Warriors in combat, law enforcement officers on patrol and individuals defending their homes have been injured or killed because they either didn’t understand the basic concepts of “cover” and “concealment,” they didn’t apply them properly, or they failed to understand the distinction between the two. Whether or not they were taught about these tactics, they just didn’t include their use in regular training and their daily activities.

The concepts of cover and concealment are both different and complementary. They can be used singly, or they can be used in concert with each other.

The purpose of this article is to ensure you know the difference between them and how to use them effectively, both separately and together.


“Cover” is anything that can protect you from an incoming projectile, either by stopping it or deflecting it. Most types of cover will also provide you with concealment. Big exceptions to that rule are the solid-glass construction blocks that are used in some houses and commercial buildings. They don’t conceal you or your movements but do protect you from most gunfire.

“Concealment” is anything that simply hides you from being seen or detected by someone.

Proper execution of the concepts of cover and concealment begin with lessons learned in training. Both of these trainees are concealed, but neither is behind good cover.


Cover is the more critical of the two concepts. It is, after all, what keeps you from being hurt or killed.

It is also dependent on what the bad guy is shooting. Materials that will stop a 9mm or other pistol round will likely not stop a shotgun slug or buckshot, simply because they have more energy behind them. The same thing goes for stopping a rifle bullet, which has even more gunpowder behind it.

In the first quarter of the 1900s, homes were constructed with walls that had multiple layers of plaster coupled with wooden slats and other denser materials.

Those walls had a better chance of stopping the bullets of their day, but modern walls are just ½-inch drywall held in place with 2×4-inch studs and drywall screws.

Walls made of concrete, stone or brick provide excellent cover in an urban environment.
Modern interior walls are nothing more than wood or metal frames covered by drywall or sheetrock. They definitely won’t stop a bullet.

Similarly, the furniture in our grandparents’ houses was made from solid wood for the most part, rather than the particle board or laminates used today. Consequently, you can get better cover with the stone or concrete counter tops in the kitchen and bathroom. In addition, metal bathtubs are normally thick cast iron and can provide cover from small-arms fire.

Unlike what we see in the movies, most modern furniture and interior wall construction will not stop anything that is fired at you. John Wayne and Roy Rogers may have taken cover behind the bar or an upended table, but don’t try that tactic if you are in a gunfight at home, the office or in a public building. Even pistol rounds can penetrate common office furniture and cabinets.

Today’s furniture is mainly air under the upholstery; and any padding that is present won’t stop anything. Metal cabinets and office conference room tables won’t stop modern ammunition. Those big pillars on the interior and exterior of public buildings that look as if they are made of stone or concrete are really hollow, with a laminate on the surface that surrounds what is often a relatively small steel or concrete core.

Unlike most furniture made of lightweight or composite materials, items such as this bed that is made of thick and solid wood can provide both concealment and cover to someone hiding behind the wooden parts.
Heavy wood tables such as these in the Boston Library can provide cover when flipped onto their sides.

So, what are we supposed to use for cover in today’s world? Our best bet is to add to existing items. For example, an empty file cabinet or bookcase won’t provide much protection, but if it is filled with files or books, which are basically 6 to 11 inches of wood fiber, it will provide adequate protection against small-arms fire. The same goes for office equipment such as large photocopiers, which have a considerable number of metal moving parts on the inside.

Because they are not solid, they don’t provide as much protection—but they are better than desks and tables. Movies, TV shows and books use automobiles as other sources of cover; but in reality, most vehicles won’t provide much actual cover from bullets without some sort of augmentation.

Windshield glass might deflect bullets, depending on the angle, but that isn’t something you can count on. Single or multiple rounds, especially from a rifle or shotgun, will break through and still be lethal. The best place to seek cover on a car is where there is the most solid metal. That means putting the wheels, transaxle, transmission, differential or engine block between you and the bad guys.

Glass blocks are the exception that proves the rule when it comes to cover and concealment. But they are also excellent for illustrating the two concepts: Although these blocks do not conceal you, they do provide you with good cover.

Of course, if you are outdoors, objects such as mature trees, concrete walls and dirt berms provide excellent cover from offensive fire.

One of the best types of cover outside of the home is a dirt berm you can hide behind and still fire from. (Photo:


Paintball courses are excellent venues for practicing how to keep obstacles between you and your opponent so you can stay concealed when moving from one point to another.


Even though most current building materials and furniture materials do not provide much protection, there are ways to improve them without making your home or office look like a bunker.

You can supplement the protection value of interior walls by adding gravel or sand between the sheets of drywall in each wall. To prevent the drywall from breaking and letting the filler spill out, you should either enclose the filler in bags or staple material such as burlap to the studs to hold it in.

Another option is to add metal plates at least ½ inch thick behind one of the sheets of drywall. Using multiple thinner layers of metal to get to that ½-inch thickness will be more effective than a single ½-inch layer.

These fortifications can add a lot of weight to your walls; so if you make these changes above the ground floor or basement levels, consider their impact on your home’s structure. Likewise, be careful around electric lines if adding metal reinforcements.

Furniture you might hide behind- couches, cabinets, servers, etc.—can be “up-armored” with steel panels or ballistic blankets in places not normally seen when they are in daily use.

Bedroom furniture can be enhanced in the same way. If your home-defense plan calls for using your bedroom as a safe room, adding a metal sheet or ballistic blanket that you can quickly pull out from under the bed is a good idea. Obviously, the head- and footboard, mattress and box spring will not stop anything.

Finally, you can augment the protection provided by your personal or work vehicle by replacing existing glass with bulletproof glass and adding ballistic blankets or steel panels to the doors and trunk area.



  • Prevents the attacker from being aware of your presence;
  • Must be thick or strong enough to stop what is being shot at you;
  • Most modern construction materials and home and office furnishings are not strong enough to stop modern ammunition; and
  • Don’t let cover restrict your movement or ability to engage the bad guys.


  • Prevents the attacker from being aware of your presence;
  • Does not protect you from incoming fire;
  • Should be used as a way to get to cover; and
  • Move quickly or slowly as appropriate.



While most types of actual cover will also provide concealment, the opposite is not generally true: Most types of concealment will not provide you any meaningful cover. Their value is that they can stop you from getting shot by preventing the bad guy from seeing where you are, what you have with you or where you are moving to.

Because effective cover is often hard to find, your best bet for not getting shot is to avoid being seen before you are ready and in position to take offensive action. Concealment can be some obstacle your opponent cannot see through, but it can also be something that keeps your opponent from seeing you.

Examples of effective concealment that can hide you while you are moving from one position to another are physical barriers (gullies or ridges, bushes, trees and high grass, and walls or buildings). Less substantial visual barriers such as smoke, fog and dark shadows also make it harder for you to be seen by your adversary, but they are less likely than physical barriers to mute or mask sounds you might make.

Basic principles of camouflage can also help you conceal yourself. It is best for you to be totally hidden, but sometimes, you can’t do that, especially when you are moving. Use the shadows when moving from one position to another or when you need to stop and don’t have any cover to hide behind.

Wear something that matches in color or shade with where you currently are or are going to. Conceal or ditch anything that doesn’t. Putting a bright light source between you and whoever is trying to see you will help, because they cannot see behind the bright light. However, moving behind a flashlight that you’re holding is not a good idea.

In this active-shooter training session, the cubicle walls provide concealment from the shooter but no cover. The gray file cabinet—if it were full of files— would provide cover but not as much concealment. If possible, move two or more together to provide better cover. (Photo:
These Air Force police officers would have been better off by turning their vehicle so that the wheels and engine block were between them and the threat. As they are, the doors provide concealment but no cover, and their feet and lower legs are exposed to incoming fire. (Photo:
Although it is only available half the time and only useful if your opponent does not have night vision capabilities, darkness is an excellent source of concealment. (Photo: NavySEALS. com)


Cover and concealment are best when used together. Cover can also provide concealment, so that is where you want to be. If you are not in a good position to defend yourself or from which to fight, you need to move to a covered position that will allow you to do that. Concealment will help keep you from being seen when you are moving from one covered position to the next.

Pick your route carefully to take advantage of each piece of concealment and cover available to you—even if that means moving in a circuitous route instead of making a beeline to where you want to go.

Sometimes, the only thing you have is concealment, so make the most of it by hiding behind furniture, putting a blanket over yourself or just trying to blend in with your surroundings. At times, the best form of concealment is to not move, because motion is noticed more than anything else.

So, the lessons to learn here are pick cover over concealment; take advantage of both; and if you have to move, do so with as much concealment and cover as possible.

Sometimes, the only thing you have to protect you is concealment. Do everything you can to blend in with your environment. This Marine rifleman is using his camouflage uniform, but if you are in your bedroom, you could hide under a blanket. In the office, move a cubicle partition between you and the door. (Photo:
Office and institutional buildings often provide a mix of cover. As shown here, the walls separating the hallways and the interior rooms are made of cinder block, which provides better cover than drywall, especially against small-arms fire. (Photo: Wikimedia. org)
Competitive shooting organizations such as IDPA provide courses of fire that simulate real-world scenarios and can help you learn to evaluate and use the available cover and concealment to your best advantage. (Photo:


If you can’t find a good instructor locally, refer to these organizations to learn where good training is available. Many groups can provide practical experience in the basics of how to use cover and concealment effectively, as well as how to use both when moving from danger to safety.





Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.




Concealed Carry Handguns Giveaway