Monday, May 24, 2010

Torture testing the BLACKHAWK! Serpa holster


Previously here we've written about the BLACKHAWK! Serpa holster. Also, about a reported issue with the holster. Now, it is time to really 'dig' into another possible problem.

The Serpa retention holster uses a mechanical latch to capture the trigger guard, and will not release the pistol til the latch is properly depressed. Being mechanical, it can fail to work, and some folks have reported their holster keeping their weapon hostage.

The biggest concern is dirt and debris getting under the release lever and preventing it's operation. To test that issue, in our wholly unscientific and unsophisticated way, the holster had a training dummy inserted into it and was then buried in a bucket of muck. Truly nasty stuff; Good old Pennsylvania farm dirt, with rocks and twigs galore.... and water poured on just to create a really gooey mess.

The video below shows the results... but first I would like to offer some thoughts.

Having a lifetime of mechanical experience, I now have a career teaching the subject to young students. Given the right circumstances, even a round ball of hardened steel can be made to fail each and every time. That doesn't mean we refuse to use ball bearings in a thousand different ways every day, just that we use them properly and in the right conditions.

The Serpa holster is just like that... a mechanical device that can fail in any number of ways, just like the pistol it's made to carry. There is a chance either unit can fail in normal or weird ways, and it's almost assured each will at some point. Just as with ball bearings, we accept the risk in exchange for the benefit of using them.

Yes, I suppose there is a possibility the Serpa holster could fail to release the pistol under some rare conditions. Balanced against that is the purpose of the Serpa mechanism, to retain the pistol when an unauthorized person tries to take it away. It's a trade off.... and an important one to consider. Most of life is like that, take a certain level of chance to reach a certain level of reward. Some days, the very risk of walking out the the front door is substantial, yet we still manage to make it pay off... most of the time, at least.

The features of the Serpa retention holster make it a very serious contender for duty on a police officers gear belt. The same for a soldiers kit. In both cases, physical scuffles with bad folks happen, and far too many officers are murdered with their own weapons. Far more, I believe, than are killed by simple gear failures like a failed retention holster. That has to weigh heavily in the equation.

As the video below shows, an outstandingly extreme situation was created to pack debris into the Serpa holster mechanism and recreate the reported problems. This time, it worked as designed and the pistol was easily drawn (honestly, I was surprised it did). Next time? The thousandth time? The ten thousandth time? Who can say... except that it's a calculated risk balanced against another calculated risk.

I did finally get the holster to fail, in a way. When I packed the empty holster with mud, it didn't manage to lock on the pistol when it was inserted... although it still acted as a holster. Of course, we could get any holster in the world to 'fail' by pouring it full of gravel, or pounding a 2x4 into it.

So.... watch as the BLACKHAWK! Serpa holster is treated to a very, very bad day in Carteach0's hands......

My conclusion? I now own two of the Serpa holsters. One provided by Blackhawk (the one in the video) and another I bought for my Glock 30. I'll use both as range holsters, competition holsters, and occasionally as concealed carry holsters. I've tried hard to find flaws with the Serpa system, and have yet to dig up a real one. The rig is designed for high retention levels while still allowing a rapid draw, and easy re-holstering. It does exactly that, and still comes in at a very reasonable price level.

Besides, they are the only holsters I own that I can clean by tossing in the dishwasher.


Old NFO said...

Interesting... Mine is one of the older ones, so I'm wondering if they have modified the new ones.

Carteach0 said...

I was speaking with someone this weekend who might have cause to know, and it was suggested the later models have very few problems indeed. There have been updates and upgrades since they were first introduced.

Anonymous said...

I heard it was not mud... it was Arizona "sand and pebbles" wherein that loose grit worked it's way in and allowed one to put the gun in but unable to "unlock" it and take it out. I don't see how dirt or even mud can do that.

The other one was placing the firearm in "backwards"... with the magazine well pointing forward... to allow one to reload with your support hand (and assuming your primary is disabled). It seems like the right (or wrong) front sight and this holster... can cause it to engage and it was difficult to remove since it was not intended to be activate in that way.

I just don't know how one can replicate that one since you would need to know the tolerances... the make and model... and the brand of the front sight...

But that seems like a unique way to disable this feature.

Yabusame said...

Yes, yes, that's all well and good but I want to know what the motorbikes were that went past in the background on the soundtrack?

Just teasin'... was an interesting video.

Jeanette K. said...

What a fun experiment. Thanks for posting the video. Although I wonder how many folks will try to use their holster after being buried in mud :)

Anonymous said...

Pressing that latch is a fine motor skill that will magically leave you when you are tunnel-visionning on threat and on an adrenaline spike. Not saying it can't be done, but why stack the deck anymore than it will be?

Carteach0 said...

Agreed about fine motor skills Anon, except that training creates muscle memory which creates skilled motions.

I have been shooting the Serpa holster as a range rig and in steel competition, and found simply slapping holster to draw without thought releases the pistol as fast as I can move. No thought to the latch, as simply grasping the pistol properly automatically puts your trigger finger on the latch, and depresses it.

Your mileage may vary.....

Anonymous said...

I second the "...sand and pebbles." A dry, gritty element is more obtrusive than a moist, gritty element. (This following example will, in a way, reach a point. It is not about rifles. Please bear with me) While attending my unit's rifle qualification, one of the instructors at Camp Perry demonstrated why our rifles needed to be cleaned and maintained. He sprinkled a handful of dirt on the bolt carrier and proceeded to shoot the rifle on the 25 Yd. zero range. At the fifth round in, the rifle locked up. He then demonstrated that, if in a pinch, sprinkling some water (if available) on the bolt carrier and shaking it out might buy you several more shots (or completely clear the dirt), if in a dire situation, without having to break down the weapon while under fire, in combat. Now I know it may seem like comparing apples to oranges since a holster is not a rifle. But I feel the mechanical principle may be the same. I'm not sure. I understand you're a fan of "Mausersandmuffins..." So am I. She has an article about her Serpa holster locking her away from her Sig. Do you think that a "Dry media" torture test may be in order? I think it would be fun. Keep up the wonderful work. Your blog is greatly appreciated.

Kevin said...

Great looking video and one heck of a test for one great holster...Great Article...I think the reality is that given any situation anything can fail when you need it and it is quality training for situations that can go wrong that will save you when the real @@@@t hits the fan.