If you search “appendix IWB holsters” on the internet, you will surely encounter the G-Code HSP INCOG and the PHLster ACCESS/Skeleton. I decided to get both, and decide which one I might like better. I picked the ACCESS over the Skeleton because I prefer a shirt guard for my holsters.
* Keep in mind that the comfort of carry is quite subjective, and different body-types would find different holsters more comfortable or not.
* Also, PHLster focuses on making holsters for Glocks and M&Ps. If you have a handgun from another manufacturer, AND live in the Philly area, you could possibly go to their workshop and have a custom holster make for your handgun.
* For a comparison between the INCOG and the INCOG Eclipse (mod version), read this post.
Summary of the holsters
The G-Code HSP INCOG ($69.95 + ~$10 shipping) is a kydex holster with 1 or 2 injection molded belt clip attachment. It has adjustable retention and an optional add-on attachable magazine carrier (mag-caddy). It comes with a layer of suede-like material on the holster (a.k.a. “tactical fuzz”), which gives a bit more comfort on the skin.
(NOTE: There are a lot of internet sources that claim that the INCOG holster shell is injection molded. Part of the confusion comes from the youtube video that Travis Haley himself did on the INCOG, and mentioned that it was injection molded. I contacted G-Code to confirm that the only injection molded part of the INCOG are the belt clips).
G-Code have always made top-notch quality OWB holsters, and are probably best known for its RTI wheel quick-attachment systems. In 2013, G-Code collaborated with Haley Strategic Partners (HSP) to create the INCOG as their IWB solution. As of late 2014, G-Code and HSP introduced the Eclipse clip system, which allows the belt clip to be mounted more towards the center of the holster (NOTE: here is a comparison of using the Super Mojo riser on the INCOG holster vs. the original INCOG). Lastly, a version of the INCOG for light-mounted handgun is due to appear in 2015 (INCOG Shadow).
The obvious strength of the INCOG is its adjustability and modularity. You could adjust the cant, height, and retention strength of the holster. It could come with either half or full shirt guard. You could attach a magazine carrier if that is preferred. Using 2 belt-clips allow for very stable positioning, whereas using 1 belt-clip enables more flexibility in movement (i.e., slightly adjusting the position/cant as you stand/sit). You could even order 4-holes/5-holes belt-clip for super-deep concealment (not really recommended due to difficulty of drawing from such deep concealment). Earlier INCOGs have had some issues with the belt-clips being too “loose”, but this problem seems to have been fixed.
- Quality: Top notch in terms of material and finishes (super smooth edges).
- Attachment: Height-adjustable belt-clip attachment system very easy/quick to put on/off.
- Retention: Comes with a medium amount of retention. Screw-adjustable retention. (I added more retention by switching the spacer at the retention screw).
- Material: Kydex shell and injection molded belt-clips.
- Option of a half/full shirt guard
- Option to attach a magazine carrier
The PHLster ACCESS ($59 + $7.50 shipping) is a wrap-around kydex holster with 1 soft belt loop attachment using the Ravens Concealment strut (a 2nd belt loop could be added by using an attachment system, $12 extra). It offers a full shirt guard, which I preferred anyway. For $3.75 more you can get a adhesive suede patch (the ones dancers use to put in their shoes) to add some comfort to where your skin meets the holster the most.
PHLster is a company started by Jon Hauptman, who also hosts the Youtube channel PhillyEDC (includes detailed tutorial on DIY kydex holsters). Jon started by sharing the method of DIYing kydex holsters, and eventually came up with the PHLster Skeleton, a wrap-around kydex holster that has minimal kydex material, and known for its quality. The ACCESS was the answer to customers wanting a slightly more substantial holster (covering the whole slide of the gun even for full-size handguns), which aids those who frequently trains and need to re-holster a hot gun.
PHLster holsters are known for its very strong retention. As Jeffrey Bloovman in Armed Dynamic calls it a “FUCK YOU level of retention“. There was a time when the ACCESS used the G-Code clips for attachment. However, its retention was so great that many people were yanking the entire holster off the belt, so PHLster adapted the Pull-on-Dot loop to increase the strength of attachment.
- Quality: Top notch. One of the best finishes in terms of edges.
- Attachment: Height-adjustable belt-loops with mil-spec Pull-the-Dot fastener.
- Retention: Very strong. No screw-adjustment. You could always heat the kydex and re-shape it.
- Material: black kydex shell, injection moulded strut, nylon belt-loop
- Full shirt guard
- Optional red-dot optic cut out.
- NOTE: Older version of the ACCESS used the HSP belt-clip, but the owner of PHLster explained in a video why he switched to using the belt-loop + strut combo, which I’ll also explain below.
NOTE: Both holsters cost about $70-80 (including shipping), and the wait time is also about 4-6 weeks.
TIP: I got the HSP INCOG through a 3rd party seller, thereby skipping the wait time and it came with free-shipping. always check if there is some used holster for sell on ebay/gunbroker/armslist or other sites! Skip wait time, and usually like-new quality. Many people sell their holsters because they found a more fitting one for themselves!
My experience with the INCOG and ACCESS
For both holsters, I went through the following 3 phases: 1) loving it out of the box, 2) adjusting the shit out of it, and 3) settling on the present config and don’t really fiddle with it anymore. Current config are as follow:
- INCOG without mag caddy – Use 1 clip near the trigger guard; moved clip down 1 slot (top 2 holes of 3-hole clip is used); carry around 2:00-2:30.
- INCOG with mag caddy – 2 clips (of course), carry around 2:00 with slight modification to the mag caddy.
- ACCESS – Moved strut down (top 2 holes of 3-holes strut is used. I removed the 3rd hole with a dremel); use the middle hole for the belt loop; carry around 2:00.
NOTE: I carry the ACCESS with a very good gun belt (webbing or leather) at all times.
- I have tried mounting the ACCESS on a full-grain leather belt. When drawing, you are more likely to pull your belt up than drawing the gun. A lot of people emphasize the use of a “good gun belt” in your EDC. That is a great suggestion, but honestly for some smaller guns, you can get away with a decent leather belt. The Shield is one of those handgun you can get away with -usually-, such is the case when I use the INCOG. Not with the ACCESS, the amount of retention mandates the use of a very stiff belt, don’t skim on it (if you’d prefer not to use a stiff gun belt, skip the ACCESS).
There are 3 things to consider when evaluating a holster (as far as I know).
- Ergonomic for obtaining a strong grip: This is one that is often overlooked. Some holsters are extremely comfortable, but almost impossible to get a proper strong grip without re-adjusting AFTER drawing. That is a big X. When every moment counts, re-adjusting for a strong grip after a draw is a huge waste of time and potential hazard.
- Comfort & ease of carry: It is human nature to avoid uncomfortable things. If there is a little piece of rock in our shoes, we won’t just ignore it and keep walking. We’d most likely stop and shake the rock out. If a pair of new shoes turn out to be not comfortable, guess what? We don’t wear it as much as our old, should-be-replaced pair. A comfortable holster encourages you to just put it on, and then go about your day as if it is not there. An uncomfortable holsters constantly reminds you that “I am here, digging into you!”, and next thing you know, you don’t carry it no more. Any well-designed holsters should be relatively comfortable, although this is always subjected to the body-shape of the actual user as well.
- Concealibility: Ideally, carrying outside the waistband will give the best ergonomic AND comfort, but it will totally fail the concealibility test for most outfit (unless you never take off your jacket). A good IWB holster should be easily concealed, shirt tucked in or not. Yes, the belt-clip and loop matters too.
Ergonomic for obtaining a strong grip
Both the INCOG and ACCESS have adjustable heights. I moved the belt-clip/strut one slot down for both holsters, which pushes the holster higher, allowing for a proper grip. On this end, since the adjustment is in set increments, hopefully one of the 3 height adjustment you can get from the INCOG, or the 3×3 adjustment on the ACCESS (strut height and belt-loop height) will fit you. Full-grip, CHECK.
I was able to dial the retention of the INCOG (with a little mod due to my preference for tighter retention) to where it won’t fall out if I shake it hard while up-side down, but I also don’t feel like I need to yank it really hard to draw. The F-ing amount of retention in the ACCESS holster was slightly daunting at first, but I’ve actually gotten used to it. Giving a really positive draw while the ACCESS is on a quality belt actually allows for a very nice draw. Smooth-draw, CHECK.
Speaking of retention. Both holsters gives a very audible pop/click when you holster. That is a nice thing to have so you can know it is securely holstered.
Comfort & ease of carry
Ease of carry is positively correlated with likelihood to have it on you when you need it (i.e., carry at all times). Both of these holsters are similar in comfort to me. There is a little less material on the ACCESS, and the profile is a bit slimmer due to the belt-clip/loop attachments. However, subjectively, I don’t feel the difference when I’m carrying it (the difference may be more noticeable for full-size handguns).
The INCOG belt-clip is slightly faster to put on/off, but once you get a hang on how to secure the Pull-on-Dot on the belt-loops, it is really not significantly slower to use the belt-loops.
Concealibility (i.e., printing)
I find them equally easy to conceal since they are similar in profile and I carry around the same position. However, here is where the belt-clip and belt-loop have their own strength and weaknesses. The INCOG belt-clips have a tilt that would push the handgun closer to your body, which reduces the printing of the grip. You’ll end up with a slightly wider waist band due to the gap between the grip and the belt, but on the issue of printing, this reduces printing.
The ACCESS belt-loops have the advantage of just looking like any belt-loop. It also can serve to look like a key belt loop by adding an ITW snap hook. People often carry keys on these belt-loops, and to me, it is much less awkward to be seen with a belt-loop than a plastic belt-clip.
So which one is better? I think its situational.
At this point, I’m keeping both. I think the INCOG is my go-to when I am in my casual wear. It allows me to comfortably carry an extra magazine. If I foresee myself in less comfotable position throughout the day, I’ll take the mag caddy off, or use the ACCESS. The ACCESS will be my go-to for more formal wear since it has a slightly slimmer profile. Importantly, even though both the INCOG clips and ACCESS belt-loops are “tuck-able”, I’d much prefer showing a belt loop (then attaching my key-chain on it) than having a plastic clip hanging on my belt.
But if you really have to only pick one….
- If you want optionssss (retention, cant, guards, number of clipsss, mag caddy)? Go with the INCOG.
- If you don’t want to always use a super stiff belt? Go with the INCOG.
- If you want simple and secure (i.e., strong retention, strong belt attachment), get the ACCESS.
- If you prefer belt-loops so it would look less funky with formal wear, get the ACCESS.
There is one thing I didn’t mention before. If you like to put skate-tape on the slide for press check, skip the ACCESS. It has such a nice/tight fit that tape on the slide will significantly affect the draw.
Alternatively, go ahead and buy both and try them out, and then sell the one you like less. The resale price of either of these holsters are pretty high both because of the quality and because of the wait-time. Many people don’t want the wait-time of 4-6 weeks, so even if you sell it at the same price as their website, there should be no problem getting them out the door. Word of caution, you might end up liking both holsters and keeping them both, and that is what happened to me.
RELATED NOTE: Why would we pay $60+ for a holster when there are many options at the $30-$40 level?
Here was my experience. My first holster was a kydex holster from ebay (new), and an Alien Gear hybrid holster. At a glance, all kydex holsters look very similar. It led me to believe that a $30 kydex holster will be just the same as a $60 one (or so I hoped). Here is the break down on why I decided to purchase and use a ‘better’ quality holster’ now.
- Adjustability – the cheaper kydex holster has a belt-clip that is not adjustable in terms of cant nor height. It had a slight 10 degree cant, and is really not ideal for appendix carry where you’d want 0 degree cant.
- Quality – The fit and finish is simply not as good in the cheaper holsters. Sharper corners, uneven rivets, etc.
- Attention to details –
I. the cheaper kydex holster was molded around the M&P Shield with the safety at the “off” position, which resulted in it disengaging the safety when holstering. (BIG PROBLEM. I contacted the seller and the seller replied saying I shouldn’t be using the safety anyway. The “your trigger finger is the safety” argument. Now THAT is a snobby reply…it is not up to you, the holster maker, to decide for me, the customer, rather I should use the safety or not).
II. The fit of the Alien Gear Holster was quite off (shown in this video), which rendered it not really usable. However, kudos to the customer service guys at Alien Gear, they were willing to replace it free-of-charge after I emailed them. The replacement shell fits much better. But again, this showed some QC issues.
Really, just those 3 reasons alone have kept me away from most low-cost holsters. But additionally, here are two additional reasons why I support G-Code and PHLster when there are obviously holster makers borrowing their design and selling it for a fraction of the price.
- Supporting Research & Design – The INCOG holster introduced some revolutionary designs. Their belt-clips are tilted to push the gun closer to the body, thus reducing printing. Their attachable magazine carrier design made use of the empty space next to your holster when carrying IWB (see my post on modifying the mag caddy).
Low-cost holsters usually borrow designs from other companies and produce a lower-cost version of it. In reality, this is a recognition to a good design, and also allow customers tight on a budget to have get their hands on proven designs. However, research and design requires money, and part of the cost to a top-notch holster is in the R&D effort, which I’d like to support.
- Supporting those who gives back to the community – Jon from PHLster have always shared his new ideas on improving the kydex holsters to the community of gun owners and holster makers through his Youtube channel. Ideas such as adding spacers between the strut and holster, adding suede patches, making a suede-wrap kydex holster, the problem with using the belt-clips with strong-retention holsters. He could easily have kept these information to himself and his team, but instead, he shared with the community, allowing others to make similar improvements. Similar to supporting R&D, I like to give my support to folks who see pass just their own business, but also the community as a whole.