Milt Sparks Holsters Guide


Tommy Leatham and Jason Burton

Monkey Edge has been working on this for a while, and at long last, we get to share with the world that we are now working with Milt Sparks Holsters to get more of their gear to the world!

As long time users of Milt Sparks Holsters, and as purveyors of finely crafted leather goods, it was a natural fit for their leather goods to find a home at Monkey Edge. It's been an amazing process working with the craftsmen in Boise, Idaho. But, while many similarities exist between the knife industry and the custom holster industry - and we have been users and involved in both for a very long time - we decided to tap into one of our best resources on info on all things custom guns and leather: Jason Burton.

A crash course for those that don't know: Jason is a longtime user, lover, knowledgebase and craftsman of custom handguns. He is the sole man behind Heirloom Precision (do yourself a favor and go to his site after you are done here). He has authored books on the subject, has built some of the best examples of custom, bespoke 1911's and other pistols on the planet, has taught classes on making and shooting custom guns, and has built pistols for some of the most demanding and detail oriented users in the world. He has researched, investigated and learned more about handguns than most of us could ever dream about knowing any subject. And he's one of our good friends, a totally humble and downright cool guy. With all of that in consideration, he has made a living knowing all about custom handguns, and the accessories their users prefer. Basically, when he decides to talk about this subject, we all would do well to listen. 

So, when embarking on this new journey, we asked our pal Jason to help us convey the specifics of each Milt Sparks Models, as well as write up a preliminary guide about what you should be looking for and what details to keep in mind when selecting what Milt Sparks product is right for your needs. This will be updated as more products are added to our Milt Sparks Holsters lineup, so keep checking back. So without further ado, here is the guide that we have worked up with Jason!

Where to start?

Factors to consider when selection a holster

There are quite a few factors to consider when choosing a holster, not the least of which is the gun you’re intent on carrying. Given that you’ve already selected what gun you need a holster for, here are some other things to consider.

How much concealment do you need? Is it imperative the gun not be seen in the slightest or under any circumstance or do you need a more pragmatic level of concealment that easily hides the gun from a casual observer?

How will you dress around the gun? The holster is only part of the equation, the user must make some effort to hide the gun. If you’re the guy who wears a shmedium T-shirt and thinks no one will notice the large handgun worn in an OWB holster then you probably need to rethink your concealment wardrobe long before laying blame on a holster design.

OWB vs IWB? A general rule is that an inside the waistband (IWB) holster will be more concealable and easier to hide a gun in than an outside the waistband (OWB) holster. Whereas an OWB relies on a covering garment that is large enough and long enough to cover the entire gun, the bulk of the gun with an IWB holster is tucked away inside the pants leaving the grip as the only thing left to cover. Lighter concealment garments generally work better with an IWB holster but some accommodation will still have to be made for the block of steel you’re now attaching to your hip in both the covering garment and potentially pants size.

What’s your build? Often times skinny guys can easily hide a full-sized handgun in an IWB holster but might actually find an overall slimmer holster profile (Summer Special or Summer Special 2) to be more comfortable than something that has fore and aft loops. Conversely, a larger person or one who carries excess weight around the midsection might be able to tote a large handgun but finds the size uncomfortable and/or less concealable due to their own bulk. They may also need the stability offered by the offset loops of the Versa Max 2 due to a larger waist size.

How much access do you want to have to the gun? It should be obvious (but noteworthy to mention nonetheless) that an OWB holster will generally allow greater access to the pistol than an IWB. The position the gun is worn at and the ride height will both be a factor in this. As a general rule a gun that is worn on the strong side or just behind the point of the hip provides an exceptional blend of comfort, concealment, and natural access during the draw stroke.

You’ll notice we don’t sell any IWB holsters that bury the gun excessively deep in the waistband nor any small-of-the-back holsters. An IWB holster with an extreme low ride height might make a gun more concealable but it will also make it harder to attain a firing grip on the pistol since the clearance between the belt line and the front strap will be reduced. The latter mentioned method of carry seems to only work for make-believe Hollywood action heroes and are generally only popular with rank amateurs… so we’ll spare you from those.

Simple considerations on rake and ride height for a holster

For an inside the waistband (IWB) holster that is worn on the strong side a muzzle rear rake is generally desirable as it helps to position the butt of the gun out of the way and closer to the trunk of the body. This aids in concealment when tension from the belt is applied but, when taken to extremes, too much muzzle rear rake can make for an awkward draw stroke.

The height of an IWB holster should position the pistol high enough above the belt line to accommodate a full firing grip on the gun but low enough to provide balance, comfort, and retention against the wearer’s side. The latter is affected by the length of the pistol from the front of the trigger guard to the muzzle; a general rule of thumb is that a pistol with a grip heavy biased balance and a short muzzle needs to ride a bit lower.

For instance: a full size all steel 1911 Government Model rides considerably different than an HK P7M13. The Government Model is a more balanced gun due to its size, shape, and weight distribution; with the latter being affected in part by the number of rounds in the magazine. Note the length of a Government Model from the front of the trigger guard to the end of the muzzle; it is long and quite balanced against the weight in the butt of the gun. Now compare those factors to something on the extreme other end, the HK P7M13 which is very short from the trigger guard to the end of the muzzle and carries most of its weight in the butt of the pistol.

This weight distribution and overall difference in balance allows the Government Model to work with holsters that have a bit more variety in ride height; a full size 1911 is stable, concealable, and can be comfortable in basically all the offerings from the Milt Sparks product line. Whereas the HK P&M13 tends to work better with holsters that have a relatively lower ride of some type of wing/stabilizing material such as the Versa Max 2 or Executives Companion.

For an outside the waistband (OWB) holster the same considerations are at play for the angle of the pistol when in the holster. Straight drop holsters might have an advantage in access and speed but will position the butt of the gun more outboard of the wearer and thus result in a less concealable rig. A slight muzzle rear rake will help hide the butt of the gun in the similar manner as with an IWB rig.

Ride height for an OWB holster will have a larger effect on choosing a proper concealment garment than it will for an IWB holster. Whereas an IWB holster allows for the pants to conceal the muzzle end of the pistol, an OWB holster relies on a covering garment such as a jacket or shirt. The lower the ride for an OWB holster the longer the covering garment will need to be and the length of the pistol at the muzzle will also play into this.

Stitched sight rails or a molded sight rack?

You’ll notice some of the Milt Sparks offering have stitched sight rails (Summer Special, Summer Special 2, 55BN) while others (Versa Max 2, Executives Companion) have a moulded sight track. This is really just two different ways to accomplish the same thing and the choice is often necessitated by the overall design of the holster. The S/S, SS2, and 55BN all have a design that easily accommodates stitched sight rails while the VM-2 and EX have a holster body that more easily accounts for front sight clearance via detailed moulding.

In either case all of the holster designs crafted by the crew at Milt Sparks take into consideration the required clearance for the front sight during the draw. Whether detailed molding or stitched in rails, both will protect the front sight and insure a crisp sight picture upon presentation.   

Magazine carriers

When ordering a magazine carrier it is assumed that the user will wear them on the opposite side of their body from the pistol. A right handed shooter wears the spare magazine on their left side, a left handed shooter wears the spare magazine on their right side. Additionally, the carries from Milt Sparks are all properly constructed to have the bullets pointing forward in order to ensure the magazine is correctly oriented as it is pulled from the pouch.

When you place the order for the pouch we’ve already taken this into consideration, so simply order based on your dominant side.

About different Milt Sparks Holsters models

Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911

Summer Special

The Summer Special (S/S) is the classic IWB offering from Milt Sparks. Designed originally by Bruce Nelson in the late 1960’s, the Summer Special is often regarded as the IWB design by which all others are judged and the overall design has been copied, tweaked, modified, repurposed, and used for inspiration for countless other IWB offerings.

The holster as made by the crew at Milt Sparks is a simple premise of premium cowhide folded rough-side out and stitched along the bottom of the pistol. The rig features stitched sight rails, dual snap loops, and a metal reinforced mouth-band to insure easy one-handed holstering.

The S/S has a conventional 15 degrees of muzzle rear rake and is meant to be worn on the strong side or just slightly behind the point of the hip in the body's natural hollow. A trim design that is minimalist and low on bulk, the rough-side-out finish adds a bit of traction for the holster to resist shifting or moving out of place once the gun and holster have been secured by the belt.

The S/S is likely the highest riding of all the Milt Sparks offerings and as such it excels in carrying and concealing evenly balanced larger semi-auto pistols. Guns like the Government Model or other full sized 1911s, Commander Models, Hi-Powers, Glock 17/22/34/35, etc all work well with the Summer Special whereas smaller guns, say Glock 19 sized or even smaller, are likely better served with the Summer Special 2, VM-2, or Executives Companion.

The S/S remains the first choice for many a knowledgeable gunman who choose to tote a large pistols and is offered in natural with white stitching…. that’s it, so don’t ask for any other colors… but if you want the classic Milt Sparks IWB, this is the one.

Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911

Summer Special 2

The Summer Special 2 (SS2) takes all of the highlights from the original Summer Special and adds a few tweaks.

Like the original Summer Special, the holster body of the SS2 is a simple folded hide that is stitched along the bottom of the pistol making for an overall trim package. The SS2 shares the stitched sight rails and metal reinforced mouth-band of the Summer Special but adds a sweat-guard and removable dual snap belt loops. The removable loops allow the user to change for different width belts, exotic trim, or just color coordinate for all you fashion conscious gun-toters.     

The SS2 retains the same muzzle rear rake as the S/S but drops the ride height by about 1/2” while still allowing for a full-firing grip on the pistol during acquisition/draw stroke. The lowered ride height of the SS2, however, helps to provide a more balanced feel for smaller guns or semi-autos that are shorter at the muzzle. This is especially noticeable for pistols that have a more butt heavy balance due to the combination of magazine capacity and proportions of the pistol. The ride height of the SS2 further stabilizes smaller pistols that might start to feel like they want to “tip out” when worn in a higher riding holster.

The SS2 works exceptionally well with semi-auto pistols the size of a Glock 19 or smaller as well as with revolvers of all sizes. The holster comes standard with 1.5” loops and can be had in natural or black with either smooth-side out or rough-side out finish.

Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911Versa-Max 2 for full size 1911

Versa Max 2

Since its introduction in the late 1990’s the Versa Max 2 (VM-2) has become one of the most copied IWB designs. The holster has a metal reinforced mouth-band and sweat guard with a ride height and muzzle rear rake similar to the Summer Special 2… that’s about where the similarities end.

The VM-2 takes a steep departure from the previous Milt Sparks offerings by offsetting the loops fore and aft of the holster body vs. placing them directly on top. Many users find this loop configuration to provide easier concealment by reducing the profile of the holster as well as added stability on belt even when using a belt that might be less than optimal for carrying a handgun.

The VM-2 is meant to be worn on the strong side or just behind the point of the hip and the front belt loop is mounted to a slotted tab to allow the holster to conform to the user's body. The VM-2 provides proper clearance for a full firing grip and uses a molded sight track vs. the stitched sight rails found on the Summer Special or Summer Special 2. The ride height, shape, muzzle rear rake, and overall balance of the VM-2 make this holster work with just about a pistol of any size or shape… save something ridiculous like a Desert Eagle.

The VM-2 design can easily accommodate pistols from a full-size 1911 to a Glock 43 or Sig 365 as well as K-frame, J-frame, and even N-frame S&W revolvers. The VM-2 is also convertible to a “tuckable” holster by swapping out the snap loops for optional kydex clips.

Milt Sparks Holsters Executives CompanionMilt Sparks Holsters Executives Companion

Executives Companion

The Executives Companion (EX) has similar features to the Summer Special 2 but with a slightly lower ride height. The EX features removable loops that can be configured for different belt widths, trim, or color options as well as a sweat guard and metal reinforced top band. However, the EX differs from other Milt Sparks offerings by using a large holster body that both aids in comfort and balance for the holstered pistol.

The holster can accommodate pistols of any size from a Government Model to the baby-Glocks. Where the EX really excels is with the shorter barreled pistols where the larger holster body of the EX provides balance and stability to the holstered handgun. This is a great rig for the Glock 26/27, HK P7 series, Officers ACP or Defender length 1911s, SIG 365s, and more.

The EX is meant to be worn on the strong side or just behind the point of the hip and, like the Versa Max 2, the EX uses a moulded sight track vs. the stitched sight rails of the Summer Special and Summer Special 2. Many shooters find the larger holster body of the EX the ultimate in all day comfort.

55BN for 1911 Commander55BN for 1911 Commander


The Milt Sparks 55BN traces its lineage to the well worn and time tested #1 Professional model as designed by the late Bruce Nelson. While the Summer Special is the IWB that Bruce Nelson is most well known for, the #1 Professional is without a doubt the outside the waistband (OWB) holster he is most associated with.

The 55BN uses the same loop configuration as the #1 Professional; a tunnel loop on the back side of the holster body with a trailing loop to help pull the butt of the gun in close. However the 55BN as offered from Milt Sparks makes the addition of stitched sight rails and a steel reinforced mouth-band. The combination of these features as well as the relatively high ride of the 55BN makes this holster workable with just about every semi-auto pistol on the market.

The 55BN presents a very practical way to carry and conceal pistols of all sizes and the holster is available in either a straight drop or with muzzle rear rake. The belt loop configuration allows for easy use and positioning on the waistline, allows for straddling belt loops on the pants, and wearers of all shapes and sizes generally find this design workable and comfortable. 


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