Casting a Critical Eye on Weapons Technology and Training
with Tom Marx
Fit for female officers: Strong side concealment holsters
Make sure that you do all that you can do to not only examine the holster but to try it out before purchasing
I started the last chapter of this series by mentioning my tendency to repeat things of importance so that they stick in the minds of my students and readers. Therefore, I’d like to do that again here by opening the door to the subject of “little holsters for little guns.” Why on earth would anyone throw out the advantages of carrying one of today’s small-sized but adequately-powered pistols or revolvers by carrying it in a holster that is larger than it needs to be and that in itself, is a problem to conceal? And why would most women — whose body shapes and contours allow even less available “space” to place a holster against than most of their male counterparts — chose a holster that is not only bigger than necessary to carry the gun but also of a size that is difficult, if not impossible, to conceal?
Let’s look at a number of holsters that not only provide the characteristics that would facilitate the strong side, in-front-of-the-hip concealed carry concept (the designated “starting point” in our study) that we discussed the importance of last time but that should also work well with many women’s figures for they are all relatively small in size and many have additional features included specifically to facilitate their use by women.
The late Bruce Nelson developed a number of holsters that live on in the designs of others. The influence of his #1 Professional holster (body) can be seen somewhere in almost every serious holster line made by other people today. Its “open top” design allows for a fast and unencumbered draw. Depending on the maker, current incarnations utilize molding, tensioning devices or internal locks to retain the firearm. In the shorter lengths used for the kinds of guns often associated with concealment, its original, almost vertical (no or limited rake) configuration makes it a great holster for the in-front-of-the-hip configurations we have been discussing. And for some people, its current availability in either adjustable or front rake designs, makes things even better.
The Galco Avenger holster is a heavyweight leather model that carries the gun in a vertical plane and uses an adjustable tensioning device to hold it in place. It draws very much from Nelson’s original idea. Alessi Holster’s two “Department of Justice” models also derive heavily from what it seems that Nelson had in mind. Both are made from leather and offer a non-adjustable 0º rake but one has a cut down front wall that requires even less of an upward movement before the gun is driven forward toward the threat — in essence making it “faster” and certainly making it more compatible with shorter torsos. Bell Charter Oak makes an extremely small, leather, front rake belt holster for two inch revolvers (their I.C.E. Scabbard) because not everybody carries a pistol.
The Bianchi Paddle Lock is a traditional leather-bodied, open top model with an untraditional internal lock and a mounting paddle that is adjustable for both height and rake so that the holster can be tailored for both torso length and position along the waistline. Bianchi also makes a conventional thumb break model that uses that same paddle for the same amount of adjustability in that configuration.
The BLACKHAWK! SERPA holster for smaller guns is a perfect example of the Nelson-type body style executed in carbon fiber with an internal lock. It comes with both a belt loop and a paddle (allowing the wearer to choose for themselves, which to use) and both are adjustable for rake so the carry angle can be adjusted for personal preference. Because they won’t soften up with age like some leathers can, many of these holsters aren’t much thicker or larger than the guns themselves. Additionally, BLACKHAWK! offers an accessory Spacer Kit that is used to set the holster further away from the body to help deal with some of the contour issues we’ve been discussing — especially if the wearer chooses to place the holster on, or slightly behind the hip, instead of in front of it.
And if you must carry behind the hip (perhaps because of your clothing or due to years of carrying a gun there already), Kramer Handgun Leather makes an aptly-named “Women’s Belt Scabbard” that is a conventional butt-forward design that rides lower than traditional models but is spaced outward by the factory to keep the butt of the gun from pressing into wearer’s side. It was (like many of the things we’ve mentioned here) designed specifically with a woman’s figure in mind. Aker Leather too has a conventional behind-the hip model (their G.B.F.) with a very unconventional paddle that was also designed with women in mind. While seemingly not as adjustable as the Bianchi or BLACKHAWK!, Aker makes good stuff and should be looked into to see if it works for you.
Mitch Rosen combines the Nelson holster body concept with a number of additional features that he feels are important to women in his NSP holster. Like some of the other manufacturers listed here, he does what he can to keep the butt of the gun from pressing into the body but he goes out of his way to minimize both the lack of concealability that such compensating often creates as well as the bulk often seen within the holster body itself. Another one of my oft-repeated phrases in this business is that you don’t get something for nothing. It is very hard to space the holster away from the area above the waistline so that it is both comfortable and easy to draw without adding something of a bulky, sight-line-breaking bulge that might negatively affect concealability. Rosen and some (not all) others understand that and he is addressing it here in this model.
We will look at paddle holsters in detail later but for now if any of the paddle designs mentioned here or seen in the field are of interest, make sure that they adjust adequately for you (the Uncle Mike’s Paddle Holster, for example, allows for a great deal of vertical positioning) and that the paddle itself is comfortable for your body and hip structure. Uncle Mike’s, BLACKHAWK!, and now some of the others have moved away from the extremely rigid paddles of the past to various flexible and semi-flexible configurations and they all differ in size, shape and construction materials to allow for even greater personalization. So you’ll have try them on and decide for yourself if a given style or brand works for the way you are built.
And that is one of the things I can’t emphasize enough. Make sure that you do all that you can do to not only examine the holster but to try it out before purchasing. I am doing what I can to list as many options as possible for you in any given section of these installments. But I am trying to focus on those brands that either stand some chance of being found locally or that have good reputations in regard to internet-direct and factory mail-order sales. That way you can go into a shop and look at one before buying or at least have something of an even chance or returning an unused/undamaged one if need be thru the mail.
This is all because of another one of my repetitive, lecture statements: “Did you spend as much time choosing a holster as you did in selecting a firearm?” Most people don’t and most people pay the price for it — both literally and figuratively. Additionally (and going back to that “Build On What You Know” remark earlier), whatever you choose, make sure that you practice with it. Remember, you are indeed “building on” and not merely “repeating” what you have done in uniform. With concealment, everything is different — not just the holster.
But let’s get back to them.
Before we move away from strong side waistband holsters, let’s look at one more style that can be problematic for many women. I teach a lot with a soft bodied belt slide that merely employs a pocket to contain the firearm and is not molded to fit a particular model or type. It fits me, it carries well and it allows me to switch guns during any given program to illustrate different things about them. But for as great as that holster works for me in that application, it is not something I can recommend for most women.
While belt llides generally ride a bit lower that most pancakes (which makes them a bit more tolerable of shorter torsos) and somewhat higher than most traditional scabbard-type thumb-break models (thereby minimizing to some degree the “muzzle out / gripframe in” issue we’ve talked about before), they are still designed to ride “high and tight” into the body — making it problematic for many women to wear comfortably — again because of that hip-to-waist-diameter-ratio issue we have already discussed.
I am not saying it’s impossible to use, but it is extremely body-dependent and it is again one of those holsters that (as I said in the first installment) sells well and is very popular within the industry. But it must be remembered that it is still a male-oriented industry and that’s who’s buying the bulk of them and is happy with their fit and operation. Once again, demonstrating my point that you have to look (and test) and decide for yourself on something as personal as a concealment holster.
Next time we will look at waistline, Crossdraw designs.