Holster Review: Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment Carbon Fiber Finish

Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment with Carbon Fiber Finish - 1911

Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment Holster with Carbon Fiber Finish – Shown here with a Springfield Armory TRP 1911 Armory Kote

The internet is an empowering place when it comes to guns and shooting. If you can type, you’re an expert. If you have broadband internet service, you’re a guru. If you own an X-Box, you’re a genuine strategy, tactics, and equipment ninja. While we would never want to disrespect a well-trained internet ninja, we’ve heard lot’s of opinions about Blackhawk! Serpa holsters. Some great. Some awful. Many second-hand and/or uninformed. So we decided to find out for ourselves whether the Serpa is a winner, or not.

The Serpa Holster is designed to offer what gun people call “Level II Retention.” In Average Joe’s English, that simply means that there are two separate methods in use to secure the gun into the holster. For most Level II Retention holsters, the first method is simple friction. The second method is almost always some form of mechanical lock that must be disengaged for the gun to be removed from the holster. This sounds complex, but holster makers like Blackhawk! have gotten really smart about engineering ways for the person drawing the gun to disengage the lock as part of the natural draw, while making it difficult for someone else, like an attacker, to remove the gun.

The Blackhawk! Serpa uses both methods. The Kydex is molded into a perfect form-fitting design that provides plenty of friction on its own for solid retention. In fact, the Blackhawk! Sportster Standard holster is essentially a Serpa design without the second level lock retention. For the second retention level the Blackhawk! Serpa utilizes a mechanical lock that grasps the trigger guard from the inside. To disengage the lock, the trigger finger applies pressure to a paddle that is mounted directly over the slide of your pistol. While drawing, simply apply a little pressure to the paddle button and the lock releases.

Here’s where the fun starts. Many important couch commandos with thousands of hours of Gears of War and World of Warcraft experience have speculated on potential downfalls of the Serpa design. Some folks don’t like it and claim it’s dangerous. When you sort through all that hard-earned internet knowledge, the controversy boils down to the following line of reasoning. If the retention release button relies on your finger pressing towards the frame of the gun, it’s possible for this motion to lead to your finger pressing into the trigger guard. Add a trigger pull to this motion and the gun may discharge.

Umm, yes. If you pull the trigger, a gun will discharge.

Bypassing the plethora of knowledge from nameless X-Box players commenting on internet stories, I decided to try the Serpa myself with a Springfield Armory TRP full size 1911. After getting the appropriate size Serpa holster from the folks at Blackhawk!, I proceeded to perform hundreds and hundreds of draws – with an unloaded gun. I used an unloaded gun so I could intentionally draw a bit faster and perhaps a tad more carelessly than normal to see if I could find any truth to the internet controversy – trigger finger lock deactivation causing a discharge during the draw.

Personally, I don’t see the problem. Here’s why.

With any drawing motion, from any holster, your hand is performing a grasping motion. That means at least five, and maybe six in some rare cases, fingers are closing around the grip of your pistol. If you are hooking your index finger while you grab your gun from a holster with ANY type of holster, you run the risk of negligently pulling the trigger.

What I find with the Blackhawk! Serpa is that the placement and motion of the activation lever causes my trigger finger to do two distinct things. First, it encourages my index finger to be straight. It has to be extended in order to reach the retention disengagement lever. Second, it encourages my index finger to line up with the slide. In order to release the catch, your trigger finger literally can’t be in a hooked position over the open area of the trigger guard. If you choose to deliberately press your finger back into the trigger after the holster release is complete, that’s an operator error issue possible with any type of holster.

In my opinion, this is more of an issue related to sympathetic motion of your fingers. When you grasp something, your fingers will all want to close. Heck, with some excitement, the fingers on your other hand may exhibit a closing motion also – another concept of sympathetic response that has been explored by many people with numerous letters after their names. It’s how the fingers work and why practice is mandatory with ANY gun and holster combination you choose. Practice, practice, practice.

Bottom line? I don’t see the issue. After billions and billions of draws with the Blackhawk! Serpa I see no discernible difference in likelihood of a draw related discharge than with any other holster.

Reholstering is a snap. No lever manipulation is required and a positive click lets you know that the gun is secured.

Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment belt and paddle mounts

Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment holsters include both belt and paddle mounts. Belt width and can’t adjustments allow personalization

Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at this holster in more detail.

All Blackhawk! Serpa holsters come with both paddle and belt loop mounts. Both mounting systems allow the holster itself to be oriented vertically, with a forward cant, or a reverse cant. The belt mount features an adjustable slide, allowing the user to create a perfect fit for various belt widths. You can easily swap the paddle and belt mounts via three anchor screws.

The Blackhawk! Serpa Concealment holster is available in multiple configurations. The evaluation holster was the Carbon Fiber finish. This one features a holster body with a textured weave appearance. It looks great. A matte finish version is also available. For less money and consumer oriented use, Blackhawk! offers an injection molded Sportster model which is a flat grey color. Last but not least is a Serpa configured for use with a limited number of pistols with the Blackhawk! Xiphos NT light mounted.

With an MSRP of $59.99, even the most expensive Serpa – the Carbon Fiber finish model – is a great value. This is a solid holster and mounting flexibility is excellent with the highly adjustable paddle and belt loop options.

Read about more carry styles and over 120 different gun holsters in The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters – available at Amazon.com! Learn more about our Insanely Practical Guides!

Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters

Comments

  1. Richard Ahlquist says:

    While some people can walk on hot coals and others can juggle flaming batons, for others not such a good idea. Controversy or not this is a valid design in the right hands. Unfortunately the wrong hands are sometime naive and thats presents a whole other issue. There are some that I have seen speculate the man in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-rGnMKszxg is using a holster that has just such a release. Bottom line is if youre not competent with it dont get it. If you want to learn get a snap cap, chamber it and test draw a hundred times, if you dont fire the cap once then chances are you may be able to use it in a ‘real’ situation.

  2. Many of the people who are critical of the SERPA’s design include the instructors that run the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), instructors at Gunsite, Tactical Response, and many other schools. Paul Gomez, a very respected national level trainer who taught for multiple schools (Tactical Response, TacPro, and others) was one of the first to warn about the design flaw in this holster. Your comments attempting to dismiss all criticism of this holster as coming from “internet commandos” are completely off base and show that you really didn’t do your homework researching the professional-level analysis that’s been done by many instructors about the safety issues associated with this holster.

    Prior to the introduction of the SERPA, accounts of self-inflicted gunshot wounds while drawing were rare. There have been dozens of documented incidents in law enforcement and civilian training where the exact failure mode you describe has occurred. If this holster is just as safe as others on the market, why have their been so many incidents in which the holster’s design was a factor? “People are idiots” is not an answer, because if that was the cause, there would be similar incidents occurring with other holster designs — yet there are not.

    Given that the data clearly shows that the odds of shooting yourself in the leg while using this holster, vs. all others, are higher, why would someone choose it, for any reason other than cost?

    Do citizens carrying concealed need a retention holster? Find me a case, ever, where a citizen carrying concealed has had a holstered pistol taken away and used against them. I’ve found one (1) documented incident, after looking through 20-30 years of the available data, One, out of around 200 DGUs where shots are fired, and an estimated 300,000 per year where shots are not fired, times 20 years. So the odds are either 1 out of 40,000 or 1 out of 6 million, compared to 5-10 SERPA-induced ND’s per year. Again I ask, why use the SERPA when all it brings is additional risk and no benefit?

    There are other, more costly, holsters on the market for law enforcement retention use that are well proven, that do NOT have the questionable safety record of the SERPA.

    People buy the SERPA mainly because they think it’s “tacticool”, and because it’s cheap, not because it’s the best holster for law enforcement duty use or civilian concealed carry.

    It’s “internet commando” arrogance to believe that your gun skills are so much better than those that have screwed up and shot themselves. I guarantee you, each of those people thought the same thing you did: that those that screwed up were idiots and you aren’t. The bad news is that in the real world, people screw up under stress. The higher the stress, the more likely hands will shake and fine motor skill will degrade. A SWAT instructor (survivor of multiple gunfights, who debriefed every officer in his department who had been in a gunfight) once told me to only expect to perform up to “75% of what you could do on your worst day of practice” in a real incident.

    When selecting gear, a logical person looks at benefits and risks. In this case the data shows that the risk associated with this holster far exceeds any benefit.

    • Hi KR – Thanks for your comments. As they say, a rising debate floats all knowledge. Or something like that :-)

      I respectfully have to comment that you’re putting a lot of words in my mouth. In this article I made no inference at all to highly competent instructors. I made lots of direct reference to XBox players and couch commandos – and that’s exactly the point of this article. Lot’s of folks who have never seen a Blackhawk Serpa, much less used one, don’t seem to hesitate about spouting off on benefits or drawbacks of the Serpa – or virtually any other product. Go on any forum and you’ll soon vomit from the quantity of baseless knowledge passed around by simple hearsay. Most of which comes from people with no hands on experience.

      As I clearly state here, my intent was to shut out the noise from the opinion passers and simply try one to evaluate my experience. This I did, and I shared my findings.

      The whole point of our little operation here is not to pass on news or hearsay, but to share personal, hands on experiences. Mine will be different that yours, which will be different from others. And that’s a great thing – especially when we all get to discussion like this.

      One more thing – I also did not make any comments on concealed carriers needing retention features from those trying to take your gun. Some CCW folks may be interested in that. Me? I like the positive retention as I KNOW my gun is not going anywhere when I am outside knocking around, bending over, running, hunting, doing chores, washing the car, or playing XBox :-) But again, like all things, that’s my personal retention requirement and mileage will vary for each individual.

      One more thing, you’re putting words in my mouth about my skills arrogance. I made no such claim. What I did stress, with any holster, was the importance of practice, practice, practice. I think we can all agree on that.

      Thanks for your comments and I hope to continue to share – that’s how we all learn!

      Thanks,
      Tom

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