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Taurus 8-Round Magazine

1911 Magazines

The 1911 is without a doubt one of the most popular pistols in the country. Its longevity is a testament to the genius of its design.  Subtle improvements have been made to John Moses Browning’s iconic design, and it still suffers from one weak spot—the magazine.

KT–Mech paddle holster with Glock 19 pistol.

Paddle Holsters

Paddle holsters are very popular due to the comfort and the ease with which you can take them on and off, and they do have drawbacks. Paddle holsters rely on friction between the paddle and your pants and undergarments to remain in place.

Silver barreled, black handled Walther PPK with a focus on the safety mechanism, against a white background

Handgun Safeties

Since the invention of the first commercially usable autoloading handgun, the P08 Luger designed by Georg Luger, handgun safeties have been a common part of handgun design. The purpose of a safety mechanism on pistols is to prevent the handgun from firing when you don’t want it to.

Black Beretta 92FS, barrel pointed to the left, on a white background

Old Reliable: The Beretta 92

The Beretta 92 series has gone through a lot of changes in its service life with the U.S. military.  First introduced in the ’80s, it met with tremendous resistance from die hard aficionados of the 1911 it was replacing. The Beretta M9 was the pistol I qualified with, and it was also my very first carry gun when I got my Indiana LTC.

Black Ruger LC9, right side view, barrel pointed to the right, on a white background

Ruger LC9 Pistol

Ruger rolled out its new single stack double-action LC9 pistol. Billed as a companion to the LCP, the LC9 features a lightweight polymer frame with melt treatment for snag-free carry.


It’s the new, popular, modular pack system. Every new “tactical” item has it. What am I talking about? MOLLE systems of course. MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) webbing is the US Army replacement for the older ALICE system, and it’s technological superiority has garnered it wide acceptance amongst military, police, and civilians. MOLLE systems are based off of the Pouch Attachment Ladder System, “PALS”. The PALS webbing features 1″ wide straps run horizontally and spaced 1″ apart, with 1.5″ gaps between attachment points.

Adaptation from the ALICE system to the MOLLE system began in 1994 when the US Army began having difficulties with the ALICE system in the sand and dust of the first Gulf War. The ALICE system, which had been around since the Vietnam War utilized small ALICE clips to attach modular components. The clips were easy to lose, they broke, and the wear and tear on them was accelerated by the sand and dust of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Development of the new pack system took place at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, MA. Development by the the Center for Military Biomechanics Research (CMBR) focused on extensive biometric studies examining the most efficient methods for heavy loads to be carried by the human body. Research showed that the taller commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) packs using internal frames reduced the energy soldiers used while carrying a standard 75lb load. In addition, the COTS packs promoted better posture and had an overall better load placement than the older ALICE system

The internal frame COTS pack was rejected as a replacement for the ALICE pack due, in part, to its excessive heat retention. A similar volume configuration was incorporated into the design of the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) pack. Other biomechanically advantageous characteristics, such as a load-distributing waist belt, were also used in the MOLLE design.

MOLLE systems are based around a load-bearing vest known as an FLC (Fighting Load Carrier) and a pack with an external frame. The FLC was designed to replace the web belt and suspenders that made up the ALICE system’s Load Bearing Equipment (LBE). MOLLE has some distinct advantages over the older ALICE system in that it is worn instead of carried. MOLLE systems are almost completely made from fabric and contain no metal clips or hooks like the ALICE system did. Those hooks and clips would inevitably find a way to poke and dig into the skin of the soldier carrying an ALICE pack.

Quick release systems built into the pack allow the wearer to quickly drop the equipment if necessary. The vest features an H harness in the back that functions to prevent the buildup of body heat. Vests also have plate carriers for ceramic ballistic plates.

Load bearing belts integrated into the MOLLE vest help distribute the weight more evenly to the hips instead of having it all on the shoulders. They also serve as attachment points for more accessories such as drop-leg webbing and holsters. The advantage of the MOLLE system holsters is that they can be attached to a vest, belt, pack, or drop leg webbing. In fact, any MOLLE item can be attached to almost any other MOLLE item because of the modularity of the system. This is one of the distinct advantages of the MOLLE system. Components can be placed in thousands of unique configurations to adapt for any role, load, or body type.

Every pouch in the MOLLE system has D-rings for attaching slings for dragging or shoulder carry.

But for all its advantages, the MOLLE system encountered bumps along the way to full acceptance by the military.

Internal frames were studied for use on the MOLLE pack, but were put aside in favor of an external frame due to excess heat retention of the internal frame. Instead of the aluminum frame of the ALICE system, researchers decided instead on a custom-molded plastic frame. The plastic frame soon proved to have some serious pitfalls. Frames frequently cracked and broke from the strain of a combat environment.

Zippers also proved problematic. The first zippers used on the MOLLE system were too weak and burst if packs were overloaded.

The Army gradually made changes to the system, upgrading zippers, and transitioning to a stronger and more comfortable frame system utilizing the same plastic used to manufacture automobile bumpers.

Almost anything with PALS-style webbing is generally referred to as MOLLE, but there are differences. The US Marines currently use a system very similar to the US Army MOLLE system known as the ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) as they were dissatisfied with the improvements of the US Army in fixing the flaws in the MOLLE system. The ILBE still uses the PALS webbing and shares many of the same attributes as the MOLLE, including a load bearing vest and belt.

While developing the ILBE, the USMC implemented new load ratings for the system that are similar to the ratings specified US Army FM 21-18 manual.

Assault Load
The Assault Load is a very minimal load consisting of little more than the bare necessities required to sustain an assault, such as water, ammunition, and grenades. Maximum assault load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while having a minimal effect on combat effectiveness.

Approach March Load
The Approach March load is designed to give a Marine enough equipment for a full day of combat with daily re-supply. This Maximum approach march load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while being able to maintain at least 90% combat effectiveness.

Existence Load
The Existence Load is the maximum load a Marine will be loaded with while still able to conduct maneuvers. This load is only designed to be carried from a deployment to the assembly area.

The Marines also designed the ILBE to:

  • Include a quick-detach patrol pack
  • Carry at least 120 pounds
  • Limit maximum pack size to 6000 cubic inches
  • Carry 60mm mortar shells as well as 81mm mortar shells outside the main pack

There are a number of attachment systems used with the MOLLE and ILBE systems. First is the Natick Snap, which utilizes a plastic reinforced strap with a snap to secure it. The Malice clip is another system that uses a semi-permanent polymer clip which interweaves like the Natick. The semi-permanent clip can be removed using a screwdriver or other flat-tipped tool. In addition to these two systems, there are any number of “Weave and Tuck” systems that use interwoven straps which are then fastened to the backing of the pouch after attachment. Grimloc keepers are also available to make your MOLLE and ALICE gear compatible.

Since it exploded onto the market, manufacturers have designed and built a seemingly endless stream of MOLLE and PALS-compatible products. There is, quite literally, nearly anything you can think of in a MOLLE setup. From iPod/iPhone holders to flashlight holders, hydration packs to radio pouches, EMT pouches and even corsets have been designed with MOLLE-compatible PALS webbing.

Suffice to say – if you can think of it, there’s probably a way to attach it to your MOLLE gear.

Light up the night

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see in the dark. I have recently spent a lot of time shooting at indoor ranges which have allowed me to practice a significant amount of low light shooting. Coupled with a trip to Gunsite where we engaged targets in a shoot house in the dead of night, and I’ve discovered that I really, really enjoy being able to see my sights and the target. Night sights and lasers are great tools for being able to put accurate hits on target, but they don’t enable you to identify the target in a low light situation. At Gunsite, I came through the first door of a shoothouse and shot the very first target I saw – he was holding something black and square in his hand, and in the low light (even with a flashlight) I thought “gun” and fired immediately. I’d regret that decision later when I realized it was a pair of sunglasses.

That’s part of why illumination is so important in a defensive situation. If I had been using my flashlight properly and taken the necessary amount of time to ID the target, I wouldn’t have popped that no-shoot.  Lights like the Surefire Z2-S, or the less expensive Nitrolon G2 are an absolute must have for anyone serious about home defense.  If you have a handgun for your defensive firearm, practice manipulating your light and your firearm at the same time.

You can have a discussion about weapon mounted vs. handheld lights – for handgun use I prefer a handheld light equipped with a lanyard, as that gives me more flexibility with where the light comes from, and enables me to use the light more effectively as a diversionary weapon if need be.  There is also a long discussion to be had about whether or not you should just turn the light on and leave it on, or sneak around the house using partial illumination.  I tend to fall in to the “turn it on and leave it on” school of thought.  There are two reasons for this in a home defense scenario:

  1. Since I don’t have kids, my home defense plan consists of me hunkering down at an angle from my bedroom while yelling “I have a gun and I’m calling the police” at the top of my lungs.  Anything comes through the bedroom that isn’t a cop is probably getting shot.
  2. Even if you do have to move through the house, have you ever bounced a 200 lumen white light off a white wall at 2am?  Kiss your night vision goodbye.  Better to just turn it on and leave it on.  A self defense instructor once said to me “who cares if the badguys see your light coming?  It’s your house and you have a gun.”

Humans have a deeply ingrained fear of the dark.  We don’t see very well in low light, and it’s a natural weakness for us whether we’re on the savanna hunting for game or at home at 2am when we hear the back window break.  Purchasing a good light and practicing with it means that you can make the other guy be afraid of the light instead you fearing what you can’t see.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380

Today I went and picked up a Bodyguard .380. I have been waffling back and forth on selecting a pocket .380 and when I discovered the price on the Bodyguard had recently dropped to compete with the Ruger LCP and the Kel-Tec P3AT, I figured since it fit my hand the best out of all of them; that is the one I would choose.

Ankle Holsters

We’re continuing our series on holsters with a short bit about ankle holsters today. When you need a holster for deep concealment, or when you will need to access your weapon from a sitting position, ankle holsters are a great solution. Properly configured they can provide access to both your right and left hands.

We’ve all seen it in the movies: the good guy loses his gun and right before he’s about to be dispatched by the bad guy, he comes up with a little backup gun from his boot and shoots the baddie. Ankle holsters have long been a popular location to keep a backup gun. Many police officers, where departments allow the practice, regularly carry backup guns in ankle holsters.

Wearing an ankle holster presents some unique challenges when selecting footwear and trousers. Pant legs will need to be slightly longer than you’re used to, and they will need to be cut wider than most. If you use pants with your normal inseam, the holster or entire gun can be exposed when sitting, crouching or kneeling. Select pants with an inseam one size longer than you normally wear.

A good ankle holster should securely wrap around your ankle and have an additional strap that will attach above your calf to prevent the holster from slipping down. Blackhawk! ankle holsters are good example of this. In the photo above you can see the way in which the calf support strap helps to keep the weight of the pistol from dragging the holster down.

A loaded Glock 26 weighs in at just over 24 ounces, or about a pound and a half. That’s a significant amount of weight to be swinging around on your leg, and it does take some getting used to. Ankle holsters aren’t for everybody, and some folks just find that having that additional weight strapped to their leg to be too uncomfortable or awkward. If you’re like me, you’ve got a box stuffed in the back of your closet full of holsters that just didn’t work out. Try out your holster for a week or two to see if it will work out, and if it just doesn’t suit you, send it back with Cheaper Than Dirt’s generous No-Hassle return policy.

One important decision you will have to make when selecting a holster is which leg you want to wear it on, and whether you want to have the pistol worn on the inside or outside of your ankle. Personally, I wear an ankle holster on the inside of my strong-side leg so that I can draw easily with my weak-side or slightly less easily with my strong-side.

Which brings me to my next point: practice! If you’ve read much of this blog, you know how much I emphasize frequent practice. Practice drawing from your ankle holster from a variety of positions using both your right and left hands. Remember, a backup gun is for when you’ve lost your primary weapon or are unable to use it for some reason. This could include the loss of the use of your strong-side arm or hand, so practice using your weak-side as well!

Like all concealment holsters, ankle holsters are a compromise between comfort and usability. And, like other holsters, you get what you pay for so buy the best one that you can afford.