Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cold Weather Carry

I live in Iowa. I grew up in Wisconsin. I'm also 100 lbs of skin and bones. I'm also one of those unfortunate people who can freeze an Eskimo out of an igloo with her feet even if I wear socks and slippers.

In short, I know cold.

That's a lot of layers.
In the winter I wear more layers than my grandmother's rainbow jello. Because of this I've discovered that getting to a concealed carry firearm under all those layers can be difficult.

It all started at IDPA last year. It was cold. Really cold. I was wearing enough layers to keep me comfortable but I noticed an interesting trend. Even though all shots had to be taken from concealment, right before shooters came to the firing line they would unzip their coats, take off their gloves or additional sweaters and otherwise get themselves in the most favorable position to draw from concealment. Make no mistake about it. I was doing it myself. It is a game and everyone wants the best chances of winning. Even with all that prep the cold weather gear still slowed plenty of people down.

Once the stage was over you would see people putting gloves and sweaters back on, putting on their gloves and zipping their coats back up while they waited for the next stage.

Most people aren't standing on ranges for several hours in the freezing cold. Lots of people do run around with their coats unzipped, no gloves or multiple layers to fight with. But that's not always the case. If it's particularly cold people wear gloves and zip coats. They wear layers and many don't consider what that means for drawing their firearms.

So, I set out to find a good way to deal with cold weather attire and carry.

The Pocket Gun
The hands-down fastest and most practical means of cold weather carry is the pocket gun carried in your coat pocket. You have almost immediate access and can even walk around with your hand on your gun. Coat pockets are usually larger and can accommodate a variety of guns and give you time to access your primary carry gun if you choose to carry both.

Be sure you are following all of the rules of pocket carry such as getting a pocket holster, making sure the pocket is empty of any and all other debris before putting the gun in the pocket and making sure your pocket gun is snag free.

Not everyone can carry in a coat pocket, however. Some coats don't have pockets (ridiculous, I know), some pockets (particularly pockets on women's coats) can be too small or people may only have one gun that won't fit in a pocket. Whatever your reason, if you can't pocket carry be aware that cold weather gear is likely going to slow down your access to your gun but there are ways to maximize access and still stay warm.

Concealment Isn't the Problem
A benefit of cold weather carry is that the larger coats, shirts and sweaters allow for better concealment of a larger variety of guns. The only problems can be if you go somewhere hot and want to shed layers or if you put on so many layers you significantly down your access to that gun.

Before you leave the house make sure you can be comfortable at room temperatures so you're not the odd man out sweating in a heavy jacket because you carried a gun you couldn't conceal without it. If you choose to pocket carry make sure you have a plan for stowing that gun or transitioning it to your body if you are going to end up putting your coat in an unsecured closet, etc.
Coat and Vest: Dressed for the Range

Waistband Carry
Second to pocket carry, waistband carry seems to give the best access and speed.

To test this theory I met my good friend, fellow training junkie and Krav instructor, Dave, at the shooting range. We ran a total of eight very simple scenarios. With a shot timer we timed how long it took to draw and put one good hit on target about four yards away from concealment with a coat on.

The scenarios were as follows:
  • Draw and shoot (D/S) from Appendix Inside the WaistBand (AIWB) with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from AIWB with coat on and unzipped but concealed under shirt. 
  • D/S from strong-side Outside the WaistBand (OWB) holster with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from strong-side OWB with coat on and unzipped.
  • D/S from OWB positioned under an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from OWB positioned over an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from the flashbang bra holster under a shirt and coat (zipped and unzipped). No, my Krav instructor did not do the Flashbang portion of these scenarios. And because he didn't have an additional cover garment his shooting OWB was included in "OWB over an additional layer" since he didn't have to get under two cover garments.

We also had very different coats. His was more of a cotton jacket with a zipper that came down a little lower than his waist. My coat was an insulated Columbia coat that came down to below my hip. When zipped mine was considerably tighter on me than his was around him. Even accounting for the differences in coat styles it was still slower to draw from his zipped coat than unzipped or my zipped vs unzipped coat and the numbers seemed to represent that between the both of us and our averages.

It's also important to note that I've spent eight years drawing and shooting from behind my hip and only about two weeks and four range days (max) drawing and shooting from AIWB. I've spent many more days drawing from the flashbang than AIWB. Conversely, Dave spends almost no time shooting OWB from behind the hip or strong-side and the majority of his practice and training is from AIWB. We hoped that mixing the data would cancel out any biases for any one particular form of carry.

We also performed each scenario without any practice sessions to keep the data in its rawest form. This is the beginning of our cold weather season. We were both pretty slow while adjusting to our cover garments. Our times improved as we continued to draw and shoot but we limited ourselves to 5 shots per scenario.

Here are the results:

The fastest draw with shot on target was with an OWB holster over a vest (or in Dave's case, over shirt) and drawn from behind the strong-side hip (2.319 seconds) with the coat unzipped. It was a half second (0.669) faster than the next fastest method which was AIWB with the coat unzipped (2.988). Concealment was still a requirement for AIWB, however. I used an insulated vest as my cover garment. Dave used his t-shirt.

When the coat was zipped more than a second (1.379) was added to the OWB draw and less than half a second (0.416) was added to AIWB for a total average draw time of 3.404 seconds.

The difference in drawing between AIWB and OWB with a zipped vs unzipped coat makes AIWB a little more consistent across both scenarios. That's important if you live in an area where you may need to zip your coat in order to stay warm. The fastest draw and shoot time from a zipped coat was AIWB at 3.404 seconds.
As you can see, when we timed the flashbang with a coat unzipped the times were within a second (give or take a tenth here or there) even though it was still the longest "unzipped" time of 3.386 seconds. Zipping the coat slowed the down the flashbang draw by nearly two seconds (1.928) for a total of 5.314 seconds. The first couple of draws I did from the flashbang with a zipped coat over top were over six seconds long. By the third draw I figured out that unzipping the coat and drawing was about a second faster and safer and it brought down the average draw time. Taking the time to unzip the coat was not a scenario I found favorable, however.

Gun Between Garments

The other unique scenario we tried was adding an additional garment (one or both used as a concealment garment). Many people wear additional vests or sweaters underneath of coats and jackets and I wanted to see the difference between putting the gun between those garments or underneath of all of them. Drawing and shooting from under two garments with OWB holster with the coat zipped was coming in at 4.288 seconds. It was a half second (0.59) slower than drawing and shooting from the holster under the zipped coat and not under the second garment.

The difference between the jacket being zipped and unzipped was almost a second and a half (1.379) with an average draw and shoot time of 3.166 seconds. 

Towards the end of our five draws both of us were getting around 2 second shoot times with AIWB and OWB carry but when adding the extra cover garment or the flashbang the times stayed solidly in the 3+ second times. I have no doubt that both of us could get those times down with practice but one of the reasons we chose to do it cold was because a lot of people don't practice drawing in different/additional attire and I wanted to reflect that in the data.

Vehicle Carry in the Cold
Where AIWB started to really pull out in front was when drawing from a seated position or in a vehicle while in your cold weather gear. Behind the hip or strong-side carry provided very limited access from a seated, car position with a coat on. Even with the coat unzipped it was a challenge to get to the gun even when I took the seatbelt off.
Behind the hip carry in a vehicle

Seatbelt off, accessing behind the hip

With AIWB, however, I was able to put the gun over a vest and drape my coat over it. Even with the seatbelt on it was far more accessible than behind the hip.

AIWB carry in a vehicle

What It Means
Dave and I are pretty regular folks trying something relatively new to the both of us. We produced our own unique numbers. If you were to run similar scenarios you may get different numbers based on your experience and training. On the surface, if zipping the coat was something that was never required, it would appear that strong-side carry with no additional cover garment was the fastest way to draw and fire from concealment under a coat. However, if the coat ever needs to be zipped then AIWB carry shows a time advantage. If you're looking for the most consistent drawing time with a zipped or unzipped coat AIWB pulls out as being a little faster.

For many reasons people are not able to pull off AIWB carry. If that's the case behind the hip is certainly viable. If carrying behind the hip I would modify my carry in such a way as to attempt to eliminate the need for zipping my coat or try my hardest to find a way to pocket carry. That may mean wearing an insulated vest and making sure the additional garments are securely tucked behind the gun for best access (as seen in the image above). I particularly love the insulated vest because I can shed by coat when getting warm but stay very toasty even with my coat unzipped. It's been a good addition as far as my own personal carry is concerned.

AIWB under vest
If I wear a dark colored shirt I can also get away with keeping the vest unzipped and have an almost as much instant access as open carry even carrying AIWB. It seems to be the best all-around option for me. If that were not an option I would likely go back to IWB behind the hip carry with the same type of cover garment. This type of outfit would also give the most concealment and access for a specialty holster like the flashbang while still attempting to stay fairly warm.

If you do wear a specialty holster, get your coat on and go shooting. Again, with practice you might make something work out but it's worth it to go out to the range with a shot timer and see what happens with your own gun and your own clothing options.

The Other Stuff
Something we didn't test was the addition of gloves, etc. You could go crazy adding additional variables into the mix. It stands to reason, however, that one would do well to do a few practice sessions with gloves on. You'd be surprised how many gloves won't fit into trigger guards or how they might get hung up in some of the controls.

Also, in the interest of having the most access to their guns some people dress lighter than they should for cold weather. If you are constantly in and out of stores or just going from a warm car to a warm office you may be tempted to leave the heavy coat at home. In emergencies extreme temperatures can be deadly. Even if you don't wear the coat all the time at least bring it with you. You're far more likely to get into a cold weather emergency than need a gun. Not having adequate protection from the elements (particularly if you live in the northern states) can be dangerous. You can have the best of both worlds.

How do you make cold weather carry work?


  1. When I was an agent not far from you (in a large city on the shore of Lake Michigan) I tried a couple of things you might try:
    1. Pocket carry. I carried a short K-frame revolver in my outside pocket. Unfortunately, if you don't already have a short K-frame, they're hard to come by. A J-frame or a Ruger LCR or SP101 will work, too.
    2. A shoulder holster. I could carry a full-size gun (4-inch revolver or Glock 17-sized auto) in a shoulder holster under the coat. I preferred a horizontal rig like the Galco; some of my coworkers used vertical rigs. A lot of winter coats have both zippers and snaps; we closed the coat with the snaps at the top and bottom and left enough snaps undone in the middle to reach in and withdraw the weapon.
    One caveat with a shoulder holster: Wear a vest or sweater over it so you can take your coat off in a restaurant.

  2. Even with all that prep the cold weather gear still slowed plenty of ... icoldweathergear.blogspot.com