Monday, May 28, 2012
ODE TO THE BIANCHI 58L "HIP HUGGER" HOLSTER
I got my first Bianchi 58L Hip Hugger paddle holster in the summer of 1981 for my Colt Cobra snubnose. That was my first off-duty gun as a police officer in Houston. My duty weapon, a 4" nickle Python, while excellent for a duty weapon at the time, was way too heavy to carry as an off-duty weapon. In the summer, it was virtually unconcealable, at least with the holsters available then, but could be worn off-duty in the winter (read: colder than 50 degrees) when a jacket or coat would be worn.
The Jackass (now Galco) shoulder holster was the best means of concealing this world class shooting machine that is The Colt Python. I also used a Roy's Pancake holster for the 4" Python to some success, but it didn't conceal a Python under a Polo shirt with Levi's worth a crap. As the former Governor of California once said in a movie...paraphrasing him here..."it looked like a toomah".
So the 3rd generation nickle Cobra became the off-duty and back-up on-duty ankle holster gun. Right after buying this holster, literally the moment after leaving Collector's Firearms in Houston the day I got the Cobra and the Hip Hugger I took off for a beach and fishing vacation in Corpus Christi and Padre Island. I was very impressed that the suede covered paddle never retained odors despite the sometimes heavy sweating done in this holster when in the field, and that summer it was swelteringly hot as we fished a variety of locales and hung out until the wee small hours of the morning with some regularity.
The Bianchi Hip Hugger holster got carried in a wide variety of circumstances on that vacation, all of which involved, as I said, heavy duty sweating in the Texas Summer sun. Out to eat. Out fishing on boats and jetties. Around town at various spots. I found it to be quite concealable then and have continued to wear and use this particular holster with several different revolvers for the last 31 years. I've since acquired one of these made for the J Frame, and it's an even slimmer fit and even more concealable than the one for the six shot Cobra.
Bianchi doesn't make this particular holster anymore. They seriously need to reintroduce this holster into their line. It's their basic #5 designed thumbreak holster with a metal paddle that is covered on both sides in suede. The #5 holster was used in belt holsters, ankle holsters and this paddle holster for decades. I'll say that the paddle holster must use a steel shank in the back of the holster as well as in the paddle because it seems much stiffer than other #5 belt and ankle variants that I own. And it's much stiffer than almost all other paddle holsters out there on the market.
Apparently, it was made until sometime fairly recently, as this website indicates it is now discontinued.
Everything comes together in this holster. The paddle is long enough and stout enough to support even heavy K frames (I've never seen an N frame version of this holster, but would like to have one if it exists) and all steel 1911's and Hi-Powers. The length and width of the paddle, although very reasonably sized to me, is different than those dimensions on most other paddle holsters.
The distance between the paddle and the holster itself is scant indeed, making it sometimes even difficult to get the holster attached over a heavy duty gunbelt type of belt. This tightness between holster and paddle is one factor I think helps to keep floppiness down and stability up.
The holster has that famous (at least to me) Bianchi fit of the firearm designed for. I've never had an issue with fit on a Bianchi in over 30 years of using them. Although I am partial to their product lines from the 70's through the 90's moreso than their current stuff, I do have some recent Bianchi holsters. But the guns fit and the thumbreak engages and disengages perfectly.
The suede covered paddle has many benefits. The suede keeps the holster in place when drawing the weapon. Secondly, the suede also keeps the holster and pants/shorts in place during normal wear, being a non-smooth surface the suede creates resistance between the body of the wearer and their pants, thus keeping everything where it is supposed to be.
Third, the Bianchi paddle on these holsters is wide and is situated so that it rides deep, almost to the bottom of the holster. Again, ergonomics and design come into play here, but the the paddle design is another factor in this holster being a stable carrying platform as well as staying put when you draw the gun. The suede covered paddle beats out a molded plastic paddles other paddle holsters use any day of the week in many aspects.
The holster hangs at just the right height in comparison to the paddle. It hangs low enough to lower the center of gravity of the gun to the center of the belt, but not so low as to make concealment difficult. This is key,because it prevents floppiness. This holster rides very secure, and to my mind, is the best paddle holster design I've ever used. I haven't taken a protractor to it, but it seems that when positioned correctly against my leg that the paddle keeps the holster at about a 10 degree forward cant. Of course, you can position the holster for more or less of a cant and depending on your body type, it will stay in that position once set.
For what it's worth on all that about fit, I've been using these holsters since I was in my young twenties and my body then was far slimmer and far more muscular than it is now, years later. I know a lot of guys my age complain about holster fit and pants sagging and this line of holsters works well with the middle age male body. Used with a good (but not necessarily overwhelmingly) heavy gunbelt type dress belt, you'll have no problem with both gun and pants staying up and staying put. The suede covered paddle acts kinda like Sansabelt slacks in keeping pants up, providing you have a decent fit in the first place with your pants.
The name "hip hugger" is dated and probably was dated when the holster was introduced. But the holster does as advertised and named: it hugs the hip. Other paddle holsters tend to stick out a bit from the belt and body. Not the Bianchi. It's 90% as concealable as a like belt holster worn in the same 4 O'Clock to 5 O'Clock position.
Of course, the paddle lends itself to easy on, easy off while maintaining a secure hold when being worn. It distributes the weight well and is a secure riding holster.
I've never seen one of these hip hugger holsters for a 4" N frame or for a 2.5" K frame Smith or I frame Colt. You commonly see them on auction sites for 1911's, snubbies both J frame and Detective Special, 4" K frame revolver and the Walther PPK. That's the one's I usually see.
I'd be nice to have one of these for a 4" N frame and a 2.5" I frame Colt. I don't know when Bianchi quit making the Hip Hugger, but I'd sure like to have one for a Glock 19, 26 and 21. I'd like to have one of these for a SAA, and the Ruger Blackhawk with the 4 and something" barrel. It'd be great to see this whole model of holster come back as originally sold but for the many new guns on the market now.
I have tried other paddle holsters. The Galco paddle holster didn't do it for me. It had a great holster for a J frame, and was an open top affair that fit my Bodyguard Airweight just fine, but the paddle was too small, was affixed too far out from the holster and just didn't have the right ergodynamics to work for me. Even with a heavy duty belt on and holding a lightweight gun coming in at 15 ounces unloaded, it was floppy. Way floppy. To me, if you lowered the attachment point of their paddle and made the paddle larger in both width and depth, it would ride better.
Fobus paddle holsters work well for what they do. They sometimes do draw with the weapon, despite tight belt and proper wearing procedures. They are comfortable but most of the ones for larger guns like the 1911 are not as concealable as the Bianchi Hip Hugger for some guns. They seem to stick out from the body a bit more than the Bianchi model. I plan to, at least one day, get some suede and glue it to the Fobus paddles, then have a seamstress friend with a heavy duty sewing maching sew around the edges of the paddle to make it more Bianchi like. I plan to add a special strip of leather to the "retaining bump or ledge" on the exterior of the paddle to make it more pronounced. I'll note that the Bianchi Hip Hugger does not need a retaining lip because of the suede covering and the paddle design itself.
I've long been a fan and user of vintage Bianchi products, going back to the time when they weren't vintage but were new. The Askins Avenger is a favorite for many semi-autos, and I've been a longtime user of the entire line of holsters made around the #5 holster.
To me, for a double action revolver or a Goverment sized 1911, I'm hard pressed to think of a better carrying holster than the venerable Bianchi #5. And for many uses, the 58l is my go to holster. Yes, there are designs by custom makers and smaller companies that I like and use as well, but years later, I still find myself often reaching for the Hip Hugger holster for various guns.
Posted by THE FISHING MUSICIAN at 5:03 AM