See also: Locked Unloaded Concealed Carry (LUCC)
Back in November '08, the folks at Blackhawk sent me one of their belt pouch holsters to review.
Given that I reside in a county of California which rarely issues concealed carry permits, the typical use of these holsters (storing a loaded concealed carry gun) is not available to me. Instead, I'm reviewing it for comfort and attention level as a Locked Unloaded Concealed Carry (LUCC) container. I've worn it almost every day for about a year now, so I feel that I have enough experience now to write a solid review. This pouch - Blackhawk's "Large" size - is identical to the Federal-sized "Gun Pak" from Uncle Mike's. This is because Blackhawk is the manufacturer for both the Blackhawk and Uncle Mike's versions. On a side note, "Federal size" is so named because the outside pocket is sized to hold a Federal Marshal's standard identification packet.
One design point with this pouch is that it's designed to blend in by resembling a camera pouch. It's possible to go one step further in this resemblance by removing a brand label from a real camera pouch and sewing it onto the side of this holster, and there are a few places left open on the bag's exterior which lend themselves towards this use. However, a detriment here would be at movie theaters or gyms, where it would heighten scrutiny.
I've worn this holster at multitude of locations over the last year. Stores, restaurants, movie theatres, conventions, malls - I haven't even noticed anyone looking at my case. Certainly, no one has questioned me about it. It's a safe bet that if anyone suspects I may be carrying, during the week they assume from my business casual attire that I'm licensed to carry a concealed and loaded weapon anyway. However, I frequently wear t-shirts (including gun-related ones) on the weekend, and haven't noticed any elevated attention. In California, at least, rarity helps LUCC practitioners hide in plain sight.
I will observe that while the law does not prohibit this mode of carry, it is frequently at odds with event or store policy. Unlike in most states, a "no firearms" sign in California has no more force of law than "no shirt, no shoes, no service" signs. Were you found out, their security might eject you from the premises or ban you for life, but you can't be arrested if you leave the premises upon request. There are some notable exceptions, such as the Del Mar fairgrounds, which has a law-backed no-weapons policy. San Diego city parks have a similar law. A convenient rule of thumb is that if you're going somewhere on government or public property, you should research whether or not you may legally LUCC.
Front and back pictures, unmounted The holster itself is composed of fairly high-density nylon,. Two polymer belt loops secure it to your belt. There is no quick release or clamp locking system for this holster. However, that's not too big of a problem - cellphone-like clips on this holster would digging into your side when sitting down.
Lock notes: I am using a TSA-approved Brinks padlock. If you're going to use a small lock, I would recommend using one which is at least defined as a lock by the TSA or some other government agency. Some of the flimsier luggage locks might be easy enough to break that the container would be considered unlocked.
On the outside, there's a velcro-secured pocket without a zipper. You can see this below my hands in the picture to the right. I chose to keep a spare set of keys to the padlock in that compartment, as CA law only says the bag must be locked - not that the keys must be difficult to obtain. Another option would be to keep a knife in the outer compartment, to cut through the nylon in case the lock jams or the keys are lost. Please pay attention to the next paragraph, as it explains what's wrong for LUCC in the picture to the right!
Within the bag, there's a single large compartment with a velcro-secured inner partition. Were you to stick a small gun in the partition, it would escape casual notice even if the bag were open. The inner partition does have a pull tab, which you can see at the top and center in the picture to the right. Note that here, you can see the butt of my CZ-40P sticking out. Moving to a subcompact pistol, such as a Para Warthawg or one of the Kahr or Ruger sub-compact offerings, would eliminate this issue. For LUCC purposes, because a loaded magazine may not legally be inserted in the weapon, I leave the magazine in the outer pouch and the gun in the inner pouch.
Pictures of bottom corners, showing a year's worth of wear
Caveat that can send you to jail
Please notice what I'm demonstrating here. If you run the padlock through the outer zipper holes, rather than the inner ones, this is not really a fully enclosed locked container. The inch or two of gap is more than enough to work your fingers inside, or to operate the trigger if the firearm were loaded (in violation of California law). This is not a design flaw in the case, as Blackhawk never designed this for LUCC. This situation can be readily avoided anyway, by using the inner zipper holes.
This shows the correct installation of the padlock.
As may be expected, the largest guns this case likes are semi-compact. The most critical dimension seems to be the 'height', not the length, of the gun. At issue is the secondary velcro compartment and its ability to remain closed. If you instead store the gun in the main compartment, this is not an issue.
CZ-75 40S&W: The CZ-75 actually was the worst fit for this container. Its grip was long, and prevented the inner pocket from sealing. Thus, should you have to open this pouch, the gun will be noticed. You'll also hear the sound of velcro shifting and giving as you walk or shift in your seat.
CZ-40P: This ultimately became my favorite gun for use with this container, because the bottom quarter inch or so of its height comes from the magazine's baseplate. In most states this would not be a concern, but California's unloaded requirement makes this a noteworthy variable. Like the CZ-75B, the magwell is too long to allow the inner pocket to seal completely. However, it doesn't tear on the velcro as long before "settling in". More importantly, it's fairly slim and compact.
Sig 229 w/Crimson Trace Grips: My Sig's fatter-than-OEM grips made it more noticeable overall, and the weight was a bit more noticeable than the rest of the options. However, I suspect that with the original grips a Sig would be a good choice for this pouch.
A Year's Wear and Tear
Truthfully, other than the padlock wearing the paint off of the zipper, there's no substantial room for improvement in durability. The fabric hasn't noticeably frayed at all, and the fabric hasn't particularly faded.
How it Looks
II chose to wear brown pants for these pictures in order to make the holster stand out better, but if I were trying hard for concealment I would simply wear black pants.
From the front, my arm largely obscures it from view. When coupled with a coat of any sort, it's pretty near impossible to notice. Please note that the object to the immediate left of the holster is a doorknob, not some strange attachment to the holster.
From the side, as long as my arm is down, it doesn't stand out much either. If I wear black pants, it practically vanishes.
"Tells" with this holster
This holster does stand out to folks who know what they're looking for, particularly given the need to add a padlock for LUCC.
Your belt will sag unless you use a gun belt: This is easy, but not necessarily cheap, to correct. I personally bought a leather belt from Belltman Gunbelts. Note that very light guns (Ruger LCP, for instance) may not strictly require a gun belt.
The padlock: This is a dead giveaway to anyone familiar with LUCC. There are very few reasons why someone would put a lock on a hip pouch. However, this could be reduced by using a matte black padlock instead of a shiny metal one.
Notwithstanding, the only time I'm aware of someone correctly identifying this holster was at a Calguns.net dinner, surrounded by folks familiar with LUCC and aware that I personally advocate it.
Law Enforcement is Generally Unaware
It is worth noting that I have been subjected to numerous 12031(e) loaded weapon checks while open carrying and also wearing this holster. At no point have officers inquired about this case, patted the case, or attempted to open it during a 12031(e) weapon check.
Interviewing Friends and Family
I've made a point of not telling family and friends about the gun on my hip when I'm out, just to see they happen to ask questions. Towards the end of the day, I inquire if anyone had suspected I was armed. The closest to identification was my uncle, who wondered "why you'd started wearing a man-purse." While a perfectly valid point, apparently no one had thought of a handgun being in the pouch.
I am pleased with this LUCC solution. Were I to receive a concealed carry permit, I would probably continue to use this holster, simply without the padlock. As a LUCC holster, it has no drawbacks which are not inherent with the practice of LUCC, and it's comfortable enough that I frequently forget I'm wearing it until I lay on the case.
Room for Improvement
With any product, there's room for improvement. On this product, only one area appeared to have room for it, and that was on the straps securing it to the belt. While structurally sound (and, as usual for Blackhawk products, double-stitched), their belt loop area is "generous" - perhaps even a bit oversized. Thus, it leaves the holster free to shift while running. That having been said, it's possible this was a conscious design tradeoff. I can imagine that a more rigid bond would leave it unable to shift as necessary when sitting down.
Possible upgrade: Some zippers are designed with a hole on both parts of the interlocking zipper sliders. Were Blackhawk to use this type of zipper, it'd be easier to install and remove the padlock. This would also open the door to using this as a soft case for "normal" (non-LUCC) handgun transport by mainstream users.