Recently an article on Appendix Inside the Waist Band carry published in one of the NRA’s online entities generated a bit of controversy on forums and social media. AIWB carry does seem to be getting more popular as people discover that carrying the handgun in line with the widest profile of the body makes invisibly carrying a duty-quality pistol much easier. The author of the NRA article is, from what I hear, a really good guy…but even really good people can be blind to the limitations of their knowledge. One of the primary factors Mr. LaSorte mentioned in his rebuke of AIWB carry was a pretty common complaint: Comfort. I’ll quote Mr. LaSorte:
“The first day that I tried appendix carry was the first and only day I could have thrown my Glock 19 across a parking lot. It was the thing that hurt me, and I wanted it as far away from me as possible. I didn’t go through with it, of course, but my rage was strong.”
I can sympathize. The first time I tried AIWB carry it was so heinously uncomfortable that I’ve compared it to shoving a ninja star down the front of my pants. What I have learned since then is that successful AIWB carry depends on getting a number of factors exactly right. How much adipose you are carrying along your waistline (I’m carrying FAR too much at the moment), the fit of your pants (not just size but how they ride on your waist/hips), your general body type (short or long torso), and, of course, the holster all have to be matched up to make for successful AIWB carry.
I’ll be blunt: A lot of holsters out there suck. No qualifications to that…they are just awful. People try them, find them heinously unsuitable, and then make a broad pronouncement about all AIWB carry as a result. It would be like test driving a rusted out Civic with no brakes, 4 mismatched tires, the world’s crappiest body kit and a wonky transmission and emerging to proclaim that all Japanese cars are utter garbage.
With AIWB carry even good holsters don’t necessarily work well for everyone because of all the individual factors listed above. If you want to do it successfully, you have to be willing to buy a few holsters and experiment to find the right solutions…and to further complicate the matter, you may find that different guns carry very differently even in the same make and model holster. What you need, then, are a few known good options you can try to see which one fits you and the handgun you are trying to carry. I’ve covered one of my favorites before, and I’m about to cover another good option now: The Keeper.
I recently went insane and bought a Wilson Combat CQB chambered in 9mm. I had no holster for it and Spencer, the owner of Keepers Concealment, asked me if I’d like to give one of his “Keeper” holsters a try. The 1911 has a thin profile but a very long barrel. That combined with the relatively heavy weight of the gun (as it is an all steel handgun, and I haven’t carried one of those for quite some time) makes the 1911 a particularly challenging pistol to tackle with an AIWB holster.
One of the benefits of the “Keeper” is that it is built with adjust-ability and customization in mind. In multiple locations Spencer has added velcro attachment points (which look really well done, by the way) that allow use of the included foam blocks to add extra tuck for the butt of the gun, or for comfort. You can even get creative and attach other things to enhance the comfort of the holster for your needs. I didn’t need to get quite as creative as Melody…the included foam blocks worked well for me.
Because of the length of the barrel I figured out that I needed to slightly alter where I located the holster on my waistline compared to other pistol/holster combos I already have. The difference was maybe half an inch, but that half an inch made a huge difference for me. Another top tip about successful AIWB carry: 1/2 an inch really can make the difference between comfort and misery. You have to be willing to experiment to get this right.
The ride height of the holster works well for me with the ride height of my pants and shorts (another area you have to play around with for successful AIWB carry) allowing enough space to get a good firing grip on the pistol while riding low enough for comfort when I sit down. I actually used the “Keeper” in a class I’ll be discussing in the future and when I was on the timer against the vital area of a humanoid target I was able to pull runs ranging from 1-1.2 seconds for the first shot with a closed-front concealment garment. That’s pretty good speed for my skill level, made possible by the ability to get a solid master grip on the gun in a hurry.
I also rather liked the attention to safety that’s gone into the “Keeper”. Pulling it out of the box I noticed a “kink” in the kydex that covers the left-side thumb safety of the pistol. I had a hunch for what this was for and I cleared my CQB and attempted to place the pistol inside the holster without the safety engaged…and the “Keeper” actually forces the safety on when you holster the pistol. Given that this is intended as an AIWB holster and given the dire consequences of accidentally discharging a handgun in that orientation, I think it’s quite nice to have the holster acting as a backup. I’m as human as anyone else on the planet, and while I try very hard to ingrain proper handling procedures it’s entirely possible for me to miss this crucial step when I’m tired, sunburned, and dehydrated after a long day at the range. The thumb safety used on the Wilson CQB is a much lower profile affair than the traditional Swenson-style 1911 thumb safety, but this feature of the holster still works splendidly with it.
Spencer also tried to engineer in a means of keeping someone from reholstering with their finger still on the trigger:
I tried this out for myself (using a cleared gun, of course) and I can tell you that it’s noticeable when you attempt to reholster with your finger still on the trigger. By “noticeable” I mean “unpleasant”. Given that the “Keeper” will actually re-engage the thumb safety of my 1911, I couldn’t actually create a condition where I would be able to successfully pull the trigger on my 1911 while reholstering the pistol. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s impossible but after playing with it for a while the only way I could see even the possibility of making it happen would be to ram the pistol into the holster so fast and so hard that I would likely break my trigger finger…including ripping off the nail and any skin on the top of it. I’m all about doing thorough product testing for you guys, but I’m going to have to draw the line at deliberately smashing bits of my anatomy.
So what’s the verdict? I think if you are looking at AIWB the “Keeper” should be one of the holsters you consider. It tucks enough to conceal the butt of even a full-sized 1911 with a mag well on it effectively, it’s comfortable, it’s well made, and it has some neat safety features that I found very worthwhile…especially when training with a type of pistol I haven’t done much serious work with in years. A good holster will likely be more expensive than the mediocre and utterly crappy ones on the market, but the mediocre and crappy ones don’t make daily carry comfortable and don’t conceal effectively. Trust me on this: good carry gear is worth the investment.