competitors have reported faster draw times from appendix vs hip carry. Some have seen no or very little difference in time.

- Concealment
Greg Ellifritz illustrating poor concealment
carrying behind the hip on a bicycle

This seems to depend a lot on body type, gun carried and holster. While some find appendix carry to be far more concealable, others find it less concealable. Some find it more concealable in certain situations like bike riding where behind the hip carry would be far more pronounced. Others find it difficult to conceal double-stack firearms but not single-stack. Sometimes a thick holster can make concealment harder in AIWB vs behind the hip. It cannot be denied, however, that some people have far better success concealing AIWB than other carry methods.

This also applies to concealment of the draw stroke. It's a lot easier to sneak a gun out of the holster in the AIWB position than behind the hip.

- Comfort
Again, this seems to vary widely with body type and the type of gun carried along with holster selection. I've spoken to some that find AIWB to be extremely comfortable and some that find it extremely uncomfortable. One friend of mine finds behind the hip carry to mess with her gait and cause problems in her strong-side leg. She finds AIWB to be far more comfortable and easy on her legs because the weight of the firearm is more centrally located on her body. Some find that the muzzle of their firearm in AIWB will press uncomfortably in certain locations, especially when bending or sitting. For some this depends entirely on the size and length of the gun and holster.

- Ease of retention
Because the area in front of our hips is our natural work zone it is easily accessed by both of our hands. Because of that we can put two hands on a firearm that we are fighting to retain when it is carried in that area. From behind the hip we are limited to the hand closest to that firearm. We also have more strength when our hands are working in that natural work-zone vs stretched behind the hip.

- Ease of presentation
Anyone who has trained hard knows that in a fight for one's life it's very likely you may not be standing straight and in the ideal stance. You may have to draw from seated, from your back on the ground, from your side, etc. And, again, because your arms are working in a natural work zone they can better access an AIWB position than a behind the hip position from certain positions.

My attempt at concealing a double stack HK P2000SK AIWB
I don't like to give opinions about things until I've tried them myself and for a very long time I've been fooling around with AIWB.

I am a very small female and I like larger fighting guns (the Glock 19 being my regular carry gun). That particular combination does not seem to do be very conducive to AIWB. No matter how hard I tried I could not conceal a double-stack firearm AIWB. The thickness of the firearm and the holster would press out the front of my clothing and make me look at least a couple of months pregnant or clearly trying to conceal something large.

I was not willing to go to something so small as a .380 unless it was as a back up gun. My own personal standards are that my primary carry gun will be a 9mm, have a full size grip and good sights. Many of your pocket .380s obviously do not fit those criteria and finding a thin, single stack 9mm meant I had to give up the capacity I've grown to love in my 19.

Because carrying behind my hip had never been a problem for me I never prioritized AIWB carry.

Glock 19, 4 o'clock
S&W Shield, AIWB
at ECQ
But after making a plea on Facebook to try AIWB again, an instructor friend of mine and gunsmith, David Bowie, from Bowie Tactical Concepts and instructor at the Tactical Defense Institute offered to let me borrow his S&W M&P Shield in 9mm and AIWB holster for the duration of the Extreme Close Quarters gunfighting class I took the first week of Oct.

I arrived on the first day and he had the gun and holster waiting for me. My immediate instinct was to put the firearm dead-center on the front of my body, right below my belly button and directly beneath my belt buckle.

After getting the gun and holster on I covered it with my shirt and went to show the instructors, Greg Ellifritz and David Bowie. While I was already seeing a huge improvement in my ability to conceal the single-stack 9mm they helped me adjust it to the right of my belly button and into the natural hollow just inside my strong-side hip bone. I was concerned that the grip would print more in that location but it was not an issue.

I was also immediately impressed with how comfortable it was. The gun was short and small enough not to press on the crease of my thigh when I sat or dig into my ribs when I bent over. Immediately, I ran through some deep squats, bends and twists to check for comfort and found it to be exceptionally comfortable.

I definitely wanted to try this new method of carry throughout the course of the class, however, it was not how I normally carried. It seemed counter-productive to do a whole class with a method of carry and gun I didn't use so I kept my Glock 19 behind my hip where it normally would sit. I decided to run the whole weekend with both guns, splitting each drill and exercise between the two guns and carry methods.

The holster I was using was a modified Comptac 2 o'clock holster that had the sweat shield cut off and a c-clip instead of the loop. It was a decent holster and did well but the c-clip was not as secure as I would have liked due to it being a little big for my belt. The gun tended to tip in throughout the weekend and while it was never a problem I found myself having to readjust after any rigorous activity. I don't think I would have had that problem had my belt and the c-clip been better fitted to one another.

Yes, I looked a little paranoid running both guns all weekend (including spare magazines for each and a TDI knife) but it was a great experience!

Bowie's modified CompTac 2 o'clock
with an M&P
Before class started I took Greg aside and asked him to give me a really quick crash course in drawing and holstering from AIWB so I did it safely as, though I'd tried AIWB before, I'd never actually done live-fire from the position nor had any real-world experience with it.

He reminded me that the most dangerous and important part of safely carrying AIWB was re-holstering (which is true of behind the hip carry as well). Because of where the gun is located, a careless reholster could mean a bullet in the inside thigh with potential of hitting the femoral artery. I also wanted to make sure that I didn't have the tendency to draw the firearm and sweep everyone to my left by pulling the gun in an awkward manner before pointing it straight down range. Greg watched my draw a couple of times, patted me on the back and called it good and we started class.

Getting to work both methods of carry simultaneously allowed me to immediately compare their methods. Interestingly, the hardest part of the weekend was remembering which spare magazine to reach for when I needed to reload with either firearm. There were at least two times I tried inserting a Glock 19 magazine into the the single-stack Shield.

The ECQ class was a great environment wherein to try AIWB for the first time and to compare it to the traditional behind the hip style of carry. In addition to shooting (which can be the least difficult part of using a firearm in self defense) we worked gun retention, drawing and shooting from unusual positions, one-handed operation, contact shooting, fighting to the gun and so much more. There really was no better way to directly compare both methods of carry.

I started immediately liking AIWB carry. It was easier to defend and very comfortable. It was concealable and the draw was quick and easy. I have strong confidence in my gun handling so I did not have a moment of fear or hesitation on either the presentation from or return to the holster.

I did not, however, like my depleted ammo supply. I found it very frustrating to have to reload the Shield so often and at one point, while clearing a jam in the Shield, I discarded a partially full magazine, reached for the spare and realized that had been my spare. I quickly switched to my Glock but felt that rush of heat knowing had that been a real encounter and I was limited to the one, low-capacity gun, I'd be out.

I liked shooting the Shield. It was comfortable and it was accurate and it had already had a trigger job so it was just as good to shoot as my Glock. It's low-profile top did not lend itself to easy one-handed operations like racking the slide but a new pair of rear sights would fix that. My Glock felt more familiar every time it was in my hand solely for the reason it's been my training and carry gun for far more years than the Shield. Even so, I could see myself picking up a Shield in the near future.

When Sunday rolled around and it was time for the force-on-force scenarios with Greg I offhandedly joked that I would continue to carry both guns. At which point Greg said, "Good, twice and many chances to disarm you."

I realized that it might be time to choose a single method of carry. I thought about it hard and, after sizing Ellifritz up a few times, opted for the Shield in the AIWB position.

During the first scenario he didn't attempt to go for my gun. We ended up on the ground with myself on my back underneath of him. I kicked him off of me, draw the Shield from AIWB and simulated shooting him in the chest and head.

I watched the video later and wondered if the Glock carried behind the hip would have been easier or similar in that particular position.

I had good distance. I had pushed him away with my feet. I would have had to have rolled a bit to my side to gain access to my Glock but I don't think it would have been much of a hindrance. I believe I would have been able to get a similar shot off had I been carrying behind the hip vs AIWB.

Below you can watch the first scenario.

In the second scenario we started on the ground with Greg on top of me. The point of this exercise was to illustrate that even if you have a lethal force tool and are completely justified in using lethal force, you may have to fight quite a bit before you can access that tool.

Greg later admitted to cheating. The rules were that he was only supposed to go for your gun if he saw it but he decided to go for my gun anyway. He didn't remember which carry method I chose and was reaching behind my hip. Watching the video later there is at least one moment where he probably would have been able to take my gun if I'd been carrying behind the hip vs AIWB. Carrying AIWB I was able to use his body as a means of retention. When I felt him trying to reach for my gun I would drop my hips below his or lay on top of him, pinning my gun between us so that he couldn't access it. It worked very well and even though I wasn't able to access the gun during the fight, I was able to get to my knife and cut him in the groin and get out of the situation.

I thought long and hard how that scenario would have been different had I been carrying behind the hip. He may have been able to take my Glock away from me easier but I may have been more aware of that and tried harder to keep it away from him instead of finding security in his inaccessibility to my AIWB carried Shield.

Below is the video of the second scenario.

The bottom line is that I felt AIWB would be easier to retain and that is why I chose that method of carry when I ran those scenario vs behind the hip.

If I could conceal my Glock 19 AIWB I would switch methods of carry tomorrow. I have been convinced of the superiority of that method for certain situations, particularly retaining the firearm and I see no benefit of behind the hip carry over AIWB other than possible concealment and comfort issues with less-than-ideal body types. 

For me, my hesitation rests only in the fact that it would require me to downgrade to a lower capacity firearm to successfully conceal AIWB and I am very hesitant to give up my 16 rounds of 9mm in a gun I know I can conceal well behind the hip for 7 or 8 carried AIWB. I have not been able to decide if the benefits of AIWB outweigh the drawbacks of the low capacity.

I find what Todd Green said in this article regarding capacity to be quite accurate regarding my own feelings: 
Bullets are opportunities. They’re options. Having more of them is always better than having less, even if you don’t need them.
I may find myself switching between the modes of carry in the near future as I am saving up for a S&W M&P Shield. And when I get said gun I will be carrying it AIWB. Who knows, maybe I'll carry both. There really is no quicker reload than grabbing a fresh gun!


  1. I have tried this method, and by tried I mean months of carry. It undoubtably has advantages, but ultimately, it doesn't work for me.

    For me the issue is concealment. I certainly don't mean to be contrary, and I understand that printing is often not as big of an issue as people think (they see something under your shirt, but it could be a cell phone or anything and people generally don't give it a second thought), but, when I first watched the above videos when you posted them on Facebook, without even knowing what they were about, the first thing I noticed was the Gun.

    This too was my problem. When I cary behind the hip, I get a little printing when I bend over, but nothing like I get when standing strait when I AIWB carry . Having said all that, the 15 lb. I have gained in the last two years may solve that problem. Maybe I should revisit it.

    1. That shirt was a very bad concealment shirt. On day 1 I was wearing a much "looser" fitting shirt and it concealed better. Because it was Sunday and the Packers were playing and I wasn't going to get to watch it I still had to show my Green Bay pride, no matter how terrible of a cover garment the shirt
      I could easily have concealed the Shield AIWB much better with a button up shirt or something similar that was a little less fitted.
      My biggest complaint with behind the hip is when I bend over to deal with my kids. I feel like my gun is REALLY exposed. I'm always feeling back to make sure my cover garment hasn't ridden up, etc. And even if it hasn't, while I'm squatting down tying shoes, whatever, it's pretty understandable that I'm printing. I have my ways to avoid detection... Purse/bag slung over that shoulder works well, but not having to worry about that would be GREAT!

    2. Yes, I have the same problem dealing with my kids (I travel for work, so when I am home I am "Mr Mom"). It has forced me to have much better posture and squat, rather then bend. I did like Appendix carry, I just couldn't make it work. If you can, it definitely has it's advantages. Great article.

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  3. I have been able to AIWB with my Glock 26 and certain shirts, but I am not nearly as small as you are, and it is not easy for me by any means. I also have to tuck the gun deeper than I would like in order to conceal it, which makes it a bit more difficult to draw. I tried with a TactiPac FusionPac. It's near the beginning: . It would be hard for me to be ok with adding that many pounds to my frame for every day. I had thought about the Shield for a while - I didn't realize it had so few rounds.

  4. Great analysis of AIWB! Your body type and type of holster definitely have a lot to do with the comfort and concealability of the whole thing. I've been carrying AIWB for quite a few years now, and still prefer it over anything else. I carry a Glock 17 normally, sometimes a Glock 19. If you can dress around it, it's a great carry method. If not, don't sweat it. We carried IWB behind the hip for a long time, and guess what? We made it work.

    1. Yeah.. that's my theory right now. Lots of people make it work. I can, too!

  5. This is an excellent article. If I may offer two minor corrections, "gate" should be "gait" (unless it really did cause trouble with her fence gate, in which case, it's correct :) ), and "Good, twice and many chances to disarm you", the "and" should be "as".

    (Sorry, my mom was an English major and editor, and I seemed to have inherited some of that, along with being OCD).

  6. I carry at 3 o'clock most of the time, either IWB or OWB. However, in the summer time, I carry a G-23 AIWB in draw-string shorts and a t-shirt. NO ONE can tell I'm carrying. I could very easily carry a G-22 or 17 and still be able to conceal it just fine.

    AIWB isn't the tool, it's A tool.

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  8. This is very insightful article, and very well written. Also it is balanced: thank you for the candid pros and cons. I learned a lot; thanks for posting, and I'll read it a second time. Best, Dan

  9. I've been carrying AIWB for 15 years now. Started before it was cool. It was the only method I found that worked consistently with my curvy female shape when I was heavier than I am now. I use a Glock 26. Might be easier to conceal a flatter gun, but I like my Glock and it works for me. I've done it with the G19 at times, but when I move to the G19, I lose about a third of my current clothing choices.

    Reholstering safety tip: when putting the gun into an AIWB holster, lean back and consciously guide the muzzle away from your core. Avoid looking down when you holster appendix, because looking down naturally angles the muzzle into your core.

    1. If I take my gun out of the hoslter while it is on, I always take my holster off, put the gun in, then put the holster back on. Just a habit I got into when I first started carrying:)

  10. I have been carrying AIWB for about 10 years, but I can only manage to conceal a small frame like a Sig P938 or Kahr PM9. I lose capacity, but I can conceal easier. I also live in an open carry friendly state and have a job that allows open carry, so I OC my Glock 19 everyday too:)

  11. Hey!!!! I had suggested to my friend for these tips and he is happy. thanks for this information about concealed holsters.