As cold weather encroaches upon us, Robert suggested that I write about how to approach concealed carry in winter since I live in a region where it sometimes gets very cold indeed. By way of example, as I type this, it’s 2° F outside.
Also, in my first blog post of the New Year, I suggested that new gun owners become comfortable with concealed carry in the cooler seasons when bulkier and more concealing clothing is typically worn. While I stand by this advice, when it gets really cold, some additional things need to be considered.
Actually concealing the firearm is easy with a heavy coat or other garment, but access to that concealed weapon may not be nearly so easy. Gloves can reduce dexterity and make accessing and firing your concealed weapon even more problematic.
With these factors in mind, the first thing to consider is that maintaining situational awareness is vital to allow you to avoid threats, evade threats, and defend against threats when the weather is already working against you. Along this line of reasoning, consider how much a hood may impair peripheral vision. Comfort is important, but you must pay attention to your surroundings!
I’m going to take a moment to address one common strategy that is easy to employ when wearing cold weather clothing. With an appropriate gun (and appropriate holster), you can literally go about your daily routine in public with your hand on a gun in your pocket, ready to face whatever may come your way. Walking around with your hands in your pockets will be far more natural than the alternative in cold weather. Having said that, I would not rely on a pocket gun as your only gun. Rather, I would carry it as a second gun. I realize that some jurisdictions will prohibit this practice, but if your permit or state law doesn’t limit what you can carry, then it is an excellent tactic to employ. This is one area where revolvers may be superior to pistols, simply because they can be reliably fired from inside a pocket, whereas a pistol will probably malfunction and be rendered essentially a one shot weapon. Even if you don’t carry a pocket gun (or even a gun at all), this practice can easily be extended to a hand on a flashlight or pepper spray carried in an outside coat pocket.
I also want to talk about the “concealed carry” hoodies that have a special pocket that allows you to have a “hand on the gun” when carrying in an appendix holster with your hand in the front pocket. Ostensibly, this should be faster since it removes one step (grip) from the draw stroke. I have the Blackhawk version and while it does work as advertised, my draw is actually much faster using the traditional method to clear the cover garment. In fact, more often than not, the gun hangs up in the pocket when I’m trying to draw through the pocket. Further, once you add an additional layer over the hoodie, the point of the pass through pocket becomes moot. The one advantage of such hoodies is that you can actually have a hand on your gun without arousing undue suspicion if your hoodie is your outermost later. For me, it’s not really worth it.
Moving away from pocket carry, let’s look at accessing a gun carried on the belt, under cold weather outerwear. One of the many reasons that I prefer appendix carry is that it works relatively well with my cold weather clothing. With a strong side holster, one would traditionally need to sweep the garment aside when accessing the pistol, essentially requiring an unzipped or unbuttoned coat. For those of us in the know, an open coat in the dead of winter is a dead giveaway. Best to be avoided when trying to conceal a weapon! Yes, you can draw from a strong side holster with a closed front garment, but clearing a heavy outer garment is not necessarily easy. By choosing to carry in the appendix position, I gain the added concealment of a closed front garment and maintain essentially the same draw stroke no matter what I’m wearing.
Regardless of where on your belt line your holster is worn, you must ensure that your draw stroke clears ALL of the layers you may be wearing. Normally in colder weather, I am wearing a hoodie and outer coat over my holster. Depending on my base layer and just how cold it is, I may even have more layers. To draw my gun, I basically hook my fingers under ALL of the layers and pull them up to access my gun. For this reason, I’m not a fan of jackets that have elastic or drawstring waists that constrict around the waist. Rather, I prefer coats that hang naturally around the waist. My experience has been that the elastic hemmed coats will catch and hang up at the belt, impeding a clear draw. This isn’t necessarily an absolute, just my experience. Some people also advocate tucking all but the outer layer of clothing behind the grip of the pistol. This doesn’t really work for me, but it’s an option to explore.
Continuing on the theme of cold weather clothing affecting your pistol manipulations, let’s look at gloves. Gloves are a good thing, but a balance needs to be struck. If we disregard shooting or tactical gloves from the discussion, in cold weather, you will need to choose a pair of gloves that offer sufficient warmth and insulation while maintaining adequate dexterity. This is a personal decision predicated on cold tolerance. One needs look no further than the cooling gloves used by professional sports teams and athletes to understand the relevance of blood flow to the hands and its influence on core temperature. I personally tend to favor the dexterity end of the spectrum with thinner and tighter fitting gloves for everyday casual wear, but I can still access and fire my gun when I’m wearing thicker fleece gloves. My ski gloves make it tough, but still doable. The key for me is a tight fit. Conversely, with loose fitting gloves with fingers too long, I find that my perception of dexterity and trigger manipulation are compromised.
Fundamentally, glove choice comes down to comfort and dexterity. Whatever pair you choose, dry fire with them first, and then go to the range and see how they work. One option that may suffice for moderately cold weather is simply buying an unlined pair of Mechanix Wear Gloves that fit snugly and prevent your hands from being directly exposed to the cold air. My personal pick is the Mechanix Wear Tactical FastFit Covert. Also available from the same company are similar insulated cold weather versions of many of their gloves. As long as they don’t get wet with snow, they offer me sufficient protection for brief excursions outside. North Face Etip gloves are another slightly more expensive option to look at. If you have friends that are cops, ask them what gloves they wear on duty in winter, and ask where they buy them.
Yet another option for really cold weather may be to wear two sets of gloves, one inner liner glove that offers good dexterity, and a thicker outer glove. I have an older set of ski gloves that are made this way as a set. The flaw in this approach is that it isn’t really appropriate for reactive situations. This approach requires sufficient situational awareness to have enough warning to remove the outer gloves before needing to access the gun.
Bottom line, practice with your pistol wearing your gloves. See what works and what doesn’t. Can you get a solid grip on your gun? Does your glove actually fit in the trigger guard? Can you reload your pistol? Fix a malfunction? Integrate a handheld light or activate a weapon light? Try all of these things wearing the gloves you choose and see how they affect your pistol manipulations. Simple “gross motor” movements may be the way to go in this regard.
One other cold weather consideration is looking at what your attacker may be wearing. Will your ammunition penetrate sufficiently to overcome the added layers? Will your blade penetrate deeply enough? Will your strikes land hard enough? Criminals don’t like cold any more than we do, and hopefully you will never need to worry about this stuff. But if evil finds you when it’s cold and wet outside, be prepared to fight back!
I want to close by drawing on an experience that Robert and I shared. We once took a pistol class in cold and wet weather, where over the course of two days, we shot in rain, sleet, and hail. While not below freezing, it was damned close, and the need for good rain gear, boots, and gloves became viscerally apparent. Speed and dexterity were noticeably affected, and safe gun handling became an overriding concern. The weather provided an invaluable learning experience. Staying warm and dry is important. As is being able to safely access a concealed weapon. If you have access to an outdoor range, go practice in inclement weather. Put yourself and your gear to the test. There is no guarantee that your gunfight will happen on a nice, sunny day. Take Mike Pannone’s advice… before you walk out the door, try 10 practice draws. Do your clothing and holster choices work together cohesively? Find out before it’s a problem!