BlackHawk Level III SERPA Duty Holster

Last year at SHOT Show ('06) I was delighted to see a prototype of the Xiphos pistol light. Manufactured to the specifications of the guys who own Night-Ops (part of the BlackHawk family) and based on their decades of experience in low-light environments, I expected great things. This year at SHOT Show I was delighted to see the next evolution: a single 3V battery-driven LED light called the Xiphos NT. Now, typically, when you get a new light--and this is an entirely new light--you have to wait about six months for the industry to catch up and make a holster for your weapon/light combination. This is the power of BlackHawk: the light and the holster were released at the same time. Designed for use with any Glock 17/22/31, the SERPA Level III duty holster was updated to work with the Xiphos NT mounted on any of those pistols. Here's the kicker: go back and read that line again: Level III duty holster for a pistol with light mounted. That's never before been done in the industry.

This review is actually going to cover three items, all available from BlackHawk Products Group:

  • The BlackHawk SERPA Level III Duty Holster for Glocks with the Xiphos NT mounted, and
  • The BlackHawk Demonstrator weapons, and
  • The Night-Ops Xiphos NT pistol light

Let's start out with the holster. Last year BlackHawk CQC introduced their Level III duty holster that was based on their by-then famous SERPA off-duty and plainclothes line of holsters. They had been producing the Level II duty holster and refused to produce a Level III holster until they could find a way to make it as intuitive and safe as the Level II. They succeeded, and at SHOT Show 2006 they were showing off the SERPA Level III duty holster. I have two SERPA Level IIs: one for my Glocks and one for my 1911. Not a company to sit around on their laurels, before the Level II was fully pushed into the market they had been working on creating the Level III. From conversations had with representatives of BlackHawk during the 2006 calendar year, I knew they were trying hard to find a way to make a Level III SERPA holster for a light-bearing weapon. The challenge was this: the SERPA technology uses an internal locking mechanism that hooks onto the trigger guard. If a light was mounted--and protruding out from the side of the pistol--then the mechanism that hooked the trigger guard would have to be moved. Otherwise it would be in the way of the light. Since two objects can't occupy the same space at the same time, BlackHawk had to find a way to get the trigger guard hook around the light. Thinking outside the box, they came up with a different option: they offset the light on the rail mount.

If you take a look at the picture (left) you can see the holster has the traditional bulge in the lower portion to accept a pistol mounted light. You should also take note of the Pivot Guard (what other companies call a "hood") and the SERPA release lever. If you're familiar with the appearance of the Level II or Level III SERPA Duty Holster, then this holster looks pretty much the same. BlackHawk just added space for the XiphosNT light from Night-Ops. (More on the Xiphos below).

I have already tested the SERPA Level II and Level III holsters extensively. Some things have changed on the Level III, though. During the 2006 SHOT Show it was clearly demonstrated that the Pivot Guard could not be closed unless the pistol was holstered. Thanks to the automatic function of the SERPA lock, if you drew your weapon and then had to go hands-on with a subject, jamming your gun back into the holster meant it was locked in and secure. You could put the Pivot Guard back in place when circumstances permitted. Apparently some folks didn't feel like this was safe enough; they were concerned that the Pivot Guard would somehow close with the gun out of the holster making it impossible to quickly reholster. So, BlackHawk upgraded the design and now the same release mechanism that opens the Pivot Guard has to be held to close the Pivot Guard. This makes closing the Pivot Guard a very conscious and purposeful action. It's not something that happens by accident.

For those of you who aren't already familiar, the BlackHawk SERPA duty holsters are manufactured from injection molded carbon fiber composite which provides a great level of strength. Now I don't use the word "great" lightly. Back a couple years ago when BlackHawk came out with the first SERPA holsters I received a T&E unit for my 1911. Adding an extra hole I suspended the holster from a tree branch and holstered my 1911 blue gun. I then did a couple of pull ups before the trigger guard on the blue gun broke. Using an unloaded real 1911 I did pull ups until I was tired. The holster didn't break, crack, nothing. They are amazingly strong.

So, let's look at the light. The brains behind the XiphosNT are Ken Good and Vaughn Baker of Strategos International and Night-Ops. Night-Ops is part of the BlackHawk Products Group family. I guess it was a couple years ago that Ken told me about his intention to develop a single-cell pistol mounted light. I thought that was a great idea, since that would make the pistol light narrower than other contemporary lights. Reduction of bulk is always good, especially if it can be accomplished without giving up light output or runtime. Night-Ops has accomplished this quite well AND increased versatility. The XiphosNT is powered by one--that's ONE--3V CR123 lithium battery. Using an LED lamp assembly, it produces a reported 65 lumens for more than two hours of constant run time (production lights will use an LED emitter that cranks between 120-130 lumens). As if that isn't good enough they found a way to program the XiphosNT so that, with proper manipulation of the touch pressure switch, it will strobe just like its cousin, the Gladius.

Having dealt with a number of pistol-mounted lights in the past, I always felt that mounting and dismounting had to be improved. Even with a spring loaded locking bar you could only mount certain lights on certain rail systems and with other pistols (i.e. the H&Ks), you had to have a clamped-on light. Since BlackHawk doesn't manufacture handguns (yet?) they had no proprietary interest in making the light work with any specific brand of pistol. But they DID want to make sure that the XiphosNT would work with as many pistols as possible. The end result was their Quick-Cam mounting system that allows the light to be put on any handgun with rails; no sliding required.

I've been having a blast playing with my sample XiphosNT but have thus far not mounted it on anything other than the BlackHawk Demonstrator gun it was provided on. As I type this though, I have range time TOMORROW and it's going to be under a real barrel with some bullets being put downrange. If anything negative rears its ugly head, I'll be sure to do a follow up sidebar report next week. Now, on to those demonstrator guns...

As you can see in all of the above pictures the demonstrator weapon used is gray--not red and not blue--gray. BlackHawk has begun manufacturing their own line of what they call Demonstrator guns available in gray or safety orange. The new BlackHawk catalog shows Demonstrator guns available in the following models:

  • Glock 17/22/31
  • Beretta 92/96 series
  • S&W J-Frame revolver

This is just one more example of how BlackHawk seems to be always growing with the specific goal of supporting those who work--or teach--behind triggers.