Alien Gear Holsters Review
For Ankle, Paddle & Backpack Carry

May 14, 2018

If you subscribe to firearms magazines, you've probably come across an Alien Gear Holsters advertisement showing their catchy alien head logo above.  Because I subscribe to quite a few magazines, I have seen their ads many times and thought I needed to check them out.  I'm always looking for new and innovative products to review and their ads have always sparked my interest.

Recently I was contacted by the folks at Alien Gear to see if I would be interested in looking at their Ankle Holsters.  After taking a close look at their website and other products, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to evaluate their holster system.  I'm intentionally using the word system because if you purchase the right components, then you can have a system of parts that can be configured to carry your handgun in a variety of ways.  Because their products make a system of parts and multiple products, I'm going to try to cover this in a little more detail (so bear with me) because one of the key advantages of the Alien Gear products is the system aspect.  In my case, I decided to request components that would allow me to carry my S&W 9mm PC Shield.  Looking at their website, it seems that they carry holsters for about 43 different handguns from manufacturers such as Glock, S&W, Ruger, Sig, Kimber, Springfield, Taurus and 1911 styled pistols.


After studying their products I made a request for the following items for the reasons stated by each.  I felt like this would give me a good look at their system of parts which are part of their "ShapeShift Modular Holster System."  The Expansion Packs are options that you can add as "add-ons" to your cart after selecting the "Gun" and "Right/Left Handed" options from the drop-down box.  Based on their website, purchasing the expansion packs as "add-ons" seems to get you a 20% discount from the prices listed below.

  • ShapeShift Ankle Holster, SKU: SSTR-0806-RH, MSRP $61.88 - This was the primary reason for the review and would give me the opportunity to actually try out an ankle holster.  Getting this unit also gave me the basic holster platform so I can add further options (Expansion Packs) from there.
  • ShapeShift OWB Paddle Carry Expansion Pack, SKU: SSEPPA-C-15, MSRP $21.88 - This expansion pack allows me to carry OWB using the paddle carry or belt carry methods.
  • ShapeShift Backpack Carry Expansion Pack, SKU: SSEPBH, MSRP $23.88 - This expansion pack allows me to carry my pistol on my backpack shoulder strap.

The photo below shows what Alien Gear Holsters products were sent for review.  You probably already noticed that there are 4 items in the photo instead of 3.  When I made my request, I didn't fully understand what you get with each expansion pack so I also requested the thumb release which already came in the paddle carry expansion pack.  This make me think that Alien Gear should make sure at least one photo for each expansion pack shows everything you get inside the pack, or at least a list in the description, or both.  Note that clicking on most photos will bring up a high resolution image showing you greater detail.

Figure 1

Alien Gear ShapeShift Ankle Holster

In my case, the foundation for the Alien Gear Holster system was the ShapeShift Ankle Holster, which by the way I feel ShapeShift is a perfect name for this system because the name has an "alien" character and the holster does easily change "shape" to allow you to "shift" it to another carry location. 

If you receive the holster and expansion packs at the same time (like I did) and if you start playing with the components and getting them mixed up with what came in each package (like I did), don't worry about trying to figure out which items came in each package because Alien Gear provides a photo in the instruction manual showing the components that came inside the package (thank goodness).  I scanned the image below which shows what you get as well as quantity and gives names for each component.

Figure 2

The photo below shows what came inside the bag for the ankle holster and obviously Alien Gear does pre-assembly prior to shipment so that all you need to do is pull the holster out of the bag and put it on, which is very intuitive even without looking at the instruction manual.

Figure 3

I don't normally start a review with a manufacturer's advertising video, but I felt this was very relevant because after watching the video several times I feel it does a great job of showing the components, features, installation and use.  Because of this, I'm going to focus the rest of the review more on my review thoughts.

Figure 4 - Alien Gear ShapeShift Ankle Holster Video

The upper and lower strap assemblies are "made almost entirely of CoolVent™ neoprene and low profile hook and loop fasteners..."  Just as Alien Gear advertises, I did find the holster to be cool and comfortable.  Because my day job does not allow firearms at work, the majority of my time spent utilizing the holster was at night and weekends.  Once I put the holster on, it wasn't long before I hardly noticed it was there, so much so that I had to be careful when wearing shorts so that I didn't spook the neighbors when I went outside.  I did find that wearing the holster with longer socks was more comfortable than with the shorter style sock because the longer sock provided another level of cushion between the holster material and your skin.

The lower strap is intended to stabilize the holster by providing a pocket for the support spine to ride inside.  If for some reason you needed to quickly remove the holster, but wanted to keep the lower strap on, then the lower strap felt no different than wearing a snug sock.

Figure 4 - Lower Strap Outside                              Figure 5 - Lower Strap Inside

The photo below shows how the upper strap was arranged when I received it.  The outer shell assembly was installed and this system was ready to go.

Figure 6 - Upper Strap Outside

Figure 7 - Upper Strap Inside

The outer shell can be installed in several different ride heights to accommodate a variety of shoe heights and preferences.  The protruding blocks are where the ankle adapter and ankle slide lock attach and you can see that the holster could ride two positions higher and three positions lower giving it a total of 6 height positions.  There are actual six numbered positions and you can see positions "1" and "2" on top of the left protruding blocks.

Figure 8 - Outer Half Shell Installed

To remove or reposition the shell, you rotate the twist lock counterclockwise and then remove.  Next you slide the ankle slide lock down slightly and then it will come off.  The slide lock will lock both the outer shell to the ankle adapter and the ankle adapter to the upper strap assembly which I think is quite a clever system.

Figure 9 - Outer Half Shell Installation Components

This next photo shows the adjustable retention unit removed from the outer shell.  It is easily removed taking out the single screw.  You can adjust the level of retention force required to draw your pistol by using a square edge of a twist lock and inserting it into the center square socket and rotating.  As you rotate the socket, the little alien head will turn.  Rotating the socket clockwise will increase the retention level and counterclockwise decreases the retention level until it has no resistance force.  I found it surprising how many turns was required to increase or decrease force which is a good thing because it gives you a high fidelity of adjustment to your personal preference.  If you rotate too far clockwise it seem like the retention system would start making a clicking noise which I think means a part had become unthreaded.  Rotating counterclockwise seemed to reach the end of threads at a hard stop.  In my case when using this system as an ankle holster, I preferred for the retention on this system to be very little because it seemed that overall the pistol was held securely in place just from the upper strap wrapping around the shell and your leg.  If you thought you might be in for some sprints or jogging, then you might want to adjust the retention as needed.

Figure 10 - Adjustable Retention Unit Removed

When you flip over the outer shell you will see a trigger guard installed.  Removing the trigger guard is done by rotating the twist lock counterclockwise 90 degrees, pulling it off, and then sliding the trigger guard up out of the slots in the shell.  To reduce bulk and since the pistol is held firmly in place near your ankle by the outer shell and upper strap, the inner shell is not needed for ankle carry.  Although, the inner shell is included in this package to give you a complete shell system to use with other expansion packs.

Figure 11 - Trigger Guard Installed                          Figure 12 - Trigger Guard Removed                

The outer shell comes with the rotating adapter (splined thing sticking out) installed.  Each shell half is marked with the pistol type and also proudly displays the American flag indicating Made in America.

Figure 13 - Outside of Inner Shell                           Figure 14 - Inside of Inner Shell    

The inner and outer shells connect together with interlocking L shaped tongues and grooves which you can see at the right and left sides in the photo below.  There is also another set of locking features in the bottom of the holster below the barrel area.  These locking features are also how the trigger guard is attached when the inner shell is not used.

Figure 15

This ankle holster for my S&W 9mm PC Shield weighed in at 7.4 ounces which I feel overall isn't too bad.

Figure 16

Now that I have had the ankle holster several months and have used it many hours, I can honestly say I like it.  The key things that come to mind are that it is comfortable, holds the pistol securely in place and is easy to install or remove.  When I first pulled it out of the bag, it seemed like there were a bunch of parts that makeup this ankle holster and my general rule of thumb is simple is better.  Again, after using it, I'm convinced that the folks at Alien Gear did their homework and put some real engineering behind this system which seems to be overcoming any hesitations I have had on complexity.  Only time will tell, but so far the Alien Gear ShapeShift Ankle Holster has my vote as being a good ankle carry holster.

Alien Gear ShapeShift OWB Paddle Carry Expansion Pack

I also requested the OWB Paddle Carry Expansion Pack because another popular carry position is outside the waist band (OWB) and I'm also generally a fan of the paddle style holsters.  The pack contained all the components shown in the photo below except for those with the blue border which you use from the ankle holster set shown above.

Figure 17

The photo below shows what you get in the package and just like with the ankle holster, the basic paddle system comes preassembled.

Figure 18

The back of the paddle has an Alien Gear styled logo head which is a nice touch but in reality is never seen when in use.  The holster mount (the part that has the spline female socket and push button retainer) is attached to the paddle with two screws and square sleeve nuts at the top.  When installing the holster shell assembly to the rotating ring adapter, all you do is line up the splines to give you the orientation (angle) you want and press the button on the holster mount and slide the adapter into the socket firmly then release the button.  A little tug will verify the holster is securely in place.  This is a quick and easy operation and is one of the key benefits of this holster system.

Figure 19                             Figure 20                            Figure 21

The paddle style configuration weighed in at 5.1 ounces.

Figure 22

I decided to talk about the actual fit of the pistol in the holster in this part of the review because both components get used as opposed to ankle carry configuration.  Like most molded holsters today, the fit does a good job at matching that of their parent handguns.  In my case the fit was very good for the S&W 9mm PC Shield.

Figure 23

Figure 24

Since this expansion pack is really an OWB pack and not just a paddle pack, the pack came with a belt slide attachment. To configure this piece, you first remove the paddle and then install the belt slide.  The pack comes with two shims to shim out for a thicker belt along with the additional two screws and square nuts.  Once configured, the rest of the holster attaches just like the paddle attachment.  The gap for the belt is about 1.52" which is designed for a 1.5" width or less belt.

Figure 25                             Figure 26                            Figure 27

This view below shows the gap between the holster mount and inside shell.  If I were to have one key negative, it is this distance seems a little large and makes the side of the holster stick out more than necessary and may make the pistol print more on an un-tucked shirt.  Although, this gap is how they incorporated one of their best features which is how quickly and easily you can push the button and remove the holster from the attachment.  The ability to quickly pull the holster shell off and put it back on is a huge benefit from my perspective.  This feature alone makes using the belt attachment every bit as desirable as the paddle attachment for ease of holster install and removal.

Figure 28

This belt slide configuration weighed in at 5.4 ounces.

Figure 29

I found the paddle and belt carry to be on par with other holsters.  As with many belt carry holsters of this style, a good stiff belt always helps support the holster and handgun.  The additional distance that the shell sticks out due to the socket does create an additional twisting force on your belt, so again a stiff belt is better.  The socket allows you to get your desired angle and adjusting the retention force was quick and easy with no tools.

Alien Gear ShapeShift Backpack Carry Expansion Pack

The final piece of gear I wanted to checkout for this holster system was their Backpack Adapter so I also requested the Backpack Carry Expansion Pack.  The only thing that comes in this pack is the assembled backpack adapter.  From the image below, you can see all the other components with the blue border come from the complete holster package.  In my case, the thumb release did not come in the complete ankle holster package, but did come in the paddle carry expansion pack.  This might be a key point if you are not wanting the paddle system but still want the positive retention for your backpack carry.  This is also why I ended up requesting this thumb release as an extra and ended up with two parts.

Figure - 29

The backpack adapter was the only hardware item in this expansion pack.  This adapter also came fully assembled.

Figure - 30

The backpack adapter has the same splined socket so that the holster shell attaches to it just like the paddle or belt carry system above.

Figure 31                                                              Figure 32     

The backpack attachment comes with some webbing so that you can adjust the amount of clamping force on backpack straps with wider or thinner thicknesses.  The latch is actually very clever in how it locks over and then is secured with the two small pins.  You will probably need to watch my accompanying video at the bottom to fully understand.

Figure 33

Figure 34

This attachment weighed in at 5.3 ounces.

Figure 35

Just like with the paddle and belt configuration, this backpack configuration will stick out further due to the quick detach socket design.

Figure 36

When I first took a look at the gap between the two halves of this backpack adapter, I thought there is no way that will clamp on my padded backpack strap.  To my pleasant surprise, it clamped on and fit like a glove and actually looked like it could be a permanent part of this pack if desired.  In reality, there is no need to make it a permanent addition because putting it on and taking it off is so simple and only takes seconds.  With the attachment installed, clipping the holster shell in place is quick and easy.

Figure 37 - Front View

I tried to show how thick the padding was and how it clamped without me making any adjustment in the webbing on the adapter.  If for some reason you have a thicker strap, then I bet it would fit after making an adjustment.

Figure 38 - Side View

My thoughts on this backpack expansion pack is that it should be part of everyone's system who uses a backpack.  The only negative on this attachment is the same as that for the paddle and belt slide attachment.  Due to the socket design, the holster sits farther from your chest.  I didn't find it to be a functional issue, but instead it seemed more of a cosmetic thing.  My preference would be for pistol to sit closer to my chest.  Another thing I found was that I'm not a fan of the thumb release.  You need to push the gun down in the holster and then press the thumb release.  On my Shield, this seem awkward due to the amount of force needed to push on the pistol.  In the end, I adjusted the adjustable retention unit and found it to hold the pistol securely.


Bottom Line:

I really like the Alien Gear ShapeShift Holster System.  The system is based on real engineering and Alien Gear has been clever in how they approached the components in the system.  I found the ankle holster to be comfortable and functional and would recommend it to someone looking for this style of holster.  I also liked the OWB and Backpack Carry Expansion packs.  My only negative point is that due to how they have designed their quick release socket, the holster sits away from your body.  The positive point to the socket is that it is what makes this holster system so versatile by allowing you to quickly remove the holster shell and use it in another carry or fixed location.  Alien Gear has a good website so I suggest checking them out and looking at your options available along with their other styles of holsters.  I would consider this review to be a good example of the quality you get in their products and I was pleased with what I received.

One final thought... the Alien Gear products come with their "Iron-Clad Guarantee" which includes a Forever Warranty, 30-Day Test Drive and Free Shell Trades for Live on certain products.  In today's competitive market, forever warranties are becoming more popular and Alien Gear offering this is a big plus to their holster systems.

You can watch the video version of this review below.

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