We have been impressed with the overwhelming support for our latest product, the Modular Holster Adapter which made it’s debut in the spring of 2020. Equally surprising has been the volume of emails we have received containing support, praise and questions in regards to the design of the MHA. In the interest of sharing some insight as to how and why we developed the product, we figured that the best way to do so would be to talk about the history of holsters over the last few hundred years. If thats not of any interest to you, go ahead and skip to halfway down this page.
The History of Handguns, and how they were carried:
When the Chinese invented gunpowder in the 9th century, the world changed forever. In a surprisingly small amount of time, firearms were being created to harness the power of the compound. The oldest known bronze barrel handgun in existence is the Heilongjiang hand cannon, dated to 1288. literally a tube of bronze that has held in on hand and ignited with a burning stick with the other, one could very much build a better weapon from the plumbing section of a hardware store. At 34 cm (13.4 inches) long, it was easy to carry and wield, if not fire.
The real expansion in this newly found technology occurred once gunpowder reached Europe. The Europeans expanded on the concept of firearms in the early 1500’s with the Matchlock . This advancement helped with easier firing of the weapon at a semi-precise moment, but required a long burning “match” to be pre-lit, and ready to go. Handguns in the modern sense came along with this achievement, and the first true holsters were crafted to accompany them for administrative carry and the weapon’s protection, if nothing else. The idea of the holster gained favor with the invention of Wheellock pistols by the mid-15th century. The Wheellock was a major step forward, as it was the first self-igniting firearm which could be also be carried at the ready, quickly drawn and fired with one hand. Their mechanical complexity made these weapons expensive and time consuming to produce, thus limiting them primarily to use by Europes armies and elite. Do to the cost and fragility of these handguns, there was an obvious desire to protect them. Somewhere in this era between Wheellock and Flintlock, the Flap holster is born.
In short order, the flintlock mechanism replaced the wheellock, and enjoyed a longer serviceable history. More gunsmiths emerged, and cost lowered as availability increased. Flintlock pistols were used as self-defense weapons for civilians that could afford them, and gained popularity as as a military arm. Because they were single shot weapons which were slow to reload, and had a short maximum effective range and they were often carried with a sword or cutlass. Swords have sheaths, guns need holsters. The common Flap-style holster continued to evolve and remain the military norm.
The early 1700s watched as these larger pistols slowly grew shorter as intended use ands easy of carry pushed forward new designs. By the late 1700s the largest were under 16″ long, while the smallest would fit into a jacket pocket, essentially giving birth to the idea of concealed carry. this idea would continue to grow with the invention of caplock, or “percussion” fired pistols emerging in the 1800’s. During this era, if your handgun was too big to fit in a pocket, it was likely stowed in the by now “classic” flap-style holster. Although these holsters would plague all those that carry a pistol for sometime yet to come (and in some cases, still does), a new idea was just around the corner…
A new weapon brings along a new mode of carry:
In 1836, Samuel Colt patented the Colt Paterson, the first practical mass-produced revolver. Relatively cheap and quick to manufacture for that time, Colt couldn’t keep them in stock. Six rapid shots which could be fired with one hand, who wouldn’t want that capability? Revolvers had became the standard handgun of armies and the common man by the rise of the American civil war in the 1860’s. Many soldiers took these issued revolvers home at the end of the war, in the same issued leather flap holsters.
During this time, (the mid 1800’s) North America saw the rise of cowboys and vaqueros. These rugged men would go on to tame the west still unexplored, and faced all the dangers the rugged country had in store for them. The threats came in many forms, from wildlife to simply encountering another man. The centuries old flap holster, standard for militaries across the world, were finally being thrown out of favor for something faster, easier to access and always at the ready: the open top western style holster.
The old western holsters eliminated the protective flap entirely, allowing the weapon to be held in place by friction and gravity. Often slug lower on the hip than on a trouser belt, this would be the original “mid-ride” position which would become so popular 150 years later. Some of these holsters featured a small slotted strap of leather which could be hooked over the weapon’s hammer for more secure carry in a bumpy saddle, or while climbing up a mountain after elk. This simple strap was much easier and quicker to detach than the massive flap that would remain the standard in western militaries for another century.
Another interesting addition to the western style “gunfighter” holsters of the old west, was the frequent addition of a leg strap. These would gain popularity with gunslingers during the later 1800’s and continued on to gain popularity during the 20th century. These early leg straps usually took the form of a simple leather or cord tie down, and eventually evolved into the wider webbing type straps popularized by the British SAS holsters developed during the 1970’s. Outside of Special Forces, America’s armed forces would continue to issue bulky, slow, flap style holsters well into the early 2000’s. Law enforcement would slowly get away from the full-frame flaps, during this time frame, but retained the desire for some means of secure retention to avoid having a pistol lost from a scuffle or snatched from behind.
The lineage of failure
The remaining two decades of the twentieth century witnessed marginal improvements and minor design variations of the modern “tactical” holsters, as western militaries reluctantly abandoned antiqued leather designs. Leg strap conversions for the US military issued UM-84/M12 holsters appeared sometime during the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, a holster essentially the same as issued world war 1 leather M1917 holsters, only made out of ballistic nylon.
During this time, (late 1980’s- early 1990’s) the commercial market began to introduce nylon drop leg holsters, utilizing two leg/thigh straps. These saw limited use outside of SOF, until the early years of the Global War on Terror. By the early 2000’s, nearly every drop leg holster on the battlefield featured the two leg straps, had a floppy nylon construction, and had a “thumb break” type retention strap. This retention method made it nearly impossible to re-snap quickly once reholstering. During this time period, many shooters began to remove the top leg strap completely, due to chaffing of the groin and other comfort issues. Concurrently, military pistol shooters started to utilize more law enforcement style holsters, featuring quicker retention systems.
The one thing that all of these holsters shared in common, was the complete lack of adjustability for the shooters preference. Gross adjustments for height could be made with floppy straps, but this was obviously not ideal or enough. There was absolutely no ability to fine tune the cant/angle of the pistol’s grip, height of the holster, secure mounting to a belt regardless of type and size of gun belt, controlling the weapon’s outward/inward pitch, etc.
Today, the majority of Americas top shooters choose to run a mid-ride level of drop for their holster, just slightly below the belt line. This has been found to be the ideal location for the pistol to clear modern body armor and vest mounted pouches, something the cowboys never even considered. And although some shooters have turned away with leg straps completely, there are still many that prefer the added stability and reduced movement of their holster by utilizing a leg strap. All of these factors came into play, when True North Concepts set out to solve the centuries old problem of carrying a pistol.
Breaking the chain of forced mediocrity:
The Modular Holster Adapter is definitively the first product to solve the many issues pistol shooters have faced from day one of their inception. The first aspect we considered, is rigidity. Where does movement come from, when drawing a weapon from a holster? Usually, it’s how the holster attaches to the gun belt. Granted, a flimsy, floppy gun belt is a weak foundation to build off of, but it does happen. Considering how many great choices there are for rigid gun belts out there today, it’s rarely the cause. The primary reason there is movement and play in a holster, is the actual means of attachment. Many modern holsters use plastic/polymer attachment points to the belt, which is why is there so much movement. Polymer moves, slides and flexes, and is a poor choice for a friction-based means of keeping the holster where you want it. It is however, extremely cheap to mold. We chose to use a vice-like clamping system in the design of the MHA, one that locks down on the gun belt regardless of belt type or size. To accomplish this, we use strong 6061 T6 aluminum, and hardened steel hardware.
This aircraft grade aluminum construction also solves another problem, flex of the holster where it attaches to the mount. The further down the weapon sits from the belt line, the more perceived movement will be noticed. By supplying a metal “skeleton” type frame for the entire length of the MHA, this flex, movement and leveraged movement is reduced. As aluminum is non-ferrous, it does not produce a magnetic signature, does not corrode quickly when exposed to salt water, doesn’t melt easily in extreme heat, and is only heavier by a trivial amount in comparison to its polymer equivalents.
By using this skeletonized metal frame, we were able to do something no one has ever thought to do, or at least not do well: Give the shooter choices. You can mount the MHA to nearly any common belt, or weave the belt mounting bars through MOLLE/PALS webbing. You can adjust the height of your holster by three levels vertically, and adjust the forward/rearward cant of your weapon by a total of 20 degrees. The hole pattern allows for all of these individual choices, and the included hardware allows the MHA to be adjusted for outward of the holster, or set up with many common QD plates for swapping out holsters. Additionally, we added our Leg Strap Kit (LSK) to the product line, to add even more choices to the individual shooter
For those that prefer a leg strap, Our LSK allows the shooter to choose the height where the leg strap sits. By attaching our specialty leg strap bracket onto the MHA, the leg strap will sit below the MHA, flush with the bottom of the MHA, or lightly above. For the first time, the shooter can choose the best position for their body size and comfort, custom tailoring their setup to their individual needs. Each Leg strap kit includes the specialty bracket designed for the MHA, attachment hardware, and 1″ milspec elastic leg strap featuring a quick detach Fastex buckle. The minimalistic leg strap provides a generous amount of flexibility and it is recommended that the user try out several height adjustments to see which is most ideal, before securing the hardware with thread locker. Our Leg Strap Kit’s specialty bracket is also designed to fit a wide array of legs straps, and is cross compatible with wider, thicker straps such as those from Safariland, Blackhawk, Ronin Tactics, etc. Again, more user options than ever provided before.
In conclusion, we approached the design of the Modular Holster Adapter from a historic perspective. Those that carry a handgun do so in one of two ways: With the expectation that the weapon will not be needed quickly, so it should be shrouded by an overly protective holster, or the more realistic, common sense alternative which was discovered in the American west: When you need your pistol, you need it NOW. Seconds matter when the decision is made to draw your weapon, and the means of which you carry the gun can determine your success or failure. Simply put, a lesser system can determine your very life or death. It is our most sincere goal here at True North, to increase your survivability and lethality in the face of adversity, particularly combat. The Modular Holster Adapter was designed to increase both.