Since beginning my conceal carry journey many years ago I have almost exclusively used kydex holsters. I've always known that hybrid holsters are a popular option, but I had never tried them myself. Wanting to ensure that I'm a well rounded instructor and writer, I decided to change this. With this in mind, I reached out to other Rangemaster instructors searching for recommendations and loaners. John Corriea of Active Self Protection recommended I try something from Black Arch. In his words "I liked it enough to invite them to be a sponsor of ASP". With that level of praise, I ordered my own Black Arch Protos-M.
Construction and Design
Hybrid holster designs are fairly straightforward. There is a kydex shell for the holster, usually covering the front of the pistol, that is mated to a leather or synthetic backer. This is supposed to provide improved comfort against the skin, with added safety from the rigidity of the kydex shell. I'm a big fan of the kydex shell on the Protos-M, and Black Arch adds some unique features to this concept.
First, the kydex shell fully encloses the trigger guard, which is a rarity for hybrids. This greatly improves safety as well as retention, as the pistol is retained via the trigger guard. The additional coverage of the trigger guard is a welcome addition. The improved security and safety is something often lacking in traditional hybrid holsters.
Black Arch slightly flares the mouth of the shell for easier re-holstering. Another stand-out is actual support for slide mounted optics. Most hybrid holster are not cut for optics, while others, like the Alien Gear CloakTuck 3.5, feature massive kydex shields, adding unnecessary bulk. Optics are supported by the backer, keeping them off of the wearer's skin
The leather backer is very nicely cut, which is another welcome change from typical hybrid designs. I can actually achieve a full, unimpeded, firing grip with this holster. There is no unnecessary material here, making for a very small footprint, which helps improve comfort and concealment.
A large portion of the leather backer is covered by Dri-Matrix, which is padded mesh imbedded in the leather, to improve comfort and breathability. The Dri-Matrix material feels fairly cheap, and is a bit coarse on the skin. Portions of Dry-Matrix directly behind the shell are surface level only, with the pistol being supported exclusively by leather on the backer side. The wings of the holster feature Dri-Matrix surrounded by leather, allowing for a little bit of air circulation.
Black Arch offers a wide variety of options for belt attachments. From simple plastic clips, to Ulticlip and Discreet Carry Concepts, wearer's have their choice between several metal and polymer options. I chose the standard Black Arch metal clips for my holster, wanting to see how they fare compared to my preferred DCC options. These clips are better than I expected. They are low profile, with a dark finish to fight corrosion. Retention was consistently solid on my belt, though not to the level of DCC clips.
Front and rear belt attachments feature three adjustments for ride height, which also can impact holster cant. I opted to keep both clips in the middle height. This maximizes my concealment and access compared to the other positions. However, I would sometimes scrape my hand on the grip side clip, as it stays very close to the pistol in the middle position. The lower position pushes the holster too deep into my pants for rapid and reliable access, making positioning a compromise. Angling the belt clip outwards helps mitigate this problem, but could also reduce retention on the belt due to less ideal angles.
Retention is very good on the Black Arch Protos-M. Thanks to the fully enclosed trigger guard, retention is comparable to most quality kydex holsters. With a definitive "click" upon drawing and holstering, you know when the pistol is fully seated. I was able to wrestle with my family and maintain positive control of the gun. This holster stands above other hybrid offerings in this regard.
Holster Use and Wear
Before venturing out into the real world, I decided to wear the Protos-M around the house for familiarity. Arriving in early July, I knew I'd get some good data regarding the holster's resistance to sweat. The first day I wore the Protos-M for 3 hours around the house doing normal chores like vacuuming, in addition to normal lounging throughout the rest of the day. This surprisingly results in the backer starting to curl inward slightly near the backplate of my pistol. The next day two hours were spent doing light yard work, to include pulling weeds and watering plants, causing mild sweating. This results in additional curling of the backer. At this point, the backer is curling enough to cause concern.
One of the major concerns with leather and hybrid holsters is curling of sweat guards. This can, and has, resulted in negligent discharges of firearms, with potentially deadly results. While I expect this to eventually happen with any leather holster, the speed at which the backer began to degrade was a little shocking. I've seen this problem happen at a faster rate with lower quality holsters, but my hopes were high for the Protos-M.
On the topic of sweat, this holster gets soaked very quickly, and stays wet for a long time. Both the leather backer and Dri-Matrix suck up sweat, taking over an hour to completely dry out after my short sessions of yardwork and housework. When wearing the holster continuously, the sweat takes even longer to dry, quickly creating irritation on the skin due to moisture. Sweat also managed to seep through the backer, causing my pistol to be in direct contact with sweaty leather for extended periods of time.
When not sopping wet, the Protos-M is actually fairly comfortable for a hybrid holster. This is directly attributable to the relatively small footprint of the holster. With less material in the waistband, the holster is putting less pressure on the body. Additionally the smaller size also helps it to better fit in your pants, and to not be unevenly effected by movement. Again, the Dri-Matrix isn't terribly comfortable, but the leather features a suede-like texture against the body, which is better than the rough-out leather found in the competition.
Final Thoughts on the Black Arch Protos-M Hybrid Holster
The Black Arch Protos-M gets a lot right for a hybrid holster. The small footprint and the fully enclosed trigger are huge wins for the design. Unfortunately, the rapid curling of the backer is a massive problem. You should replace your holsters once they start to deform or break. When that happens within the first day of wear, you're gonna be bankrupt in no time at all. If Black Arch could improve the backer to remove this problem, the Protos-M would be the best hybrid on the market. Until then, I cannot recommend this holster as deforming sweat guards are a huge safety hazard.
If you want to try a Black Arch Protos-M for yourself, they're available >>HERE<<. Pricing starts at $99 and goes up to $113 depending on belt loop selection.