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Personal Defense: Appendix Carry Basics, Pros, and Cons

Personal Defense: Appendix Carry Basics, Pros, and Cons

With the explosion in interest in concealed firearm carry for personal defense over the past decade, and more states issuing concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits, we are now experiencing a golden age of defense-oriented firearms, holsters, and carry methods.

One of the most popular (and most controversial) CCW methods is appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB), commonly just called appendix carry. Let’s go over the basics, pros, and cons of this new concealed-carry method, and then we’ll show you some of our favorite holsters for you to consider if you decide to try it.

With the explosion in interest in concealed firearm carry for personal defense over the past decade, and more states issuing concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits, we are now experiencing a golden age of defense-oriented firearms, holsters, and carry methods.

One of the most popular (and most controversial) CCW methods is appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB), commonly just called appendix carry. Let’s go over the basics, pros, and cons of this new concealed-carry method, and then we’ll show you some of our favorite holsters for you to consider if you decide to try it.

What is appendix carry? (AIWB)

Appendix carry is when you place your inside-the-waistband CCW holster at the 1 o’clock or 12 o’clock position at the front of your body (If you view your body from above, with the front of your belt at the “top” or 12 o’clock position, 3 o’clock will be the rightmost point of the “clock,” and 6 o’clock will be directly at your back). Since your appendix is located somewhere near the 1 o’clock position on your abdomen, this popular new carry style has become known as “appendix inside-the-waistband” or simply “appendix” carry.

As we explained in our article on the best concealed-carry holsters, the old-school or “traditional” location for a concealed-carry holster is usually on your “dominant side” between the 2-o’clock and 5-o’clock position for right-handers, most commonly at about 4 o’clock, just behind the hip. Appendix carry places it much further forward, and thus usually requires a specific, more vertically-oriented holster for maximum comfort and practicality.

Advantages of appendix carry

There are several “pros” for carrying appendix, and the advantages are significant enough that appendix carry has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Let’s go over some of the main perks for this type of CCW carry.

Superior concealment

“Printing” is a term for when the shape or edges of your CCW gun or holster show through the fabric of your cover garment, usually when you raise your arms, bend, or sit. An outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster at 3 o’clock on your right hip is difficult to conceal, relatively, and prints badly if your clothes are not somewhat loose and baggy. IWB (inside-the-waistband) holsters conceal better, since the lower part of the holster is inside your pants, but at the 3 or 4 o’clock position, you still have the grip and possibly the slide/sights/optic printing against your cover shirt where it draws more snugly against your side and hip.

Moving the whole CCW rig forward until it’s below or just to the right of your belly button makes it far less likely to print against your clothing as you move. As you bend, your clothing naturally bags in that area, rather than growing tighter, which further aids concealment. And not many people actually bend over backward in the normal course of a day, which is the movement that you would need to make in order for an AIWB rig to print badly against your clothing at your abdomen/beltline.

AIWB holsters ride between your outer garment/pants and your body and are typically secured to a belt with loops or clips. Many AIWB holsters are “tuckable,” meaning you can tuck your shirt or cover garment between the holster and the belt clip for enhanced concealment.

Rapid access to the gun (with either hand)

Another significant advantage to appendix carry compared to traditional OWB or IWB carry on the strong-side hip is that you can gain rapid access to the gun and any magazine pouches (if you have an AIWB rig with a pouch) with either hand. People tend to talk to others while keeping their hands in front of them, or often hold phones or other items in front of them naturally. This places your hands closer to your gun if you need it.

Additionally, having your gun in the appendix position means your “off-hand” or weak hand (left hand for right-handed shooters) can quickly and easily lift your cover garment out of the way so your strong hand can draw. This is a great advantage over 3 o’clock carry where the right/strong hand has to both clear the garment and draw the gun.

If your strong hand or arm becomes injured, you may need to access your CCW firearm with your weak hand. The appendix carry position allows this fairly easily, while the traditional “strong side” carry positions do not.

With practice, drawing from a good AIWB rig can be extremely fast. Some shooters are as fast drawing from concealment using the appendix position as others are drawing from strong side OWB holsters without concealment. Good appendix shooters can get a first shot on target from concealment in 1 second or even less. This was almost unheard of when using traditional handgun concealment strategies.

Comfort, particularly for slim people

If you spend a lot of your time on your feet, a good AIWB rig can be truly all-day comfortable, particularly for “fit” people or slimmer builds. If you have the right setup, appendix carry can be comfortable when seated as well, even in vehicles. The 12 o’clock position keeps the gun away from seatbelt latches or buckles also, and in some cases, your firearm may be even easier to access when seated in a vehicle than a strong-side OWB duty holster.

Better position for gun retention in a fight

Having your holster behind or on your hip places it where a bad guy can grab it if he knows it’s there, or if you have a poor, partial draw during a lethal encounter. A 3 o’clock position will probably mean you’ll just have one hand fighting for your gun in a scrabble. Appendix carry keeps everything in front of you, which is where people naturally are able to grab and control things with both hands and see them in their peripheral vision.

Disadvantages of appendix carry

Along with the advantages of appendix carry, there are some potentially serious downsides, some of which are significant enough that many people won’t even consider it. Let’s go over some of the cons of AIWB carry.

The safety issue: A negligent or accidental discharge could be fatal

Gun owners don’t like to talk about the potential for a “negligent discharge” (ND) or “accidental discharge” (AD). These terms can have slightly different definitions depending on your source, but in general, a negligent discharge is a shot that is fired unintentionally due to some action by the person handling the firearm. This can be something as simple as leaving your finger on the trigger while reloading or clearing a malfunction, inadvertently firing a round. Or it may happen when a shooter jams a gun into a holster with a finger, loop of fabric, drawstring, piece of spent brass, or other items inside the trigger guard, which pulls the trigger and discharges a round.

An accidental discharge is far rarer and describes a shot that is fired unintentionally but not as the result of an error by the shooter. This is usually due to a faulty firearm design, the breakage of a key part inside the firearm, or an unsafe condition created by the modification or installation of incompatible parts.

Accidental discharges are uncommon, but they do occasionally happen. And negligent discharges happen more frequently than many people would like to admit. Anyone who has acted as Safety Officer during a shooting match has likely witnessed one or more NDs and had to disqualify that shooter. If you are “carrying appendix” when a round is discharged from your gun, you can pretty much guarantee that seriously bad things will happen.

Why? Because, unlike a firearm carried at the 4 o’clock position, with appendix carry, the muzzle of your pistol is often pointed at your own pelvic region (call it “family jewels” or whatever your favorite term is), the pelvic girdle, and/or your femoral artery. A shot to your femoral artery is likely to be fatal without immediate emergency surgery, and a shot to your baby maker is not going to be fun at all, even if it’s not a fatal wound.

Most NDs that have occurred during appendix carry happen when reholstering, when fabric, debris, cords, drawstrings, or a finger enters the trigger guard as the user holsters a striker-fired pistol, pulling the trigger. However, some NDs have been reported when the user bent over, twisted, or was moving the holster. It’s possible that a poorly made, flexible holster and/or an unsafe firearm can result in a condition where the trigger is held far enough to the rear to discharge the gun if pressure is applied to the outside of the holster.

For this reason, if you practice drawing, shooting, and reholstering your firearm using an appendix holster, especially with a striker-fired pistol without a manual external safety, it’s vitally important that you learn and practice safe reholstering techniques. You should “look” the nose of the gun into the open holster, noting each time that there is nothing in the way, and insert the gun slowly rather than slamming it in.

Another good idea is to lean your upper body rearward a little and push your hips forward as you reholster, which prevents the muzzle from pointing at your junk or your femoral artery as you line up the gun with the mouth of the holster. Here’s a good video about a safe presentation and reholster procedure using appendix carry.

A firearm with a manual safety or safety/decocker can be a partial solution, though you should always ensure nothing is preventing the gun from entering the holster regardless of the type of handgun. Some experts recommend avoiding appendix carry with striker-fired handguns entirely, as they feel there is an unacceptable amount of risk.

Can be uncomfortable while sitting (depending on the holster/gun)

Since the appendix position puts most of the holster (below the beltline) and the full length of the barrel of your gun right into your body’s main “hinge” as you sit, it can be quite uncomfortable to sit for long periods while carrying this way. Longer-barreled guns and longer holsters are often particularly uncomfortable, especially if you wear your pants low on your hips (which of course places your carry rig lower on your body as well).

Not ideal for people with larger bellies

Big dudes and ladies with some girth around their abdomen often find that appendix carry is uncomfortable or even impossible, depending on the size of their belly and how high they wear their pants. Obviously, a belly that overhangs the front of your belt significantly will also prevent rapid access to a gun holstered beneath it and can create significant discomfort as well as safety issues when drawing or reholstering. There are tools and tips that can mitigate some of these issues (beyond diet, exercise, and/or liposuction). Here’s a good video of Spencer Keepers (who is not particularly slender) demonstrating some of the proper safety techniques for safely using an AIWB holster.

Can fat or bigger guys carry appendix?

In short, yes, fat guys can often carry appendix, if they make some adjustments in their wardrobe and/or AIWB holster choices. One thing that helps in many cases (whether you’re a bigger dude or not), is to wear a close-fitting undergarment such as Under Armour or similar. This helps the cover garment slide more easily, helps keep any extra girth under more control, and is a slipperier surface to slide the gun against as you draw.

Another tip is to wear your belt/pants higher on your waist, rather than down below your belly and hips. If you can comfortably move your belt higher on your abdomen, it can leave room for your AIWB rig and also facilitate safe reholstering.

One more thing to consider for larger people who want to carry AIWB: you might need a specialized “fat guy” appendix holster that places the loops or clip higher on the holster than is typical. Here’s a demonstration.

Best appendix AIWB carry holsters

This is not a comprehensive list of all of the best AIWB holsters, but here are three of our favorites.

Vedder LightTuck

Vedder is known for making quality holsters, and their LightTuck design is great for standard IWB carry or AIWB. The holster is made in the USA of thin, light, smooth kydex, and the adjustable, tuckable, spring-steel belt clip allows 30° of forward or reverse cant, which means you can wear the same holster in multiple positions if you decide appendix carry isn’t for you, including the standard 3 - 5 o’clock position, or even cross-draw.

The sight channel allows suppressor-height sights up to 10mm tall. The LightTuck has 3 adjustable ride height positions and is available with or without the “claw” (Vedder’s term for the “wing” bolt-on enhancement that helps tuck the butt of the gun closer to the body. Vedder’s holsters come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a lifetime warranty.

At around $70 for basic models, it’s not the cheapest kydex appendix holster, but you’ll know the quality when you see and feel it.

 LightTuck AIWB Holster - Vedder Holsters

[Photo: Vedder Holsters]

LAS Concealment Ronin 3.0

LAS Concealment says their Ronin 3.0 is designed to be the most comfortable AIWB carry rig on the market, and few who have used it will disagree, particularly for a holster/mag pouch combo rig. By tying the mag pouch to the holster using bungee cord rather than molding the whole rig as one unit, LAS has created a very flexible yet still very stable and balanced carry rig that allows the magazine pouch and holster to move independently of each other. It also “breaks up” what would be a larger holster/mag pouch combo into two pieces, which helps the whole thing move and flex with your body and makes the rig seem smaller than it is in actual use.

Another perk is that when you carry a loaded spare magazine in the pouch, this effectively helps offset the weight of the gun. The Ronin also places the spare mag lower in the belt relative to the grip of the gun than some competing designs, which effectively makes the whole package feel smaller when you bend, since you don’t have that tall magazine and base pad digging into your gut as high.

LAS trims as much excess kydex off both pieces as possible in order to aid in comfort and minimize “hot spots.” The Ronin features adjustable ride height and retention for both gun and magazine, has a sight channel suitable for suppressor-height sights up to .40”/10mm tall, and an optic cut that allows the use of most of the popular slide-mounted optics. There’s also a handy “wing” that helps draw the grip of your gun in toward your body as you tighten your belt. At $125, the Ronin 3.0 gives you a lot of premium features for the money.

Ronin 3.0 - LAS Concealment

[Photo: LAS Concealment]

PHLster Pro

PHLster started by perfecting the method for making custom kydex holsters, and has expanded to vacuum-forming, machining, and other techniques. This allows somewhat radical designs like the PHLster Pro holster with its rather bulbous, organic, smooth muzzle area. It may look strange, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

PHLster says the increased smooth surface area reduces hotspots and ensures that the typical holster’s sharp edges are fully radiused and rounded for maximum comfort for AIWB carry. The fully rounded muzzle improves all-day comfort during extended periods of driving or sitting. You can also add glue-on foam wedges anywhere you choose, to add padding or leverage that makes the gun sit exactly where you want it.

The PHLster Pro comes standard with a pair of adjustable IWB loops and an adjustable wing, similar to the holsters above. There are multiple options and add-ons available for maximum versatility and customization, including tuckable clips if you desire. It is compatible with optics, suppressor sights, and threaded barrels.

If you had the choice between shoving a sharp, square-edged block of wood down your trousers, or a rounded, smooth, more organically sanded block of wood, we think pretty much everyone would choose the smoother, rounder object. That’s the concept behind the PHLster Pro, starting at $88.

PHLster Pro Holster

[Photo: PHLster]

If you try appendix carry, give it a fair chance

Appendix carry might not be for you, but if you decide to try it, give it a fair chance. What we mean by this is, appendix carry may not be for you, but try more than one holster before you give up. Appendix carry in particular is a very individual preference, and many people go through 3-5 holsters before settling on one that works for them and their body type. The advantages can be profound, so we recommend you give it a fair shake before you decide. It might just change everything. Stay safe!


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