Jul 13, 2010

Make the buffalo squeal*

In my last post, I mentioned Uncle Mike's holsters as being inexpensive but functional. "One size fits many," as it were. I stand by that opinion: a functional IWB holster for ten bucks isn't a bad deal at all.

However, that got me to thinking about options for an inexpensive carry setup. What are the bare minimums you need to carry safely. (Emphasis on safety; we don't want anyone rocking their carry piece Plaxico-style.) I'm not going to get into off-body (purse or fannypack) carry because I don't carry that way and can't provide insight into it.

So what do you need?
- a belt
- a holster
- a gun
- a spare magazine

I'll address these individually...

The Belt
If you're going to be carrying, a sturdy belt is essential. The braided-leather or single-ply nylon/canvas belts aren't going to cut. For that matter, most department-store leather belts aren't really sturdy enough either.

The belt is going to be taking the weight of the gun and holster, and distributing it across your hips. It needs to be rigid enough to support the full weight of the gun without allowing it to flop around, but also flexible enough to be comfortable to wear. This is not the place to skimp.

There are plenty of good options out there across the price range. On the lower end are the good nylon belts a la the Wilderness Instructor belts. Moving on up the scale we get to things like Filson bridle belts (this is what I wear, about $50 from LL Bean) and then to the even more expensive things like buffalo hide and into the exotics. It's easy to spend well into the $150-200 range just for a belt, but it's not necessary.

The Holster
This is where personal preference really comes into play. For style, leather wins. For comfort, leather usually wins. For durability, you're going to be looking at Kydex or other synthetics. If you want to go inexpensive, there are "one size fits many" nylon options from places like Uncle Mike's and Bulldog** for as little as $10-15.

A slight step up the price range gets us to un-formed leather from folks like JMG Holsters. I carry my 642 in an IWB 7.0 from JMG, and my only complaint about it is the sharp edge on the clip chewing up my shirts.

In the $40-60 range, you're starting to look at mass-produced leather and kydex that are formed to a specific gun. BLACKHAWK!, Fobus, Galco, Bianchi, Don Hume, etc, all have good holsters in this range. Alternatively, there are LOTS of small leather shops - often some guy working in his home shop a few evenings a week - that can produce one-off holsters in this price range. The tremendous advantage to this is the customer service. You want an IWB with 1.5" loops and a rear cant? No problem, just ask! (I have an IWB with two sets of loops and a dump pouch on the way for the 242. $80 from Lobo Gun Leather.)

Move up to the three-digit price range and you can get even more interesting bespoke holsters from larger names. Milt Sparks comes immediately to mind; as does Tauris Holsters. You can start looking at exotics, carving, stamping, etc.

The Gun
If you stop by the newsstand and pick up a handgun magazine (not to be confused with an "outdoors" magazine like F&S or OL), it's likely got some pictures on the front of some very pretty carry guns. Kimber is a perennial favorite, as are Dan Wesson, Sig-Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Wilson Combat, etc. It's not often you'll see the likes of KelTec, HiPoint, Bersa, Rossi, Taurus, or the other "budget" guns getting a cover story... but these are the guns a lot of us carry.

At the extreme low end, you can pick up a HiPoint C9 for about $150. No comment on reliability; I don't have one and wouldn't choose to carry one if there were other choices. However, it IS better than harsh words, and I look forward to the results of MultiGun's testing.

KelTec, Rossi, and Bersa can be found in the $250-300 range, but the list goes on. Smith & Wesson J-frames can often be found starting around $400.

A spare magazine for an auto will run you $25-30, a speedloader for a revolver is $10-15, and a pair of speed strips is $5-6. What you use there is up to you.

So, if you're going to go CHEAP:
Wilderness belt: $35
Uncle Mike's holster: $10
HiPoint C9: $150
Magazine: $15
200 rounds FMJ: $50
50 rounds JHP: $15
Grand Total: $275

That's for a full carry setup with enough ammo to practice, check reliability, and a box of carry ammo.

Move up one notch:
Filson belt: $50
JMG holster: $40
KelTec PF9/Bersa Thunder9: $270
Magazine: $25
200 rounds FMJ: $50
50 rounds JHP: $15
Grand Total: $440

That'll get you a slightly-to-significantly higher-quality carry gun, a better holster and belt, and practice ammo.

What if a revolver is your thing?
Filson belt: $50
Lobo holster: $75
Smith & Wesson 642: $425
Speedloader: $15
200 rounds FMJ: $60
50 rounds JHP: $20
Grand Total: $645

We're moving in to serious money here, but it's still a relatively inexpensive setup.

Let's look at the top end without getting into true custom guns:
Beltman elephant belt: $200
Milt Sparks VM2 w/ sharkskin: $145
Dan Wesson VBOB: $2000
Magazine: $40
200 rounds FMJ: $70
50 rounds JHP: $50
Grand Total: $2505

Literally an order of magnitude difference in price - but either one can save your life. It's just a question of how good you want to look doing it.

* - two internets to whomever can tell me the origins of the title
** - I had a Bulldog IWB pouch for the 642 while waiting for my leather to arrive. It was a POS and the stitching came out within two weeks; I re-stitched it with some heavy thread and that held it together for the few weeks I had left to wait. I can not in good conscience recommend their products.


Weer'd Beard said...

Or go even cheaper: $400 Ruger LCR
$15 Desantis Nemisis pocket holster. A pair of well-fitting pants or shorts.

Two-pack of Bianchi Speed-strips $5

Plus $40 for a box of High-End Hollow Point .38 Special +P (That I won't skimp...and with wheelies, you really don't need to, as you'll know they feed)

Done-and-done, good for 365 days of carry in all dress configurations, from business casual, to shorts and t-shirt.

ZerCool said...

Weer'd, you know, I actually hadn't considered pocket holsters. Like the purse carry, it's not something I'm familiar with.

I'm a jeans-and-t-shirt guy; jeans tend not to be conducive to pocket carry.