High in the Beaverhead mountains of Idaho, my boots crunched along a snowy ridgeline. Spaced a few feet apart from my compatriots, we trudged on into the fog, the snow beading off our jackets in long dotted lines. Suddenly, as we approached our lunch site, the eerie howl of wolves cut the mist, no more than a few hundred yards away at the bottom of the ridge. Glancing down at my right hip-belt, I saw the reassuring Olive-drab of my Wilderness Safepacker effortlessly concealing my trusty little 1911, and couldn’t suppress a comfortable smile.
Over the course of several hunts this season, I had the pleasure of testing out this hardy little “un-holster” from Wilderness Tactical Products. The sort of carrying setup perfect for avid backpackers, the Safepacker is made from a combination of Cordura nylon and thick closed-cell neoprene padding, and comes in a variety of sizes. Originally designed to protect a firearm and reload for armed mountain-rescue teams, the all-encompassing design of the Safepacker has made it a boon to those looking for a little concealment in the backcountry, as well as additional protection for their sidearm.
The Safepacker mounts to a hip belt, belt or any other object via a long Velcro loop, which itself attaches below the exterior weapon flap for additional stability. The flap covering your pistol closes via a buckle (which you can run connected or disconnected, depending on your need for either quicker access or convincing concealment). Once the buckle is disengaged and the flap is pulled up, the handle of your pistol is exposed for an easy grab, aided by the fact that the front of the holster is held together with a long Velcro strip, meaning the further inside you push your hand, the more the holster opens, negating any bind. Is it the quickest draw in the world? Of course not. But it is quicker to access than you would think, and yields total concealment in exchange. On top of the holster runs a nylon handle, with two plastic D-loops as additional attachment points.
Now of course, the Safepacker is far from the only backcountry carry system out there, so why run one? Chest holsters and shoulder holsters can both be rigged to not interfere with the straps of a backpack (unlike traditional belt-mounted holsters), do not come with the concerns surrounding (semi-) off-body carry, and offer an easier draw. For me, the answer is twofold. My current setup precludes the former, as I run a Kuiu bino pack across my chest for quick and easy glassing. The latter is an option, however I like to keep my methods of carry consistent. While I wouldn’t mind running a shoulder holster in the scenario above, when scouting game or hiking during busier times of the year, I prefer to avoid running a visible pistol. Finally, while it does add an additional layer of complexity to defeat, the Safepacker on my hip-belt runs in roughly the same position as my IWB pistol, preserving long engrained body-mechanics on the draw.
Once attached to a hip-belt, the Safepacker resembles a standard hip-belt pouch—perhaps slightly oversized, but far from out of the ordinary. It fits a pistol—muzzle down in the standard position—and even allows for a spare magazine to be placed floorplate-up under the handle, separated from the pistol by a short pouched section at the bottom. Attachment is solid, and the draw feels natural. While the Safepacker wears Velcro on its attachment loop for added stability, the company does sell a dummy Velcro swatch that fits onto the rough side, so it does not tear up any soft-constructed belts when used without Velcro attachment. A variety of other accessories are also available for the Safepacker, such as The Packer Backer, which essentially turns it into a gun-toting fanny pack.
Clearly, I love the little “unholster,” as it solves a problem I’ve had for years: either hike with a firearm visible, or deal with an IWB under a hip-belt grinding sweat and dirt into your hip until its raw and bruised (I am now slightly embarrassed to admit how many hundreds of miles I have traversed in the latter configuration). Nothing, however, is perfect, so what drawbacks are there? Two have already been covered—while you *can* run it on your belt, the use I intend relegates the Safepacker to technically off-body carry, which not everyone enjoys, and the draw is a mite slower than a traditional, open-topped holster setup. In a backcountry environment, I don’t find either of these to be a terribly serious concern—if a bear can sneak up on me to the point I need worry about tenths of a second on the draw, I am clearly not paying enough attention to my surroundings. My third issue, however, is a little more pronounced.
The Velcro on the interior is not just useful for holding the holster onto a hip-belt, it is downright necessary. With the weight of a pistol in the pouch, if the Velcro is not attached, the pouch slips off the hip belt whenever you remove the pack or unclip the belt. Unfortunately, the Velcro swatch on my Kuiu Pro Lt pack system mirrored that on the Safepacker, so they did not connect, meaning almost every time we stopped for a rest and I removed my pack, my Safepacker would work its way off the hip-belt and end up loose on the ground (or in my hand). This problem has a simple fix: two Velcro patches—one with hook on both sides, the other with loop. This would allow you to reverse the Safepacker connections entirely if the pack (like mine) has the reverse of the assumed Velcro connection. I would love to see such swatches sold alongside the Dummy Velcro Swatch Wilderness Tactical Products does offer. It’s a simple thing, but would make a world of difference in terms of security, and peace of mind. Unfortunately, a two-same-sided Velcro swatch is far harder to find than you would think—indeed, I have not yet found one, though I do continue to scour the internet in search. Perhaps two adhesive Velcro swatches stuck back-to-back would work, though I myself have not yet tested this method.
The bottom line? The Wilderness Safepacker is a rugged and low-profile carry method designed for the backcountry. It integrates well with almost any backpack system, provides a comfortable and relatively quick draw, and even provides some protection from the elements. Its sole real downside comes only when used with certain types of hip belts, and even then, occurs only when they are unbelted. Rectifying this would be fairly easy, and is something I hope to see done in the future. Regardless, if you’re looking for a reliable and concealable backcountry-carry setup, the Wilderness Safepacker should top your list, as it provides the best balance of concealment, comfort and access of any piece of kit I’ve yet found. To learn more about the Safepacker, which comes in Black, Coyote Brown, Ranger Green, Urban Grey, Multicam, Marine Blue and Purple, not to mention 12 different sizes to fit a full range of handguns, visit thewilderness.com. MSRP as tested: $100.95