How to Carry a Sidearm with a Backpack

No matter if you are a hiker or a hunter, you probably have a backpack with you in the woods. And if you carry a handgun on your sojourns you know that the backpack and the pistol do not always play nicely together. 

Carrying a sidearm with a backpack can include concealed or open carry, both on and off the body. Local laws may dictate the methods allowed, and some of those methods may make self-defense more difficult. Today we will look at the most effective ways to carry a sidearm with a backpack.

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There are many ways to carry a handgun concealed while wearing a backpack. If you are in a populated area, and guns make the locals jittery, or if open carry is not allowed by law where you are, then concealed carry is your best option. 

On-Body Carry

On-person carry of a sidearm with a backpack can involve appendix, hip (3-5 o’clock), shoulder/chest holster, or a belt pouch. The most comfortable method of carrying is determined largely by the gun carried and by where the straps of your pack sit on your body. 

If the waistband of the pack sits low on your waist, then it may interfere with a large pistol carried on the hip or near the appendix. Conversely, a heavy ruck with wide straps may make it impossible to use a shoulder holster. 

A chest holster can get the weapon clear of your pack straps, but many were designed to be worn over the clothes and not under them. This may not be a problem if you are wearing a second layer like a jacket.

Specialized concealment jackets with built-in pockets for a pistol can also be a good option in colder climates. 

Carrying at the small of the back may be an option for some people, but for me, unless I’m using a small daypack, it sits right on top of the pistol and grinds the weapon into my back. Your mileage may vary.

Off Body Carry

If concealing a sidearm under your clothes does not work for you, and you still need your weapon hidden, then a concealment pouch or pack is worth a look. 

A chest pouch offers quick access to your weapon without it being under your clothes. These rigs have their own set of straps, and the pouch itself typically sits over the sternum and fits between your pack straps. To the uninitiated, the rig appears to be a first-aid pouch or tackle bag. While technically on-body carry, I consider the chest pouch to be an off-body carry because you need to remove it to shed layers. 

Most models provide “grip-and-rip” Velcro to allow rapid access to your sidearm in an emergency. The chest pouch is also one of the more comfortable options for carrying a full-size pistol, and the added weight up front can help counterbalance your pack.

If none of these options work for you, then using a backpack with a concealment compartment like the Vertex EDC is the next best option. While having your sidearm in the pack does not provide quick access like a chest pouch, it is less conspicuous. 

Open Carry

Open carry allows the quickest access to your pistol or revolver while wearing a backpack. The size of your pack and how you wear it will dictate what is comfortable for carrying positions.

Like with concealed carry, a hip holster may interfere with the waist strap on a pack. Ditto for multi-tools. If I don’t take my Leatherman off my belt when using my large molle rucksack, the waistband sits right on top of that multi-tool and messes with my hip. 

With a daypack, using a hip holster is more feasible (at least for me). The pack and the gun do not interfere with each other, and access is unimpeded.

A close cousin to the hip holster is the drop-leg holster. These get your sidearm down away from your pack and closer to your hand. Drawing is fast and easy. The downside to the drop-leg is that walking with one on can be an acquired taste. For this holster to work properly, the leg straps must be tight around your thigh, and this can be uncomfortable, it also limits the pocket space on that side.

If you carry a large pack with a waistband, a paddle holster can be a great option. Clip the holster to the waist strap while the rucksack is worn, and if you need to drop your pack, simply unclip the holster from the waistband and transfer it to your pants. Works quick and easy. 

The chest holster is another good option for open carry with a backpack, especially if you have a large handgun. The chest holster typically gets your pistol clear of the pack straps and distributes the weight of the weapon well. These are very popular in bear country.


Carrying a sidearm with a backpack can be uncomfortable, but a little experimentation with some of the methods we discussed today might make things easier. Check your state and local laws and stay safe out there.

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