I am kind of crazy about holsters for some reason and love to study and experiment with different ones. Someone recently mentioned Alien Gear Holsters to me, and when I checked out their web site I was very surprised at their prices, which start at $29.88. They even have a special where your get two holsters starting at $49.88. I am used to spending quite a bit more for holsters, expecting a Kydex one to cost $75 or more. Leather costs even more. My all-time favorite leather concealment holster, the Sparks Versa Max 2 I reviewed a while back, goes for $122, and I think it is worth every penny.
My initial thought after checking the prices was that they couldn’t be any good. However, I respect the person who suggested them and figured it would be a good idea to check them out.
Besides price, another attractive feature of Alien Gear Holsters is that they have a modular system. You get a half shell that holds your handgun and a choice of backers for it. With a few parts and the time it takes to assemble them, you can have a lot of different holsters.
Revolvers and semi-autos use different backers and there are outside the waistband (OWB) ones as well as inside the waistband (IWB) ones for both types of handguns. Since there are so many types of semi-autos, they offer four sizes of IWB backers for them, while one size suffices for OWB. While you can use a shell for a small pistol on one of the large backers, you don’t want to carry a large pistol on a small backer since the slide will project past the backer and dig into your body. They, therefore, warn you to buy one for the largest pistol you expect to use. The shells are interchangeable, so you can swap guns in a couple of minutes. They even have a deal where you can send back a shell and exchange it for a different gun for free.
Additionally, you get a choice of leather or synthetic for the IWB backer. The synthetic one costs $6 more and is composed of three layers of material. The layer next to the shooter is a thin layer of Neoprene followed by a thin layer of a somewhat stiff plastic material to give it some structure, and finally there is a layer of vinyl next to the gun. The layers are glued and then sewn together. The stiff layer allows it enough flex to curve around the body while not letting it collapse vertically. While leather will eventually let sweat soak through, the synthetic appears impermeable to moisture. I spent a very hot, long sweaty day in the southeast using it on the range, and nothing got through the pistol, which was very pleasing since sweat is highly corrosive.
The OWB backer is about 6.5×4.5 inches and comes in tan leather, though for $5 more you can get it dyed black. That would be a good option if you wear dark pants most of the time. There are loops on the back at the front and rear edges that allow the use of a belt up to 1.75 inches wide. I wouldn’t go any narrower than a 1.5-inch belt, though, as that would allow the holster to move about more than it should for a consistent draw stroke. I got one of these for revolvers with a shell for the S&W K frame revolver. Oddly, they listed two barrel choices for the shell– one for a two inch and the other for a five inch. I know there have been 5-inch K frames, but they aren’t common and since mine is a four inch, I ordered the five inch one so that the barrel would be covered. It turned out to be a perfect fit for the four inch. So, there you have that. I suspect there was an error in the selection menu.
I also got the IWB synthetic backer for semi-autos; it is called the Cloak 2.0 and is 9.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches high at each end. The shell I got was for the 5-inch 1911, and the backer is 9.25 inches tall where the pistol rides. The ones for smaller pistols would be narrower than mine at the tall part.
The plastic shells are a material called Boltaron, which is a thermoplastic that is molded to the shape of the weapon. Alien Gear argues it is better than Kydex and has a video on the subject. The shells are attached to the backers with four screws that thread into T-nuts crimped into back of the backer. The shells look solid and durable. There are rubber-like spacer washers between the shell and backer that allow you to adjust how much retention the holster applies to your weapon. Alien Gear makes a point of having the shell cover the entire barrel, slide, and front sight of the weapon, and I think that’s a good idea, both for the weapon and the user. An uncovered gun can abrade clothing and dirt can get into the weapon easier.
One great touch is that they give you replacement parts and an Allen wrench to turn the screws with. I would have preferred Phillips screws, but so it goes. At least they give you a wrench so you don’t have to claw through your tool box to locate one the right size. The replacement spacers are in several thicknesses, which is good to have in case you need a different spacing than the stock ones. They use hideous neon green ones on the IWB, but at least no one will see them. The OWB, thankfully, uses a tasteful black. I suspect the green is in keeping with the alien motif. There is also a spare T-nut, and everything is attached to a nice plastic holder, though the Allen key kept falling out of mine giving me something to grouse about.
The basic design of this sort of holster is sometimes called a hybrid in that one side of the holster is a shell in one material shaped to hold the handgun and the other is a flat piece of some other material. We often see a piece of leather with a Kydex shell attached to it in this style, though there are other patterns such as the Alien Gear IWB I am reviewing which has a plastic shell and synthetic backer.
I did quite a bit of research on these holsters, and I found a number of positive reviews as well as some hostile ones. My review is generally positive with the caveat that you can’t expect a $30 holster to be as good as one that costs three or more times as much. I will admit, however, that the margin is far closer than I expected. I sort of expected to send them back for a refund, as I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m keeping them despite the fact the bin o’holsters is overflowing.
The two biggest concerns I saw in the negative reviews were about durability and safety. I’ve only had these for a few weeks and plan on reporting back on how well they hold up, but they appear reasonably sturdy to me. One complaint was over the belt loops on the OWB backer not being strong enough, but they look plenty tough to me. I used similar construction to carry much heavier camera equipment without problems. I didn’t fail test them, but I pulled as hard as I could and loops stayed on.
Another durability complaint was over the IWB synthetic backer, and I will grant that I have more concern about that point, though it looks okay to me. I’ve worn it for a couple of weeks and done a lot of draw strokes, and it looks like new. I saw a photo of one that had been torn up after a few weeks use, but I wonder if the pistol in question had some sharp edges on the front of the slide. Colt 1911’s are notorious for that, and they will rip up a holster if you don’t take a file to the pistol as I have done to mine. The only thing that will tell, though, is using it for several months and seeing what happens. I’ll report back on that.
I saw some complaints about the hardware rusting. Mine have been soaked with sweat and look fine, but I will keep an eye on them and report problems.
Safety is a concern, and the complaints I saw centered on holstering being more difficult than it should be. I found it to more troublesome than with my JM Custom Kydex or the Sparks Versa Max, but I was able to do it without looking and with one hand. With both the 1911 and the revolver, I found I had to wiggle the weapon a bit to get it in. With the IWB, most of the problem is that when the holster is empty, the flexible backer fills in some of the space in the pocket the pistol fits into and you have to push it out of the way as you holster.
One problem some semi-auto users have that I don’t, since I use a 1911, is that the slide can be pushed back and out of battery when putting the pistol into a holster with very much resistance. The safety on a 1911 locks the slide in place so it won’t move out of battery. Most semi-autos, like the Glock, don’t have that feature. One reviewer noted that he met with so much resistance he could actually unchamber a round. If that’s a problem, the Massad Ayoob technique of placing one’s thumb on the back of the slide can work well. This keeps it in battery as you push the pistol into the holster. I recall that he also recommends that we do this with the 1911 as it can block the hammer should there be any shooter error during holstering; it is a procedure I use. The short take on this point is that good technique can probably prevent the problem.
With the revolver, there were a couple of problems getting it into the holster, one of which I was able to help a bit. The front of the cylinder can catch on both the shell and the backer as it goes in. The leather backer had a square cut edge, and rounding it over with a beveling tool helped the cylinder slide in. Wiggling a bit got it past the shell. The frame of the revolver where the yoke for the cylinder hinges also caught on the part of holster that covers the trigger guard. By working with it a bit, I was able to come up with a motion that allowed the revolver to slip in with reasonable ease, though not as smoothly as with an old leather Alessi I own.
One other complaint I saw was that the holster shells are larger than necessary. I fear that is largely a function of the interchangeable nature of the design. I generally find that plastic holsters are often bulkier than leather, though some designers beat that. I didn’t find, however, that it caused any issues with concealing a 1911 or S&W K frame revolver under an untucked polo shirt. It is also a fact that spending the time to reduce the shell to the minimum size will take time-consuming handwork. That equates to money, and unless I miss my guess Alien Gear is trying very hard to hit a price point.
The OWB backer offers no adjustments, but the IWB ones do. You can change the cant of the holster as well as how deeply it rides from your belt. The cant will vary depending on where on your belt you carry your pistol. The farther towards the back of your body it is, the more cant of the muzzle towards the rear is required for you to be able to get a get grip on it during the draw. The reverse is true as the pistol is moved forward on the body, the muzzle cant moves down and then forward. The idea is that we want to have our wrists as close to straight as possible during the draw, since cocking the wrist is awkward and awkward makes for a bad draw.
The Alien Gear backer gives you enough options to cover most carry modes from about the three o’clock position to the middle of the back, assuming a right-handed shooter. I am not a fan of appendix carry for reasons of comfort (mental and physical), and I didn’t try it for that style carry. I don’t think, however, that it can provide the optimal cant for appendix or cross draw carry.
You get a choice of methods of how to attach the IWB backer to your belt, all of which allow you to tuck your shirt over the pistol and holster. This was one of my primary justifications for buying the holster. I can do this with my beloved Sparks Versa Max, but I hated what summer sweat in the southeast does to fine leather, so I wanted something synthetic for summer wear. I actually dislike the process of tucking the shirt in over the gun and holster, but it is a workable method when leaving the tail out is socially unacceptable.
The standard attachment is a nylon clip that slips over outside of your belt and has a small hook that catches on the bottom of the belt to make sure it stays there when you draw your weapon. It will fit over a 1.5-inch belt. You can also get a leather loop that will probably work over most 1.75-inch belts, though if the belt is thick, it may not snap over the it.
There are two other options that are appealing to use if you use the tuck your shirt over the holster method. The leather loop or nylon clip are visible if anyone is paying attention, but you can get a J clip that goes under the belt, and it only shows a small nub, which makes it almost invisible if you are wearing a black belt and dark trousers. It should work with most any normal pants belt width. The disadvantage is that the holster is not supported by the top of your belt, so it may want to slip downward. That’s more of a problem, of course, with heavier guns, like my 1911. Fixing that issue at the cost of a little more visibility is the C clip that hooks over the top and bottom of the belt with nothing over the middle. This is the one I like best, though it slightly compromises concealment. It works with 1.5-inch belts. It is hard to get some 1.5-inch belts into it, unless you slide them through as they are too stiff, so you just put the holster on and then slide the belt through the loops.
I found both holsters worked well for concealment. The IWB, of course, was better since more of it is hidden and one’s belt and pants pulls it tighter to the body. I normally wear an IWB as it gives the gun less leverage to pull away from the body than an OWB, but I found this OWB did a good job of keeping the gun close to the body for concealment. The revolver I was using is the same gun that most police agencies issued for patrol use up through the late 80’s and early 90’s and has full-sized stocks on it. In other words, it was not designed for concealment, but it hid nicely under a polo style shirt with this holster. The 1911 disappeared just as well with this IWB as with the best of my other IWB holsters, so I was very satisfied with it.
Comfort was fine with both holsters. Neither had any projections that hurt and both shielded me properly from the guns. I have usually found this style IWB to be hot as the backer is covers more skin than holsters like my Versa Max, but this one was acceptable. I suspect that the neoprene-like layer next to the body wicked away a lot of the moisture rather than trapping it next to the skin as leather or Kydex can.
Getting the IWB on is more trouble than something like the Versa Max. The first issue is that there is more holster to get into, and the second is that the neoprene-like material offers some friction as you try to slide it in. It might be best to mount it on your belt and pants before fastening the button or snap and then completing the process of fastening and belting your trousers.
One can certainly ask the question about the concept of carrying an expensive gun in an inexpensive holster, but these holsters worked well for me, which was something of a surprise. They aren’t my first choice, but they do the job quite well. Some of my problem, of course, might be my love for custom holsters, and these holsters don’t provide that sense of craftsmanship. If one is short funds (or snobbishness), this is the best choice I’ve seen in this price range. It is also a great option if you have pistols you don’t have holsters for. Many of us accumulate an odd handgun or two, and we should have holsters for them. Alien Gear offers a solution for this problem that won’t break the bank.
Another nice feature of Alien Gear Holsters is the instructions they provide. They discuss how and where to wear them, how to set retention, and their instruction contain everything from pointers to videos with more details on using them. I haven’t seen instructions with this level of detail provided with holsters before, and I thought it was great. I was pleased to see that they also included a membership application for the National Rifle Association.
One thing I did find curious is that they don’t offer carriers for extra ammunition. Perhaps that’s something to come.
Alien Gear holsters are made in the U.S., and the company is based in Idaho and Arkansas. It started in 2013. They offer a “forever” guarantee on the holsters, a 30-day trial period with no questions asked refund if you don’t like them, and a shell exchange if you get a different gun. They say the warranty is good even if your dog chews it up. My order took 18 days from the time I placed it to delivery, which is really quick for holsters these days. They even have a blog on their website about concealed carry, and I found it both interesting and useful.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Eire