|MTAC vs. Memphis vs. VMII - an IWB Holster Comparison|
|Written by VOLGRAD|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2008 20:23|
At any given time, there are numerous threads on internet discussion boards requesting a recommendation for a good quality inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. I have read and responded in many of them with my recommendation. However, until recently my experience was limited to Comp-Tac products and a few low-end IWBs.
I feel compelled to state my opinion that it is not necessary to ask this same exact question every time you get a new pistol. While some models do have specific issues, they are usually due to the fact the pistol is a new model and holster makers have not yet begun production of holsters for them (e.g. Glock 21SF or Sig 250). In general, what folks recommend for a Sig P239 or P229 or for a Glock 19 or 22 will likely work equally well for your HK, S&W M&P, etc.. A more appropriate question might be, “What IWB works best for a fat guy?”, or something that is more “user specific” as opposed to “gun specific”.
I feel equally compelled to say that many, including myself, often make statements like the following; “It completely disappears.”, “I completely forgot I was wearing a gun.”, or “I wore it for 10 hours and it felt great.” Let’s set something straight from the beginning. These statements are a little exaggerated. No matter how comfortable the holster is we still feel the gun and know it is there. This is true for both IWB and OWB holsters alike. When you sit down you feel it. It might not dig and jab into your side, but you know it is there. It is possible to forget we are wearing a gun. However, it is not because the holster is “magic”. It is more likely that we have grown accustomed to wearing one. We notice it less and less over time, sort of like wearing a wrist watch.
The most popular models of IWB holsters seem to be the Comp-Tac Minotaur MTAC for Kydex and the Milt Sparks Versa Max II (VMII) for leather. There are countless other makers using similar designs of these two products.
I had always wanted to try IWB holsters from other popular makers, but until now was unable to do so. I saw a thread recently on SigForum where an individual shared pics of the same gun worn in several different holsters. I thought the idea was great. Unfortunately, the models he used were not exactly the ones I would have considered purchasing for myself. I decided that whenever I had the chance I wanted to do the same type of comparison and share my results.
My current every day carry (EDC) pistol is a Glock 19 worn in a MTAC. I love this product and frequently recommend it to others. I recently purchased a Sig P239 and was in need of a new holster so I could ease it into the rotation for EDC. My first thought was just to order an extra Kydex body for the MTAC and be done with it. However, this time I decided I wanted to try an all leather holster to see what it was all about. Frankly I didn’t want to pay $105 (base model before S&H) and wait 26+ weeks for a VMII. You can sometimes find a used one listed in the [online] classified ads but they almost always sell within minutes and for nearly as much, or more, than a new one. I heard about a custom leather holster maker, Tom Burks, of Southern Holsters on my regular forum, GeorgiaPacking.org. He is a sponsor of a grass roots gun rights organization of which I am a member, GeorgiaCarry.org, and decided to give him a try. About the same time I made this decision, a friend purchased a used VMII for his P239. Both of our 239 pistols are 9mm, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to do a side by side comparison. I ordered both the Memphis from Southern Holsters and the extra Kydex body from Comp-Tac, and borrowed his VMII.
My thought was this; In order to do a true comparison of different holsters it would need to be done on the same person, using the same pistol, under the same type of cover garments. That being said, my comparison will not be applicable to all as we are all built differently. It will, however, give you a good idea of the differences in these three holsters. If nothing more, my review/comparison might point out some criteria you should consider when evaluating a holster for your use.
The following reviews were not sanctioned by or solicited by any holster maker, group, or other organization. I paid in full for each holster. I pulled some basic descriptive information from the official website of each holster maker. The remainder of this review represents only my opinion and experience with each.
COMP-TAC MINOTAUR MTAC
Material = Kydex half body, leather back. Attaches to belt using Kydex belt clips.
Tuckable = Yes. There are different types of Kydex clips available, some of which are more discreet than others. My preference is the new, thinner standard clip (although the clips in the following pictures are the older style standard ones).
Adjustable = Yes for height above/below belt line. Yes for cant. Yes for retention.
Price = $80 + shipping and any applicable sales taxes.
Wait Time = Usually in-stock, will receive in approximately 1 week.
Customer Service = Excellent, e-mails sent at every stage of processing your order.
I have used this holster almost exclusively since September 2007 for my Glock 19. I recently purchased another complete MTAC for my Sig P239. I started off with just an extra body for my original MTAC (as mentioned previously), but found a good deal on my local forum for a complete like-new MTAC. Besides, this way I didn’t have to switch out the bodies on the MTAC all the time when I wanted to change my EDC. If you switch your EDC frequently, the interchangeability of the Kydex bodies is a major selling point of this holster. Extra bodies can be purchased for $35 and will work with your existing leather backing and hardware.
The quality of this holster is fantastic. A lot of thought went into the design and manufacture of this product. At first glance it looks kind of strange (someone on another forum recently called the struts “flying buttresses”). It appears the holster would be bulky and hard to conceal. My results are quite the opposite. Once you put it on, it disappears nicely under your cover garment. I think the larger overall design of this holster more evenly distributes the weight of the pistol and makes it carry lighter than it actually is. This is especially important when you are carrying a full size pistol or a heavier one such as a Sig. The leather is thicker/thinner in spots so as to maximize comfort where hardware (i.e. screws) is present, while at the same time minimizing thickness in most other areas for better concealment. The body of the holster has a built-in sight channel.
The swiveling Kydex belt clips further facilitate getting the rig positioned comfortably. For instance, sometimes when you try to get your holster adjusted to maximize comfort you find a belt loop (on your pants) is in the way. If your belt clips swivel you can sometimes just angle it a bit and move on. I do have one minor complaint about the Kydex clips. When they are attached to the holster at the middle setting or higher, the bottom of the Kydex clip (on the inside of the pants) will push out at a slight angle. This can cause a small blip or bump pushing out from inside the pants (picture the bump the corner of your wallet makes in your back pocket).
I was using the middle height setting originally but have recently lowered it a bit and find it more comfortable and concealable. Lowering the holster on the Kydex clip also remedied the complaint I made in the previous paragraph. This holster is great in that respect. Adjustments are quick and easy and allow you to tailor it to your preference. I also prefer my holsters with a more forward cant. By swiveling the Kydex clips, the cant is easily adjusted. Where you wear yours will likely depend on how much “middle” you have, your preferred style of clothing, and how much sitting vs. standing you will be doing.
I have absolutely no problem concealing this rig underneath only a t-shirt. Because I can adjust the height and cant of this holster and can easily move it around from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock, concealment is further maximized. The holster holds the pistol very close to the body.
I have worn this holster for as many as 8-10 hours at a time with no discomfort. It feels great standing, walking, sitting, driving, etc. I will admit I sometimes “notice” the holster where it hits my luv-handle but it doesn’t dig or rub. The large leather piece that serves as the backing of the holster also serves as the sweat shield. Due to its’ size, it protects your skin from the back corners of the slide and the hammer better than most sweat shields.
Using the standard clips, this holster is pretty easy to get on and very easy to get off, depending on how tight you wear your pants and belt. I occasionally have to loosen my belt one hole to slide it in my waist band but that is to be expected. Comp-Tac has recently begun using a new Kydex clip design. In addition to being more durable, the new clips are much thinner (less wide) and offer 5 holes instead of 3. The extra holes allow for more adjustment above/below the belt line. Comp-Tac offers several other clip styles. All serve different needs, but the standard clip is my favorite. (Note: the pictures included in this review show the older style standard clips.)
Because the holster body is half Kydex, half leather, it does not have the “snap” that some Comp-Tac products do (when you holster your pistol). However, with a quick adjustment with the supplied Allen wrench it can easily be adjusted to hold your pistol more/less tight. One handed re-holstering is very easy.
I have not used this holster long enough to say how the Kydex or leather will affect the finish of my pistol. I did have to specify when I ordered the MTAC body from Comp-Tac that my pistol had CT grips to make sure the Kydex was cut a little lower. Comp-Tac was happy to accommodate my needs.
Some of the MTAC bodies are slide versions with the open bottom. This allows multiple pistols of the same frame size to work in the same body (e.g. any Glock 9mm/.40/.357 will work in the same MTAC slide body).
I must say this holster is not very “pretty” but its’ functionality is superb.
SOUTHERN HOLSTERS MEMPHIS
Material = All leather, including leather belt loops with one-way snaps. Kydex belt clips will soon be available as an option.
Tuckable = Not yet, but soon. Tom is currently testing a couple of designs of tuckable Kydex clips. Once he has made a decision on which type works best for his holsters they will be made available for an additional charge.
Adjustable = No for height above/below belt line. No for cant. No for retention.
Price = $60 + upgrades, shipping, and any applicable sales taxes.
Wait Time = Currently quoting 8 weeks for new orders (mine arrived in 5). [editor’s note – As of 4/1/08, Southern Holsters is quoting 12 weeks for new orders]
Customer Service = Excellent, you can check status of your order online by creating an account on the website. The status tells you exactly what stage of production your order is in. You have the option to delay payment until your order is ready to ship. A couple of days before your order is ready to ship Tom will send you an invoice via e-mail and you can pay using PayPal at no additional charge.
I wanted to try a custom leather holster but didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money and wait for months on end for it to arrive. I ordered the Memphis from Southern Holsters based on the great reviews I had read on several gun forums. It didn’t hurt that the owner, Tom Burks, is corporate sponsor of the gun rights group (GeorgiaCarry.org) of which I am a member. My previous experience with leather holsters was limited to low-end rough out IWBs and one decent quality factory produced OWB.
This holster starts at $60 and production is currently running about 8 weeks for new orders (although mine arrived in about 5 weeks, including the Christmas/New Year holiday season). With those stats, it was going to be hard to disappoint me.
With an all leather holster such as the Memphis you give up most of your adjustment features (e.g. height above/below the belt line, cant, and retention). Therefore, it is important for these to be as near to perfect as possible initially.
Let me say when this holster arrived and I opened the box, I was immediately impressed by the workmanship. It was absolutely beautiful. The leather was cut and finished well, the stitching was very nice, and the color was a beautiful, rich brown. The edges were all dyed in a darker color which added a really nice accent. Only the exterior of the holster is tanned and dyed. The interior of the holster is what I would call rough out and is a natural color. The leather is a bit thinner than some of the other holsters I have seen (such as the VMII). I don’t mean that in a negative way. This minimizes the overall thickness of the rig, thus reducing printing. The leather is plenty thick enough to maintain its shape. The company logo is stamped in the leather as is the pistol type (on the back), in my case a P239. The bottom of the holster is open so as not to collect debris or retain moisture.
The Memphis does not have a true stitched sight channel but nothing seems to obstruct, snag, or catch the sights in any way. I checked carefully as this was of great concern to me. The sights slide right down the seam where the leather is stitched.
I couldn’t wait to put my pistol in to check the fit. It was nice and snug but not so tight it restricted the draw. I would feel very confident the pistol would stay put during vigorous activity. The fit was not at all affected by the fact my pistol has Crimson Trace grips either. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed.
I moved on to the next test which was actually putting the holster on my belt to see how if felt and how well it concealed. It should be noted that the snaps are the “one-way” kind that only snap and un-snap in one direction. I say it must be noted because I had the darndest time figuring this out. I just flat out couldn’t get them snapped and figured I was doing it wrong. On one of my first outings with this holster, I managed to put the holster inside my waist band one handed while driving down the road, including unsnapping and threading the belt loops around my belt. I could not, however, get them snapped back. I had Tom’s number in my cell phone so I called him. He was gracious enough not to laugh at me and once he explained how they worked they snapped with only slight two-fingered pressure. I felt like a giant BOOB … and not the good kind.
Tom Burks, the owner and sole holster maker at Southern Holsters, is currently testing tuckable Kydex clips. When he is satisfied with the quality and function, they will be made available as an option. Early feedback from those individuals testing them has been positive overall. Tom stated to me that the Kydex clips will be interchangeable with the leather belt loops and will not require any additional holes in the leather. This is possible because of the “Chicago” screws he uses.
The holster felt very comfortable to me. I put it on at 3 o’clock initially, but decided I wanted to shift it back some. I tried to simply slide it around toward 4 o’clock. This was not easily done like with the Kydex clips. I ended up having to actually take my belt loose and re-position the whole thing. I would bet as the leather breaks in more this will be more easily done. Right now the leather is still pretty stiff.
The holster holds the pistol very close in to the body. On the first day I wore the holster around the house for about 3 hours underneath just a t-shirt. None of my family members were aware I had it on, not that they would have been surprised. I had no problems or discomfort while seated or playing in the floor with my young child. I never once noticed the back corners of the slide or the hammer rubbing or digging into my skin. The sweat shield did a great job of protecting my side-gut from abrasion. Once I compared the sweat shield side-by-side to the sweat shield of the VMII, I found it to be both wider and taller. This translates to more comfort.
It is notable that the opening of the holster is not reinforced like the VMII. While the leather is still stiff this is not a big deal. However, as the leather softens, one-handed re-holstering may become a slight inconvenience. It can be done, but will require a slightly different technique. Milt Sparks actually has a special “instruction” page on their website illustrating the best way to re-holster one-handed in a non-reinforced holster. The plus side of not having the reinforced mouth is you don’t have the extra thickness or rigidity. That being said, if I have to draw my weapon for defensive purposes (as a civilian) it is doubtful a fast re-holster will be my top priority.
This holster is both beautiful and functional.
Time will tell how this holster holds up, but I am confident it will only get better as the leather breaks in. After this review was completed I immediately place an order for 2 additional Memphis holsters, one for 229 and another for a graduation gift for a friend who is currently at the DEA academy in Quantico, VA. I asked Tom if he could do something special (badge, lettering, etc.) on the gift holster. He delivered on my request with an exceptional rendition of the DEA badge on the main body of the holster. It looks incredible.
MILT SPARKS VERSA MAX II
Material = All leather, including leather belt loops with one-way snaps. Kydex belt clips are available as an option.
Tuckable = Yes. The basic model comes with non-tuckable leather belt loops. Tuckable Kydex clips can be purchased for an additional charge.
Adjustable = No for height above/below belt line. No for cant. No for retention.
Price = $105 + upgrades, shipping, and any applicable sales taxes.
Wait Time = Currently quoting 26+ weeks for new orders.
Customer Service = Reportedly excellent, I have no personal experience.
VERSA MAX II REVIEW
After having tried the Memphis holster by Southern Holsters, I was very anxious to try the Versa Max II by Milt Sparks. By all accounts, this holster is the “mack-daddy” of all IWB holsters. It seems to be the standard by which all others are measured.
Until I borrowed a friend’s holster for this comparison, I had never laid eyes on a “real life” VMII. However, I had seen pictures on the official Milt Sparks website and in the different gun forums I read. I will admit my expectations were very high. When the borrowed holster arrived in the mail I nearly tore it apart. At the same time, I almost didn’t want to open it at all for fear of disappointment. I was not disappointed, per se, but was a little surprised at how bulky and stiff it was. My first thought was this, “If I had wanted something this stiff, I would have bought Kydex.”
Aesthetically speaking, this holster is truly a work of art. It is absolutely beautiful. The workmanship and hand detail that went into are easily recognized. Each holster is made by hand by one of only a few craftsmen in the Milt Sparks shop.
The leather is noticeably thicker than the Memphis (although I don’t have calipers to measure the actual thickness of each) and is finished and dyed inside and out. The VMII is dressed-up a bit by a few leather accent pieces. The stitching was very carefully done. As I stated before, the body of the holster is very stiff, in part due to the metal that reinforces the mouth and holds it open for one-handed re-holstering. It has basically no flex at all. The VMII has a true sight channel.
The belt loops are attached to the body of the holster in a manner that does not allow them to swivel. Each is a full one inch wide. There is also a double thick piece of leather between the belt loop and the holster body and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It seems to add unnecessary thickness. My initial reaction to the non-swiveling belt loops was negative. If every person wore a holster the exact same way then it would be possible to find the exact, perfect angle for a belt loop. Only then would I want an immobile belt loop. Luckily, we are all different. Sadly, the belt loops on the VMII do not allow for this. The snaps on the VMII are also the one-way kind.
The retention on the holster I tried was adequate at best. The pistol slipped in and out with little resistance. The first thing I did was check the back to make sure the holster was designed for exactly the make/model/caliber that I was using in my trial. The low level of resistance made it easy to re-holster, however, I would not have been entirely comfortable engaging in vigorous activity or force-on-force scenarios with the holster. Unfortunately, what I learned after the fact is that the mouth band is actually reinforced with metal, not Kydex, which is meant to be “pinched in/pushed out” to allow for more/less retention. This would have resolved one of the main issues I had with the holster. Again, I feel like a BOOB.
The holster was pretty easy to get on and off my belt but I did have to unfasten my pants to get it inserted and positioned properly. This was a direct result from the bulkier, stiffer body. I also had to loosen my belt one hole more than with the other two IWB holsters I reviewed.
The VMII rides slightly higher than I prefer. There was some leather of the body of the holster showing above my belt line. What I have found to be true, for me (since I have slight “luv handles”), is “the lower the better” for concealment. Many will argue the opposite. If the holster rides too high my side-gut pushes out the butt/grip of the pistol at a slight angle and causes printing. The VMII did not ride high enough to cause this issue but I think with a larger pistol it would have.
The VMII concealed pretty well. On the initial trial I was wearing a t-shirt with an un-tucked, un-buttoned short sleeved shirt. I did not have the under shirt tucked behind the pistol. While I was sitting at dinner, the hammer of my 239 was really giving my side-gut fits. That hammer is sort of serrated / striated / ridged and it hurt. I tucked the t-shirt behind it and it was fine. After I finished eating, I un-tucked it and didn’t notice the hammer again for the remainder of the night (including watching TV on the couch with the family). I thought my initial discomfort might have been an anomaly and moved on. I wore the holster for about three hours that first night and found it to be very comfortable. Even though I was initially concerned the holster would be too rigid for comfort that was not the case.
After seeing its beauty and wearing it for a few hours, I was starting to see what the buzz was about. It was indeed very comfortable, even for extended periods of time. Although on several occasions, I did experience a bit more hammer rub while driving. Each time I was wearing only a t-shirt and nothing between the holster rig and my body. A taller, wider sweat shield would correct this problem. I also banged up a dining room chair once when the back/butt of the pistol struck it. A more forward cant would have prevented this.
This holster is also both beautiful and functional.
PICTURES OF EACH HOLSTER IN USE
Below are photos of each holster worn in their typical positions.
ALL THREE RANKED IN ORDER OF MY PREFERENCE
AESTHETICS: VMII, Memphis, MTAC
WORKMANSHIP: All three are excellent. However, they are too different for true comparison.
ADJUSTABILITY: MTAC, VMII, Memphis (the Memphis has swiveling belt loops, but the VMII has an adjustable mouth bad which is more important for most folks)
COMFORT: MTAC, Memphis, VMII
CONCEALMENT: Memphis, MTAC, VMII
RETENTION: MTAC, Memphis, VMII (unfair here on my part as I was not aware the VMII could be adjusted by “pinching in” the metal mouth band – we can call this one a draw for second between the two leather holsters)
ONE-HANDED RE-HOLSTERING: VMII, MTAC, Memphis
PRICE: Memphis, MTAC, VMII
ORDER TIME: MTAC, Memphis, VMII
CUSTOMER SERVICE: My experience with each as been excellent. It should be noted that Comp-Tac e-mails the customer at each stage in the order process, from order confirmation to shipping. Southern Holsters posts updates to the order process to their website and the customer can login and check it whenever they like. Milt Sparks (when I placed an order with them by phone) was very professional and sent me an order confirmation via snail mail. The person taking my order stated if I changed my mind on anything about my order prior to its production, they would be happy to accommodate me.
MY OVERALL RECOMMENDATION
I think this is the part most folks have been waiting for. Although, I must say the previous section (RANKINGS) is probably what you need to focus on. Your decision is ultimately that – your decision. My desire was just to do a thorough review of each and post my observations/opinions. You will have to decide for yourself which of the above factors is most important to you.
However, for those who just can’t make up their mind, I will make an overall recommendation. It won’t be that easy though. I will list some qualifiers.
For someone purchasing one, and only one, holster for a particular pistol or for use with multiple pistols the best choice is clearly the Comp-Tac MTAC. This holster is more versatile in that you can easily adjust it to fit you. You can also choose to tuck or not tuck without changing out the hardware. Depending on what type of pistol(s) you carry, a slide version might allow more than one pistol to be carried in the same holster. If that doesn’t work, a replacement Kydex body is only a few clicks and a few days away and will only cost you $35. This is a good selling point for those of us that like to buy/sell/trade pistols frequently.
If you are looking to purchase a holster for use with one particular pistol or you are just one of those folks that prefer an all leather product I recommend the Memphis by Southern Holsters. In my trial it ranked higher than the VMII in more categories, particularly the ones that mattered most to me. The quality, comfort, concealment, retention, and price of the Memphis just can’t be beat.
Lastly, I want to clearly state that the VMII is an excellent product and you will not be disappointed with your purchase. For me economics played a large part in my decision. I am not just talking about money here, but rather pure Economics – cost vs. benefit analysis. I weighed out the pros & cons of the two all leather holsters and for me personally there was not enough to justify the difference in price and order time. To be quite honest, even if the two products were sitting on a store shelf side-by-side at the same or comparable price, I would still choose the Memphis over the VMII. The only reason I would question that decision is for “the name”. I carry concealed so no one sees it. I also try not to get too hung up on labels.
The pictures below will give you an idea of the overall size of each holster. It appears the holster is not lined up with the top of the T-square. This is an optical illusion based on the angle at which the picture was taken. In case you have trouble reading the ruler, those are one inch interval markings.
OTHER RELATED ITEMS OF INTEREST
OTHER IWB HOLSTERS I HAVE TRIED
Comp-Tac CTAC with both standard and J clips for a Glock 30:
The Shotist AIWB Kydex Holster for a S&W M&P340 J-frame revolver:
IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD QUALITY GUN BELT
Let me start by saying I resisted purchasing a good quality “gun” belt for some time. I already owned several good quality leather belts and didn’t really see the need to spend another $50-$100 on another belt just because it called itself a “gun” belt. (Note: The belt in the pictures is a good leather belt, but not a “gun” belt.) I have changed my mind. Based on recommendations from others, I recently ordered one from The Beltman. I could not be happier. In fact, I will likely be placing another order with him soon. However, there seem to be many good choices available.
Many people think they can get away with using a “regular” belt and just cinching it up tighter. This might keep the holster from moving around on you; however, it does not make it carry any better. It certainly does not make it any more comfortable.
Belts used for either OWB or IWB carry must offer enough support to adequately carry the additional weight of a gun and holster (plus any additional EDC items like phone, knife, etc.) without sagging. This is usually accomplished by making the belt wide enough (1.5” is the minimum recommended thickness for a gun belt) and thick enough so that it does not “roll” when the holster is hung on it. Gun belts are usually made double thick for this reason. Some even sew in a thin strip of Kydex or other type of stiffener.
Here’s my deep thought for the day. “A quality gun belt is to a man, what a quality bra is to a woman. You can get by with less, but good support makes all the difference.”