I will start with a caveat: this author does not promote off-body carry. However, there may be some circumstances that force you to carry off-body and modern concealed carry bags can facilitate this, but under most circumstances the gun should be on-person. With that said, there are a variety of other reasons that make a backpack, messenger bag, or sling pack exceedingly useful for the concealed carrier. Having a pack that is designed for daily carry, either kept in your vehicle or, better, carried with you when out and about, makes good sense.
The good news is that people in rural, suburban, and urban environments alike, carry bags with them routinely, and doing so does not make one stand out. However, it is important to select a bag that looks common and mundane, not tactical in nature and covered with Molle webbing. Bad actors will typically associate such a pack with an individual who is prepared and carrying something they might want. Let’s address what this pack is, or, rather, what it is not:
What is this EDC “Concealed Carry” Pack?
A pack that bolsters your daily carry needs is not a bug-out bag or get-home bag. A get-home bag is a pack that you should have in your vehicle if you travel far from home to help you get back home during an emergency and it is typically going to contain a heavier and more complete loadout of gear. For example, in my get-home bag, I have several categories of gear that would not be applicable to the concealed carry pack such as additional clothing, outdoor shelter, water purification, fire-starting tools, navigation tools, and three days’ worth of food. All of these listed items should be in a get-home or bug-out bag but are not relevant to a daily carry bag that should be kept small and light enough to actually carry on a daily basis.
This concealed carry bag is not designed for the sustainment of an individual stranded far from home and wandering the wilderness. Rather, it is designed to be carried when in town, in suburbia, in urban environments, and in public during relatively “normal” conditions to carry further items that may be needed in a routine capacity, or in an emergency.
Recommendations for the Pack Itself
There are several general options for the style of bag that can be used: typically, these are backpacks, sling packs, or messenger bags.
The backpack incorporates two straps and is ideal for carrying heavy loads as bags with only a single strap do not spread the weight for comfortable extended carry. Bug-out bags and get-home bags, intended to carry heavier loads of gear, should always be backpacks as they can be carried far further with more comfort. For a daily carry bag, however, that will be relatively light, either a sling bag or messenger style bag is usually adequate. While sling bags or messenger bags are not good for heavy loadouts due to the single shoulder strap, they offer the benefit of being easier to put on and off throughout the day as slinging only one strap over the shoulders is easier.
The second advantage of both sling and messenger bags is that they can be brought to the front of your body while wearing them so that the contents of the bag can be accessed without taking it off; for an EDC bag, this is of great importance. Therefore, while backpacks are the only way to go for heavy survival bags, sling and messenger bags are ideal for an EDC pack.
I have used all three of these pack designs extensively and I am of the opinion that the sling pack is the best design for a bag intended for EDC use that factors into your defensive plan. The reason is that a sling pack can be quickly slung to the front of your body and ride tight to your upper body, something a typical messenger bag does not do well. This proves advantageous for certain reasons to be discussed further:
What to Carry in This Bag?
Obviously, gear related to self-defense should factor into this EDC pack. Again, I advise on-body carry, but these bags are often designed to carry a handgun. If you do keep a handgun in the bag itself, be sure to never leave the bag unattended in public; it must remain attached to you at all times. Some people carry a small, folding long gun in their packs, and if you do this, the same principle applies, you can never put the bag down.
If you keep your gun on person, which is preferable, there are still a number of things that can go in the bag to support your self-defense needs. Consider extra magazines for your carry gun: I believe in carrying at least one reload on person, but a couple of spare magazines in the bag makes sense. A full-size handheld light and a knife can certainly go in this bag. Even if you carry these items on body, which you should, a larger version can be easily carried in the bag. Also, consider keeping a good size canister of OC spray for less-lethal needs in the bag. Bear in mind, though, that if you leave the pack for extended times in a hot vehicle, OC canisters can explode in extreme heat.
An absolute must for this pack is going to be emergency medical supplies: Again, I advise carrying at least a tourniquet on-body, but carrying much else can be a hassle. The pack can certainly accommodate far more medical gear and a full trauma kit should be kept in this bag with a tourniquet, hemostatic gauze, pressure dressing, and chest seals, and perhaps more than one of each. Medical supplies are absolutely essential and this bag is not complete without them.
Also, consider carrying simple first aid items to address non-life-threatening injuries, and carry any medicines that you or yours may need on a daily basis. Do you need certain medications? Keep it in the bag. Also, do you wear corrective lenses, glasses, or contacts? Keep a spare set of glasses and contacts, as well as contact solution or another eye cleanser, in the bag. Further, consider the mundane things that are important, yet lightweight, that can be carried: phone chargers, a pen, a checkbook, a multi-tool, etc…, things that are useful throughout the day.
One emerging trend to consider incorporating into your carry bag is body armor. Yes, body armor. Many of these dedicated concealed carry bags are designed with a pocket that perfectly fits a plate-sized panel of armor. Rifle plates are quite heavy, but soft panels that can defeat handgun threats are very light and flexible and can be added to this pack. Now, back to the previously mentioned advantage of a sling pack; if you have armor in the pack then you can simply swing the sling pack around to your front and immediately don armor on the front of your body if you need to face a threat. In the event of violence, the sling bag can come forward, now offering ballistic protection, while also putting your extended defensive and medical gear at your fingertips.
Concerning armor, the most obvious choice will be going with a soft panel as hard rifle plates are quite heavy. I recommend using soft armor rated for level IIIA as this can defeat handgun rounds including 357 and 44 Magnum while only slightly thicker and heavier than lower-rated soft armor. Depending on the size of your pack you can fit either a standard 10×12 inch soft plate or a larger 11×14 inch square plate designed specifically for backpacks.
With the addition of armor, a sling pack becomes an active part of your self-defense toolset rather than just a means of transporting it. The low-profile sling bags now designed for this intended purpose, produced by a number of manufacturers, prove a valuable addition to any concealed carrier’s daily toolset.
While many shooters look at the chaos of the world and consider upping their self-protection by adding a long gun to the vehicle, I am of the opinion that most people are better and more practically served by adding an EDC pack to their daily carry that contains the items discussed. Long guns draw attention, but a regular-looking sling pack does not. Having additional ammo for your handgun and a full trauma kit along with you, as well as the other useful items discussed, greatly enhances your ability in a way that is likely more useful and practical.