In a way, I am reluctant to write about Milt Sparks as it will probably just make it harder the next time I need a holster, but my readers deserve to know, so here goes.
Milt Sparks Holsters is named for its founder, Milt Sparks. Sparks began making holsters in the early days of competitive combat shooting in the 1960’s and 70’s. Magazine writer and founder of the International Practical Shooting Confederation, Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, among others, helped popularize Sparks’ work. What really made Sparks’ products so popular, though, is the quality of design and production.
The only problem with Sparks’ products is that it can take months to get them. Sparks has always been a small operation with an eye for quality, and that means they don’t make them fast and they don’t make them cheap. Each holster is custom made to order for the buyer. There is even a scalper market for their holsters. People try to sneak in extra orders so they can sell them on auction sites at a large profit. Sparks tries to prevent this, as they think the end user deserves to get the holsters directly.
Something else that makes me respect Sparks is that they give credit to others when one of their products borrows an idea. This is unusual these days and worth noting.
Milt Sparks brought Tony Kanaley into the operation in 1983. Kanaley eventually took over the business. Sparks passed away in 1995.
The Summer Special is one of the best known concealment holsters on the planet. The holster is simply so good that it has been the inspiration of countless other holsters. Most makers have a variant in their line of products.
The Summer Special was originally designed by Bruce Nelson, a California law enforcement officer working narcotics. He needed a holster that allowed him to carry a well concealed, powerful sidearm. At that point in time, there weren’t very many good choices. Nelson came up with an inside the waistband (IWB) rig that featured the rough side of the leather out. The roughness helped anchor the pistol to the clothing and body of the shooter so it stayed in one place, a critical factor in being able to present the weapon quickly and accurately. Placing the holster inside the waist also helped with concealment, as there would be no visible holster to give him away if his shirt rode up.
Nelson also discarded the spring clip that was often used in those days to hold the holster to the shooter’s clothes or belt. These clips often allowed the holster to pop off the belt during the draw. He replaced it with a simple leather loop that goes around the belt, making sure the holster stays in place.
A last detail is in the mouth of the holster, which is reinforced with metal so that it stays open after the pistol is drawn. This allows you to reholster the weapon easily. This is important for both a law enforcement officer who might need to cuff a suspect as well as a non-officer who needs to put the weapon away as the police arrive.
While Nelson made holsters as a sideline, his law enforcement career kept him too busy to fill the demand for his leather. He gave permission to Sparks to produce his design knowing that the results would be well made.
While I like the Summer Special, I have found that the rough side out absorbs sweat faster than a well waxed smooth side out holster. My climate is hot and sticky, so that’s a factor.
I also like for the holster to ride a bit lower than the Summer Special. The Summer Special places the pistol high, so you can get an excellent grip, but I like having the pistol’s center of gravity a bit lower as it feels more stable to me.
The belt loops on the Summer Special also sometimes collide with my belt loops. I like cargo pants and shorts, and some of mine put a wide belt loop right where I want to carry a holster. The closely spaced belt loops on the Summer Special don’t always spread wide enough to get around these belt loops.
These thoughts about my personal needs led me to try another Sparks holster.
The Executive Companion (EC) is another inside the waistband holster. It carries the pistol a little bit lower than the Summer Special and is smooth side out. I find it amazingly stable, and I have no trouble getting a good firing grip on the pistol. Besides carrying the pistol lower, it added leather in kind of a paddle shape around the sheath that holds the pistol. The extra leather contributes to the stability of this design.
Another bit of good thinking was to add an extension to the backside top of the holster that goes between the pistol and the shooter. It helps keep your clothes out of the holster and protects you and your clothes from the gun rubbing. It also protects the gun from your sweat and helps keep the safety on.
Adding to the goodness, they came up with a system of interchangeable belt loops. You can swap them out so they match your belt width. This is a pretty big deal, by the way. If your holster can swivel about on your belt because the loops are too wide, you won’t get a consistent draw stroke. That’s bad.
My only problem with the EC is that, like the Summer Special, the belt loops don’t like to go around the loops on some of my pants. That’s a clothing malfunction, of course, not a holster one. Fortunately for me, the next holster, the Versa-Max (VM)– my favorite concealed carry rig– takes care of that.
The Versa-Max, in some ways, seems like an improved EC. It continues the paddle of leather around the actual pistol sheath, though it’s a bit reduced in size from the EC. It is also smooth side out and has the interchangeable belt loop system.
The big thing for me about the Versa-Max, though, is the placement of the belt loops on the holster. They are spread out so they are positioned well ahead of and well behind the pistol. This does a bunch of good things. First, I can position the holster more easily around that nasty wide loop on so many of my pants. What is probably more important, though, is that the loops pull the gun closer to the body for better concealability. It also places the thickness of the loops away from the gun, making the whole package a little bit thinner.
The ride height is pretty similar to the EC, which works quite well for me.
The VM also has a trick, something its name hints at. As well as a regular IWB rig, it is a tuckable holster. You can set it up with clips that allow you to tuck your shirt in over the pistol. This truly improves concealment, though at the expense of speed. You have to yank the shirt up and out to get to the pistol. It is a mode of carry that works well with thin pistols like the 1911 or Browning. It can work especially well with something like the Officers ACP models that have a shorter butt than a 1911 or Commander.
The Heritage is much like the Summer Special, though it rides even lower than the EC or VM. It is also smooth side out. The big draw of the Heritage is a waterproof lining. I’ve mentioned sweat, and the Heritage is the only holster I haven’t managed to sweat through to the pistol. The belt loops, though, mirror the Sumer Special, so it won’t work with some of my pants. I also like the ride height of the VM and EC better, so this isn’t my favorite holster. It occurs to me that I would be really happy if Sparks would add the waterproof lining to the VM. Maybe they’ll read this!
The Mirage is a really neat rig. It is an inside the belt but outside the pants minimalist holster. It offers great concealability and comfort with a very special trick. Sometimes we have to go into a non-gun permissive location. With the Mirage, we can leave the holster on and simple stash the pistol in our car. The Mirage is almost invisible on our belt, so we can leave it in place. A special beauty of this holster is that it is ambidextrous with belt loops for both sides. Sparks says it is best for the 1911 or Browning Highpower, but they will make it for other guns.
Sparks makes super belts. They are sturdy, long lived, and cut on the contour of the body to fit better and feel better. You can’t go wrong with a Sparks belt. They are strong enough to carry your gun and reloads. Belts are critical to the successful carry of arms, so be sure to get a good one. Sparks is a good place to look.
Sparks makes a number of other products, but I haven’t owned or tested all of them. They have magazine pouches and a wide variety of holsters, both inside and outside the waistband. I’m pretty sure, however, that all of them are well designed and well made. There is a new holster I hope to see called the Nexus that uses magnetic fasteners rather than snaps on the belt loops. It sounds like a great idea if they hold well enough. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Scot Frank Eire