August 2009

IWB Holsters: Kramer Leather Tans The Hide Of Competitors

The IWB #3 had the best overall design, our team said, but holsters from Crossbreed, Smart Carry, and TT GunLeather may also be a fit, depending on your carry-concealment needs.

It seems every other week some manufacturer introduces a new pistol offering the latest in technology and sexy new styling, all in an easily-concealable package. Gun enthusiasts like us are drawn to these guns, but reality usually smacks us in the face as we drive home with our newest addition to our firearm family. "How am I gonna carry this thing?" we ask. Unfortunately, our lack of planning usually results in a pile of holsters in a corner, as we attempt to find one that fits correctly.

IWB Holsters

From left to right are our inside-the-waistband entries: At 9 o’clock is the TT GunLeather Slim IWB Holster “Mike’s Special,” $85; at 12 o’clock is the denim SmartCarry Standard Model, $48; then at 3 o’clock is the Crossbreed Holsters SuperTuck Deluxe,$65. Bottom is the Kramer Leather #3 Inside The Waistband Horsehide, $132.

 

This month we’ll take a look at four inside-the-waistband holsters that offer a variety of wearing options. Two of the holsters, the Kramer #3 Inside The Waistband Horsehide ($132) and the TT GunLeather Slim IWB Holster ($85) are molded from leather to fit a specific firearm. The Crossbreed SuperTuck Deluxe ($65) uses a unique combination of dye-cut leather and molded Kydex, and the Smart Carry Standard Model ($48) has a patented design incorporating denim and a waterproof membrane sewn together in an apron-type arrangement.

HOW WE TESTED

For this evaluation we utilized two guns for our carrying purposes. The first gun was the diminutive Springfield Armory EMP in 9mm, a Gun Tests Gun of the Year in 2006. This downsized 1911 still has some heft at 26.5 ounces due to its metal construction and 3-inch heavy match barrel. The Kramer Leather #3 IWB and the Smart Carry Holsters were assigned to this firearm.

Our other handgun was a recent introduction from Sig Sauer, the P250. This gun features the ability to change calibers and frame size through its modular construction. Our particular gun was a 40 S&W Compact Frame in a Bi-Tone finish. The P250 has a larger frame size than the EMP, but utilizes a generous use of plastic to keep the weight down to 26.6 ounces. Its blockier design made it a bit thicker and approximately an inch longer than the EMP. Our holsters from Crossbreed and TT GunLeather were fitted for this gun.

There is only one way to test a holster: Wear it from dusk ‘til dawn. Sitting, standing, walking, riding in a car, walking fast (we’re not joggers). Our holster came along for the ride wherever we roamed, except where prohibited.

We noted when the holster caused discomfort or restricted movement in some way. While engaged in activities, we looked for "printing," where the shape of our rig could be readily identified through our clothing. The best grade in this test was given for what we didn’t feel. The highest marks for comfort were reserved for the holsters that controlled the firearm so well that we forgot it was there.

Careful consideration was also given to how well each holster helped conceal our gun. There is always a compromise between concealment and accessibility in holster design, and our test group

IWB Holsters

The Crossbreed Super Deluxe was all about function, not cosmetics. Its design allows a shirt to be tucked in, hiding your sidearm. The molded Kydex holster will probably force you buy a bigger pair of slacks, however. GUN TESTS GRADE: B

varied significantly in this area.

Lastly, the photos weren’t reversed, they are indeed left-handed. A pair of southpaws did the wear testing. We also incorporated a roundtable discussion group that did further examination of each holster design.

Next, we scrutinized how well each holster retained our weapons. We’re naturally proud of our firearms, but prefer to display them at the range, not by having it drop to floor while searching for sprinkler heads at the hardware store.

We then moved to the important business of drawing our weapon from each holster. We want our concealed carry holsters to give us access our weapon easily, and allow us to bring the weapon to bear in a natural draw stroke.

After drawing our guns, we then noted how easily it was to re-holster our guns after drawing them. This often-overlooked characteristic becomes very important when re-holstering under a full adrenalin burst.

Our wear tests were conducted over a period of six months, and at the end of our tests we tallied our scoring and compared the results. Here’s what we thought of each unit:

Crossbreed Holsters SuperTuck Deluxe,$65

Crossbreed Holsters (www.CrossbreedHolsters.com) are manufactured in Republic, Missouri. Mark Craighead’s unique holster design incorporates Kydex molded to fit specific gun models. The Kydex form is riveted onto a shaped leather pad designed to fit around the hip. Two L-shaped hooks are attached by screws on each side of the hip pad and are designed to clip over the user’s belt. The L-hooks can also be moved to fit in one of four punched holes on each side of the holster. This unique feature allows the SuperTuck to be adjusted for both cant and holster height. The hooks are fastened only at their base. This allows a shirt to tuck between the hooks and leather pad, completely covering both the gun and holster. The only indicator that the holster was there were the areas where the L-hooks wrapped around the belt. However, Crossbreed has developed a belt-and-holster combo that even hides the hooks from sight. Special J-hooks are available that slide between the belt and pants of the user. The J-hooks have Velcro on one side, which meshes with a mating Velcro-lined leather belt. When used in this combination, the J-hooks are barely visible, almost completely hiding the holster.

These unique features translated to a relatively comfortable design, which also stayed hidden from sight. The multiple screw locations allowed each tester to adjust the holster to fit his own body type. We found that a shirt can indeed be tucked in, but it

IWB Holsters

We found the smaller size of the #3 Inside The Waistband Holster Horsehide to be comfortable throughout a range of activities. Horsehide tends to resist moisture, which benefits those of us inclined to sweat. GUN TESTS GRADE: A

bunched up at the base of each hook, so it requiring frequent adjustment to stay tucked in.

The molded Kydex did a good job of holding the gun in place, and made re-holstering quite easy. Drawing the gun was smooth, with the off hand used to move the shirt out of the way.

While the SuperTuck’s design allowed for good concealment and adjustability, it was also drew some criticism. The molded Kydex’s rigidity and shape caused the holster to be wider than its competitors. Unless you wear baggy pants, count on buying a larger waist size to allow for the holster’s bulge. We also found the SuperTuck grew uncomfortable on long car rides. The Kydex could occasionally cause a pinch point when sitting down. The large leather hip pad also became a sweat magnet in the summer heat. For an additional charge, Crossbreed does offer a more moisture-resistant horsehide version, which may be worth it for those living in warmer climates.

OUR TEAM SAID: Overall, we found the SuperTuck to be an innovative design. It did a good job in concealing our weapon, but had enough negatives in comfort to fall out of the "A"-rated category. Crossbreed also offers a two-week trial on its products. If you’re not satisfied during this time, you can return the holster for a refund of the full purchase price. Mr. Craighead indicated his return rate is less than 3% on this product. If you wear a lot of dress shirts, and don’t mind spending some dough on larger pants, the SuperTuck may warrant your consideration.

Kramer Leather #3 Inside The Waistband Horsehide, $132

The Tacoma-based Kramer Leather (www.KramerLeather.com) turns out a variety of holsters and counts Navy Seals and other Special Ops groups among its customers. Most of the company’s holsters are custom molded for specific gun models, so deliveries can easily run eight weeks or more. Although Kramer works with a variety of materials, they specialize in the use of horsehide, which tends to hold its shape and is more moisture resistant than cowhide.

Our test holster was the #3 Inside The Waistband Horsehide Model. Originally designed in collaboration with Jim Grover, the #3 resembles a scabbard holster with the addition of a flange or paddle-like extension along the rear portion of the holster. This gives the Kramer model more surface area to hold it in place when drawing or holstering a weapon. Two closely-spaced belt loops hold the holster in place, and are mounted to the holster with screws or optional snaps.

During our wear tests, the IWB #3 had a different feel than the other hip-mounted holsters in our test. The holster had a smaller profile, and rested with an extreme forward tilt, and pulled the gun closer to the body. This meant the gun was not as prone to print through one’s clothes, and we were also able to wear our normal

IWB Holsters

If you can overcome the idea of a handgun resting over your nether-region and are willing to practice a special draw, the SmartCarry holds promise. The holster does come with a 60-day trial to allow you to decide if this model is right for you. GUN TESTS GRADE: C

waist size pants as well. It also helped clear the gun from pinch points while sitting and driving. The IWB #3 did not allow us to tuck in our shirt, however.

Weapon retention was good, as the stiff, molded design held the weapon in place throughout our daily activities. Drawing the weapon was accomplished in a short, smooth stroke. The mouth of the holster was reinforced with an additional leather band, which allowed us re-holster with one hand.

While the holster’s stiffness allowed the IWB #3 to hold our weapon in place, it did at times create some binding when bending or stretching.

OUR TEAM SAID: At the end of our testing, our quibbles with the Kramer IWB #3 were minor, and this holster proved to be the best overall design, in our opinion.

SmartCarry Standard Model, $48

Out of our quartet of holsters the SmartCarry was by far the most unconventional design, and likewise caused the most divergent opinions about its fit and function.

Manufactured by Concealed Protection 3, Inc. out of Largo, Florida (www.smartcarry.com), the patented SmartCarry design resembles a small apron in its shape. It is constructed of denim on the front of the holster, and a waterproof membrane they call Cushmax on the inside portion that rests on the skin. Two pockets are sewn into the front of the holster; a large pocket to hold the handgun, and a smaller one for a spare magazine.

The SmartCarry differs significantly from the other holsters in our test because of its construction, and the way in which it is worn. With the mounting strap resting low on the hips, the SmartCarry hangs over one’s uhh… frontal region.

After getting over our initial trepidation, we wore the SmartCarry while doing day-to-day activities. In this capacity, the holster proved to be quite comfortable. The waterproof membrane protected our gun from moisture, and the wearing position was not as restrictive as we first imagined, particularly since the cloth design was flexible.

Our group agreed on all these aspects of the holster, however, it was at the point of drawing one’s weapon that opinions about the holster split into two very distinct camps.

The manufacturer recommends drawing the weapon by pulling the waist of your pants forward with the off-hand. Then you are to grab the handle of the gun with thumb and forefinger and use a flipping motion to bring the gun into the palm of the hand.

This method of accessing your weapon, with double entendres aside, was a cause of serious concern from some of our testers. In

IWB Holsters

The Slim IWB was the second most comfortable holster behind the Kramer. The holster has good build quality, and its snap loops hold your firearm firmly in place. At $85, this custom-molded holster is almost a bargain. You’ll just have to wait eight weeks or more to get one. GUN TESTS GRADE: A

a volatile situation, the use of both hands may be difficult, if not impossible. We are also wary of any slight-of-hand moves when adrenalin is amped up. Re-holstering, needless to say, was also an adventure.

OUR TEAM SAID: If you are willing to spend the time practicing these moves so they become part of your muscle memory, the SmartCarry may fit your concealed carry needs. They even offer a 60-day trial period to try it on for size. However, we feel that if you are not willing to devote the time to this specialized drawing method, the results could be traumatic and dangerous.

TT GunLeather Slim IWB Holster "Mike’s Special," $85

Located in Middletown, California, TT GunLeather (www.TTGunLeather.com) manufactures a range of holsters from standard cowhide as well as from exotics such as sharkskin. Demand for the holsters remains high, so their lead-times can often exceed 10 weeks. It’s advisable to call and check with the shop for the latest information. When we received our holster, we were immediately impressed with its craftsmanship. It was almost a shame to cover up the holster with our waistband.

The model we had for our testing was the Slim IWB version. It features a span of leather on each side of the holster with a belt snap on each side. The leather flanges were staggered in height to create a forward cant to the holster. This gave the Slim IWB more purchase around the hip, making for a stable rig but giving up a bit of flexibility in the process.

The Slim IWB does not have extra leather reinforcement on the mouth of the holster that allows it to flex more along the hip. Although the mouth of holster conformed to the hip, it was still rigid enough to re-holster with one hand.

Weapon retention was good, with the custom leather molded snugly around our P250.

Drawing our handgun proved to be smooth and stable. TT Gunleather’s design wore comfortably, but its wider span felt more restrictive than the Kramer Leather model, particularly when driving.

OUR TEAM SAID: At $85, the TT GunLeather Slim IWB is a solid performer that costs quite a lot less than the top-ranked Kramer. Gun owners looking for a holster with a wider platform, and who can wait 10 weeks for delivery, won’t be disappointed.

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