Okay, so it’s not actually a holster. The PHLster Enigma is a “concealment chassis” that you can pair with your favorite AIWB holster to form the ultimate concealed carry setup regardless of whether you wear a belt with your pants, or even no pants at all! I’ve been using a PHLster Enigma daily for a few months now (with pants… mostly), so I figured it was time for a review.
Details in the video below, or keep on scrolling to read the full transcript.
Hey everybody, Chris Baker here from LuckyGunner.com. Today I want to do something I have never done before and that is devote an entire video to reviewing a single concealed carry setup.
Holster selection is a highly individual process. The ideal choice depends on the gun you’re trying to conceal, the way you dress, your body type, your lifestyle, and a ton of other factors. I am happy to suggest brands that I trust, but I don’t usually spend a whole lot of time talking about any one specific model. That’s because no matter what holster I choose based on what’s ideal for my situation, it’s only going to be relevant for a very small percentage of my viewers.
I’m making an exception today for the PHLster Enigma because it’s incredibly unique. It’s not technically a holster. They call it a “concealment chassis.” It offers a completely different method of carrying a gun concealed.
At first glance, the primary benefit is that it’s a very effective way to carry when you’re not wearing a belt with your pants. But regardless of belt or no belt, I’ve also found it to be the carry rig that offers the best overall balance of those three important qualities we’re always looking for in a holster: concealment, comfort, and accessibility.
PHLster Enigma: What is it?
Let’s take a look at what we’ve got here. The Enigma is basically a faceplate — that’s this big flat piece here — with a built-in nylon belt.
he Enigma doesn’t actually come with the holster itself. You take your existing holster and attach it to the faceplate. It’s compatible with almost any kydex appendix holster that has a wing attachment. If your holster has a Darkwing, Modwing, Raven wing, or any of the concealment wings or claws with two mounting holes that are ⅝” apart, you can probably use that holster with the Enigma.
This holster is a PHLster Classic with a Sig P365XL and a Swap Fox Sentinel optic. Right now, I’ve got a Darkwing attached to the holster. The wing normally would press against your belt to keep the grip rotated inward. But now, it’s pressing against the faceplate, so you get that extra concealment benefit without wearing a separate belt that has to layer on top of the holster.
The built-in nylon belt attaches to mounting holes on either side of the faceplate. The different mounting holes allow you to fine tune the rotation of the gun as well as the cant. There’s no ride height adjustment on the faceplate. You control that just by moving the belt higher or lower on your body. Unlike a belt holster, the ride height of your gun is completely independent from the right height of your pants.
The belt buckle is a Fidlock brand magnetic buckle. I had never seen one of these before, because I’m pretty sure they are from the future. It’s a magnetic buckle that you can easily fasten with one hand. That leaves your other hand free to support the gun while you’re putting it on.
Finally, this thing down here is the leg leash. It basically performs a function similar to belt loops on your pants. The leg leash goes around the top of your thigh and it helps keep the whole rig in place when you draw the gun. Normally, the tension from the Enigma’s belt is going to keep everything in place, but that tension might change a little when your body position changes. So the leg leash acts as a kind of backup to make sure the holster doesn’t move with the gun when you draw.
Disclosure: I Like PHLster
Before I dive any further into the pros and cons of the Enigma, I need to disclose a couple of things up front. First, PHLster did send me a complimentary Enigma to review. I’ve had one since the product launched back in late November and I’ve been using it nearly every day since then.
Also, I am on friendly terms with Jon, the owner of PHLster, and his wife Sara, who helped develop the Enigma. I like them. I want them to succeed. So I can’t claim to be totally unbiased here.
But I can tell you that I’m under no obligation to do a positive review. If I had tried the Enigma and hated it, I would have just given them some feedback and skipped doing a review for the time being. I’m only telling you guys about this thing because I like it and I think a lot of you might find it useful.
So What’s It Good For?
The PHLster Enigma is a great option if you want to carry with sweatpants or gym shorts. But relegating it to that role alone doesn’t really do it justice. When I first saw the Enigma, I thought it would be a really nice upgrade from a belly band. And that, in itself, was exciting because every belly band type holster I’ve ever tried has been a major disappointment. But the true benefit of the Enigma is that it’s versatile without requiring compromises. And that’s difficult to appreciate until you start using it on a daily basis.
Most men I know who carry every day have some kind of setup that involves a compact or subcompact pistol on a belt holster. That’s what they carry in their everyday casual or work clothes. If they want to carry when they’re in lounge wear or formal wear or gym clothes or doing some kind of strenuous physical labor, they usually have alternate carry solutions – different types of holsters or maybe even a different gun altogether like a pocket pistol.
It’s a lot more complicated for most of the women I know who carry every day. Contemporary women’s fashion often does not lend itself to wearing a load-bearing belt. Women also tend to have more variety in what they wear than men do. Their carry methods seem to vary a lot more from day to day, not just when they’re doing certain activities.
In either case, for both men and women, the gun and the holster are dictated by the wardrobe and activity you’re going to be doing. So we end up with belly bands and fanny packs and ankle rigs and pocket holsters and a different carry method for every occasion and a different gun for every occasion.
On top of the hassle and expense of all that gear, this requires some additional sacrifices. If you carry different guns in different locations on your body, you have to now practice with each of those. That means less time practicing with your primary carry setup. It means remembering what and where you’re carrying that day, which is not a given if you’re thrown into a stressful situation. And for most of us, drawing from any carry rig other than a belt holster is slower and less consistent. The gun is just not as accessible.
With a lot of these holster alternatives, the gun is also going to be less concealable or less comfortable. That often means switching to a smaller gun. That leads to further compromises because pocket pistols are generally harder to access and shoot well compared to a full size or compact or even a subcompact.
An alternate way to approach this problem is to pick a gun and a holster you like and then dress around the gun. Instead of wearing the clothes you’d actually want to wear, you only wear things that are compatible with your carry setup. Inevitably, this means you eventually have to skip going certain places or doing certain activities because you can’t wear your gun clothes. Or you wear those clothes anyway, but you stick out like a sore thumb. Or you dress appropriately for the occasion, but you leave your gun behind.
What the Enigma brings to the table is the potential to help you separate the holster and gun decision from the wardrobe and activity decision.
You can wear it with pants with or without a belt. You can have your shirt tucked in or untucked. It’ll work with baggy pants or yoga pants or no pants at all. Or a skirt or a kilt or basically any clothing that allows access to your waistband.
All of the same could be said of the various belly band style holsters on the market. But unlike a belly band, the Enigma also gives the same level of concealment, comfort, accessibility, and retention that you would have with a traditional belt holster.
Why Belly Bands Fall Short
As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to appreciate all of this without actually experimenting with the Enigma yourself. But I want to show you a quick comparison that might help illustrate some of the strengths of the Enigma.
I’m wearing athletic pants with an elastic waistband and I’ve got a lightweight t-shirt. This shirt is far from ideal for concealing a handgun. Thicker materials, dark colors, and patterns help conceal a lot better than something like this. So this shirt will really accentuate any printing issues.
And right now, you can see I’m printing quite a bit.
This is the Sig P365 XL again and I’m using the Sport Belt from CanCan Concealment. This is one of the better belly band or elastic style holsters I’ve tried. But it’s really not doing a good job of keeping this gun concealed. The top half of the gun wants to tilt away from my body because the Sport Belt is only putting pressure on the bottom half. If I want it to conceal better, I can move it down toward my waistband, but that will compromise gun access and it still doesn’t really conceal all that well.
It’s also not especially comfortable because, again, all of the tension is on the front half of the gun. It doesn’t distribute the load very well. I’m feeling a lot of pressure from the front corner of the slide pressing into the top of my thigh because that’s where all the force is concentrated.
These problems are not unique to belly bands. You’ll run into the same kinds of issues if you try to carry in the appendix position with a belt holster that’s not properly designed for appendix carry.
Another problem here that is more specific to belly bands is the lack of retention. The Sport Belt comes with a tiny little magnet sewn inside the gun pocket and that’s supposed to help keep the gun in place. It really doesn’t do anything though, as far as I can tell. If I move around much with this thing on, or, especially if I were to start running, the gun gradually wiggles its way out of the top of the holster.
This particular model of the Sport Belt does a little better with smaller guns. But I’ve done lots of running with this belt and a J-frame revolver and I always have to stop and readjust it after every mile or two because the gun wants to come out of the pocket.
PHLster Enigma Compared
Okay, now let’s look at the same gun and the same outfit with the Enigma. I wouldn’t say the gun is invisible because, again, this shirt is not a very good concealment garment. However, there’s a lot less printing than there was with the Sport Belt. The grip and the back of the slide are no longer trying to lean away from my body.
The same design features that make this holster work well with belt clips are still working when it’s mounted to the Enigma. There is a wedge molded into the bottom to tilt the grip inward along the horizontal axis. The Darkwing attachment pressing against the faceplate keeps the butt of the grip tucked in along the other axis.
Accessibility is actually slightly better than it is with a belt holster in some cases. That was kind of a surprise. It’s not so much that I have a faster draw stroke with the Enigma. But if I’m not wearing a belt it’s a little easier to be more consistent with my draw stroke. Sometimes, when I’m trying to get that initial grip on the gun in the holster, my hand might come in at an odd angle and some of my fingers will catch on the gun belt. I’ll have to readjust before I can draw and that costs me a little time. Not having a belt that can get in the way negates that problem. A soft elastic waistband is a lot easier to work around and push out of the way than a stiff belt.
Retention with the Enigma is much better than the Sport Belt. The gun is securely locked into the kydex shell, so it’s not going anywhere when I run or do back flips at the dance club. If I adjust the belt and the leg leash properly, the whole rig stays put when I’m moving around, as well.
I’ve been on multiple runs and hikes with this setup. For me, it’s been far more comfortable than a belly band or even a belt holster with a solid gun belt. That’s mainly because the Enigma doesn’t allow the gun to move or flop around the way most other carry options do.
Before now, I had never had much luck trying to run for any length of time with a gun this large or heavy. The P365 XL is only a subcompact pistol but it weighs 26 ounces loaded, which is roughly twice the weight of a J-frame or an LCP. But running with this gun in the Enigma has been more comfortable for me than running with a pocket gun in holsters that only use fabric and elastic for retention like the Sport Belt or a Smart Carry.
Now, I don’t want to over-sell it. I still notice the gun is there in the Enigma. It does feel like it’s in the way from time to time, just like any gun would. If I was going to be doing something active for several hours at a time or otherwise just wanted a rig that was as comfortable as possible, I would probably go with the ultimate combo, which, for me, would be a J-frame with the PHLster City Special holster in an Enigma. I tried that setup for a few days and it really was about as easy to ignore as I think a carry rig can be.
PHLster Enigma for Everyday Carry
So the Enigma is great for doing stuff outside and beltless carry. But how does it compare to a belt holster when I’m wearing casual everyday clothes and I do have a belt. It turns out, for me at least, it’s a pretty good everyday carry rig overall.
With the Enigma, the gun actually conceals a little better than using the same holster with belt clips. I wouldn’t say it’s a dramatic difference, at least for me. But I have been able to noticeably reduce the amount of printing I’m getting through a t-shirt, especially when I’m moving around.
Part of that is because the Enigma does hold the gun just slightly closer to the body. More importantly, I have more flexibility in terms of fine tuning the placement of the holster to maximize concealment.
If I need to nudge the gun to the left or the right just slightly, I don’t have to worry about whether there’s a belt loop in the way of my holster clip. I can change the ride height of the gun up or down independently of where I have the waistband of my pants. If I want to move the grip up just a little to get a cleaner draw stroke, I can do that without also having to change where the holster is positioned on the belt.
The amount of control you have over these fine adjustments is just a lot higher than it is with a traditional belt holster.
Of course, a lot of that stuff is very subjective. That’s just what I’ve found based on using the Enigma for the last few months. Comfort is another thing that’s really subjective, but I’ll share my experience with that.
Just like anything new, it takes some getting used to. At first, I would have said it’s certainly a lot more comfortable than it looks. At this point, a few months later and having tried it with three different guns, I’d have to say a holster with the Enigma is at least as comfortable as the same holster with belt clips and most of the time, it’s more comfortable.
The faceplate looks like it might kind of poke or pinch, but it actually never contacts my body at all, so that’s not really an issue. And, again, you can fine tune where it’s positioned, not just for concealment, but also to find the most comfortable spot.
The leg leash is also not as uncomfortable as you might think from the way it looks. It doesn’t have to be tight around your thigh. In fact, it works better if it’s not super tight. For the first couple of weeks I used the Enigma, I was always aware that the leg leash was there, but I wouldn’t say it was annoying. After a while, I stopped noticing it almost completely.
For the buckle, they’ve got a little extra piece of webbing that sits behind it as kind of a shield. So you never really feel the buckle. I’ve never noticed it at all. If you think you’d rather have a smaller buckle, PHLster has a lower profile alternative. It’s not as cool or as easy to close as the Fidlock buckle, but it takes up less space.
That leaves the nylon belt itself. Just like with a normal belt, if you want the gun to conceal better — if you want to bring it closer to your body — you have to tighten the belt. If you get that nylon belt nice and snug, it’ll definitely conceal the gun, but it’s not necessarily comfortable. You have to kind of find a balance there. For me, that hasn’t really been much of a problem so far because I always wear an undershirt in the Fall and Winter months. That provides a cushion for the belt. But I have worn it a few times against my bare skin and that can be irritating after a while.
I’m definitely not the only person to have had this issue. There is a whole mod community forming around the Enigma and people are coming up with different DIY mods you can try that will, among other things, provide some built-in padding for that belt. I know PHLster is looking into possibly offering something like that as an optional add-on in the future. For now, you might have to get a little creative.
Aside from that, I honestly don’t have any significant complaints about the Enigma. That said, there are a few other issues you should probably know about before you decide to try one.
Before You Buy the PHLster Enigma…
First, the Enigma only works with appendix inside the waistband style holsters. There is not a 3 o’clock or behind-the-hip style version of the Enigma. PHLster has always been focused on AIWB style products. They have a very deep understanding of that carry position and what is required to make it work. The Enigma was under development for something like two years or more. If PHLster was to ever make a behind-the-hip version, they’d have to basically start from scratch, so we probably won’t see one of those any time soon.
Second, the Enigma is a bit more involved to put on and take off relative to the typical belt holster. It’s difficult to do sitting down. It’s almost impossible to put on without pulling your pants down to your knees. Taking it off is a little easier, but you’re not going to be able to do it without drawing some attention to yourself. So if, for example, you’re going somewhere you need to take your gun off and leave it in the car, the Enigma is not really ideal for that.
Finally, the initial setup for your Enigma might require some work. What they ship you is basically a hardware kit and you have to assemble it with your existing holster. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, but it takes some time and attention. You will have to experiment with the different adjustments. It may take a few days of trial and error to get it just how you want it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Jon and Sara have put together some excellent tutorial videos on how to set up your Enigma. That is not a compliment I give lightly. Their videos are clear and concise and polished. They’ll walk you step by step through the process. You can find those on their YouTube channel PhillyEDC. I followed those videos and didn’t have any trouble getting the Enigma set up with the PHLster P365 holster. Some other holsters might require a few extra steps.
If you still have issues, there is a very active and well-moderated group on Facebook called the PHLster Concealment Workshop. That’s where you can get help from PHLster and other customers. You can also see the various modifications people are trying with their Enigmas. There are men and women of all shapes and sizes on there showing how they’re making the Enigma work with their favorite holsters. People have also found ways to attach magazine carriers, knives, tourniquets, and other accessories. It’s a great place to get ideas. If you join, please be polite and open minded. Don’t make me regret sharing it here.
Once again, the PHLster Enigma is not for everybody. Nothing is in the concealed carry world. For some of you, it might be a good solution to a very specific problem you’ve been struggling with in your carry setups. And for others, it might completely replace all your carry gear and you won’t buy another holster again. In any case, you can’t really go wrong because every new batch of these things is selling out in no time, so you can always find a buyer for a used Enigma if you decide it’s not your thing. The price is $84.99. If you try one out, be sure to let me know how it goes in the comments.