The Truth About the SERPA Holster


Sometimes, I get the idea that some things are universally known throughout the gun world. Then, I get exposed to the internet again. Typically, it’s low-information groups where training isn’t heard of, but sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you consider a high-information group. Recently, the discussion of SERPA holsters came up.

In my opinion, it’s well known that the SERPA series with active retention finger release devices had serious flaws in their design. This isn’t a chance to beat up Blackhawk—I do like the T-Series holsters and even the Omnivore. However, the SERPA series are simply not good holsters and certainly not acceptable for duty use.

This whole article is inspired by a few conversations on a social media post portraying the SERPA series. There were more than a few people either defending the SERPA or asking what’s the problem with the SERPA. Some of the statements in its defense included the classic “The SERPA is fine; it’s only considered bad because all the cool kids say it’s bad.”

It’s as if the world forgot about the flaws of the SERPA as the GWOT ended. Let’s take a moment to review why the SERPA series has fallen out of favor.

My Credentials and the SERPA Series

I try to stay in my lane as much as possible and listen to those more experienced than myself. There are very few topics in which I consider myself an expert, but I feel like an expert in SERPA. I even used to call myself a fan of the SERPA before I knew anything about holsters. I defended the holster when I thought I knew everything about guns and there was nothing left for me to learn.

Call it the follies of youth. My expertise on the SERPA series comes from around five years of using the SERPA. Well, less than five when you take away boot camp, SOI, and my first fleet position. I still have years of experience with the rig. I normalized and accepted its flaws, and due to the gun issue, I rarely ran into those flaws. It was like dating an abusive partner.

When you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like red flags. My rose-colored glasses came from the fact that I was issued a Bianchi holster in what I assumed was 1945. In reality, while the Bianchi wasn’t high-speed, it was still a fairly decent holster compared to the SERPA.

Problem 1 – Negligent Discharges

One of the big defenses I, and others, used to make was that NDs caused by the SERPA series were skill issues. In reality, I carried a DA/SA Beretta M9, and having the safety on was required. I wasn’t going to ND my Beretta.

Having the gun release where the trigger finger falls creates a fundamental problem. When you press the firearm release and pull upwards, you are creating the possibility of your trigger finger falling into the trigger guard and firing the weapon.

When we famously watched Tex Grebner give himself 1911-leg the problems started to become more obvious. With the rise of striker-fired pistols that lacked manual safeties, the problem grew. It grew enough that numerous competition circuits banned the rig, as did tactical instructors.

You can argue it’s a skill issue, and to a degree, it is. However, if the holster presents the possibility of an ND when you draw, then we have issues. Safariland doesn’t create that issue with their numerous holsters, so I don’t see why the SERPA warrants defense.

Problem 2 – The Button

One of the reasons I like the SERPA is the button. The button we press with the trigger finger to release the gun is quite intuitive. It becomes a natural part of your draw. I will say the button makes sense ergonomically but not practically. I carried an M9 as a grunt because I was a machine gunner.

We issued SERPA holsters with thigh rigs. An M240 is fired primarily from the prone or some form of rested position. This often exposed the gun to dirt and rocks, and all sorts of crap. The button, as great as it was, left a big gap between it and the holster body. This big gap was perfect for getting clogged with dirt, debris, and rocks.

In fact, one very frustrating problem I had was when a rock got stuck under the button. I couldn’t draw my gun, and I couldn’t get the rock out. I had to grab my bayonet, pin the rock into the corner of the slot, and start using a bigger rock to tap the bayonet. Eventually, I chipped enough of the rock away to dump it out and free the gun.

I eventually moved the holster from my thigh to my flak with an adapter. Admittedly, I also went with the chest-born gun because it was easier to cross water with, easier to use in vehicles, and kept dirt and grime off my gun and holster.

Problem 3 – The Mounting System Sucks

So there I was, Djibouti, Africa. It’s 0230 AM, and I am toting a 28-pound machine gun on a night patrol. It’s dark, and the PVS-14 is doing its best. We are on a long movement that traced the entirety of our bivouac. It’s a simple security patrol.

I suddenly felt a shift in weight on my thigh. The SERPA and my M9 had fallen loose and swung downward. Two of the three locking screws had unthreaded themselves. The patrol isn’t halting, so I’m trying to figure out what the hell to do in the dark while moving and toting an M240.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Chevon Ferrel fires at her target with an M9 Beretta pistol during a deck shoot aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Ferrel is an ammunition technician with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. These Marines executed a pistol qualification during Female Engagement Team training. The 15th MEU is embarked on the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anna Albrecht/Released)

I am able to free the gun and eventually dump it into my kangaroo pouch on the front of my flak. I managed to find the little screws, still attached to the holster—somehow—and pocketed them. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I’m long out of loc-tite, and the super shallow attachment screw seems to wiggle its way out often.

I’m always checking the rig, but I must have missed it before we stepped off. This wasn’t an isolated event. Another machine gunner in a sister squad had the same problem. I eventually moved my M9 to my chest and made tightening the screws part of my PCC/PCIs before any operation. The other gunner just tossed the SERPA into a sea bag and used his kangaroo pouch to tote his M9.

The mounts sucked, were always breaking or coming loose, and were a serious source of frustration.

The SERPA Today

I’m not sure why anyone would use a SERPA today. We live in an era where even the manufacturer of the SERPA series makes a better-competing holster. Even the notoriously cheap military moved to the Safariland series holsters, and so should you.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.