The techniques you choose to employ for concealment can vary dramatically depending on what you are carrying, where you are carrying, and most importantly the level of scrutiny you will likely experience.
While more obvious methods may be available, the best concealment methods can often be found with just a little bit of creativity. From custom clothing to fake wounds, a little investment can ensure you have the tools you need when you need them.
No concealment option will work with complete effectiveness, however many of the methods discussed in this article have been demonstrated to work in a range of environments. While we do focus primarily on techniques, we will also highlight some of the many tools available that can take concealment to the next level.
Why bother with concealment?
There are countless reasons why you may wish to conceal something on your person. Whether it is as simple as keeping extra money secure on your person while travelling or concealing items for self-defense, the reason why you wish to conceal is important.
This reason why is always worth considering as it directly dictates how much effort you should put into your concealment plan. A mugger is unlikely to strip search you to find a $10 bill hidden in your waistband, but it is very possible a kidnapper may search that extensively SERE tools.
By understanding the environment you are likely to find yourself in, in addition to the threats you may encounter, it becomes easier to prepare your concealment to even extreme scrutiny and remain gray wherever you find yourself.
Play off of other people’s assumptions
Most people, particularly outside of the security sector, like nice and easy explanations for the things they notice in their day to day life.
This fact can be very quickly used to your advantage by hiding your equipment in plain sight as far more common objects.
We attempt to do this anyway as a gray man by blending into the environment, however, the concept may be extended to objects and our clothing to just as much effect.
This method can work extremely well at a quick glance, however, it will often fail under any serious level of scrutiny. As people get close to your concealed item, the cover will likely fall apart. So, you should always be prepared for the risk of detection, such as being prepared to answer questions.
With how little preparation this principle requires, it is arguably the one I practice most in my daily life and often for the purpose of self-defense. Where part of my work takes me to non-permissive environments with limited access to knives and firearms, I instead rely on two tools that are frequently carried openly.
No matter where I am, I have a watch and a collection of bracelets on my wrist. Among these bracelets, I keep an L.I. Advanced reinforced friction saw, which can serve a range of purposes from spare cordage to an escape tool or even a garrot if the need was ever there. A collection of other bands next to this tool forces it to blend in as just another piece of jewelry, instead of standing out in the way a single paracord bracelet will often do.
The second tool typically carried in my bag is a bookmark produced by GLG Knifeworks. It is something I use every day with my journal, however, as it is made from a G10 composite, it can also double as a very efficient striking tool despite looking rather unassuming when placed inside a book.
Both of these items have evidence of their intended purpose when examined in detail, but most environments go by entirely unnoticed.
Take advantage of people’s laziness
The second factor you can take advantage of when attempting to conceal is human laziness, especially among people who are underpaid, under-trained, or who are required to repeatedly carry out numerous searches per night, such as concert or theater security guards.
These individuals will frequently fall back on short cuts to minimize their workload, such as only checking common concealment locations or scanning above the waist with metal detectors to prevent bending over.
While there are exceptions to these kinds of guards and you may encounter individuals who wish to thoroughly examine you, in general, we can frequently make use of people’s laziness to conceal things on our person.
Many of the ways to implement this principle have been used for decades, although it can be a relatively weak method in certain scenarios (such as TSA).
Implementation of this can be as simple as hiding something under the insert of your shoe or buried at the bottom of your bag. In the right environment, as most people do not want to continually bend over to check shoes or spend time digging through bags, it is possible to slide through undetected.
This method’s simplicity makes it easily defeated, particularly in high-security environments, but it is the minimum recommended if attempting to conceal something.
Actively disguise your goods
While hiding your items in plain sight can work in some environments, it can also be made much more efficient by actively disguising your tools or items to better blend them into your environment.
This method requires preparation to be carried out successfully; however, it can hold up to even the most intensive examination if pulled off correctly.
These disguises can be made yourself but are also available through some incredible people within the EDC community.
One of the best examples of this technique can be found with Ron Benson at Life After Death Designs. I personally own several of the G10 Pencil Pushers, which look like a standard yellow number 4 pencil that can both write and double as an impact weapon. More impressively are the tobacco pipes he produces that separate to reveal a sharp spike, while still remaining entirely functional as a pipe.
Ron’s gear sells out incredibly quickly so you should make sure to check out his Instagram (@coffin-tramp) if you are interested in purchasing one of his designs.
A similar effect can be made by replacing the ink portion of a sharpie with a 16″ nail and some epoxy, although pens work well for hiding almost anything in. This is particularly true with Chisel-Tip Sharpies, which gives you significantly more room for materials such as money or small lockpicks.
Give reasonable answers to people’s questions
In a similar manner to playing off people’s physical laziness, people also are unlikely to want to put in the effort to investigate flags and instead often accept any plausible answer.
For this to work effectively, you have to be confident in your answer and concealment to stop yourself from raising enough red flags that you become worth investigating. This is true for almost any concealment technique, and being confident and able to answer the right questions is vital in surviving almost any scrutiny you may face.
It is also important to note that smooth-talking can only get you so far and knowing your limits of what you can comfortably get away with carrying.
One of the best ways to implement this can be seen at checkpoints with handheld metal detectors.
Anything you choose to conceal will likely set off a metal detector, so place your item in a position with another object you can easily explain away. This may be behind a belt buckle or in the same pocket as your phone or wallet.
5.11 and Vertx both make some great products that take full advantage of this, with certain Vertx jeans including a pocket in the crotch and 5.11 wallets containing hidden pockets behind credit cards.
The main idea with this method is to be caught, but as a gray man prove that you are not a threat by offering another explanation of why the detector went off.
Use societal norms to your advantage
While concealing items behind a belt buckle is useful to answer questions when they arise, hiding items near your crotch (or bra for women) can prove just as effective for another critical reason.
Pat downs will frequently avoid these areas due to the very real risk of being misconstrued as sexual harassment, making them a prime area for concealment.
Whether you’re sewing a secret pocket into your underwear or using Velcro to retain your items, this can be an excellent way to hide small items on your person.
While there are some limitations to concealing in this manner, there are some very serious advantages, namely in the speed at which you are able to recover your items should you ever need to.
This technique’s applications are almost unlimited, from storing money to even subcompact firearms (assuming you are careful with placement).
There are obvious size constraints both from a comfort perspective and that objects over a certain size are likely to draw more attention than is ideal. With that said, assuming the item lies relatively flat against your body and you are able to withstand slight discomfort, it is a great way to conceal on your person.
Although this is quite a powerful technique, it is not a method I frequently employ besides appendix carrying.
There are primarily two reasons for this, as concealing in underwear can severely limit your maneuverability and is easily defeated if attempted in high-security environments where individuals have the authority to strip-search.
Abuse human instinct
While hiding near private areas of the body will naturally avert most searches in low-security environments, the principle can be extended one step further to cover almost any part of the body out of a human’s natural response to injuries.
People are instinctually very cautious over the presence of wounds, especially if they believe the wound to be severe. Whether it’s out of care or disgust, most people are unlikely to undress and inspect wound sites, offering a prime location for concealment almost anywhere on the body.
This method is also relatively scalable, and whether you choose to simply use a bandage or go for a more detailed approach to include silicone and fake blood is entirely dependent on your needs.
It is essential to understand that it can be very easy to go over the top with techniques such as with too much fake blood or an excessive amount of fake injuries.
Personally, this is a technique I have never tried. However, given the CIA and costume design community’s extensive use of silicone for various other purposes, I could see it being used to great success.
While I have not tried fake wounds as a means to carry tools with me, I do have a fair amount of experience with body modification and people’s responses.
This body modification is most notable with several microchips I have implanted within my hands that are used to store a range of information and access keys. These chips are noticeable as lumps in the skin, however as it is typically socially unacceptable to ask about potential medical topics, they have gone unnoticed for at least two years now.
Make your gear your own
With all other techniques, one of the most important to take away is not being afraid to customize and modify your gear. If you think there is a way that you can add a functionality to your gear, that makes it either more useful or more concealable, take advantage of the mod and make it your own.
Not only does this make your tools more usable, it can also encourage you to pursue a range of new skills, from metal working all the way to textiles.
While we will look at some commercial and home modifications you can do to aid in concealment, it is arguably always worth at least attempting your own modifications for the pure reason of understanding how they work.
Covering all possible customization options out there would be impossible. Instead, I’m hoping to offer up a few mods I rely on most in my day to day life that will hopefully give you some inspiration of where you can take your gear.
One of the easiest modifications to carry out can be done on almost any morale patch and is as simple as placing a small cut along the Velcro panel to create a stash pocket. The incision self-seals when attacked to Velcro so you do not have to worry about the gear being lost.
Commercial options are available, such as from Wazoo Survival Gear, however, I frequently create my own and rely heavily on this method to store cash and sim cards when abroad.
Caps are another great option to customize as they are lightweight and able to blend in almost anywhere in the world (with some exceptions). Again, commercial products exist, however where I use mine primarily to store mini Bogotá lockpicks, a small amount of sewing is more than sufficient to ensure I always have options on me.
While I recommend your own modifications, TracerTactical offers some excellent equipment that is a great way to start if you are looking for quick and easy modifications. TracerTactical offers an impressive range, including various watch straps for SERE kits and replaceable tongue inserts for your shoes.
Scale to your environment
At the start of this article, we emphasized it and feel it is worth emphasizing again, that any concealment you attempt should be scaled to your environment.
Using a fake wound may serve as an effective means to store a shim or lockpick while in a clandestine environment, however, is impractical and by no means acting gray if you are simply looking to keep money safe while on vacation.
Additionally, you want to take care to invest in concealing. If you know you will likely be in an environment where you may be under large amounts of scrutiny (such as in certain foreign countries), make sure you prepare properly. Any corners you cut while preparing only risks the likelihood of revealing yourself and having your concealment attempts fail.
No concealment is perfect
While we have covered a range of method that may help meet a range of needs, no concealment is perfect.
Just as no one can perfectly become a gray man and will always present tells, there is always the risk of concealment failing. We hope this never happens, but the risk is always very real and you should make attempts to both avoid and prepare for this contingency to happen.
This preparation looks hugely context-dependent; in the same way the results of a concealment attempt failing can vary drastically, from simply losing money to prison time. It is essential, though, to understand the risks and how you may respond to them.
While becoming a gray man can be achieved by changing behavior and appearance, employing tactics such as these can help you remain gray in a much wider range of circumstances.
It is likely only a handful of techniques covered here today apply to your individual needs, but we hope to some you may be able to take away and implement into your life.