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Gun Notes: Joe's Top Carry Guns & Gear of 2023

Guns & Ammo's Executive Editor documents the guns and gear he carried and used most in 2023, and assesses the pistols, holsters, mag pouches, knives, and flashlights that became essential to his EDC loadout.

Gun Notes: Joe's Top Carry Guns & Gear of 2023

The author reviews and tests a lot of EDC gear each year. Here are some of the most used items of 2023. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

If you are here for a “10 Best” list or a hyper-tactical review of carry gear, keep it moving. Today, as a dude in my late 30s with kids and dogs and domestic chores, I’m not so concerned about developing the ultimate loadout for hostile environments. I’m more interested in reliable and versatile gear that will perform when the chips are down but remain discreet, comfortable, and unobtrusive as I go through my everyday routines.

What follows is a “Year in Review” of some of my most used equipment. I’m highlighting solutions that worked for me and products that really stood out. Keep in mind, I review guns and gear professionally, and there is a lot of turnover in my safe and holster. This review isn’t about those products that come and go, or even a reflection of what items I would most highly recommend. This is about the guns and gear that have stuck with me, equipment I purchased and kept after or apart from “work” reviews, and kit that has ascended to the role of “go-to” in my everyday carry (EDC) lineup.

Carry Gun: Shadow Systems CR920P

CR920
The Shadow Systems CR920P offers the small size and slim profile of a micro compact pistol, but shoots like a bigger gun thanks to the ergonomic grip and single-port compensator. Show with Holosun 507K X2. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

Far and away, the gun I carried most often was the CR920P from Shadow Systems. I reviewed the gun early in 2023 and never really put it down. I like that is has the size, capacity, and optic support common to the immensely popular micro-compacts like the SIG P365 or Springfield Hellcat families. However, the CR920P has been the most shootable of the bunch for me, thanks largely to its compensator and ergonomic frame design.

My gun has a Holosun 507K X2 red-dot optic for primary sighting, while the included irons offer a lower-third cowitness and make for excellent backups. I primarily carry it with the 10-round flush-fit magazine inserted for maximum concealment. However, I do use the pinky extension rather than the flat basepad since it provides a better grip. I also keep a 13-round mag on my person for a reload. Carry ammunition is always reputable 9mm factory loads such as Speer’s Gold Dot offerings and Hornady Critical Duty or Critical Defense. I have not found the CR920P to be picky at all, and it is much easier to shoot (read as less snappy) with spicy loads than some other sub- and micro-compact pistols.

Honorable Mention: Shadow Systems MR920

Shadow MR920
Shadow Systems MR920 with Aimpoint Acro P-2. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

If this article was for 2022 instead of 2023, the nod would have gone to Shadow System’s MR920 for many of the same reasons as those listed above. Comparable to the 15-round Glock 19, the guns are reliable, optic ready, and have excellent ergonomics that make them easy to shoot well at speed. Too, the texture placement and patterns offer excellent purchase for a shooting grip and when manipulating the slide without being uncomfortable against the skin.

I still carried the MR920 a lot in 2023, and it was the handgun I shot most this year. I now own several of these (“one is none,” and all that) with various optics and one set up just for irons. The great thing is they all run off the same, commonly available Glock-pattern 9mm magazines, there is a lot of parts compatibility, and most Glock holsters work perfectly. (I’m also seeing a lot more Shadow Systems-specific holsters, which is great.)

If you see these selections and are wondering why both my top carry guns are from Shadow Systems, here’s my thoughts in a nutshell: Shadow Systems offers the most reliable and most complete rendition of a Glock-pattern pistol that I’ve tested, and they do so at a fair price.

I’ll unpack that just a little. Like a lot of folks, I begrudgingly accept that the Glock pattern pistol is the most robust and reliable defensive handgun ever created. I also know that “Glock Perfection” is far from perfect. I’ve gone to great lengths to improve everything about the gun, including the trigger, the sights, and the frame design. Shadow Systems does all the heavy lifting for me, without sacrificing performance or reliability. Are the guns more expensive than Glocks? Yes. But going straight to Shadow Systems, I save the time and money I would have expended bringing a Glock up to snuff. Plus, the company stands absolutely behind their work. Thus, in my mind, the prices are fair and the value is excellent.

There are a lot of great manufacturers offering products that will serve extremely well in the role of defensive, everyday carry handguns. My list of recommendations grows every year because gunmaking is just that good these days. For me, at this time in my life, I’m keeping it simple — if a bit elevated — with my choices.




Holster: BlackPoint Tactical FO3

BlackPoint Tactical FO3
BlackPoint Tactical FO3 Holster. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

While I have a couple holsters that I really like for the CR920P, my favorite is the FO3 holster from BlackPoint Tactical. Designed to be worn “Forward Of 3 o’clock,” hence the name, I think a better designation would be RA3 — Right At 3 o’clock. It was basically meant to be an “appendix lite” holster that would cheat the gun forward of the hip, without committing to the front-of-the-body appendix position. For me, however, the trim profile and neutral cant make this a perfect straight-drop strong side rig. Paired with a super-slim gun like CR920P, the FO3 rides as closely, discreetly, and comfortably as a 1911 in a Milt Sparks Summer Special. That’s about the highest praise I can offer.

As an aside, if you read the previous paragraph and find yourself unfamiliar with John Browning’s masterpiece of a handgun and Bruce Nelson’s exceptional gun leather, now ably carried forward by Jim Wall and the Milt Sparks team, I suggest you track down the pairing and walk a mile in those classic carry shoes. You won’t be disappointed.

Milt Sparks Summer Special
Milt Sparks Summer Special with Springfield Armory 1911 Operator. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

The FO3 is a single sheet of Kydex molded for a specific firearm. Two metal belt loops provide on-body retention, the rear of which is mounted to flexible leather wing. I think the latter feature aids comfort greatly compared to fully rigid polymer designs that cannot move or articulate with the body. Manufacture is clean and well executed. The pairing of the CR920P and FO3 top my daily carry list because I know the products will perform when needed, and they simply disappear on my waistline.

Recommended


Honorable Mention: Crossbreed Holsters Rogue System

Crossbreed Rogue System
Crossbreed Holsters Rogue System with Springfield Armory Prodigy 1911 DS. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

I’m getting pretty close to having a Rogue System for all the pistols I shoot regularly and carry in the appendix position. Guns & Ammo has reviewed the Kydex holster thoroughly, and we even named it Holster of the Year in 2022. Two molded polymer sheets connected by spacers and Chicago-style screws create shells that are form-fit to specific firearm models, yet still adjustable for retention. Add-ons like a concealment claw and flexible mag pouch connectors add to the design’s utility. It’s comfortably, concealable, adjustable and affordable.

Personally, I prefer the full system — holster and magazine pouch — to the holster alone. I find that wider spacing between the belt loops improves comfort in two ways. First, the weight of the gun and magazine are distributed over a wider area, so there isn’t a big “sag spot” along the belt line. Second, I find I can actually fit my belt buckle between the clips, so I don’t have to adjust my wardrobe the way some appendix holsters require.

Honorable Mention: JM Custom Kydex AIWB Wing Claw 2.0 & 2.5

JM Custom Kydex AIWB
JM Custom Kydex Wing Claw 2.0 with Springfield Armory Hellcat. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

I’ve got JM Custom Kydex rigs for every gun I’ve seriously carried during the past six or eight years. Appendix carry has some serious advantages in speed, security, and concealment, but it can be tricky to find a rig that is consistently comfortable. There are a few makers out there who were early to the AIWB game and have remained dedicated to it. For me, JM Custom Kydex is my first call when I need a rig that works.

My favorite designs are the AIWB Wing Claw 2.0 and 2.5 holsters. They are very similar in terms of firearm retention and protection, but I prefer the wider mount spacing of the 2.0 for polymer or metal over-the-belt clips, while the 2.5 is great with flexible belt loops and pull-the-dot snaps. I really do like both attachment methods, but I probably give the loops a slight edge for comfort. That little bit of wiggle room afforded by the loops makes a big difference over the course of a day.

JM Custom Kydex AIWB 2.5
JM Custom Kydex AIWB Wing Claw 2.5 with Wilson Combat Beretta 92G Centurion Tactical. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

A single sheet of Kydex is molded and folded to create the holster pocket. The Wing Claw models include the concealment strut which helps keep the pistols grip tucked in toward the body. I also add either a foam wedge or JM Custom’s molded Extra Tuck feature to provide some standoff between the muzzle and my pelvis. These additions also keep the grip frame closer to the body.

Magazine Pouch: Crossbreed Holsters Confidant 2.0

Crossbreed Confidant 2.0
Crossbreed Holsters Confidant Multi-Fit Mag Carrier 2.0. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

I am usually opposed to universal fit items for carry, but I make an exception for the Confidant Multi-Fit Mag Carrier 2.0 from Crossbreed holsters. The Confidant is easy. Period. And at this stage of life, that is what I’m looking for. The two-piece shell is connected by strong ladder-style rubber bands that flex to accommodate most single- and double-stack pistol magazines. It’s durable and discreet, and I like the integral no-fuss 1.5-inch belt clip. I’ve been much more consistent about carrying a reload since ordering the Confidant 2.0.

Knife: Blackhawk Point Man

Blackhawk Point Man
Blackhawk Point Man. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

Blackhawk, as a company, has gone through quite a few iterations during the past decade, and I think it’s fair to say it is not the titan of tactical gear and apparel it once was. Recently, it’s been working to revamp its holster lineup and appeal to a broader commercial audience, but its legacy is spelled “SERPA” and that remains both an albatross and a golden goose. I digress. Despite its identity crisis, Blackhawk still manages to put its brand on some really solid and affordable gear, a great example being the Point Man knife.

Knives are tools, and for everyday carry I need a tool that will work but is ultimately expendable. Sure, it could be called into service as a defensive weapon, but it’s far more likely to be opening boxes and cutting tags off things. So, I need a knife that will work with reasonable longevity, but I don’t want to have a crisis when if it breaks or gets lost. At less than $100, the Point Man is perfect.

The blade is 3-3/8 inches long and made of D2 tool steel. It’s an assisted opening folder with a textured flipper lug and is secured when open by a liner lock. I like the plain-edge model, but versions are available with serrations as well. The scales are black G10 and there are four mounting positions for the pocket clip. Overall, it’s a no-nonsense, medium-size tactical/utility knife that won’t break the bank.

Flashlight: Streamlight Wedge XT

Streamlight Wedge XT
Streamlight Wedge XT. (Photo by Joe Kurtenbach)

Finally, a lot of what I said about knives goes for flashlights as well. I want a product that is ready for duty should it be employed in a tactical application. However, I recognize that it is far more likely to be used to find a binky under the couch than to blind and disorient an assailant. 

A great solution for less than $100 is the Wedge XT from Streamlight. I love this light. The company took its EDC-oriented, rectangular-profile Wedge design and wisely shrunk it down just a tough. It’s now the perfect size for pocket carry and is no bigger than a folded knife. Better still, Streamlight replaced the Wedge’s radial activation lever with a more traditional push-button tail switch.

The USB-C-rechargeable Wedge XT has two illumination settings: Low, 50 lumens / 200 candela; and High, 500 lumens / 1,900 candela. Runtime is around 11 hours or 2 hours, respectively. The user can select the output progression, either high-to-low (factory default and best tactical choice) or low-to-high (appropriate when not being used for EDC). Activation also has dual functionality, push-and-hold for momentary “On” or click for constant.

It's durable, reliable, easy to use, and offers more than enough illumination for daily tasks and tactical requirements. In my opinion, the Wedge XT is the better Wedge from Streamlight and really an ideal flashlight for everyday carry.

Sound Off

There you have it, a rundown of the carry gear I’ve used most during the past year. What was your go-to rig in 2023? What were some of the tools you used most? Let us know at gaeditor@outdoorsg.com, and use “Sound Off” in the subject line.

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