Every-Day Carry (EDC) of personal protection tools is a highly individualized subject. EDC is often developed around specific mission requirements, personal experience, previous training and environment. How and why a law enforcement officer carries tools is quite different than how and why a citizen may carry tools. I hope to explain the benefits and efficacy of off-centerline carry of primary tools for personal protection.
For the purposes of this article, off-centerline carry is defined as carriage of a primary personal protection tool slightly off the centerline of the body — usually, but not always, around the waistline. Examples, using a clock face for reference, would include carriage of a tool inside or outside the waistband at the one o’clock, two o’clock, 10 or 11 o’clock positions, in front of the hips.
I break EDC tools and support gear into a hierarchy:
* Primary – Firearms, knives: on or in front of hips.
* Secondary – Extra ammunition, illumination tools: on or in front of hips.
* Tertiary – Personal emergency medical, phone, other: behind hip or in cargo pocket.
It is important to take a few important elements of EDC into consideration: personal comfort, accessibility and applicability.
Comfort comes first because humans are lazy animals and if something is uncomfortable, no matter the utility, it will remain in the drawer or on the nightstand once the novelty has worn off. Having had this discussion with individuals who carry full-time, some feel that off-centerline carry of a handgun or what is sometimes referred to as Appendix-Inside Waistband Carry (A-IWB) is too uncomfortable. However, like anything worth having, it requires an open mind and a little work. A few considerations if you are contemplating off-centerline carry:
1. If you have so much frontal real estate that you cannot see your shoes, off-centerline carry is not for you. Health and fitness levels are more important at this point.
2. Off-centerline carry is not for those who are inflexible and will only carry a full-size pistol. If that is you, read no further.
3. Like many things in life, change is scary, and there is an adjustment period before you become comfortable with this method.
4. Sitting for long periods of time or riding in a car are not problems if you can conform to 1, 2 and 3 above.
Accessibility follows a very close second to comfort. No matter the tool, if it cannot be accessed under duress, it is useless. This is where off-centerline carry really shines. Every day we work with our hands, performing numerous jobs in front of us, close to our torso, within our anatomic work zone. We are very efficient here, strong and comfortable. How many times have you tried to write on a piece of paper at arm’s length or type on a keyboard that is too far away? Not easy or comfortable, is it?
So why is it that the most common location to carry our primary weapon is on or behind the hip, outside of our anatomic work zone?
Because that’s the way it’s always been done?
Maybe because that method is a carry-over from law enforcement, where officers are required to carry on the hip? Where do undercover officers and federal agents most frequently carry? Not on the hip, but usually close to centerline or A-IWB. Which group of law enforcement officers mentioned above most resembles a citizen’s daily lifestyle?
What about safety? The most common time for a negligent discharge to occur is going into and coming out of the holster. This may be another reason hip carry is so prominently advocated for beginning shooters. If a discharge occurs on the hip, chances of a round impacting a vital area are low. Off-centerline carry may direct a discharge into the groin and femoral area, a serious wound. That, and not many people like having a 9mm, .38 or .45 pointing at their groin and genitals. Off-centerline carry requires a different mindset, confidence in the applicability of this methodology, and proficient gun handling.
What about pistol size? With technological advancements over the last 10 to 15 years, many compact and subcompact handguns have become available and gaining in popularity for concealed carry. With the exception of snubnose revolvers, these alternatives were not as readily available in such a wide array of models in the past.
How about holsters and holster designs? Cross-draw holsters have been available since the Civil War and are common in various regions for larger-framed firearms. The cross-draw made off-centerline carry more comfortable, because the larger frame and barrel can lie within the hip-flexor crease, allowing ready access to the firearm with either hand.
What are you carrying and why? Everyone has their reasons and mission profiles. As a citizen with a concealed carry permit, I want and need to be as low profile as possible. I need to be able to navigate through and within most common environments, including open parking lots, cramped restaurants, and public gatherings. I need to be able to move fast and access my tools in compressed and confined spaces, possibly against multiple adversaries. These are all elements to consider when setting up EDC gear. Another consideration is the potential legal consequences the tools carried may have if something happens and you are detained and questioned by law enforcement. What you carry needs to be applicable to your personal situation, on the job or off.
Compare and Contrast
Considering all these questions and observations, let’s look at hip and behind-the-hip carry:
1. Access from the hip requires rearward articulation of the primary weapon-bearing arm. This provides readily apparent visual cues of one’s furtive movement and intent to access a weapon.
2. Training at extreme close quarters has demonstrated that rearward articulation provides more opportunities for draw fouls and muzzle aversions by the attacker. Being “clinched,” tackled or in a standing grapple causes most individuals to “turtle up,” a body alarm reaction to forward pressure and contact aggression, drawing the arms inward, not rearward.
3. Access from the hip requires movement of the limb out of our anatomic work zone. Only the rear deltoid and partial activation of the latissimus-dorsi muscles for strength and control of the tool drive this movement. This puts the weapon-bearing limb in an anatomically weak position, easily attacked and controlled, prior to extension of the firearm to target.
In contrast, let’s look at off-centerline carry and access:
1. Hands remain in anatomic work zone, no rearward articulation of weapon-bearing limb, and less visual cueing of tool access.
2. Working and gripping objects in this zone activate the latissimus-dorsi, pectoral, deltoid, biceps and core muscles, providing superior retention and weapon control.
3. Humans under extreme stress have been shown to squat, hunch over, and draw the arms close to the body with elbows tucked and butt back in preparation for impact, fight or flight. This reinforces carry of personal-protection tools along the centerline.
4. Readily accessible to either hand due to the centralized forward-of-hips location.
If you have been carrying on the hip for 20 years — on the job or off — with literally thousands of repetitions drawing from that location, off-centerline carry may not be for you. Switching to off-centerline carry now would be adding another skill set to the decision tree and training regimen. I do not advocate off-centerline carry in this situation unless the individual is willing to put in the work required to take that skill to the level of unconscious competence.
If, however, you are willing to give off-centerline carry a try, you may be surprised by the speed and concealability of this method of carry for any primary personal-protection tool (handgun or edged weapon). Off-centerline tool carry is not for everyone. Proceed with caution, study, train and practice prior to implementing.