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April 30, 2012
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Ron Avery The PoliceOne Firearms Corner
with Ron Avery

Firearms Review: The Kimber Solo

For the mission of a backup/pocket pistol, the Kimber Solo is high quality, functions reliably with a variety of loads in 9mm, and is snag free and corrosion resistant

With the advent of concealed carry in many states, the marketplace has exploded in terms of makes and models of  small, concealable handguns. What traditionally was more of a “backup” gun market has become a new CCW carry gun. Manufacturers have rushed to meet the demand with new innovations, models and calibers to meet the demand.

KelTec, Kahr Arms, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Kimber, and others have all developed small concealable handguns and law enforcement would do well to become familiar with all the makes and models out there.

One of the firearms that caught my eye is the Kimber Solo. This small, lightweight 9mm puts 7 rounds of 9mm into a small, highly concealable handgun. At barely 17 oz. it is hardly noticeable when you put it in a pocket or a small holster.

Solo Carry Stainless Specifications

Caliber 9mm 
MSRP   $725
Height (90° to barrel)   3.9 inches
Weight (empty magazine)   17 ounces
Length:     5.5 inches
Magazine capacity    6 rounds
Sight Radius     4.4 inches
Trigger Type    Single action striker-fired
Factory setting (pull)     7 pounds

What I wanted to evaluate with this gun, which represents a genre of small pocket guns, is its effective performance vs. a slightly bigger compact gun.

Now I absolutely hate gun writers who have nothing but glowing praise for any gun they happen to do an evaluation on. There is no such thing as a perfect gun and I am not here to sell guns or advertising.

My job is to do a solid evaluation and critique on each gun I test and see how well it performs its intended mission parameters. Your life or mine may depend on it someday.

Let’s examine the mission and evaluation process.

Traditional Mission

• Pocket Pistol – Backup to main gun, short ranges (0 – 5 yards), small/concealable, reliable, able to operate with one hand, accessible to the support hand only if main gun is under a takeaway situation, powerful enough to get the job done.

• CCW Mission – Most of the above except now this gun is a primary weapon. Ranges can extend to 25 yards or beyond.

Evaluation Parameters for CCW/Backup Guns

• Reliability
• Caliber/bullet/velocity – comfort zone – mental and physical
• Shoot-ability
• Fit and Finish
• Concealment

Fit and Finish
Kimber went to great lengths to make the contours smooth and snag free in keeping with its mission as a pocket pistol. The finish is corrosion and wear resistant, and, for the time I had the firearm on hand, did not incur any significant wear when either carrying or shooting it. All parts fit together well without obvious play yet seemed to cycle easily.

Concealment
At 5.5” x 4”, the Solo is very small and designed to be carried in a variety of ways. Galco provided me with some sample belt and pocket holsters that were of high quality. Concealing the Solo is a breeze. A t-shirt over the top and it is invisible to casual observation. In the pocket, you quickly get used to its weight and it does not really print much with a pocket holster holding it in an upright position.

Reliability
My testers and I shot the Solo for several hundred rounds. Probably close to 400-plus rounds and counting. We used everything from 125 grain bullets up to 147 grain bullets. I had one malfunction with the 147 grain bullets initially and then the rest of them fed flawlessly. The Solo was totally reliable with the 125 grain loads as well as a variety of specialty loads I developed and shot through it to see how they performed.

Shootability
This is a catch all word I use to describe a variety of things that go into making a gun either a shooter or a paperweight. Such things as trigger weight, grip size, bore height above the hand, caliber in relation to weight, types of loads, sights used, time to reload, ease of use of control levers etc. all go into this process of evaluation.

On initial examination, I was pleased with the handling characteristics of the Kimber when compared to other makes and models of small handguns. I liked the smooth contours and snag free construction. This is a big deal in a gun designed to be carried in a pocket or under clothing.

The small grip only allowed for a two finger hold of the firearm. The front strap was smooth instead of checkered and I am okay with that.

Accuracy
I shot the pistol with a variety of loads out to 15 yards. The gun shoots a couple of inches high at seven yards and would benefit from a slight taller front sight to drop the point of impact at that distance. Groups were small enough to be interesting and the trigger was very smooth and responsive and a definite aid to shooting both fast and accurately. The sights are the traditional 3 white dots.

Controllability
One of my initial shooting tests to see how controllable a given gun/caliber/load is involves shooting into one of my 4” x 8” rectangle PSA Targets.

Using a competition electronics timer to start the time.

Start Position - From two handed, imminent threat position, finger off the trigger and alongside the frame, five yards, five shots, 2.0 seconds or less.

I was able to do five shots in the rectangle in 1.61 seconds at five yards.

The Kimber passed the test. However, I was working hard to do that. This test is where all testers noticed just how sharp the recoil was and how much more work it was to control the gun vs. say a Glock 19 or similar. This is not a flaw of the gun. This is a result of its extremely light weight vs. the caliber used. 17 oz. + 9mm = sharp recoil.

Further testing from one to 25 yards also brought out the controllability issues with even modest loads when compared to the Glock 19 and the M&P.

Velocity was reduced almost 100 feet below a Glock 19 and a Smith and Wesson M&P duty-sized gun as well. Again, short barrel vs. slightly longer barrel on compact or duty size guns.

If you did not prepare yourself before you shot, the gun would lift quite sharply and your second shot would be significantly higher or over from your first shot. As I shot it more and more, I was able to adapt to the recoil and control the gun under higher rates of fire.

However, it is significantly harder to control with just two fingers than it would be if you had the 8 round magazine with the little finger extension that would allow for all fingers to be on the grip.

Control levers
Thumb Safety — The Solo comes with a thumb safety that is pretty small and I chose not to use it while carrying it. While one could have it on if they desire, it is not all that easy to access when picking the gun out of the pocket, off a table, out of a holster and trying to shoot quickly. Fortunately, with the longer trigger press required, it does not really need to be on if you choose to leave it off.

Slide Stop — Worked and functioned as designed. No issues noted.

Magazine and Release — The release was horrible at first.  It took two hands and a lot of strength to press it in to release the magazine. Over time, this became much easier but it definitely is not a good thing to have to use most of your strength to get it to release the magazine. My female students could not depress the magazine catch to release the magazine. The magazine exchange time took significantly longer than with a Glock 19 or Springfield sub-compact due to the smaller magazine and magazine well. This would be significant in a primary CCW carry mode but probably not the backup gun mode.

Trigger — Very nice, smooth and a definite bonus!

Shooter Impressions
All testers agreed that it was a nice pistol. All testers plus additional students who shot it said they did not like to shoot it due to the sharpness of the recoil. It was painful for some to shoot it with certain 9mm loads. Again, not a weapon flaw but simple physics. Light gun/defensive load = faster gun movement = sharp recoil pulse.

Nobody expressed interest in trying to carry it as a primary CCW weapon but liked it as a small backup gun to their main firearm.

My Impressions
For the mission of a backup/pocket pistol, the Kimber Solo works. It is high quality, functions reliably with a variety of loads in 9mm, and is snag free and corrosion resistant. While it recoils sharply, it can be managed with work and it is easy to carry and have on hand. If I was choosing a backup semi-auto, I would look hard at this one for overall performance.

I would not carry it personally as a primary CCW weapon. I found I had to work a lot harder to access it quickly, establish a shooting grip and try to shoot it fast and accurately. Reloading took significantly longer due to the small grip and magazine size. It will take significantly MORE training and practice to shoot this gun well at speed and you will not approach the speed and accuracy you would have with a slightly bigger firearm with more weight and grip size.

However, if you would like a high quality backup gun that slips easily into a pocket or elsewhere to complement your primary gun, this one would fulfill that task quite well.

About the author

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research. Train with Ron Avery. Visit his Course Calendar. Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally. Ron has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US. He is a weapons and tactics trainer for handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. Contact Ron Avery

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