August 1999

Hide-and-Seek CCW Style: Concealment Holsters Tested

We found a lot to like when we tested thirteen products from Galco, Michael’s, and Hoffners, but Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Professional Pocket Holster was a Best Buy.

Of main concern to the holder of a state-issued license to carry a concealed handgun is for that gun to remain concealed. That said, it is unwise to use a holster not specifically designed for your gun, because you must be able to put it into action. Furthermore, the gun/holster combination must fit your body style and your environment. Cross-draw holsters, for example, are making a comeback. This is because cross-draw works well for those who spend a great deal of time driving or sitting at a desk, two particularly vulnerable positions.

To investigate some of the variations found to be effective modes of carry, Gun Tests has assembled a number of holsters that offer solutions to the problems faced by those who choose to carry a handgun day in and day out. We tried more than a dozen on for size, and learned that the least expensive product in the test—a $10.95 pocket sleeve from Uncle Mike’s—was also one of the best at concealing a gun, while still allowing the handgun to be retrieved and fired.

The full lineup of test products included the aforementioned pocket holster from Uncle Mike’s along with that company’s ankle model ($35.95). We also examined five Galco models, the $59.95 Speedmaster, an $89.95 leather Crossdraw item, and the Executive ($156), Miami Classic ($139.95), and Jackass ($99.95) shoulder rigs. We worked out five Hoffners leather products, the Backpacker ($50), the ITP ($35), the ITP Shirt Tucker ($45), and the Camera Bag ($45) as well. Rounding out the test holsters was Michael’s of Oregon Old World’s 3-slot model, $35.99.

In our view, any of these holsters will work for concealed carry, depending on your individual needs. However, as always, we formed our own opinions about what styles and brands we liked the best, and we relate those findings and judgments below:

Small-Revolver Carry Holsters
Smith & Wesson’s smallest series, the J-frames, and guns like the 85 series from Taurus International, are among the most prolific backup or “hideout” guns of all time. Here are a few ways to carry these little handfuls:

Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Professional Ankle Holster 8820-1, $35.95. Clothing styles come and go. We can remember men’s pants legs being so wide that they could put pants on one leg at a time while wearing wing-tipped shoes. Today, any pants style except tight jeans is enough to conceal an ankle holster and still allow access. The advantage is that it’s retro and out of style to carry a gun on your ankle, so casual observers rarely notice “printing” (telltale bulges) in this area. Our Uncle Mike’s model 8820-1 is the right-hand model intended for positioning the gun on the inside of the left leg. The holster is held in place by a loop-through Velcro belt at or above the ankle, bolstered by a garter that supports from above the contour of the calf muscle. The gun is further held in place by a strap that attaches to the main unit with Velcro and runs over the back of the gun with a snap release. Depending on the size of the ankle and calf muscle, the use of the garter is recommended but optional.

Positives: We found this holster comfortable to wear and a natural for all the new ultra-light revolvers now on the market.

Negatives: A little bit of acrobatics may be needed to deploy the weapon unless you are seated. You must reach down to your foot to find the gun, which means you likely have to take your eyes off a potential target.

Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Professional Pocket Holster, $10.95. One of our favorite ways to carry small revolvers is to drop them in a pants pocket. We have seen pocket holsters of hard leather that trick the observer into seeing merely the outline of a wallet, but we feel they can be easily picked. Imagine a pickpocket surprised by snatching your gun: “Excuse me, now that I have your gun, may I please have your wallet?” The Uncle Mike’s design is meant for the front pocket of the pants (or jacket pocket, or coat pocket, etc.) and accomplishes three feats: It disguises the outline of the gun; it keeps the gun clean; and its tacky outer surface stays in the pocket when the gun is removed. Keeping the gun in this holster is also a good option when placing it in the concealment area of a purse or briefcase or just popping it into the pocket for a late-night run to wherever you run late at night.

Positives: It is ideal for airweight revolvers. With this product, even a pair of pleated shorts affords adequate concealment.

Negatives. Doesn’t help retain heavier guns, which can drag down the contours of a pocket.

Galco Speedmaster, $59.95. Available for the larger medium-framed revolvers as well as the J-frames, we feel this is one of the faster designs, which is worn naturally on the belt behind the kidney.

Positives: Its molding, high top and forward cant negate the need for a security strap. Use of a wider belt for heavier guns is recommended, but with the lighter guns, this mode of carry, being nearest the body’s center of gravity, seems to make the gun all but disappear.

Negatives: The downside of any gun worn behind the hip is you never know how much you are printing and who is checking you out. Also, the Speedmaster can be uncomfortable when you are seated.

Galco International Cover Six Cross Draw Belt Holster, $89.95. Fashioned from molded leather, this holster is made to sit on the weak side of the body, fitting belts up to 1.75 inches in width, but of course the thickness of the belt must also be taken into consideration. The lower contour of the holster is brief so that the wearer can sit in comfort. Indeed, this is a holster for someone who spends a great deal of time sitting. Galco’s holsters are usually dressy, and would be ideal for someone who wears a suit jacket and spends time behind the desk or driving. This holster fits the typical real estate agents profile, such as when they are called upon to show abandoned property to strangers. The Cover Six should be an easy match to a dress belt. Since it is strong and worn on the beltline, this makes carrying one of the heavier all-steel revolvers a viable option. It is available in either black or brown.

Positives: Allows all-day, all-position carry and allows the use of heavier guns.

Negatives: Expensive. Requires a covering garment like a jacket.

Hoffners Backpacker C7, $50. The Hoffners C7 is made of hardened ultra-thin leather with high detail, including a molded and sewn sight channel. Also included is a tensioning screw and removable retention strap for use with hammerless guns such as the S&W Centennial series. The Backpacker will handle belts up to 1.75 inches in width and is available in a variety of shades ranging from light tan to black.

Positives: Carrying in the small of the back (SOB) is ideal for body types with thin waists or big butts, to be indelicate about it, since the rear profile allows the gun to disappear. Even when the carrier seated, a properly fit small-of-the back holster can be comfortable. This type of holster may also be fitted for larger guns with minimal telltale printing.

Negatives: If you look behind you, you can see your body may not accept this holster style.

Larger-Gun Carry
Hoffners Ultrux Series ITP, $35, and ITP Shirt Tucker, $45. ITP stands for inside the pants. The designation Shirt Tucker is the warm-weather version that allows for complete concealment even without a jacket or sweater. The idea is you can tuck in the shirt to hide the presence of a pistol or revolver. The tucking channel for the J-frame is 4 inches deep, and with the Smith & Wesson titanium 332 in place, the combined unit of gun and holster rides very lightly beside your belly button. The shirt channel for the Glock 30, a .45 ACP mini-monster, is 5 inches deep, so the design swallows the weapon. Both ITP holsters hang over the top of the pants and loop under the belt for retention. The Shirt Tucker model is contoured to allow placing the gun in front toward the inside of the leg. This way the draw may be assisted with the weak hand leading by untucking the shirt. The material in the Ultrux series is a molded polymer that is thin and strong. Sight channels and retention screws are included.

Positives: This material can be molded to fit you better, and it can be ground to serve your special needs. Example: We have a CZ 75B that had been converted to single action only, but with this modification came the concern for safe carry in the cocked-and-locked mode. The edge of the Hoffners ITP holster keeps the thumb safety engaged, which allows the carrier to confidently, safely keep the gun cocked and locked. This is a custom fit from Hoffners and illustrates a level of personal service not generally available from larger suppliers. Both of these holsters were fast, and because they maintain their shape, they offer easy reholstering unlike soft-leather holsters that collapse after the gun is drawn.

Negatives: While carrying under the shirt reduces gun exposure, it takes practice to clear the fabric and draw the gun.

Michael’s of Oregon Old World Three Slot Holster, $35.99. The three-slot design offers both traditional strong side and cross-draw carry. The cross-draw position brings the gun slightly butt forward from straight up, and slots for the strong side offer the popular muzzle-to-the-rear FBI cant. Another position our staffers found comfortable was utilizing the cross-draw slots to produce a straight-up profile directly under the strong-side arm.

Positives: The benefit is very little holster mass appears below the belt line and the carrier has the reassuring feeling of a big gun like the Beretta 92 up against his side. This holster is available lined and unlined and features a steel-reinforced thumb break that was a “snap” to use.

Negatives: The holster has a fairly large footprint under your arm, which some shooters might not like.

Hoffners Camera Bag, $45. Whether slung over the shoulder or looped to a belt, this ambidextrous bag is a handy tool. We refer to it as being “ambi” because pull-tabs for emergency opening are located at the front and rear of the double-zippered holster compartment. This is fine leather available in black or brown. While we’ve carried this bag, no one has ever given us any sign that they suspect the real purpose of the pack is to conceal a gun. The camera bag actually has two compartments, each with two-way zippers. The front one is smaller, but has elastic shell loops and room for a pager, check book, and keys. The compartment that holds the gun includes a nylon holster that is firmly held by industrial-strength hook-and-loop, Velcro-like fasteners, allowing the gun to be positioned to taste.

Positives: On the hip it is comfortable, and slung over the shoulder we’re just another tourist. With pull tabs tucked in, it appears even less assuming.

Negatives: Some will worry about having their “camera” stolen, since it’s worn off the body. We don’t think that’s a problem, but we recognize the concern.

Shoulder Holsters
Galco Executive, $156; Miami Classic, $139.95; and Jackass Rig, $99.95. Shoulder holsters are the stuff movie dreams are made of. We guess this is why one of Galco’s top sellers is the Miami Classic, which recalls Don Johnson’s role in Miami Vice. The concept of all three rigs is to distribute the weight of the gun and ammo onto the shoulders and protect the guns with the arms. While this necessitates the wearing of a jacket, it prevents exposure from ride up and makes the seated position more comfortable. Actually, the wearing of a shoulder rig in the cases of the Jackass and the Miami Classic is much like wearing a jacket in itself or better yet, a brief vest. We tried the Miami and Jackass rigs with a J-Frame revolver and a full-sized steel Government Model Springfield 1911. Even with target sights on the 1911, the gun was easy to draw and reholster. With full mags in each pouch the rig was well balanced, but heavy. This state of dress goes back to a time when cops were men. Big men, or as Joseph Wambaugh likes to say, “monster cops.” Be that as it may, we are sure the police inspector of any era as well as the modern-day CCW holder would likely get more pleasure out of filling these holsters with one of the alloy- or polymer-framed guns of today. Both the Miami and the Jackass rigs balance a holster and mag pouches on two straps that cross between the shoulder blades. The mag pouches are angled down and are double snapped to adjust for different length mags. Reloading from these pouches take practice. These are professional rigs for serious work. The Jackass rig features the gun pointed straight back in a minimal leather holster with thumb break. The Miami rig also secures the pistol with a thumb break but carries the gun in an angle closer to vertical and covers more of the gun. The straps attach to the holsters and pouches via a plastic swivel that is easily adjusted. Adjustments of length can then be anchored by the supplied set of rivets through pre-cut holes in the straps, giving it a finished look.

The Executive rig carries guns only and favors smaller weapons like the Walther PPK. It came in black (to match our Bondish tuxedo) and is mainly supported by the shoulder above the holster; the gun tucks high into the armpit. The weak side is anchored to the belt or pant top with an adjustable elastic strap and metal clamp. This clamp design would not be out of place with a tux and, ingeniously, the more it is tugged upon the tighter it holds on.

Positives: Capacity and better weight distribution. Negatives: For many shooters, the Miami Classic and the Jackass Rig are overkill. The Executive is smaller, but all must be worn under garments.

Gun Tests Recommends
If you’re choosing a holster from this set, we recommend you take careful note of the conditions under which you would carry a gun on or about your person. Your body type may present special needs. In some cases they can be addressed off the shelf. The key is to make sure your gun and holster are perfectly and specifically mated. Certainly there are no real losers in this test, but we unquestionably feel some products are better suited for nonprofessional carry than others.

Best Buy. Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Professional Pocket Holster, $10.95, is inexpensive, versatile, and effective. In our view, it’s a best buy.

We’ve been carrying an all-steel 2.5-inch S&W 686 revolver in the $45 Hoffners Camera Bag for two months, and we feel this arrangement is ideal. Buy it.

If you like the flexibility of multiple carry positions and you want to tote a big gun, then buy the Italian-made Michael’s of Oregon Old World Three Slot Holster, $35.99.

Hoffners Backpacker C7, $50, is a good buy for SOB carry, in our estimation.

If your carry style fits these products, we think Hoffners Ultrux Series ITP, $35, and ITP Shirt Tucker, $45, are good buys.

The Miami Classic, $139.95, and the Jackass Rig, $99.95, are good choices for the professional with a genuinely dangerous road ahead. Their ability to pack big-capacity guns and extra ammo could be lifesavers. The Executive, $156, is an excellent way for the civilian to comfortably stow one of today’s sub-compact wonder pistols. If your needs fit these requirements, we would buy any of these Galco holsters.

Though somewhat clumsy, we think the Uncle Mike’s Sidekick Professional Ankle Holster 8820-1, $35.95, is effective at hiding a small revolver like the new Smiths and Tauruses.

The Galco International Cover Six Cross Draw Belt Holster, $89.95, handles more guns than the Uncle Mike’s units, since it can be worn on a belt. If you wear dress or casual jackets almost all the time, it’s worth a look.

The Galco Speedmaster, $59.95, is still one of our favorites for an IDPA concealed match. But its larger overall profile means printing can be a problem.