Category Archives: Tactical Gear

Kydex Holsters: NTAC vs. Raven Concealment Systems

Recently, concealable all-kydex handgun holsters have exploded in popularity. Though they were around in one form or another for quite some time, it wasn’t until Raven Concealment started manufacturing (and, perhaps, effectively marketing) their Phantom holsters several years ago that, I believe, the design really took off.

What are the benefits of all-Kydex holsters? Well, they’re lightweight, thin, they provide excellent retention, and they reduce the amount of sweat that touches the holstered pistol, which can have an effect on corrosion in certain environments and with certain finishes. I’ve also found that they stay in place better than leather/kydex hybrids. On the other hand, some people prefer leather holsters for comfort – I actually find kydex to be more comfortable – and kydex holsters do cause more wear on the firearm than leather holsters do.

I was a pretty early adopter of Raven holsters, and have used them extensively. There are plenty of high volume shooters who started using them even before I did, and the feedback they provided has allowed Raven to continuously improve their product.

The early holsters sold by Raven were made of a thin kydex – meaning that they were very easy to conceal, but also not exceptionally durable. I used two such holsters – one for a Glock 19 with a Surefire light attached and one for a non-railed 1911. Although the addition of the pistol light made the Glock 19 holster a little bulkier, I was still able to carry it without being “made” in a variety of environments.

The original IWB belt clip design was also made of a thinner material – they also had square “folds” over the top of the belt/pants which did not transmit force very well, and I ended up breaking several, which Raven replaced immediately.

Still, my Raven 1911 holster found more use, and eventually I drew from it enough times that the body of the holster cracked. I discovered this while on a “creeper” underneath my car, as the pistol slid out of the holster and clattered across the concrete. I contacted Raven, was asked to send it in, and had a new, thicker holster on my doorstep within a week and a half, complete with new belt loops that were thicker and had rounded “folds”. I used this holster almost daily for about a year and a half until, again, one of the belt loops cracked.

Again, Raven stepped up, though in the future I might switch to the IWB attachments used by the Comp-Tac MTAC (not to be confused with NTAC) holster, which I have found to be very durable and adjustable, though one of the benefits of the Raven’s belt clip design is how it stays perfectly in place at all times – precisely because they are non-adjustable.

This brings me to NTAC holsters. NTAC started making Kydex holsters in mid 2009, and I purchased one almost immediately. They’re priced just below Raven holsters ($65 vs $75) and seemed to offer similar, made-in-USA quality.

Well, I wasn’t too disappointed. Made of a thicker material, the holster itself has proven to be quite durable. Retention is very positive – on the edge of being too strong – and customer service is great. There was a mixup with my order, and they sent out the correct item (a magazine pouch) immediately. My only major complaint is that the stock belt loops placed the pistol too high, so I replaced them with the aforementioned Comp-Tac loops, which have proven to be a nearly universal upgrade.

When I suddenly needed a holster for a Glock longer than the G19 the NTAC holster was designed for, I simply hacked the bottom off the holster, filed down the edges, and voila – a holster that works well for my Gen 4 G22, as well as maintaining compatibility with the G19.

So, which company’s product is better?

Well, that’s a complicated question. Both are, in my opinion, very high quality, with good fasteners and other materials. I’ve had fewer problems with NTAC products, but I’ve used them for a shorter period of time, and they’ve had the benefit of learning from Raven’s product improvements. One major factor is time – if you want a Raven holster, either scour the internet for a used one or be prepared to wait 16-18 weeks or more. NTAC, on the other hand, says their current wait time is only 30 days. Raven offers more models – as well as weaponlight-compatible models – but both companies can make custom holsters upon request. I consider myself an early adopter of both, because the longest I’ve had to wait for a holster from either company is 3 weeks.

Another factor is belt loop attachments – I have little use for passive retention holsters for OWB (outside the waistband) use, so the fact that IWB (inside the waistband) components must be ordered separately, and add to the cost, of the Raven holster is mildly annoying to me. NTAC gives you the option of IWB or OWB for the same price, or both for another $10.

Now, some might say that NTAC is simply copying Raven – I don’t really want to address this, but I know it will come up. Raven has been a victim of their own success – the incredibly long timeline to receive a Raven holster, a result of the popularity and quality of their product – has created a demand beyond Raven’s ability to supply, and the free market worked in the form of NTAC. If this bothers you, well, you will not be disappointed with the Raven product or their outstanding customer service. I would not hesitate to order another Raven product – as long as I didn’t plan on needing it for 4 or 5 months. I really hope that Raven will be able to step up production in order to meet the demand for their holsters.

Either company’s product is more than satisfactory for my purposes – daily concealed carry – and I do not think about whether I will be using a Raven or an NTAC holster when I select a carry handgun.



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Surefire Alternatives: Solarforce and FiveMega

I love Surefire flashlights. Don’t get me wrong.

However, recently, I’ve found myself needing – perhaps wanting is a better term – stuff that Surefire doesn’t offer.

I’ve been using some of the following products for a few months now, and I’m pretty impressed with what they have to offer.

Before I get started, I should explain a few things.

Your average Surefire 6P flashlight uses two 3 volt lithium batteries, type CR123. It has a xenon, or incandescent, bulb designed to be powered with 6 volts.

There are batteries that are similar in size, but are actually 3.7 volts. These are sometimes called RCR123A or 16340. If you delve into the world of rechargeable batteries, make sure that you know what you’re buying. If you see a 5 digit number for a battery, for example, this refers to the size of the battery – 16mm wide, 34mm long. An 18650 is 18mm wide, 65mm long, etc. Some won’t fit in regular Surefire bodies

Furthermore, LED drop ins – or replacement bulbs for Surefire and other flashlights – are not necessarily designed for 6 volts. Some are designed for only 0.8-4.2v, or a single AA (1.5v), CR123 (3v), 14500 (3.7v), 16340 (3.7v), or 18650 (3.7v) battery. Others are designed for 3.2-9 volts, or one or two 16340 or 18650s or two or three CR123s. Still more work with 3-18 volts…you can do the math. If you decide on a drop in, be sure that you understand the minimum and maximum voltages.

FiveMega 1xAA

The first item is from a company called FiveMega. It’s a flashlight body, designed to take a single AA battery, that fits a Surefire P60 bulb and head – that is, the same as the Surefire 6P/6P LED.

It has an integrated switch – “forward clicky”, meaning that the light comes on in a momentary fashion before it clicks and stays on. After the click, it doesn’t matter if you press the button slightly, the light will stay on. With a “reverse clicky” light, the light doesn’t come on until after the “click”, at which point you can use the momentary function by pressing the button forward to turn the light off – but if you go too far forward and click it, it’ll stay off. I prefer “forward clicky”, but it’s not impossible to learn how to use a reverse clicky light for most situations.

Certain readers will be pleased to know that this body is made in the USA and is definitely of the highest quality. The body will fit VTAC and Vltor light mounts designed for Executive series Surefires. Not having a tailcap means that the light can be fixed very far forward in the mount, if necessary for your application, without worrying about preventing the cap from being rotated. On the other hand, not having a tailcap also means that one cannot “lock out” the tailcap for travel or other purposes, preventing it from inadvertant activation. That’s probably the biggest drawback to this body. You can use 1.2-15.v AA or 3.7v 14500 (14mm wide, 50mm long) batteries, depending on the bulb you choose – you’ll get a lot more brightness from the 14500 rechargeables, but you’ll generally get longer battery life from AAs. Figure on 25-40 minutes with a 14500, or 2-3 hours with a AA, depending on the drop in and the battery. With a Malkoff M30 and a AA battery, output is fairly similar to a G2 LED (80 lumens). With that same drop in and a 14500 battery, output is over 235 (honest) lumens.

Solarforce L2/L2m/L2i

I was driven to purchase the FiveMega product because it offered something “different” – AA compatibility – and that’s also what drove me to look into the Solarforce line of lights.

While most “tactical” lights are powered by two CR123 batteries, there are other batteries that offer longer runtimes, more light, or both. Also, I don’t always need a two cell light.

Solarforce L2

That’s where the Solarforce L2 line comes in. The standard L2 has a larger inside diameter than the G2 or 6P in order to allow the use of a 3.7v 18650 battery – 18mm wide, 65mm long. This is approximately the size of two CR123s end to end, but is wide enough that it won’t fit in the average Surefire. Why would you want an 18650-powered light? Well, a 3 volt to 9 volt LED drop in that will provide a lot of light for an hour with 2 123s will provide nearly as much light for over 2 hours with an 18650. In addition, 18650s are rechargeable, which will save you a ton of money in the long run over buying 3v lithiums.

Solarforce L2m (with optional extender tube for 2x123 or 18650)

That’s all well and good, you say, but what about the L2m and and L2i? Well, the L2m is designed for a single CR123 or 16340 cell (16mm wide, 34mm long, slightly longer than a CR123, and 3.7v). If a more compact size is what you desire, this is the ticket. I should mention that FiveMega also makes a single CR123 body. Sans head, tailcap, bulb, and battery, it retails for $35. The Solarforce lights – body, head, and tailcap, no bulb or battery – retail for $15. One is American made, the other is Chinese made. The Solarforce stuff isn’t made to the exact same standards as Surefire or FiveMega, but it is pretty high quality, and it’s miles better than some other Chinese lights. One caveat, however, is that the L2m head and tailcaps I have don’t fit my Surefire 9P – and of the 2 L2ms, one has a 19mm bore (for use with an extender and an 18650) and the other has a 17mm bore (meaning that only a CR123 or 16340 will fit).

Solarforce L2i

Finally, I come to the L2i. This body also accepts Surefire bulbs and heads, but takes three AAA batteries in an internal carrier. Its outside diameter is a little larger than a standard 6P, so it’s not a good weapon light, but it’s a great choice for people who may not have an interest in flashlights – and therefore not much interest in the various rechargeable batteries. 3 AAAs provide enough voltage for an XP-G drop in (claimed output of anywhere from 270 to 345 lumens) to run for about 40 minutes at max brightness, then slowly dim over a period of about 2 hours to about 5 lumens. After that, I swapped in a Malkoff M30 module, and it provided nearly max brightness. I was told that this module would run for a long time on “run down” Surefire CR123 batteries that wouldn’t even power a G2, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was still impressed.

One other impressive feature is that the L2i will actually accept single 14500 and 18650 batteries. It’s best to use the 14500 batteries with a spacer for some added length, but it’s nice to know that with one body, I could conceivably use three different types of batteries.


If you want a runtime increase while still using as many Surefire parts as possible, the Solarforce L2 body is fully compatible with Surefire heads and tailcaps. You can use an 18650 body with an appropriate (4.2v) drop in and your Surefire switch for maximum reliability. Such drop ins include the Solarforce LC-1 (0.8-4.2v, $20), ThruNite XP-G (3.2v-9v, $33), or Malkoff M30 (1v-5.5v, $55). You’ll get the best runtime with the Malkoff or the LC-1, which will run all the way down to 1 volt and 0.8 volts, respectively. However, you’d have to be careful not to use them with 2 CR123 cells, as that would be instantly fatal to the drop in. The XP-G, on the other hand, will work with 3 CR123s, 2 CR123s, an 18650, or a 16340. It won’t run off a single 3v CR123; although it’s claimed to be a 2.7v-9v drop in, I’ve found that it needs one of the 3.7v batteries to work.

You can even use a Surefire P60 LED drop in with a single 3.7v battery, if you’re so inclined – but output is only about 50 lumens.

From Left: ThruNite XP-G, FiveMega AA with Solarforce LC-1, Malkoff M30

Solarforce Reversible Pocket Clip

I choose to carry my “big” flashlight on my left (weak) side, clipped inside my front pocket. I carry “bezel down”, or “button up”. In addition to them being necessary for this style of carry, I prefer reversible pocket clips. Why? Well, when they inevitably snag on something and are pulled away from the light, you can do a quick field repair with a set of pliers to return them to a useful state. When I did the same with a “one way” pocket clip on a knife, I had to replace the clip. I could have repaired it with help from a vise, I guess, but I don’t carry a vise around in my car.

Solarforce L2 with Surefire tailcap and Solarforce pocket clip; Surefire 9P with Solarforce tailcap

Solarforce sells such a reversible clip. It fits any light that uses a Surefire “C” head (G2/6P/etc). You can find them on EBay for $5, or buy them from a store in the States for $10. They seem to hold up pretty well to daily use over a few months time, but we’ll see how they are faring a year from now.


Is the FiveMega AA body of the highest quality? Yes. Does it have some drawbacks? Yes. However, if you think you might be limited to AA type batteries, or you want to use AA type batteries and 14500 rechargeables, you’d be doing yourself a favor by looking at it.

Are the Solarforce products on par with Surefire or FiveMega? No. Are they of surprising quality, given their origin? Yes.

Would you be doing yourself a favor by checking out these products? Most definitely.

I’ll be doing a more extensive writeup on the drop-ins described here as soon as I can.

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Filed under Reviews, Tactical Gear Level IV Armor Plate Test

Last year, I purchased a set (front and rear) of Level IV plates from

They fit just fine in my Interceptor, but when other plate carriers were used, the rear, which was countoured differently than the front, would not fit.

Even after I had owned them for 6 months, the company offered to swap out the rear for a front plate (for a 20% fee – very reasonable in my opinion, since they would have had to X-ray the plate before reselling it).

However, I decided to test the plate myself, and see if it really did what they claimed – stop multiple shots of .30-06 armor piercing ammunition without any supporting soft armor.

Here is a video of the test.

The plate did indeed stop 3 shots of .30-06 AP (163gr hardened steel penetrator projectiles courtesy of Rich_V on, as well as many other rounds.

The plate allowed part of one .308 projectile, as well as 4 5.45x39mm projectiles, to penetrate.

However, these hits were in rather close proximity to other impacts. Because this was a ceramic plate, the initial impacts fractured the plate (it’s designed to absorb the impact this way) and the later projectiles “slipped through” the cracks.

Even after it had been shot over a dozen times, and it had literally come apart, it still stopped XM193 5.56×45 and a 12ga slug.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the performance of this plate, especially considering the cost ($270). I’d still probably wear soft armor underneath the plates, given the chance, but at least I know that the plate exceeds the manufacturer’s claims.

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The Perfect Flashlight for Every Day Carry

I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to flashlights. I have way too many of the things.

I learned the utility of small flashlights that were easy to carry yet very bright when I was in Iraq. There are times when night vision is useful, and times when a flashlight is more handy.

Today, I always have a flashlight on me. I use it probably a dozen times a day, for everything from working inside a computer, to trying to figure out what else has broken inside my Jeep, to identifying things at night. It’s like a pocketknife: you would never realize how useful it is until you start to carry one with you.

I’ve tried many different brands, but keep coming back to one. Surefire flashlights are made in the US and are the world standard for, as they call it, “illumination tools”. Many other companies – most of which are made in China – claim to have higher output or higher runtime, and sometimes they are correct. Most of the time, however, they exaggerate output, and base runtime off expensive batteries that you won’t find anywhere in town. Oh, sure, many of these lights are very, very bright, and many of them can survive a good amount of abuse, but on the whole they aren’t as well made as Surefire lights. To me, knowing that the light will work when you want it to is more important than having a light that is slightly brighter.

I’ve had Chinese flashlights malfunction out of the box, or work fine for a while until I really needed them – like the time my motorcycle headlight went out, and my “very bright” Jetbeam flashlight only lasted 4 minutes before overheating and frying its internal circuitry, leaving me in the dark as I navigated traffic with a tiny keychain light. None of the Chinese lights I bought were on the cheap side, either – Fenix, Jetbeam, Quark, and Nitecore are among the best that China has to offer.

Surefire lights suitable for pocket carry come in many flavors. I prefer flashlights with durable pocket clips and click on/off tailcaps. I’ve also found that aggressively “crenellated” flashlights for defense tear up my pants pockets rather quickly. Also, flashlights that have two batteries are brighter and last longer, but they’re also longer and may interfere with items in your pocket. In my opinion, the ideal flashlight for carry is the Surefire E1B; it’s exceptionally tough, far brighter than its rating suggests, and also offers a “low” setting for extended runtime when a lot of light isn’t necessary. Its pocket clip will allow you to carry it bezel up or down. Bezel down is the better option for absolutely ensuring that the light won’t come out of your pocket when you don’t want it to.

I’ve had several E1Bs, and the only reason I’ve had more than one is because friends and family seem to be able to talk me out of them. I don’t believe that I’ll ever need to buy another model of flashlight. Of the dozens of Surefires I’ve owned over the past 5 years, the many countries I’ve abused them in, I’ve never had one malfunction. I did send one back after it had a negative encounter with a sandblaster. It still worked, but the light it put out was very scattered. They fixed it and had it back to me in just over a week, no charge. Surefire’s customer service is second to none.

These lights are more expensive than the competition, but in my opinion, they’re well worth the asking price.


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Holsters for Duty, Combat, and Personal Defense

If you’re like me, you’ve got a box of holsters somewhere, stuffed with the good, bad, and ugly of leather, kydex, and, yes, even nylon or Cordura holsters. I could probably buy a nice handgun with the money I’ve spent on holsters I don’t use.

A lot of people see a holster that looks cool, then try to find a reason for it. In fact, people do that with handguns, rifles, cars, houses, women…but I digress. You should start with your current and potential future needs and work from there.

Concealed Carry

If you’re looking to carry a concealed weapon, but you also want to train with that weapon in a handgun or carbine course, I highly recommend the Raven Concealment Phantom.

Here’s one of my Kimber 1911s in a Raven Phantom. This holster is modular, meaning you can swap the attachment methods for inside or outside waistband carry. This way, you could use it OWB in a course that doesn’t allow IWB holsters, but switch to IWB when carrying concealed, thereby maintaining familiarity with location and draw characteristics after training has built up muscle memory.

It’s very comfortable and conceals very well. The RCS folks are always updating and changing things, they aren’t just content to allow their product to rest on its well-deserved laurels. They’ve got excellent customer service to boot. If your pistol has an accessory rail, they probably have a holster that will work with your pistol and your choice of weaponlights.

I’ve also used Comp-Tac MTAC holsters with varying degrees of success – their warranty is only a year long, and I’ve found that the RCS holsters conceal better and allow better access to the firearm. Retention is also far better with the Phantom.

Dedicated OWB Retention Holsters

Some people need retention. Some people don’t need retention. Some people don’t need it but want it anyway. If you carry concealed most of the time, you should try to practice with what you carry. If you really need a holster that offers good retention, such as for duty use, military use, or civilian open carry, you have a few very good options.

I am a fan of the Blackhawk Serpa. It’s the only Blackhawk product that I like. I was issued one, as was the rest of my platoon, and we used them almost exclusively. After seeing a Safariland dump an M9 out the door of a Humvee, I turned in my Safariland 6004 for a drop leg Serpa. I use the side of my finger to release the retention lock, and this places my finger high on the frame of the pistol. It is, in my opinion, an intuitive design. Many others disagree with me (based on “unwanted retention” and negligent discharge issues), and I urge you to read the opinions of both sides before making a decision. Blackhawk has made changes to the holster since initial criticism in 2005/2006 – make sure you check the date of whatever you read.

We spent a year in the desert and encountered no stuck pistols and no Marine had a negligent discharge. I have gone so far as to throw my Beretta M9/Serpa in the dirt, step on it, bury it, pack dirt in every which way I can, and had no problems drawing the pistol. I’m aware of only one training school which doesn’t allow the use of the Serpa – and I have a low opinion of that school’s cadre, but take my opinion and theirs for what you paid for it. Here’s my Beretta after the aforementioned abuse.

If you want an OWB option with a weapon mounted light, the only option, in my opinion, is the Safariland which allows the use of a light. Blackhawk offers a light that works with the Serpa design, or at least Serpa holsters meant for use with the Blackhawk light, but I will describe said light in only scatological terms. I use a Safariland 6285 for my Glock 34 and Surefire X300, which reside on my “go-to belt”. Both these holster designs are rather bulky and not intended for concealed carry, despite what Blackhawk claims.

Here’s the Safariland for use with an attached light – this is a drop leg holster, and I much prefer belt or chest mounted holsters for essentially all uses – but you get an idea of what it looks like. To me, drop leg holsters add unnecessary bulk, are uncomfortable when temperatures rise, aren’t very steady, and are also more expensive than belt holsters.


Filed under Tactical Gear

Chest Rigs

There are currently a large number of chest rigs available. Not too long ago, this wasn’t the case, and selections of such gear were slim and none. We’re lucky that this is no longer the case. I’m writing this as a simple description of one setup that I like – this is not the “only” way or the “right” way, it’s just not a “wrong” way. There are far too many gear options for me to cover in a reasonable amount of reading time.

Now, a chest rig is a pretty high-profile item. What I mean by that is, if you’re not military or law enforcement, it would be an exceptionally rare case for you to wear a chest rig off the range. If you are in the military or in law enforcement, hopefully you have a good idea of what you need to attach to a chest rig. Many people who are new to this area err on the side of “too much gear”, which isn’t really horrible unless you get stuck in a hatch or your friends make fun of you because stuff falls out and/or flops around.

Chest rigs give you the option to quickly remove or put on a lot of gear, keeping that gear separate from your armor, if you’re so equipped. They can be affordable or semi-expensive. They are normally a little more than the average civilian probably needs – I mean nothing negative by that statement – a single 30rd mag on a belt pouch is probably sufficient for carbine courses and tactical rifle matches, less bulky, and cheaper to boot. I’ll cover belt setups in the next day or so.

I’ve definitely gone with a minimalist approach after carrying too much stuff. Especially now, as a civilian, with zero mission requirements beyond carbine courses. I have two double M4 mag pouches, two single pistol mag pouches, and a small trauma kit.

Okay, I’ve been rambling too long – you still want one, so what chest rig should you buy? Well, I’m partial to Eagle chest rigs. SKD Tactical sells several variants. I use this one, though not in Multicam:

I like this chest rig because it gives me the option to put MOLLE pouches exactly where I want them. The downside is that chest rigs with integral M4 mag pouches are only $10 more, so if you’re on a tight budget, this is not the way to go.

This is probably the best “chest rig option” for civilians looking to go to a carbine course – you’ll head to the firing line with at least 4 magazines, which is what most instructors ask for. Plus, the MOLLE on the front of the rifle pouches would allow you to place pistol mags in an accessible position. Kydex inserts in the mag pouches will keep those mags from falling out.

I like to attach pistol mags to the front of my rifle mags, as I’ve said. If I don’t do this, then I leave rifle mags as close to the center of my body as possible, and move the pistol mags to the left. On the right, I have a trauma kit. I’ll cover trauma kit contents separately. It’s not required that you bring first aid gear to a carbine course or tactical rifle match, but it’s a damn good idea – you don’t want to show up on the day that everyone else forgot to bring one, too.

As for pistol mag pouches, I’ve used several kinds, and I do like the ones offered by TAG with the integral magnets – they held M9 magazines for me, inverted, with the retention strap off, for months. However, there are other kinds, and anything that’ll keep your pistol mags from falling out is good enough. I like gear made in the US – as I said, Eagle is a good way to go – but HSGI, Esstac, etc also make great pouches.

If you want more information on this topic straight from the horse’s mouth, some great info can be found on the Lightfighter forum. It’s worth signing up for – just make sure you introduce yourself.

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Filed under Tactical Gear