Cover vs. Concealment—Understanding the Difference Could Save Your Life

Cover vs. Concealment—Understanding the Difference Could Save Your Life

Cover vs. Concealment—Understanding the Difference Could Save Your Life

Cover and concealment are terms often bandied about in CCW and tactical shooting circles, but they’re often left undefined and the implications for CCW tactics and training are frequently ignored.  This is a serious oversight, as the difference is one of life or death for civilians caught in a self defense situation.

To get to the bottom of this, I turned to an old friend: US Army field manuals. FM 21-75 “Combat Skills of the Soldier” offers some basics, while  FM 20-3 “Camouflage, Concealment and Decoys” gets into a bit more detail. Check them both out; they’re online for free.

In general, the difference is this:

  • Cover is anything that “gives protection from bullets, fragments of exploding rounds, flame” or anything else that could cause you physical harm.
  • Concealment, by contrast is “anything that hides you from enemy observation.” FM 21-75 emphatically points out that unlike cover, concealment “does not protect you from enemy fire. Do not think that you are protected from the enemy’s fire just because you are concealed.”

While these are good guidelines—you should learn them by heart—FM 20-3 expands on the subject, pointing out that what constitutes cover/concealment also depend on what weapon the enemy is employing against you.  What stops a knife or small caliber bullet will probably fail against a full-powered handgun round, and what stops a shot from a pistol probably won’t protect you from a rifle. You get the idea: assessing and understanding enemy capabilities is a key part of any self defense situation.

Likewise, awareness of your physical environment is an important step. When the bullets (or worse) start to fly, you’re unlikely the luxury of spending a few moments assessing the various modes of cover or concealment available to you. So how can you stay on top of the cover/concealment around you while having time to figure out what your adversaries are doing? It comes back to two USA Carry favorites: situational awareness and a life lived in Condition Yellow. Build these things into your life as habits; you will need them when the time comes.

While cover and concealment accomplish very different things,  in a self defense situation the are tools to help you accomplish a set of goals: either fighting back effectively or escaping/evading the threat. Simply using concealment to hide isn’t ideal. You should only hide if you have no other option or if you’re in the process of performing another necessary task like calling 911 or rendering first aid to the wounded.  Otherwise, you need to be finding a way to evacuate yourself or other innocents from the scene. This will rely heavily on your situational awareness—again, you won’t have time to figure out where all the exits are.

If you must fight, use cover/concealment to manure into a position from which you can engage the foe effectively. This involves finding a clear line of fire while working from behind cover, or at least concealment. Once you start shooting, you’ll probably draw the full attention of the bad guy (or guys).  You’ll need to incorporate cover and concealment into your other tactical skills, so start training with these ideas in mind.

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Michael Jenkins is a writer and editor based in Wilmington, North Carolina. He is a lifelong reader, gardener, shooter, and musician. You can reach him at
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