April 2004

Cross-Draw Holsters: We Test a Quintet of Leather from DeSantis, Galco, and Wellsmade

The cross-draw holster is poised to increase its place in the market as seated-draw situations like the Air Marshal program grow.

The Desantis Sky Cop (left) was the Best Buy of our trio, but the Wellsmade Air Marshal (center), shown on a Wellsmade lizard skin belt, was the most luxurious. The Galco Cover Six (right) was a good choice for revolver because its asymmetric design presented a flat, comfortable surface to the wearer.

When we decided to take a look at cross-draw holsters, we expected to find a variety of products from which to choose. But the cross-draw holster has never been very popular, and in our search for test samples we found that relatively few were actually available. But the cross-draws may become more popular as their advantages become better known.

We wouldn’t even be talking about cross-draw holsters if it weren’t for the Air Marshal in-flight program. Air Marshals spend most of their time seated in a tight coach-class seat. The need to acquire the gun quickly or unobtrusively from a point forward of the hip has renewed interest in the cross-draw design, and as a result, we will undoubtedly see more such holsters made available in the very near future.

For this article we tested three dedicated cross-draw holsters and two more holsters that offered enough versatility to be used for cross-draw as well as strong-side carry. All five holsters were constructed from leather. Our cross-draw models were the $53 DeSantis Sky Cop, the $130 Wellsmade Air Marshal and the $103 Galco Cover Six. Each of these designs consisted of a belt slot directly behind the chamber area of the gun and a trailing loop, giving the holster a slight cant toward the center of the body. But realizing that for most people cross-draw carry is just a part time choice, we picked two designs that can also be worn behind the strong-side hip in traditional fashion. Our part-time cross-draw holsters were the Galco Concealed Carry Paddle that sells for $98 and the $65 Yaqui Paddle holster, also from Galco.

Here’s what we liked and didn’t like about these products:

DeSantis Sky Cop No. 68, $53
Our first purchase was the Sky Cop from DeSantis Gunhide in New Hyde Park, New York (800-486-4433 or www.desantisholster.com). DeSantis has been in business for more than 30 years, and it is interesting to note that its owner, Gene DeSantis, holds the patent to the fanny pack.

The DeSantis Sky Cop was constructed with hard molded leather displaying the detail of our Sigarms P239. The construction was one piece folded around the gun and sewn sturdily from underneath the dust cover to the trailing loop. The belt slot on the body of the holster extended from the base of the muzzle of the gun to the top and around the mouth of the holster, adding to its rigid form that will not collapse when the gun is removed. This allows for easy re-holstering. The Sky Cop is not lined but the rawhide interior surface has been smoothed with lacquer. We never had to use it, but there was a tension screw for adjusting strength of retention.

We found that a cross-draw holster best fits the body when the holster design and the garment to be worn over it are considered together. But an even more important element may be the body type of the individual. Placing the gun and holster at or behind the weak hand hip was favored by wearers with narrow hips and longer arms. Placing the gun just ahead of the weak-side hip or above the front pants pocket was favored by those with bulkier arms or wider shoulders. By this we mean how easily and naturally one is able to reach across the front of their body played a large part in determining holster position. Naturally, choosing to wear a sweater that covers the belt line completely, rather than a sport jacket, allows for more options regarding where the gun may be placed on the belt.

We thought the Sky Cop offered just the right size belt loop and notch for accepting the widest range of belt sizes. The trailing loop measured approximately 1.7 inches top to bottom, forming a “C” shape. The opposite vertical edges were offset to conform to the belt. The corresponding slot on the body of the holster was longer on the top seam to add stability. We carried a Sigarms .357 SIG P239 in this holster for four months, mostly whenever we wore a sweater or sweatshirt. This holster did everything we asked of it and was easy to put on and take off.

Wellsmade Leather Air Marshal, $130
Our next purchase was far pricier. The Air Marshal by Wellsmade Leather of Atlanta, Georgia, costs $130 in horsehide with lizard trim. Holsters made completely from exotic skins were also available. If we are ever scheduled to appear in GQ magazine, we want to be seen sweeping back our sport jacket to expose this holster.

Wellsmade is a custom shop and much of the specialty work is handled by George Wells himself, (404-367-9337 or www.wellsmade.com). Wells began his professional career in the field of orthotics, so he knows how to provide service for people with special physical needs.

All three holsters used a belt slot behind the body of the gun and a trailing loop. But note the variation in angle and the amount of drop below the belt line. From left to right are the Galco Cover Six, Wellsmade Air Marshal and the DeSantis Sky Cop.

Structurally, the Air Marshal differs from the DeSantis Sky Cop in that it primarily is made from two pieces of leather sewn together (pancake style) rather than one piece wrapped around the pistol. But, in other ways it could be viewed as an upscale version of the Sky Cop. The Wellsmade holster was superbly lined with a soft crËme-colored leather. The edges were welded and polished. The bolster at the mouth of the holster was made from lizard skin, and the craftsmanship was excellent. A tension screw, which is optional, was not provided. But we thought the Air Marshal hugged the body a little better than the Sky Cop and the pistol sat lower on the belt line, reducing the possibility of the gun “flopping” away from the body and printing a telltale line on one’s outerwear. We thought that the low-ride design might make it hard for placement toward the center of the body unless high-waist pants (such as Levi’s jeans) were worn. But we also felt that its close fit made it tops for carry at the point of the hip.

The slot on this holster was sewn closer to the body and as a result was a little tighter and perhaps less versatile than the one found on the DeSantis Sky Cop even though from top to bottom it was wider. The trailing loop was generous and wide, appearing almost like a large rectangle, the dimensions of which were approximately 1.7 by 0.5 inches. This holster was designed to mate with a Wellsmade trouser belt. We acquired a genuine lizard skin belt from Wellsmade ($135). This finely crafted belt measured 1.5 inches wide and was fully lined with a supporting liner running from the last notch to the integrated belt loop.

Galco Cover Six, $103
Our third dedicated cross-draw holster was the Cover Six model from Galco of Phoenix, Arizona (800-874-2526 or www.usgalco.com). Galco supplied Don Johnson with his shoulder rig, the Original Jackass Holster, for the television series Miami Vice. In business since 1969, Galco has been making the Cover Six design for a number of years, and a member of our staff has been using it on and off for three years. The body of the Galco Cover Six was also made from two pieces of leather, but unlike the Wellsmade Air Marshal, the two main leather panels were not of equal size. The panel that fits against the body was basically flat and shielded the body from any intrusion by the profile of the gun. This was especially welcome when used with a revolver, where the cylinder naturally tends to be intrusive. The outer piece was shaped to fit our Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver. The notch on the body of the holster is slightly longer at the top to add stability, and the trailing loop was very wide. This holster provided the most clearance of our three cross-draw holsters for different width belts. No tensioning device was provided, but we found no obvious need for one to be supplied.

During our experience with the holster, the Cover Six has maintained its finish, and time has not affected its ability to retain the gun and maintain a consistent index on the belt.

Galco Concealed Carry Paddle Holster CCP296H, $98
Two more holsters that can be used for cross-draw carry were paddle holsters from Galco, the Concealed Carry Paddle Holster, $98, and the Yaqui Paddle holster, $65, reviewed below.

The Concealed Carry Paddle holster (CCP296H) is a fully detailed leather holster constructed with a flat side against the body and a contoured panel facing outward in much the same construction as the Cover Six model. But this time the body of the holster is connected to a paddle. A paddle is a stiff piece of material (in this case plastic) that is attached to the body of the holster and slips over the belt and inside the waistband to provide support. The unit is held in place by friction between the body and the paddle supported by the tension of one’s belt.

In addition the paddle is secured by a catch that fits underneath the bottom ridge of the belt to keep it in place when the gun is drawn. The catch on the CCP296H was exceptional, in our opinion. In some cases we thought it might even be a little too strong. Often, we had to open our pants to unhook the catch from the batting in the waistband of our trousers. But we’ll take too much over too little any day.

One very useful feature of this holster was that the angle of the holster could be adjusted. The paddle and holster were connected with a single large screw that when loosened allowed the holster to rotate. We feared marring the screwhead or wearing out its ability to hold, but that never happened. We found that the best way to determine optimum angle was to loosen the set screw, and after placing the holster in the desired position let the holster drop naturally into place. Then secure the paddle.

We liked having this type of holster with us in the car. For example, upon deciding we wanted to carry the gun we had stashed in the glove box, we could simply slip on this holster and take the gun with us.

The Wellsmade Air Marshal (center) was our only lined holster, and like the Galco Cover 6 (left), it was fashioned from two panels of leather. The DeSantis Sky Cop (right) was constructed from one piece of leather wrapped around the top of the gun. Note the imprint of our pistol left on the interior of each holster.

Galco Yaqui Paddle holster, $65
Another holster that offers utility similar to the Concealed Carry Paddle Holster fis Galco’s Yaqui Paddle holster (YP202). The Yaqui design is basically a leather loop that catches the gun around the trigger guard and over the top of the ejection port. One big advantage was that this holster was able to fit all types of pistols from a large framed Beretta 92 to a small Glock 33. Our Sigarms P239 rode higher in this holster, making for an excellent presentation of the grip. But when our testers tried placing this combination on the weak-side hip, the top of the gun tended to flop. Longer-barrel models such as the CZ75 were noticeably more stable, but in most cases we did better placing the Yaqui paddle inside of the hip bone toward the center of the body. Its ability to hug the belly on the weak side was better than expected, and when sitting there was little interference from the smaller non-adjustable paddle. But the key, we found, was matching this holster to the right kind of belt to prevent the gun from rocking.

Finally, keep in mind that the muzzle of the gun worn in this style holster will remain visible. The primary advantage of this holster was that it would fit many different guns, and due to its lack of bulk seemed to work from just about any position depending on the physique of the person wearing it.

Gun Tests Recommends
DeSantis Sky Cop, $53. Best Buy. The Sky Cop is a bargain in classic cross-draw holster design. It offers detail, durability and it is versatile enough to fit the widest variety of body types, in our estimation.

Wellsmade Air Marshal $130, Our Pick. If money wasn’t a factor, we would buy this rig. The Air Marshal was the only lined holster we found, and it came trimmed with lizard at no extra cost. The workmanship was outstanding, and we think it did the best job of holding the gun tightly against the body.

Galco Cover Six, $105. Buy It. This is a durable, quality product that offers a unique design that flattens the gun against the body.

Galco Concealed Carry Paddle, $98. Buy It. This holster is highly adaptable and ably fills the needs of the sometimes cross-draw wearer. Its full-size paddle design may be best suited for larger people or those who operate in a variety of settings.

Galco Yaqui Slide, $65. Conditional Buy. If you own more than one gun or simply require a holster that is as easy to stash as it is to draw from, this Yaqui Paddle design may be for you. Otherwise, we would pick one of the others ahead of it.