It recently came to my attention that I hadn’t written a piece dedicated to one of my favorite forms of handgun carry—the pocket holster. I’ve discussed some favorite pocket holster designs, but haven’t written about the practice very much. That’s a shame, because this is one of the most useful ways to carry a snub revolver, and it deserves some attention.
Why Pocket Carry?
Considering all the ways we could carry a gun, why would we want to carry one in our pocket?
For me, the best reason to carry a gun in a pocket is that it’s both discrete and convenient. With a good pocket holster, I can carry my S&W 640 out of view, but still have ready access to it. I find it’s especially useful to carry this way when I have to “dress nice,” with a tucked-in shirt that would prevent me from using my normal belt holster, but it’s also very useful on windy days when I can’t keep a cover garment from lifting and exposing my gun, or pressing against it and printing.
There’s a comfort benefit with pocket carry, too. Sometimes, when my lower back starts to give me a hard time, it can be uncomfortable to carry a heavier gun (and reload) on the belt. Carrying a light snub in the pocket, and a lightweight Speed Strip as my reload, is much friendlier on the body. Similarly, when the temps get hot, and I spend lots of my day overheated and wet, it’s not much fun to carry a gun inside the waistband, up against my skin. Sticking a smaller gun in the pocket can be a lot more comfortable, and it also keeps the gun a little more protected from corrosion.
There’s an aspect of convenience with pocket carry that shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Sometimes you just don’t feel like getting all “geared up,” and it’s a nice option to put a snub in your pocket, and go about your day in “low drag” mode.
Of course, a pocket gun makes a great backup, or second gun, as well.
There are tactical advantages to the pocket-carried gun that are important to recognize.
One of the most important is that a pocket-carried gun allows you to be “at grip,” and have the most difficult part of the draw finished, without drawing undue attention to yourself. The process of getting through cover garments to establish a good firing grip on the gun is the most error-prone part of the concealed carry draw, and the most time consuming as well, so it’s a huge advantage that pocket carry allows you to “cheat” this process by getting a grip before it becomes necessary. If you sense that you might need to draw your gun sometime in the near future, you can complete the most difficult part of the draw and establish your firing grip on the gun, while giving the appearance of just another harmless guy with his hand in his pocket.
This gives you a speed advantage in your presentation, but it also allows you to deal with ambiguity much better. If you have to deal with someone who might be a threat, or might become a threat, but you’re not sure about him right now, it’s really nice to be more than halfway through your draw without looking like it. If the situation turns out to be nothing, then nobody is the wiser. However, if the person turns out to be a lethal threat, pocket carry might allow you to “catch up” a bit on your reactionary deficit, by making your presentation faster and more reliable.
There’s a related benefit that’s worth consideration too. Because the initial stage of drawing a gun from a pocket doesn’t actually look like a draw, it might allow you to get ahead of your opponent’s decision-making process. Consider a situation where your attacker is threatening you with lethal force, and has directed you to retrieve and surrender your valuables. It would be easy to feign compliance with this demand while you’re reaching for your gun if it was carried in a pocket, because the motion eliminates some of the tell-tale physical cues that precede a draw from a holster on the waistline, which would betray your intent. The split-second advantage that comes from a surreptitious draw could make all the difference in winning your fight.
Pocket carry can also increase your options and improve your access to a gun, especially if you are carrying a second, or backup gun in your pocket. In the wintertime, for example, it can be hard to get through multiple layers of clothing to get to your belt-carried gun, but a small gun can be carried in the outside pocket of a coat, and give you a more readily accessible weapon. A similar situation may apply when you’re seat-belted into a car—drawing a gun from an external jacket pocket might be easier than getting to the gun hidden underneath the jacket, and underneath the seat belt.
There are some privacy advantages to carrying in a pocket, too, because it’s easier to shield your gun from people that you don’t want to tip off about your armed status. If you’ll be in a crowd of people, standing in a line, or even in a situation where you might be greeting and hugging people, the pocket-carried gun is easier to keep away from eyes, hands, and inadvertent bumps. If someone does bang into it, it’s easy to dismiss it as your phone or wallet—people are used to carrying bulky things in a pocket, but a hard bump on your belt line, particularly behind the hip, is harder to explain away.
We have to recognize that pocket carry also suffers from some disadvantages, as well.
The biggest disadvantage of pocket carry is that it places practical limits on the size of gun that you can carry. I suppose there are some pockets, like the thigh pockets on some cargo pants, which can accommodate a large gun, but for most practical purposes, you’re going to be limited to using a small frame gun, with a limited capacity.
That small gun will have to be free of controls, parts, and features that will increase the potential for the gun to snag on its way out of the pocket. This eliminates some kinds of guns from serious consideration, in my experience. For example, most autopistols don’t draw very well from a pocket, because the rear of the slide is prone to snagging on the way out. Similarly, guns with spurred external hammers, beavertails, and high-profile sights can also be troublesome to present from the pocket.
Pocket carry is often incompatible with autopistols that have prominent magazine buttons on the side of the frame, or even on the heel of the gun. It’s easy for these buttons to be inadvertently pushed while the gun rides in the pocket during normal daily activities, causing the magazine to be displaced. This may disable the gun entirely, or turn it into a single-shot weapon.
A similar situation exists for autos that have manual safeties. It’s easy for these to be disengaged if they were on, or engaged if they were off, without your knowledge as the gun bounces around in the pocket–even with a holster. Either situation could create a big hazard for you.
For reasons like these, I think the hammerless snub is the King of pocket carry. But even the snub has its drawbacks and limitations, because nothing is perfect. One of the greatest snub limitations has to do with grips. The oversized, slightly tacky, rubber grips that so many shooters prefer to attenuate snub recoil and improve control can often be incompatible with pocket carry. In some pockets, you’ll have to go with a more compact, less “sticky” grip, to make it all work. They may not be as comfortable for shooting, but they won’t complicate or foul the pocket draw like the bigger ones can.
Another issue with pocket carry is that it can be difficult to access the gun when you’re seated, or when you’re walking or running, depending on the pocket in use. For instance, when I pocket carry my S&W 640 in the front pocket of my jeans, I can’t get to it when I’m sitting, unless I’m able to straighten out my leg. Even then, it can be difficult to retrieve the gun (which is why I’m also a fan of ankle carry—we’ll talk about that soon, in these pages).
The draw stroke from a pocket is also awkward when you’re in motion, and you’re often better off just focusing on movement first, and drawing your gun after you get to cover, as any attempt to both draw and run will just make you inefficient at both. Drawing from a rear pocket is easier than drawing from a front or leg pocket when you’re in motion, but it’s still not as easy as accessing a weapon on your belt while your feet are moving.
And One More Thing
A significant challenge with pocket carry is that you can quickly run out of space to put all your stuff! When you carry your gun in a pocket, you don’t want put anything else in that pocket which may interfere with the draw or foul the gun’s controls, so you’ll have to find another place to put the things that you normally carry there.1
With all the stuff we carry around these days—keys, phones, wallets, handkerchiefs, combs, knives, OC spray, flashlights, first aid supplies, sunglasses, spare ammo, the kitchen sink—you can start to run out of space pretty quick when you’re down a pocket . . . especially if the dress code prevents you from wearing cargo pants! You might have to reorganize, or suck it up and carry a little less stuff, if you’re going to pocket carry. It’s all part of the tradeoff, as there’s no free lunch.
I mentioned it previously, but the real superstar gun of pocket carry is the hammerless snub.
The hammerless snub is the right size, weight and shape to make it a good pocket carry gun. In reasonable clothing, you can carry one of these without looking like you have a tumor on your leg, but still have an adequate weapon for defense.
The rounded surfaces and profile of the snub revolver make it “blend” better in a pocket than the squared lines and pointy corners of an auto. These same curves also make the snub revolver come out of the pocket smoothly, without extra drag or snags.
A snub revolver with an external hammer spur can be made to work for pocket carry, with a modification to your grip that places the tip of the thumb on top of the hammer spur, to create a “hammer shroud” of sorts, and a similar method can be used to help smooth the profile of an auto, by placing the thumb on top of the rear of the slide, but these workarounds aren’t quite as effective as carrying a hammerless snub, in my experience. They also complicate getting a good firing grip on the gun, because you have to make adjustments after the gun comes out of the holster and pocket, which is a little late in the draw to be doing this.
The hammerless snub also benefits from being resistant to the lint and other debris that normally finds its way into pockets. A true “hammerless” gun (not just a spurless, or shrouded hammer revolver, like the classic Bodyguard), with an enclosed frame, will admit less garbage into the action which could gum up the works. Although most service-sized autos are very reliable these days, the smaller autos which are best suited for pocket carry tend to operate more on the margins of reliability, and it’s been my experience that they can’t match the reliability of the hammerless snub—in any normal conditions, but particularly in an environment where crud might build up on them. I’ve actually seen little balls of lint completely tie up an autopistol that a hammerless snub would just shrug off.
It’s easier to obtain a firing grip on the butt of a revolver that’s carried in your pocket than an auto’s grip, because the thicker cylinder naturally creates space for your hand to get between your body and the grip of the gun. By comparison, an auto, with its flat sides, will lay flat against your body, and will require you to wedge your hand into the space between your body and the pistol, to obtain a firing grip. This can slow and foul the presentation of your gun from the pocket.
Why Use a Pocket Holster?
Although some people might be tempted to carry a gun in their pocket without a holster, we think it’s a bad practice, and encourage the use of a pocket holster for the following reasons:
- It Protects the Gun. A good pocket holster protects the gun from damage, corrosion, and foreign debris. Your gun will get plenty sweaty and dirty inside your pocket, even if you do use a holster, but without a holster’s protection, it will really get trashed;
- It Helps with Weapon Retention. A good pocket holster will help to keep the gun from falling out of your pocket during physical activity. Whether you’re sitting, running, or fighting off an attacker, the holster will help to keep the gun where it belongs;
- It Enhances Safety. A good pocket holster will cover the trigger guard and prevent the trigger from being pulled—either accidentally or intentionally–while the gun is still in the pocket. You might think your DAO revolver trigger is heavy enough that you don’t need to worry about covering it up, but you’d be wrong! Stress, inattention, or that bastard Murphy can all promote a deadly mistake, and a covered trigger guard helps to mitigate the risk;
- It Facilitates a Good Grip. A good pocket holster will keep the gun consistently oriented for a clean draw, and allow you to rapidly obtain a full firing grip on the gun while it’s still in the pocket. Without a holster, the gun will usually rotate or flip in an unpredictable manner, which will require you to sort things out before you can grip and draw the gun. This increases the risk of an error and failed draw, and also takes valuable time that you won’t have in an emergency;
- It Facilitates a Smooth Draw. A good holster will help to properly guide your gun out of the pocket in a way that it won’t snag on the way out, and interfere with your presentation;
- It Promotes Concealment. Good pocket holsters promote concealment by breaking up the outline of the gun, and evenly distributing its weight. Guns carried loose in pockets usually print very badly, and sag away from the body, instead of blending into its contours;
- It Enhances Comfort. A good holster makes it much more comfortable to carry a gun in the pocket, by evenly supporting the weight, and preventing hard corners and edges from digging into your leg.
Selecting a Holster
The following considerations must be taken into account when you’re selecting a holster for pocket carry:
- Materials. Leather, fabric, and polymer are the primary materials for making pocket holsters, and each has their own Pros and Cons.
Leather is durable, comfortable, and holds its shape well when the gun is withdrawn. It can be tightly boned for excellent weapon retention. If the rough side is facing out, it can help to anchor the holster in the pocket and prevent you from drawing it with the gun. On the downside, a leather holster may require some break-in time to be comfortable and stop squeaking, and it will also soak up your sweat, so it’s not safe to store your gun in the holster—take it out of the holster and let things breathe and dry out, at the end of the day (a good idea for all pocket holsters, but especially for leather).
Fabric holsters (made from nylon, usually) are generally softer and more pliable than leather, so they don’t require much break-in to conform and be comfortable. They are lightweight, easier to clean than leather, and do a better job of repelling moisture than leather. They often incorporate a rubberized or “grippy” texture on the outside, to anchor them in the pocket, and are usually the most affordable option to choose from. On the downside, fabric holsters tend to be less durable, and their pockets are usually not tightly molded to the shape of the gun, so their fit is usually looser than a leather or polymer holster’s fit. This sloppiness, combined with the reduced friction of fabric compared to leather, can lead to a smooth draw, but can also decrease weapon retention. Many fabric holsters also collapse when the gun is withdrawn, and do not hold their shape very well, even if the holster mouth is reinforced with a band. Lastly, some fabric holsters can be more bulky than leather ones, because they’re constructed of multiple layers of material. That extra girth may not be noticeable in looser-fitting clothes, but will make the “bump” in your pocket more pronounced in tighter fitting pants, sacrificing some concealment.
Polymer holsters (sometimes made from shaped and formed materials, like Kydex, but sometimes injection-molded) frequently offer the tight fit and durability of a leather holster, with the water resistance, light weight, and ease of maintenance of a fabric holster. They retain their shape when the gun is withdrawn and usually cost less than leather. On the flipside, they don’t “breathe” as well as leather or nylon, and can be more uncomfortable to wear when you are hot and sweaty. They’re usually rigid, as well, which can make them uncomfortable to wear at times, because they don’t conform to your body (over time, your leather holster will take on a bit of a curve, as it adapts to the contours of your leg, but don’t expect the same from most polymer holsters). Lastly, they sometimes make a popping, clicking, or scratching noise when the gun is drawn, which can betray a surreptitious draw. If you choose a polymer holster, pay special attention to the edges, to make sure they have been sanded smooth, for comfort;
- Molding and Retention. I’ve talked around it a bit already, but it’s important to note that the gun should fit relatively tight in the holster’s pouch, which should be shaped for it.2 A pouch that is specifically molded or boned for the gun will do a better job of keeping it in place, which is a good thing for security and for consistency in your draw;
- Pocket Size and Shape. You’ll find there’s a variety of pocket shapes and sizes in your wardrobe, and it may be tough for one holster to fit all of them well. Some pockets are wider than others, and some are deeper. Some are square at the bottom, some are rounded, and some are tapered. You may have to buy a variety of pocket holsters to work in these disparate spaces. A pocket holster with a base that is too narrow or rounded will allow the gun to tip in a wider, squared pocket, just as a pocket holster with a wide skirt or square bottom may prevent you from getting it deep enough into a narrow or rounded pocket. Evaluate your most likely clothing choices and pocket shapes before you select a pocket holster, to ensure it will fit and do the job well;3
- Full Firing Grip. Regardless of which holster you choose, make sure you can obtain a full firing grip on the gun while it’s resting in the holster. You don’t want to have to lift the gun out of the holster before you can obtain a good grip on it. This latter situation can occur when the holster’s pouch is sloppy, and is a bad fit for the gun—the gun will sink deeper into the pouch than desired, and reduce the clearance around the grip. This is more common on fabric holsters that are built to accommodate a number of different guns, rather than a specific gun;
- Trigger Guard Coverage. You want your pocket holster to completely cover and protect the trigger for safety, and to reduce fouling. ‘Nuff said;
- Ambidextrous Use. There’s an advantage to being able to carry your gun on either side of your body, and some holsters are designed to facilitate that (usually the fabric or polymer ones, less frequently the leather ones). Consider this feature if you might need to carry on either your strong or weak side, and don’t want to buy a pair of Left and Right side holsters;
- Printing. Some holster designs are better than others at reducing printing. Part of this is the shape and thickness of the holster, and part of it is how the holster fits and rides in the pocket. Some holsters, like the ones made by Kramer Leather, actually incorporate a face plate that’s designed to create a square-looking profile in the pocket, to disguise the gun as a wallet or phone. This makes the holster bulkier than it needs to be, which normally wouldn’t be a plus, but in this case, the printing it causes is part of the camouflage. Other holsters, like the DeSantis Super Fly, incorporate a flap or shield to mask the outline of the gun. Again, the extra material makes the holster bulkier than it needs to be, but in the right pocket, it may enhance concealment. While you might find the magic combination of holster and pants style/fit that makes the gun “disappear,” there’s often no way to avoid printing with a pocket holster, but the goal is to make the visible “bump” look like it reasonably belongs there, and to make it look like something other than a gun. The right holster, tailored for the pocket and pants selection, can do that;
- Stays Open. Some pocket holsters are designed to retain their shape when the gun is withdrawn, and I think this is an important feature. If the holster stays open, you can easily return your gun to the holster without removing the holster from your pocket, which might be necessary if your support hand is occupied with some other task. It’s far better for the gun to go back into the holster than to just get stuffed loose into a pocket or waistband.
A quick note about that: In normal circumstances, we discourage holstering with the holster still in the pocket. The holster should be removed from the pocket first, then the gun holstered, before the whole package is returned to the pocket. It’s a good general practice, especially for any kind of administrative holstering, but I do recognize that stressful, dynamic situations may require us to holster with just one hand, so I like a holster that stays open, to support that. Besides, a holster that stays open is also easier to use in the normal holstering procedure, which occurs outside the pocket. More on this later;
- Stays in the Pocket. The last thing you want is to draw the holster out of the pocket with your gun. You want the gun to shed the holster as part of your presentation, so it doesn’t prevent you from firing the gun immediately. To accomplish this, most holsters are designed with a hook or a wide skirt that will bind on the mouth of the pocket and leave the holster in place, as the gun is withdrawn. Some holsters are also built with a rough-out leather surface, or a rubberized texture that will aid the holster in gripping the pocket lining, to keep it in place. This is an area where the fit of the holster in the pocket is important, too. A narrowly-built holster may not strip off the gun during the presentation from a pocket with a wide lining or mouth, so matching the holster to the pocket dimensions is an important part of making sure you don’t draw a holstered gun.
The Pocket Draw
The draw from the pocket mirrors what you’re used to from your normal draw from the belt line. The gun must be gripped, lifted clear of the holster, oriented towards the target, then extended to the target.
We’ve talked before about the necessity to obtain a good firing grip on the gun, while it’s still in the holster. One issue with the pocket draw, is that some pockets don’t give you much room to get a good grip, because the lining isn’t roomy enough for you to make a fist, or the mouth of the pocket isn’t big enough for your closed fist to pass through. The best correction here is to find clothing with a bigger pocket/mouth, so you don’t have to sacrifice your grip. However, if you’re stuck with a particular setup, or if you’re a hipster who’s hopelessly addicted to skinny jeans, you might have to lift the gun out of the pocket with your fingertips, and delay getting your firing grip until the butt of the weapon is clear of the pocket. This isn’t ideal, but you’ll have to accept it and do the best you can with what you’ve got.
Lifting the gun clear of the holster presents its own challenges, in pocket carry. One is that you may have to alter your normal draw stroke to accommodate the angle of the pocket. Some pockets are accessed through the top (think of a front pocket in a pair of jeans), and this may work well with your normal up-and-forward presentation that you’re accustomed to, but a pocket that is accessed from the rear (think of a front pocket in a pair of dress pants) may require you to change your draw stroke completely. If you try to raise the gun up and forward from this kind of pocket, it might get hung up inside the pocket. Instead, you may have to remove the gun towards the rear, to clear the holster and pocket mouth, then change direction and move it forward towards the target.
Another consideration in this phase of the draw is ensuring the holster will be shed from the gun as you present it. As we previously discussed, some holsters are built with a hook or a wide skirt that’s intended to catch and drag on the pocket mouth, to help keep the holster in place. These usually work pretty well, but sometimes (especially in roomier pockets) these drag devices will “miss” the edge of the pocket mouth, and allow the whole shebang to come out as one.
That’s not a good thing.
To help remedy this, I’ve found it can be helpful to adjust your draw stroke so that you incorporate a “wiping” motion into the draw. For example, if the hook on your pocket holster is on the leading edge of the holster, you can act like you’re trying to drag the front sight of your gun against the forward edge of the pocket mouth when you lift the gun out of the pocket. Just imagine trying to wipe the front sight clean on the edge of your pocket on the way out, and you’ll help to ensure the forward hook on the holster engages.
The same can be done if your pocket holster has a hook or a wide skirt at the rear. Imagine trying to rub the bottom of the trigger guard against the trailing edge of your pocket mouth as the gun is lifted out of the pocket, and you’ll help to wipe the holster right off the gun as it comes out.
Once the gun is clear of the pocket, you’ll want to immediately point the muzzle towards the threat, in a manner that you don’t track it across your own body parts on the way to the target. Don’t sweep your leg or your support hand with the muzzle of your gun as you bring it to bear on the target. This can be especially tricky if you’re drawing a gun from a pocket that you had to access from the rear, because the gun could wind up behind your hip or leg. It could also be tricky if you had to draw from a pants pocket while seated, so think it through, and practice some dry-reps with a triple-checked, unloaded gun.
Regardless of how you get the gun out of the pocket, you must never put your finger on the trigger until the gun is oriented towards the target. Keep the trigger finger straight as you establish your firing grip, lift the pistol out of the holster, and index it on the target, to keep from shooting yourself or an innocent. You don’t want to do the enemy’s job for him, after all.
Holstering the Pocket Gun
We’ve already touched on this, but it’s recommended that you remove the holster from your pocket, safely holster your gun (don’t muzzle your own hand as you do this—it’s best to think about putting the holster on the gun, rather than putting the gun into the holster, to avoid pointing it at yourself), then put the whole package back into your pocket when it’s time to put the gun away.
There may be tactical situations that will require you to put the gun away quickly with one hand, which may not allow you to follow the above procedure. If so, you’ll have to do your best to observe Rules Two and Three (muzzle and trigger awareness) as you put the gun away in your pocket.
Get your finger off the trigger and place it high up on the frame or cylinder, away from the trigger guard. If you have an external hammer gun, place your thumb on the spur to sense and block its rearward motion (and stop immediately, if you feel it start to move as you holster, because something is probably pressing on the trigger).
Move the gun into the pocket and towards the holster mouth in a manner that the muzzle is not pointing inwards, towards your body, but rather is pointing parallel to the surface of your body, with your muzzle clear of anything that you don’t want to shoot. A helpful method to accomplish this is to use your fingertips (or your thumb, if it’s not riding an external hammer) to create some standoff between your body and your gun as it penetrates into the pocket.
Assuming you’re standing, and the gun is carried in a front pocket, another helpful tip to avoid muzzling yourself in this scenario is to take a step back with the leg that has the holster in it, to straighten the leg and keep the holster parallel to its surface. Should anything go wrong, and you accidentally fire a round while holstering, this may prevent you from shooting your leg, knee, or foot.
Again, if time and circumstances permit, remove the pocket holster from your pocket before you return your gun to it—it’s just safer that way.
I think I’ve hit on most everything that I wanted to address about pocket carry, but if I forgot something, I’m sure we’ll clean it up in the comments.
The biggest thing to remember about pocket carry is that it requires dedicated practice, because it’s different than carrying your gun on the belt. If you plan on using this method, make sure you put in the work to be efficient and safe with the mechanics of it.
As always, keep your head on a swivel and be safe out there!
1. The sole exception that I make to the rule of not placing anything else in the pocket that contains the holstered gun, is a reload for it. If I’m carrying a gun in my right front pocket, I sometimes place a Speed Strip behind the pocket holster, which prevents it from printing through the pocket, protects the ammo from getting damaged, and keeps it accessible to my strong hand. If I have another spot that I can carry the strip (a coin pocket, or a thigh pocket, for example), then it will go there instead, but if my wardrobe limits my choices (i.e., dress pants), then I’ll put it in the strong side pocket with the gun. Since the loaded strip settles to the bottom of the pocket, it shouldn’t normally interfere with getting a good grip on the gun. Outside of the occasional reload, though, everything else is kept out of the pocket carrying the holstered gun;
2. Please note that I said the gun-holster fit should be “relatively tight.” We don’t necessarily need the gun to fit so tightly that you can hold the holster upside down without the gun falling out, because the pocket itself will work with the holster to keep the gun in place during normal activity. However, what you don’t want is a fit that is so loose that the gun may slide out of its holster when you’re sitting down, running, falling, etc. If the gun is too loose in the holster, it could become unholstered inside a roomy pocket and rotate unpredictably. In a pocket with a large opening, the gun could even slip out, so we want a reasonable level of retention from the holster (considering the type of clothing being worn) to prevent these things, but the gun doesn’t have to go in and out of the holster with a positive “click;”
3. I’m not a fashion adviser by any stretch of the imagination, but your selection of clothing is an important part of this calculation, as well. Clothing made of thicker, more durable materials will do a better job of concealing a pocket holster than clothing made of thin materials, because it does a better job of supporting the weight of the holster-gun combo, and won’t allow it to print as much. Also, for obvious reasons, tight-fitting clothing will make it more difficult to successfully hide and access a holstered gun in your pocket. So, while paying attention to the size and shape of the pocket is critical, there are other clothing issues to be thinking about, too. Hey, do these stripes make my gun look fat?