Sunday, February 5, 2012

SmartCarry Holster Review Illustrated

I've had a SmartCarry holster for the P30 for over a month now, and I have enough data to give a good review. There's lots of reviews out there, but I wanted to make it as inclusive as I could. For ~$50, there's not a lot of risk in buying this holster, and I think for the price it's a smokin' good deal.

I ordered a standard model from their website; I didn't go through a 3rd party to order it, and it took three days for it to get here from Florida. The SmartCarry is made from denim with a waterproof backing and seams made to prevent snags.

For the magazine pouch, to adjust for the height of your spare magazine you use a safety pin. That's all it takes. Fishing down the front of your britches for your magazine when you're at slide lock is another matter, but we'll get to that in a little bit.

This holster is worn below the belt. It works so well at concealing because it has its own belt built in; it's made from elastic and fastened around the waist with velcro. Because of this, there's no clips or loops on the belt around your pants, so there's no trace that you've got anything on you, and on top of that you can tuck your shirt in. Also, because it's in front of your body, there's no printing when you bend. Here's what it looks like hiding it under your pants:

Now, the directions say to secure the SmartCarry's straps around your "hips" so that when you pull up your pants, your belt line sits around your "waist." That is probably correct for some folks, but that's not how it works for me. I do not have an ass to speak of, so my belt and pants slide down until it stops on the only structural part in that area, which is my hips. That is what I consider to be my "waist." The gut that I have accrued over the past few years has formed a shelf above this waist, meaning that I can't make a new waist any higher than that. What I do is strap the SmartCarry straps just below my hip bones, and pull my pants up over them and I'm good to go.

In these pictures I'm wearing 5.11 Covert Cargo pants which work nicely with the SmartCarry. If you look closely under my belt loop on the right side of the picture as you see it (It's on my right as well. The pictures were all taken in the mirror) you can see the only printing you can expect with this holster with a full sized handgun, which is a slight bulge. If your pants sag down throughout the day this bulge will be more apparent as the entire grip will be right up against the belt. I give my pants a quick hike when I stand up from sitting for awhile, and it's good to go. If you're wearing this holster at work with an I.D. badge, clip it to the belt loop above the bulge and it's not an issue.

If you wear a tucked in shirt, definitely wear an undershirt because the velcro on the straps in the back will chafe. Tuck the front of your overshirt behind the SmartCarry, and I would advise tucking the back of your overshirt OVER the strap in the back because it has a tendency to ride up throughout the day, especially when you sit down.

You wouldn't want someone to notice a huge black strap sticking up!

Yeah, I've got the pregnant belly-hold thing going on there in that last picture. So sue me.

They make smaller SmartCarrys for the micro pistols. For fun I thought I'd show you how well this holster would conceal a mouse gun: here's what it looks like hiding a Kahr PM9 9mm with its 3" barrel:

There's no bulge at all. I could wear this holster with the PM9 to the gym under running shorts and nobody would have a clue.

Something most of the reviews on the internet don't mention is that while this holster works great with the right pants, it can go all wrong if you wear the wrong ones. Trust me on this. You have a lot going on in this region of your body as it is: a shirt, undershirt, underwear, pants, and belt are competing for room with a holster, magazine, and pistol. Make sure there's enough room for everybody or some of your softer bits can get mashed when you sit down, and your skivvies will bunch up when you walk.

First, you don't have to go out and buy pants with a larger waist size; keep the pants you already have and use them. Definitely try all your work pants on with this holster beforehand to find the ones that work best. What you need to be concerned about is that your pants have a deep enough crotch. If the distance between the top of your pants and the crotch is short, when you sit or bend down the muzzle of your gun will print this massive, blocky bulge that is sure to startle your co-workers at the water cooler:

Sorry about the mega crotch shot, but somebody had to do it. I don't recall the brand of pants in the above picture, but I got them from Kohls. The front of your pants shouldn't be tight or you'll end up looking like you're wearing a diaper. Or a gun down your pants. Pleated pants do help to get rid of the bulge, as do darker colors:

I wore this under LA Police Gear Operator pants yesterday in front of my family, who all know I carry, and told them to guess where I was carrying while I lifted my jacket, and they had no idea. A full sized gun just disappears. Somebody mentioned in a forum somewhere that you can wear the SmartCarry appendix style and tuck your shirt in over it:

It works okay that way, but wouldn't be my first choice. I didn't check retention like that either, so I can't speak for how well it would hold my gun while a scumbag was kicking me on the ground. Since there's no retention strap, I have to think the gun would come out in my shirt.

The SmartCarry is comfortable when you sit and when you drive. That's a big question that comes up. For me, if my pants have sagged down some and I don't hike them up before I sit, the back of the gun's slide will hit my belt, and my belt will collide with the shelf that my gut makes, which is uncomfortable but only takes a quick adjustment to fix. To prevent this I hike my belt a tad before sitting down and it doesn't happen. Driving for an hour or two, I don't have any issues or need to make any adjustments. It's like I have a 26 oz. weight sitting in my lap. No problem. When walking, I can feel the edges of the holster slightly, more so while walking up stairs, but it's not a concern. I think I could run comfortably wearing this, but I'd have to test it to be sure before hitting the treadmill at the gym.

Bathroom breaks are something to talk about. For a trip to the urinal, just follow the instructions that come with the holster and you'll be fine. There's a piece of the holster underneath the magazine and safety pin that's not occupied by metal, and you can use that to your advantage to gain that extra half inch of comfort. It's the sit down bathroom trips that are easy: again, do what the instructions say - pull your pants down and pull the holster, gun and all, up to your chest and let your shirt come down over it. It takes a moment to do this, and in the slight chance some sicko is watching you do your business, there's nothing showing and you still have quick access to your heater in case Tangos kick in the stall door.

Another concern is how fast the draw is. What good is having a pistol on you if you can't get to it, right? I went out yesterday and did some draws while on the timer so that my dear readers would know. Oh, the things I go through for y'all! While I did forget to bring a standard IWB holster to get some comparative times for (AIWB I average around 1.6 seconds), I managed to get lots of draw times on the SmartCarry, and I was impressed. I've done some dry fire at the house, but this was the first live fire I did with it. I warmed up with 50 rounds from the draw before going for time, and when I started recording times I went for 33 rounds single firing from the draw. My slowest time was 2.95 seconds, and my fastest time was 2.14 seconds, with an average of 2.54 seconds. I was shooting at an 8" steel target at 7 yards with 115 grain Federal FMJ rounds out of the P30, and was wearing the LA Police Gear Operator pants with 5.11 Operator belt, tucked in T-shirt and unzipped jacket.

From my notes, I had one draw that snagged on the front sight which pulled the holster out of my pants. The time during that draw was still 2.59 seconds, so it wasn't critical. I also fumbled a draw - from my notes it was because I'm a moron, and not a fault of the holster. The time on that one was my slowest draw at 2.95 seconds. With the snagged front sight, I found that if I didn't draw the pistol straight up, but canted the butt of the pistol down towards my foot, the sharp edges of the front sight would grab the inside of the holster and pull it out of my pants. Dry fire, dry fire, dry fire. That will keep that from happening. My technique for drawing was to hook the thumb of my support hand into my waistband, minimizing the amount of flesh which would obscure my draw, and then reach down with my gun hand and grab/draw the gun. Keep the grip angled in towards the body during the draw or you'll hit the butt on your belt, which will foul you up. Also, I found it helpful to suck in my gut some so I didn't bang my hand on my gut shelf thingie. A pro tip: before you go to the range for a practice session, trim your nails and file the edges so that they're not sharp or you will tear your gun hand up on your support hand thumb nail.

I did not try any weak hand or strong hand only draws, and I think they would be challenging without a lot of practice. One thing that bothers me about this holster is if I'm holding a child in one arm -- will I be able to draw? It would certainly take longer than a draw from AIWB holster. I'll have to practice that one and find out (not with a living child, of course).

I found two ways to re-holster: pull the SmartCarry up out of your pants, holster the gun, and then tuck it all back in; or, do a reverse of your draw by hooking your waistband with your support hand thumb and reaching in with your gun hand. Just be sure you're watching/paying attention or you can miss the gun pocket on the holster (it's cloth and doesn't stay open) and drop your gun down your pants. Then you can't tell your friends you're a smooth operator. Going for the spare magazine is something that needs to be practiced, as my reloads were an abomination. The hard part is that you have to grab the spare magazine with your support hand, and not with the assistance of your gun hand. Also, your shirt may be fouled up from the initial draw, so there's that to contend with, too. All in all though, you have the option of a reload which is normally not available with deep concealment carry.

In summary, I'm a big fan of the SmartCarry. It's the most concealable way to carry a full sized handgun with spare magazine in comfort if you want to carry without any chance whatsoever at exposing your gun. The draw is obviously slower than IWB carry, but is comparable to pocket carry and you have the option to pull a fighting pistol instead of a mousegun. For me, it won't take the place of AIWB carry, but it works well for day to day carry. There are people on forums who say it doesn't work for them, and that may be true, but for $50 you would be well served to give the SmartCarry a try.
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