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Carrying a handgun for self-defense entails more than just the decision to “pack some heat.” In addition to knowing the laws, selecting the right gun to carry and getting some training, you need to decide how you will carry.

There are two basic modes of carry: One mode is on the body—typically in an inside- or outside-the-waistband holster. I don’t want to discount an ankle or shoulder holster, which can still be viable methods of carry in some circumstances.

The second method is off-body, which is what I will cover here. (Remember: When carrying any weapon, be sure to abide by all laws.)


When choosing to carry off-body, the method is the first to consider; the second is what type of container is best suited that still allows quick access to your firearm. The advantage of carrying off-body is that you are less likely to “print” as you might when trying to carry when wearing light clothes. Off-body carry also allows you to possibly carry an additional, larger gun, compared to the one you might carry on the body. Plus, you can carry extra ammo, a light, TASER or any other additional tool to use in self-defense.

Gun Tote’n Mamas provides a wide selection of purses made to hold your firearm while still being fashionable and not looking tactical. Each of these is made with off-body concealed carry in mind.


When carrying OTB, there are some key variables to consider—

  • Carry your handgun in the same container all the time—the one you trained with. Don’t switch up, because it will confuse your muscle memory.
  • Always keep it within arm’s reach. It does no good if you can’t reach it. And, you should be aware of where it is at all times.
  • No one, especially children, should have access to it … ever!
  • Train with your off-body carry method with the same vigor and methodology you would use to train with your holster.

“Choosing how to carry off-body can be as daunting as carrying on the body—maybe even more so because of the vastly different ways and containers for each way.”


Choosing how to carry off-body can be as daunting as carrying on the body—maybe even more so because of the vastly different ways and containers for each way.

Perhaps the most common way for women who opt to off-body carry will be a purse. This is a viable option, but there are many factors to consider. The first one I always recommend is that if you carry in a purse, get one that is purpose-built. The purse should be made with a separate pocket that is easily accessible and provides a retaining system for your weapon, along with any extras (such ammo, light, knife or OC spray). If the retaining system does not cover the trigger, add a holster or choose a different bag.

Added considerations are steel cables that run through the straps to prevent someone from cutting them to snatch the purse. If you choose this method of off-body carry, make sure to maintain awareness of the purse—and don’t ever allow others, including curious children, access to the purse! There have been cases of children rummaging through purses, only to come across the handgun; and then, tragic things happen. Be responsible if you are going to carry.

Selecting the right weapon can provide you with a great deal of firepower, should the need arise. Here, the 5.11 AMP bag has plenty of room to hold a collapsed HK233.


Another reason I say to get a purpose-built purse is that you might have to shoot a hole through it if you aren’t able to get your firearm out in time. You won’t feel as badly shooting a hole through one of these purses as you might with your Coach or Kate Spade purse.

In fact, this is an option you should definitely train on. Shooting through a bag or even a jacket pocket has its own dangers. With a semiauto, there might not be enough space to cycle; or, pushing the barrel on the bag surface could put the gun out of battery. Additionally, depending on what material your bag is made of, the powder burning out of the barrel could be an issue.

If you opt for a backpack to carry your EDC, the Discreet Operators Backpack from Cameleon Bags has plenty of room for your computer and EDC essentials, along with a separate gun pocket with right- and left-handed entry. (Photo: Cameleon Bags)


The second-most-common method will be a backpack. Again, there are untold numbers of purpose-built ones out there that have separate pockets made for handguns. If they don’t, they have MOLLE straps that allow for attaching a good holster to the inside.

As I mentioned above regarding purses: Maintain control! An added feature for backpacks is adding either soft body armor, armor plates or both. For a minimal investment, you can slide in some level III protection. What I like best about off-body carry with a purse or backpack is that even if you carry on your body, you can also carry a bigger gun in your OTB pack, along with some additional essentials that might be difficult to carry under your clothing without them being noticed or being uncomfortable.

The Aphaea handbag from Cameleon Bags is both fashionable and functional. The concealed-carry pocket is located on the back and is accessible from either the left or right side. It is large enough to hold a full-sized gun. (Photo: Cameleon Bags)


There were many times while overseas during my military career that I had to carry off-body while in civilian clothing. In those cases, tactics had to change in order to have quick access to a weapon.

If you are going to carry off-body, you need to understand that your tactics for self-defense will need to adapt to that method: It will take you longer to get to your weapon; it will be more likely that you are going to telegraph your intentions; and you now have an extra concern of the bag during possible hand-to-hand combat that could precede the need for deadly force.

“If you are going to carry off-body, you need to understand that your tactics for self-defense will need to adapt to that method.”


Regardless of how you carry, realistic practice is important. If your local range won’t let you train for these types of scenarios, find one that does—preferably with supervision and on a closed area to prevent accidents.

Do plenty of dry-fire training leading up to your live-fire training. The last thing you want when drawing your handgun from a purse is to have Jolly Ranchers melted onto the rear sight or lipstick in the trigger well. The same goes for backpacks: A pen or pencil stuck in the barrel will hinder the draw … and do worse if you fire it.

For added protection, you can add soft or hard armor to your pack. It is lightweight but still provides protection for your vitals. Here, Bluestone Safety Products makes an insert that can provide Level IIIA protection. An added bonus: It’s made in the U.S.A.

Finally, once you draw your gun, you can always use the OTB container as a distraction by throwing it at your assailant to give you more time to ready your aim. As I mention often: Train as if your life depends on it!

About the Author

Brian Berry is a retired Army Special Forces Command sergeant major. He is a former Special Forces weapons sergeant and has multiple combat tours under his belt. Brian is the co-founder of Spartan Defensive Concepts, at which he teaches concealed carry and defensive marksmanship courses. Brian retired in 2014 and is now a consultant currently working for the Special Operations community.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.