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PHLster Enigma: Concealed Carry, No Matter the Wardrobe

As PHLster heads into its 10th year, it’s changing the concealment game. And yes, we’ve heard statements like that over the years too. Jon Hauptman, the founder of PHLster, has been supplying us with Kydex for more years than any of us care to count, and while we’re happy with the increasing sophistication of his products, getting concealed carry to work with women’s clothing and dealing with holsters and gear in the bathroom was a constant hassle. 

It seems like every single carry solution aimed at women released in the last decade presented significant safety and access concerns that seemed insurmountable. Many women stick with traditional holsters, continuing to struggle to find women’s pants with proper belt loops. PHLster told us they were working on a solution that would be revolutionary. With PHLster’s track history, we were cautiously optimistic rather than weary.

The new PHLster Enigma arrived, and at first glance, its name certainly fit. No, it’s not a piece of bondage gear, and you don’t need to look like Rudy Reyes to use it either. 

PHLster Enigma worn
The Enigma works with many dress and body types.

DEVELOPMENT

The PHLster Enigma isn’t a holster nor is it a belly band. It’s based on the idea of wearing a belt around your waist, under your clothing, and attaching a holster to it — a simple solution that often failed in execution in the past. Hourglass-shaped bodies, in particular, found the idea challenging, as the belt would continually ride up from the hips. Meanwhile, belly bands and corset holsters were often uncomfortable and lacked basic safety features such as trigger guard protection — or even a way to easily or safely reholster. Some fortunate concealed-carry cognoscenti snapped up rare examples of the Runcible Works YP Holster instead, which attached a hard Kydex holster to a belt system and added a leash attached around the upper leg and other features for a complete on-body solution. A few years ago, PHLster and Runcible Works began exploring how to make the YP Holster available to the masses, then added a number of refinements for increased comfort and more effective concealment. 

DESIGN AND DETAILS

The heart of the Enigma is the faceplate, laser cut from a lightweight, space-age polymer textile called Tegris by AXL Advanced. Your holster shell is bolted to the faceplate, providing a surface for the wing to press against and adjust grip positioning. Grip rotation and tilt of the gun are further optimized by attaching the two ends of the belt to different holes in the faceplate, allowing each user to individually set up the Enigma for their own concealment needs. While you can perform a series of micro-adjustments with different wings and belt attachments, excellent results can be had with default settings. 

The belt is a comfortable, washable, non-stretchy webbing that connects with a low-profile and quiet magnetic Fidlock buckle. The belt ships with a very generous length at 46 inches and can be easily trimmed to fit. 

PHLster is calling the final product a “concealment chassis,” but it’s more of a system or platform. The Enigma comes with a number of separate parts, and to finish it off you need a compatible holster. At the time of this writing, PHLster isn’t bundling the Enigma with a holster of your choice, though you can add one to your shopping cart at the same time. We wouldn’t be surprised to see them offer bundles in the future. 

PHLster Enigma disassembled
All the parts and pieces can absolutely be intimidating. Take your time with assembly and use a non-permanent thread locker when you’re all configured.

Any non-light-bearing AIWB holster with a concealment wing using 5/8-inch-on-center hole spacing, such as the Dark Wing, ModWing, or RCS VG2 is compatible (see sidebar for a pre-production example). Sidecar-type holsters with an attached magazine carrier are a no-go with the Enigma. 

Holsters without adjustable retention seem to work best, though many people have reported success with adjustable retention holsters as well. There are instructional videos available, but assembly is relatively straightforward and requires only a standard screwdriver and the hardware that comes with the Enigma.

The most unusual feature the PHLster Enigma takes from the YP Holster is the leg leash, used to anchor the Enigma so that it won’t ride up in regular wear or when drawing the gun. You can safely think of the leg leash as replacing the tension and weight your pants provide during a normal draw stroke. A small clip makes it easy to put on and take off, which is necessary to avoid having to step through the loop.

QUIRKS AND FIXES

Because the Enigma was designed to fit all manner of body types, initially configuring it is the largest hassle of the system. Set aside about an hour to get it in the Goldilocks zone, but it probably won’t take that long.

We should mention that while PHLster has published instructional videos, tons of information is available in the PHLster Concealment Workshop Facebook group. End users frequently post their issues, fixes, and recommendations, which are parsed in short order by other Enigma users.

Since the holster and belt are attached with screws for stability and security, you can’t change those settings on the fly. For fine-tuning, we use what’s called the poke and check: While wearing the Enigma with your unloaded pistol, use your finger to press on each attachment point and see how it affects the pistol. Grip, tilt, and counter-rotation can all be previewed in this manner before you break out a screwdriver. 

PHLster Enigma
By the time of publication, the WML-specific Enigma will be available, because you can’t just pop any old holster on here. Details on right sidebar.

Since the backs of the Chicago screws used on the Enigma will be against your body, PHLster opted for smoothed hardware. The problem is how to grip the back of the screw while you tighten. A cordless drill at its lowest tension setting and a rubber band as a backer aid tremendously. Absolutely do not use red Loctite or Rocksett on Enigma hardware, but properly applied blue or orange Loctite is fine (see RECOIL Issue 50 for a rundown on thread lockers).

The leg leash can be challenging to adjust for maximum comfort and stability, but once set it’s comfortable and unobtrusive. Most early complaints related to the leg leash have been caused by the loop falling down the thigh as the wearer moves around in daily life. In general, it seems that problem can be avoided or minimized by wearing the loop high and tight around the hip crease, where the leg opening of a pair of briefs might sit. Note also that it might feel odd at first if the loop’s hanging more loosely around your thigh, but it’ll still function correctly for its primary purpose of ensuring that you can defeat your holster’s retention on the draw.

PHLster Enigma worn

Before you cut the belt to size, we definitely recommend leaving a few extra inches of length in case of weight gain or loss. 

Since the Enigma holds the gun tightly against the skin, there’s more opportunity for uncomfortable rubbing than with standard belt-mounted holsters. The Enigma also isn’t constructed out of softer fabrics like belly band or corset holsters, so one fix has been to wear a bandeau bra (aka “tube top”) at waist level behind the gun to decrease friction. Synthetic compression undershirts perform better than cotton ones, and bare skin may be an issue, especially if you have an aggressive stippling job.

The weight of the gun and belt on users’ backs is also causing discomfort for some, and the Concealment Workshop group again has come through with some recommendations for padding the belt. PHLster reports that they’re planning to expand the accessory line in coming months to respond to some of these early concerns and to expand usability for edge cases. The PHLster community has been a refreshing place to go for concealed carry support in general and the Enigma specifically, as users have been sharing their experiences and receiving personalized, brand-agnostic advice.

BE WARNED: Do not drill, cut, or trim any of the Tegris parts. An appropriately calibrated laser cutter is required to avoid delamination. 

LOOSE ROUNDS

phlster enigma worn

Together, the elements of the PHLster Enigma mean that your clothing choice no longer dictates whether or not you can carry that day, because belt loops are no longer de rigueur. The Enigma optimizes what can be concealed, so you’ll likely find you can wear tighter tops or larger firearms. In fact, the real strength of the Enigma system is the ability to deeply conceal a firearm under ordinary clothes, especially for women who are more likely to be wearing dresses, skirts, and yoga pants or leggings.

That deep concealment capability comes at the expense of being able to carry a large everyday-carry load-out, as it’s intended only for carrying a gun. That said, a handheld flashlight, knife, or spare magazine can be attached to the belt.

Unfortunately, PHLster hasn’t figured out how to spawn an extradimensional pocket for your gun, so there are still limits to how large your gun and how tight your shirt can be on any individual body. But it’s the closest thing we have right now. Pricing starts at $85, including the holster faceplate, belt, buckle, leg leash, and hardware (holster not included). 


The Weapon-Mounted Light Bearing Engima

The additional weight and burden of carrying a weapon-mounted light on their concealed carry gun is a bridge too far for many. But plenty of people carry with WMLs every day, including several RECOIL staffers (see CONCEALMENT Issue 19 for an expert pro/con breakdown). If you count yourselves among them, one of your first questions is probably, “Can I attach a WML-holster to an Enigma?” The answer is no, you can’t.

Jon Hauptman of PHLster explained: “In order to manage the size, balance, mass, and surface area of light-bearing holsters, they need to have their own Enigma Faceplate, in addition to the wing shapes and geometry being different.”

phlster enigma light bearing

The good news is that by the time you’re reading this article, a WML-specific PHLster Enigma system will be available. We got our hands on a pre-production sample and have been carrying it for several weeks now. What you see on this page will be damned close to what you’ll see on the shelves.

Configuring the WML-Enigma is very similar to the standard version, except that you need to ensure the claw of your holster presses up against the Tegris face plate while you’re wearing it. We found it extremely comfortable to carry, and since the Enigma allows concealment of larger guns, if you previously passed on WML-carry because it was uncomfortable this is definitely worth a second look.

Though the WML-Enigma is tailor-made for the PHLster Floodlight, it’ll also fit other popular light-bearing holsters including Henry Holsters, Dar Star Gear, and undoubtedly others.

PHLster Enigma

Learn More at www.phlsterholsters.com


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