Blackhawk Level 2 SERPA Holster Review

Discussion in 'Gear & Accessories' started by SIG_Fiend, Feb 22, 2008.

  1. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    Manufacturer's website: Blackhawk

    Price range: Approximately $24-56

    *Update* - I just learned some new info. BHI's Sportster concealment SERPA holster is actually constructed out of a polymer material and can be distinguished from the composite versions as it is a lighter gray color. These are the cheaper models around $29, however they are still ridiculously durable. All other BHI CQC SERPA holsters are constructed out of a carbon fiber composite material which is considerably stronger. The G19 holster pictured here is a polymer Sportster unit, and the P220 holster is the composite model just in case anyone wants to know.

    To start off with, I'll clarify things a bit as Blackhawk's SERPA lineup offers a large number of options. This review is primarily focused on the Blackhawk level 2 retention holsters. Blackhawk has 3 different retention levels available. To summarize these I'll mention the basics. Level 1 features a passive retention device which consists of a spring loaded mechanism running the length of the underside of the barrel as well as the front of the trigger guard (I'll go more into this later). Level 2 features a push button on the side which has an internal notch that blocks the trigger guard and prevents removal. Level 3 consists of a spring loaded cap which snaps in place, covers the rear of the slide, and flips out of the way by using a thumb brake mechanism similar to other holsters. I do not have a level 3 holster and have not yet used one so I'm only going to focus on the first two levels.

    Just so there is no confusion, all Blackhawk level 2 holsters also have the level 1 passive retention device. To get the ball rolling we'll start off with a picture of the inside of a level 2 holster so that hopefully it will make a bit more sense:

    0839.png

    Okay, what we have is three things here:

    -#1 is the Level 1 passive retention device. If you look on the lower portion of this device (in the trigger guard area of the holster), you can see the additional spring loaded tab which provides some forward force on the front of the trigger guard.

    -#2 is the upper back of the Level 2 retention button.

    -#3 is the lower notch on the back of the Level 2 retention button. The front of this notch is beveled and locks in place on the inside of the trigger guard once the gun is inserted.

    Here's an external view (with Airsoft KWA Glock 19):

    0836.png

    -#4 in this picture is the Level 2 SERPA button for disengaging the trigger guard locking mechanism. The button is one piece which has a notch on the lower inside portion that blocks the trigger guard and prevents removal of the gun unless pressed inward (which pulls the notch outward). I don't have any specs on just how much force would be required to yank the gun out without pressing this button. It would certainly require a ridiculous amount of force seeing as the holster is mainly composed of either a carbon fiber composite or tough polymer material. I attempted to yank my P220 out of my SERPA with a significant amount of force while leveraging the holster in between my feet and the thing just would not budge, so it is definitely a rock solid retention device. The gun was double checked unloaded of course, mag removed, slide locked back as I'm a stickler for safety. Simply put, once locked in place you will never have to worry about your handgun accidentally falling out. I was skeptical at first however this is truly a nice feature and well placed for a natural draw stroke, not to mention very light to press which I will elaborate on later.

    -#5 is an adjustable screw which adjusts the tension of the Level 1 passive retention system. This system is comprised of a long spring loaded mechanism that runs the length of the inside bottom of the holster (right under the barrel of the gun) and provides tension to the underside of the barrel/frame as well as a small piece that also provides some spring loaded tension on the front of the trigger guard. The whole point of the section that pushes on the front of the trigger guard is that when you begin removing the gun from the holster, this spring loaded piece gives you a little bit of help by pushing outward on the trigger guard. It's not much force and really isn't noticeable, however in theory it should help even if by only a small degree. The adjustable screw for this level 1 device allows you to adjust how much tension this device exerts on the barrel of the gun. The nice thing about this is it allows you to adjust it so that the gun is just a slight amount loose and inserts or pulls out smooth as butter. On the other end of the spectrum, if you prefer a slight amount of drag on the gun so that it fits rock solid in the holster with no wobble, you can adjust for that as well. After playing around with the adjustments on my two different SERPA's, I can say the level 1 adjustment is definitely noticeable and a worthwhile feature for customizing to everyone's individual tastes. There is a substantial difference in adjustment between both extreme ends of adjustment, however it is entirely possible to over-tighten it. I would recommend against tightening it too much as it is entirely possible to cause too much drag on the firearm making it much too tough to remove in a realistic manner.

    This next picture shows two of the many mounting platforms available for Blackhawk's SERPA lineup:

    0844.png

    The mounting platform on the left is Blackhawk's Sportster concealment platform, which is designed for a more ergonomic fit. The platform on the right is their standard belt loop platform which provides a bit less adjustability though is less bulky in design. The Sportster concealment platform can be used as a regular belt platform obviously, and in my opinion is considerably more comfortable to the point where the standard belt loop platform is a bit pointless I think. It's really just a matter of personal preference.

    -#6 are 2 adjustable hooks which provide retention on the underside of whatever belt the rig is attached to. This section offers 4 available adjustments to adjust for belts sized from 1-2 inches which should cover pretty much any belt anyone would be using. Each position makes an approximate 1/4 inch adjustment. These hooks provide an absolutely ROCK solid belt retention. While wearing one with my P220 (quadruple checked unloaded of course), I tried violently jerking on the grip of the gun as well as the holster though it barely budged. Once in place on your belt, this thing is not going anywhere, PERIOD! I have seen lots of people complain over the year of various brands of in waistband holsters and others of similar designs that hook in like this (such as Fobus holsters), and many people have had problems with their various brand holsters pulling out still attached to the gun on the draw stroke. With the BHI CQC's, it's simply not gonna happen in my experience, so one less thing to worry about.

    -#7 is an additional hook which allows you to wear the holster with the outside section inside your waistband. Wearing the holster in this manner would have this hook providing retention on the inside of your pants as well as both hooks from #6 providing some retention on the outside as well. Worn in this mode, the hooks still provide excellent grip on clothing and make it pretty much impossible for the holster to remove with the weapon, so it is still a very stable method to use unlike some in waistband designs (Fobus, or so I've heard).

    -#8 is simply the concave outer pad of the holster which provides a more ergonomic and comfortable fit as well as an additional mounting option as described above.

    -#9 are simply limiting devices similar to those in #6 (these do not have hooks) to provide adjustments for holsters between 1-2 inches. These are not notched however, and they provide a free range of adjustment.
     


  2. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    Here are some additional pictures from various angles:

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  3. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    Here's a picture of my hand in a natural draw stroke position:

    0847.png

    As you can see from this picture, the level 2 SERPA button is located in a very natural position using a normal draw stroke. I was a bit skeptical at first and thought it could potentially slow down the draw stroke drastically, however this is not the case. I remember reading a review in a gun magazine where the author did some live fire tests at the range with a BHI level 2 SERPA holster. I don't remember specifics however he found that at full speed the SERPA only added another couple tenths of a second to the draw stroke, so it's certainly not a serious detriment IMO considering the level of retention it gives you. Forgive me for not having references or specifics to backup that claim however after practicing my draw a few times, it's pretty easy to see that it's simply not an issue. The other nice feature about this SERPA button is the fact that it is very lightly sprung. I searched around however I could not find an exact spring rate for this button. Judging by the known weights of single action trigger pulls on some of my various handguns, I'm estimating the weight to be somewhere between 1-3 pounds. I doubt it could be any more than that. Anyways, the point is it is very light and, after a bit of practice, the minimal amount of weight required really doesn't require too much of a conscious effort to deactivate. After a bit of practice it really won't interrupt a natural, instinctive draw stroke, so you really don't have to think about it which is ultimately preferred.

    Here's a rear view of the holster minus the mounting platform:

    0841.png

    Visible in this picture are the three threaded mounting holes for mounting various platforms. Also visible is the threaded rear portion of the rear of the adjustable Level 1 retention screw. It is worth noting that all of the threaded pieces and screws on these holsters are made of a tough coated steel and are extremely durable. They feel very positive when tightening and do not exhibit any signs of the potential to easily strip the threads, which is a nice relief. Also, the phillips heads of these screws are relatively substantial and deep so you can get a good grab with the proper sized screwdriver without fear of easily stripping them. It's the little things that really add up and make these into really nice holsters.

    Okay, now that I've posted a ton of pics, lets get to a bit more of a discussion on the holster mounting options. If you look at some of the pictures above of the various mounting platforms, you can see that the holster is mounted with 3 bolts and the mounting platforms provide 3 different sets of holes to adjust the angle the holster sits. All together there are 5 different angles you can mount the holster at; 45 degrees and 60 degrees both forwards and backwards as well as straight up at 90 degrees. Those degree measurements were a rough estimate taken from an online picture of a protractor (I didn't have one handy) so they might be off just a few degrees. Anyways, these measurements apply to both the Sportster platform and standard belt loop platform. It should be noted that the STRIKE CQC Speed Clip gives you the ability to mount at any 45 degree and 90 degree angle as well so you can mount it on something like a plate carrier or other MOLLE/PALS vest perpendicular to your chest or at a 45 degree angle as pictured farther down the thread.

    One other thing to note, which is fairly obvious, is that each of these CQC holsters is molded for a specific gun or similar model range of gun (G19/23/32 fit in one holster for example), though there isn't much of a possibility for cross compatibility with various other brands of guns generally. I managed to fit a full sized Walther P99 in the Glock 19 holster, though it was very snug. There might be a handful of others out there that you can jam into different holsters, but for the most part it's usually one model per holster. This can be a bad thing for those that want to keep the gear costs down and have a variety of sidearms. On the up side though, due to the wide modularity of the BHI CQC lineup, you can buy the cheaper Sportster holsters at $24-30 a pop and you only really need one mounting platform so you can alternate between sidearms whenever you feel like it. It's certainly less economical (if you have multiple sidearms) and less easy compared to a typical universal or adjustable cordura-based holster, however in my opinion I feel the strength of retention but quick draw stroke from the open top design is well worth it if you can afford it. On the other hand, if you only have one sidearm the standard CQC belt/Sportster holsters are cheaper than a good quality thigh rig, though the BHI CQC thigh rigs are a bit expensive around $100-120 a piece.

    I personally like the fact that, on the level 2 SERPA's, you don't have to worry about fumbling around with a thumb strap yet it has rock solid retention and a high range of modularity as well as a large number of different carry options. I used to love thigh holsters due to the whole tacti-cool factor (go ahead and laugh), though lately I've decided to move away from those since I got an Eagle CIRAS replica plate carrier (yes cheapo Chinese stuff, I'm cheap and don't want to spend $700 for the real deal) and now have the ability to mount one on my CIRAS using the CQC Speed Clip. That is one big benefit to the CQC holsters as you can alternate between a shoulder setup, thigh setup, belt setup, and MOLLE setup for not too much more than one excellent quality thigh holster. Anyways, I've decided to ditch my thigh rig in favor of a SERPA mounted on the right cumberbund of my CIRAS with a CQC Speed Clip for mobility reasons. I've found that most thigh holsters, for my tastes, restrict my mobility a bit and the thigh straps seem to constantly loosen up or shift. A stationary, vest mounted holster seems to be exactly what I'm looking for, and the great thing is if I don't like the angle or position, I can always shift my MOLLE pouches around until I find the perfect spot for the holster. Modularity is the key word with BHI's CQC lineup, and it's the reason I've decided to go with them.

    In case anyone is wondering, yes I do play airsoft and yes I am an adult (laugh it up), which is part of the reason I bought some of this "tacti-cool" gear. However I'm also looking to get into 3 gun shoots and various other tactical-oriented shooting competitions, so thankfully these items will end up seeing use with my real firearms. Well, that's my excuse anyways. ;)
     
  4. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    I have not experienced an issue with the SERPA button becoming stuck, however I haven't exactly put these holsters through a serious Glock-style torture test or anything. What I did do is attempt to jam up the SERPA button using a mixture of fine dirt and sand while attempting to pack the dirt in the holster forecefully.

    Here's a few pics:

    0850.png

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    And the end result:

    0854.png


    A nicely scratched plastic slide, and one of the reasons I used a cheapo airsoft gun for the test. If there is one downside to watch for it's that, if you were to get any sort of dirt or sand jammed in one of these, be careful as the grit in between the slide and stiff polymer/composite holster can cause quite a bit of abrasion to at least the slide of the gun. Basically, I tried to find the grittiest material to test with, however this dirt mixture is a bit less abrasive compared to 100% sand. Anyways, I filled the inside of the holster as best I could, inserted the gun, then covered the entire holster in the dirt mixture while forcefully trying to pack it in as much as possible. The end result? Well, after trying repeatedly for approximately 30 minutes, I wasn't able to cause the SERPA button to malfunction or lock. With all of the dirt mixture jammed in there, it certainly did give the button a gritty feeling and required a bit more force, however it still functioned properly. I am not familiar with the first versions of these SERPA holsters, and I could not find pictures so I have no idea what they might have changed between the two. From a purely logical and common sense perspective though, just looking at the holster itself there are a few things I see. For one, there is between approximately 1mm and 2mm of open area surrounding the exterior of the button. Second, there is a cutout in the holster for the SERPA button. It seems to me that these two factors would prove to be beneficial in the event that dirt, sand or any other material gets in the holster. With the open area on the exterior and behind the SERPA button, this should theoretically provide two different areas to displace any dirt/sand filling up the mechanism. The hole in the holster for the back of the SERPA button appears to be positioned that at least some of any dirt/particulate matter behind it should be displaced into the gun's trigger guard area freeing up room for the button to be pressed inward. I measured the internal portion of the SERPA trigger guard locking tab, and it only has to move between 4-5mm to release the weapon, which is a relatively small distance. Even if the material is packed in there and only a small amount is displaced in various areas upon pressing the SERPA button, I would speculate that it wouldn't require much displacement to allow the button to travel a paltry 4-5mm. Please let me know if any of this doesn't make any sense.
     
  5. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    Blackhawk also has several other mounting platforms available. They have a thigh rig setup which offers a number of mounting and accessory options, a shoulder rig that attaches to any CQC holster, and they also have what they call a S.T.R.I.K.E CQC Speed Clip platform. The CQC Speed Clip platform is designed to attach any SERPA holster directly to MOLLE/PALS webbing. It takes up approximately 4 rows across and 2 rows down. Here's a some pictures to give you an idea:

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  6. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    0884.png

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    Okay, now some words about the Speed Clip setup. First off, it should be noted that the speed clip takes up 4 horizontal PALS rows and 2 vertical PALS rows so you do need quite a bit of area to mount. In my opinion though, this is a good thing since the upper "arms" that fit through the PALS webbing are out so much farther than say the mounting points of the standard belt loop platform. Because of this there is much better stabilization of the platform, and when in place it feels rock solid with no wobble. Initially I was a bit afraid the holster might tend to "sag" downward under the weight of the gun and/or have some horizontal play, however this is not the case. In the pictures above I had the vest adjusted rather loose as I was still fiddling around with it so even though it might look like it sags it doesn't when everything is properly adjusted. Another reason this platform is so stable is it is made from the same carbon fiber composite material as the SERPA holsters, and it is extremely rigid in nature.

    As far as mounting on PALS webbing goes, if you notice from the first couple of pictures in the post above, there are little "hooks" built into each of the four arms of the platform. Basically once you thread the arms through the PALS webbing, you just wiggle each PALS web around a bit so that the hook will sit on top of it. Ultimately this provides rock solid retention of the holster as the only way it could possibly come loose is with enough force to rip the PALS webbing off, which on quality PALS webbing is going to require considerable force or mechanical assistance to achieve. Simply put, just like the SERPA holsters, with this mounting platform in place the holster is not going anywhere!

    Next we're going to talk about mounting options/angles. As you can see from the pictures in the post above, all of the screw holes in the CQC Speed Clip platform allow you a 360 degree range of mounting options at approximately 90, 60, and 45 degree angles. After some trial fitment of each angle, I would personally recommend against using the 60 degree angle mount if the holster is mounted high on the vest (particularly in the center where a typical command pouch is). The reason I feel this isn't such a great mounting angle when in a high chest location is that it is a slightly uncomfortable and unnatural position to bend your hand for maximum speed and a smooth draw. The 45 degree angle is much better, and for many people it will feel much more natural. For others the 90 degree angle will feel more natural, however ultimately it will really depend on your exact vest and the placement of the holster in relation to your chest.

    From what I have seen of other people's vests, It appears that I have mine adjusted to sit lower on my torso than most people prefer. I personally prefer the decreased restriction on my upper body as it allows a bit more open area around my shoulders, under arms, and neck area. I feel it is important to note this if considering going the CQC Speed Clip route to mount on the cumberbund in the manner pictured above. I showed several pictures mounted on the upper chest, however I will keep mine mounted permanently on the cumberbund as it feels much better for my tastes in maintaining a more normal draw stroke. As you can see from the pictures above, with the holster cumberbund mounted, it is still very accessible and maintains a natural draw stroke without requiring any unnatural bending of your arm. However, just keep in mind that if your vest happens to be adjusted to sit much higher on your torso that it might not be positioned quite as naturally.

    That is about all I can think of at the moment, so feel free to ask any questions if you can think of anything else.
     
  7. ReVrEnD_0341

    ReVrEnD_0341 Active Member

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    Nice review. Very well laid out. BHI has had some QC issues since their line has become so popular, but they can still put out some decent stuff. I have never used this holster, however I know people that have fielded them in OIF and OEF. I like the retention system, but it is not impervious to the elements. Dirt and mud doesn't seem to be much of an issue, however the tiny rocks from sand, and large mineral deposits does pose a problem.

    I believe it was Pat Rogers that wrote about the SERPA holster in one of his after action reports for a training class he put on. There was a gentleman using a SERPA holster that got a tiny rock lodged in the button mechanism, and during a transition from carbine to his pistol managed to rip the holster off of the platform. There have been similar accounts by LEO's in "oh ****" situations doing the same thing.

    Not knocking the holster at all. I kind of like it, but attention to detail, and keeping the button clear of obstructions is key. There have been many many people that have spoken with BHI about the push button, however BHI doesn't seem to listen to the end user when it comes to long term reliability. A simple soft rubber cover over the opening of the push button would solve alot of problems. If it had that, I think it would be a very good holster to use in many climates.
     
  8. SIG_Fiend

    SIG_Fiend Administrator TGT Supporter Admin

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    Excellent point Peacemaker. Alan mentioned you were or are a jarhead. Thanks for your service to our country. I too have heard of the same problem with larger debris jamming the button closed. I've talked to a couple of people who were in OIF and OEF, and had these holsters and they seem to have decent experiences with them however to me I can understand the simple is better concept when it comes to areas like the stan or Iraq that are heavily sandy and grit gets in everything. For a lowly civie like myself either playing at war with airsoft guns or going to shooting competitions, I'm sure it will work just fine as I don't plan on crawling through any gravel pits anytime soon! ;) Don't laugh but honestly, I just love the tacti-cool appearance of these holsters. ;)
     
  9. ReVrEnD_0341

    ReVrEnD_0341 Active Member

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    Yeppers, I will be out of the Corps shortly. Wish I could stay in, but it's just not in the cards for me. They are definately cool looking holsters, and for all practical purposes work great as long as they are taken care of, but you know how us grunts are. We can break or screw up anything. Personally I am taken by my Safariland 6004.
     
  10. ReVrEnD_0341

    ReVrEnD_0341 Active Member

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    Once I get some time later, I'm going to post up a review, and a high ride mod for it. It is an outstanding holster, and built like a tank.
     

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