A popular and contentious topic of late you have probably seen discussed is appendix inside-the-waistband, or AIWB, carry.
While somewhat trendy, this carry position has been used continually for a long time, though judging by some outspoken fans’ and haters’ reactions you’d think it was either the second coming of John Moses Browning or literally the worst idea since gun control.
As I mentioned, appendix carry has been around a long, long time, so long that some folks have forgotten or never knew in the first place that it was ever a codified position where one could carry a gun.
Proponents today extol it as a fast, secure position from which one can initiate a very fast draw. Detractors will swear it the most uncomfortable position imaginable and nothing more than a great way to blow your private parts off.
The truth, like most things, is somewhere in the middle, and I hope today to equip you with the facts and enough nuanced opinion so you can choose when, where and if AIWB will be an appropriate carry solution for you.
Table of Contents
What is AIWB Carry?
Appendix-inside-the-waistband carry, often shortened to appendix carry and sometimes mirthfully or not-so-mirthfully called felony carry (after its common usage by criminals without a holster) is simply carry of the pistol far forward of the hip, about the 1:00-1:30 position for a right handed shooter, and generally over the appendix, which lends the position its name.
Also note that as a general rule, the position is only employed today utilizing an inside the waistband holster, as opposed to strongside and behind-the-hip carry that may be used either OWB or IWB. Carry of a pistol IWB at this position really allows its advantages to shine.
Why is Positioning of the Pistol Important?
To really explain the pros and cons of AIWB carry, or any other mode of carry, one must first understand what effect it has on the carrier of the pistol. Positioning of the pistol on a shooter’s body is foundational to effective employment of the pistol.
All carry positions have advantages and disadvantages, but some positions lend themselves far more readily to a fast, glitch-free draw, or provide better defensibility of the gun should an attacker come to grips with you.
For our purposes today we are considering only the beltline area, not pockets, ankle carry, shoulder holsters or anything else. Concerning the shooter’s beltline and waist most carry positions are defined either by their proximity to the frontal or rear centerline, the front, or 12 o’clock being the belt buckle, and the rear, or 6 o’clock being the spine. All of the following references are for right-handed shooters. Lefties, flip these positions to the other side of the clock.
Generally, a position closer to 12 o’clock, the frontal centerline, will offer a cleaner, faster draw, better awareness of the gun and better concealment, all things being equal. The closer the gun is positioned to the rear centerline, 6 o’clock, you will incur a slower draw, less awareness and drastically less defense of the gun.
The reasons are anatomical, pure and simple. The body works the way it works, and utilizing a technique that is anatomically more efficient is almost always a better choice than one that is not.
Consider the placement of your eyes: invariably, our biggest blind spot is right behind us. The arms too are configured to work in tandem closer to the frontal centerline, not the rear, and only one arm can be used efficiently over either hip.
Have you ever tried to do anything behind your back? It is not easy, now imagine trying to stop, to say nothing of detect in time to stop, an attempted gun takeaway if you had your pistol positioned at the small of your back around 6 o’clock.
Consider the reverse, trying to do the same with the gun ahead of your hip, literally right under your nose.
You could still be blindsided, but without a lot of luck an assailant will need to scramble and fight to reach the gun, and you had better believe that you will have a bigger vote in the outcome.
If an assailant chooses to attack from the front, they will be moving through your arc of vision, assuming you are not too head-the-clouds buried in Condition White to notice them.
Start to assess other carry positions according to this methodology and you will see that it generally holds true almost all the time.
Traditional strongside carry, at anywhere from 2:30 to 3:30 is a ubiquitous and widely used carry position with good reason, as it offers a good draw, good security and all around good performance whether the gun is IWB or OWB.
But a takeaway attempt from the side or rear will be harder to detect and stop than if the gun was carried farther forward.
Concealability and Positioning
The position of the gun is also important for concealment. Position is not a hard-and-fast factor for concealability, however: the gun, the holster, the shooter’s body type and clothing all play a part in the equation.
That being said, the farther you place the gun from the widest point on the shooter’s body, the hips, the easier it will be to conceal the gun with an appropriate holster.
This is one reason why behind-the-hip (4 o’clock) carry has remained popular with older shooters, as it always allowed good concealment with a cover garment even when the pistol was carried OWB. Appendix carry offers similar benefits with the right holster.
Ultimately, most any position will allow a pistol within a certain size to be concealed with the right concealing garment, but you may not be able to get away with a gun of certain size in certain locations no matter what you are wearing.
The Pros of AIWB Carry
AIWB carry, once you have practiced enough to ingrain your technique, allows for an extremely fast draw, one with minimal “wind up” or furtive movement necessary to achieve it. This comes in handy for both overt and surreptitious draws; a concealing garment is easily cleared with either or both hands starting with the hands hanging neutrally.
The ability to clear a concealing garment one-handed is vital, as you will not always be afforded the use of both in a fight. One hand may be busy with a vital task, like corralling or shielding a loved one, or using a light or phone. You may start the fight down an arm from an injury or wound. Appendix carry is one of the most amicable positions to a one-handed draw, even from concealment.
Speaking of concealment, for most shooters with the most common body types you can get away with concealing a far larger pistol, and do so more comfortably, carrying AIWB in a proper holster than you can in other positions wearing even light attire. With a change of position, you may no longer have to choose between a more effective firearm and greater concealment.
Lastly, AIWB carry is one of the only IWB modes of carry that even approach affording a clean draw when seat-belted in a vehicle. Strongside carry, even OWB, requires some movement and gyration to produce the gun when belted and is far tougher if you carry IWB. If you are carrying Small-of-Back or even behind the hip, you can likely forget about it.
Accomplishing this seat-belted draw from AIWB requires a little setup between belt and garment to ensure a glitch free draw, but this is simple and easy to accomplish with minimal practice and will not draw any extra attention to the gun.
All in all, once you acclimatize to this mode of carry the advantages it affords a concealed carrier are huge, even compared to time-tested and effective techniques like strongside carry.
I do not carry AIWB all the time, but I do employ it with certain guns when dressed very slick, and it allows me to carry a pistol I much prefer to a small revolver or pocket pistol with complete concealment and plenty of comfort.
Cons of AIWB Carry
The single biggest gripe most shooters will spout off about AIWB carry is comfort, or the lack of it. This is tough to objectively quantify, as, per what I wrote above, the combination of body type, gun and holster will all play a part in how comfortable or not a given rig is.
Body type, specifically girth, excess weight, flab, whatever you want to call it, is significant influence on how comfortable or agonizing AIB carry is for a given individual.
A big gun in a crappy holster riding on the floppy belt of a guy with a big ol’ beer belly will probably think AIWB carry is akin to some medieval torture method than a way to carry a gun.
Conversely, a quality rig on the waist of a person in even average shape will likely find it very comfortable once they have adjusted to carrying there. Bottom line: if you are toting a bunch of extra fuel around your middle, you may have problems with AIWB carry, though you may not.
The other major complaint about AIWB carry is one common and vocal enough I will address it alone in the following section.
“You’ll Shoot Your Tackle Off!”
You will, no question, hear this refrain repeated endlessly and ad nauseum whenever a vocal detractor of AIWB carry is involved in the conversation.
To explain at length, some shooters are concerned, rightly, that due to the positioning of an AIWB holster in very close proximity to the groin a negligent discharge resulting from a “crash-on-landing” when reholstering the pistol or when drawing it will result in a gunshot wound to and subsequent destruction of the genitals or major arteries in the groin or thigh.
On its surface, this is a hard point to argue against, as, yes, the holster and ergo the pistol will not be riding right next to or even nearly atop the genitalia.
A discharge with the muzzle oriented in that direction will no doubt produce a severe wound to either of the anatomical structures mentioned, and either will have lasting consequences.
What I am more concerned with addressing are the general myths surrounding concentrated criticism of the carry position on what are patently false grounds, that I will address below:
“You cannot reholster when carrying AIWB without muzzling yourself.”
This is false. A slow and careful reholster, as it should be, will allow you to stow the pistol without muzzling your own body.
“It is too easy to ND when carrying AIWB.”
This is also false. It is no easier or harder than carrying a pistol at any other location on the body. ND’s just don’t happen, because guns don’t go off by themselves, except in the most vanishingly rare of circumstances.
Much of the mishaps and negligent discharges that have resulted from botched holstering of an AIWB-carried gun (indeed, a gun carried any which way) have occurred because the shooter either tried to reholster at speed or did not ensure that the mouth of the holster was clear of cloth, jacket pulls, or other things notorious for pulling triggers on their own.
“If I did shoot myself by accident when carrying in another location the wound would not be as bad.”
Maybe or maybe not. Even when carrying strongside, the commonly thought to result wound of an ND, the shallow “rally stripe” down the length of the leg, is far from a certainty.
A cant of even a few degrees can easily send the bullet into the thigh, potentially severing the same femoral artery we are concerned with, or into the lower leg where other arteries may be struck. The bottom line is this: a severe and life threatening wound can result from any self-inflicted accidental gunshot, not just one that arises from a pistol carried AIWB.
Training, practice, good gear and strict adherence to best practices makes AIWB carry as safe as any other mode of carry.
Charles’ Tips for AIWB Carry Success
I’ll admit that I have been a strongside carry guy my entire shooting life. I have found a home for AIWB carry in my repertoire, but it did not come as easy as you may be thinking, even with all my experience.
I struggled to snap-in initially, and part of that struggle resulted from a few mistakes I made. Below, I will share the distillation of the tricks and techniques that I found to greatly smooth my transition into AIWB carry on a regular basis.
Get a proper appendix carry holster
If you know any shooters or instructors who are all in on carrying AIWB, you’ll probably notice that they use a specialized holster for the purpose.
Compared to traditional OWB or IWB holsters, made from leather or kydex, these holsters are almost invariably always kydex but benefit from specialized design features that make carrying a handgun at this location a snap.
Much of the time, these holsters are configurable for adjustable can’t, adjustable ride height and use everything from pronounced protrusions near the bottom to foam wedges in an effort to can’t the handle of your handgun back towards your abdomen instead of letting it flop away from your body over your beltline.
Flat, low profile clips play nice with any kind of worn belt and won’t interfere with buckles. As is expected, retention is typically adjustable by use of screws or some other mechanism for the user’s preference.
Another common feature on a dedicated AIWB holster is a wing or claw like protrusion that extends perpendicular to the pistol and rests behind the belt in order to further lever the entire package and closer to the body.
To the uninitiated, these holsters seem over engineered, overblown and full of bits and bobs of uncertain purpose. to the folks that have used them and who know what they are looking at, these features often make all the difference when it comes to comfort and performance, especially for all day carry.
Excellent manufacturers of such holsters in this category include Keepers Concealment, PHLster, Dark Star Gear and JM Custom Kydex.
Try a few different AIWB holsters.
This goes hand in hand with the above tip. AIWB seems more than most positions to be a love it or leave it proposition.
I think most of us have forgotten what unfamiliar feels like when carrying a gun! It is never comfortable at first.
Don’t quit right after you begin to hate the first gun and holster combo you try. Try another model of holster, or another maker’s.
Move the belt buckle.
Your average person will carry an average AIWB holster in such a way that it is right up next to the belt buckle of their belt.
Make your life easier and relieve a little pressure by sliding your belt buckle off to the left (if you are right-handed) or right (if a lefty) away from the gun. This will also reduce the overall thickness around that spot on the beltline, aiding concealment.
Strap it down.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, you may gain more comfort by tightening, not loosening your belt. An AIWB holster that is allowed to slump and fall away from the body is not only hard to conceal, but the full weight of the gun will now be cranking the muzzle-end of the holster into your soft bits like a lever.
Not fun! By strapping the pistol down tightly, you can encourage it to stand up right, spreading that pressure over the entire body of the holster.
Don’t forget to switch pants.
The cut of a given garment, as with any other position, will be a key part in determining whether or not you say “Ahh” or “Argh!” when carrying AIWB. If nothing you try seems to make any difference, switch your bottoms and try again.
My Preferred Handguns for AIWB Carry
Now, as we have mentioned there is quite a stigma concerning AIWB carry, particularly when it comes to safety and they perceived risk of disaster should a negligent discharge occur while holstering the gun.
I do not share these concerns but I do not necessarily want to invalidate them in other people, either. We are all different, with different needs, desires and objectives.
That being said, I do not find fault with those who seek a hardware solution to a perceived problem so long as it does not unduly burden them.
One of the best options for those who are still a little skittish about carrying a handgun in this position, and one that I make use of myself, is to simply carry a pistol with an exposed hammer.
At first blush, this might seem like a strange recommendation. How is an exposed hammer going to give a shooter any additional safety when carrying AIWB, particularly when holster?
Simply, by manually restraining the hammer of a hammer fired gun the shooter will be provided with a failsafe against unintended discharge and will also be informed should anything begin impinging upon the trigger.
Stated another way, if the trigger is pulled on a hammer fired gun the hammer is first drawn to the rear then released in the case of a double action handgun or the hammer is immediately released from a cock position in the case of a single action handgun.
By restraining the hammer appropriately with the shooting hand thumb any movement of the hammer will be halted while the gun is being holstered.
It might be the shooters lazy trigger finger pressing against the body of the holster and into the trigger which starts this sequence of events or it could be something innocuous like a drape of fabric, a jacket bungee pull or something else.
Whatever it is, it could lead to disaster and this methodology gives a shooter greater control, better safety and a chance to abort a failed landing.
If I were being honest, this is a technique that I have been employing for a very long time no matter how I carry a handgun, IWB, strong side o w b or any other which way.
Now, for all you striker-fired guys who absolutely, positively will not switch guns there is still hope for you if you are a Glock owner.
There is an ingenious little upgrade for Glocks that installs like any other back plate on the slide called, on ironically, the Gadget aka the striker control device.
Originally designed and marketed by Tau development group and only recently acquired by Langdon tactical technologies, this device features a small, spring loaded paddle that can be firmed in a similar manner to the hammer on a hammer fired gun for the above purpose.
In operation, this provides the user mechanical advantage over the striker itself, preventing an unintended discharge should the trigger of the handgun be pulled by a finger or anything else while holstering. This is one of my most beloved firearm accessories and one that I recommend to all of my students and friends.
This greater degree of assurance and control over a type of handgun that typically cannot be utilized in this way is great it might be just the ticket for getting you around the bend when carrying AIWB.
Should You Do It?
AIWB carry is not just a fad, but instead is a position that has been found once again to have merit to today’s shooters. While its popularity may wax or wane, savvy shooters do not look to trends to determine what is best for their needs and missions.
Take the time to learn the ins and outs of AIWB carry so that you may perhaps find it useful.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.