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I Carry: S&W Model 638 in a CrossBreed Ankle Holster

Welcome to another episode of "I Carry," Shooting Illustrated's weekly video series covering the guns and gear needed to put together an ideal everyday-carry kit. Today, we have a Smith & Wesson Model 638 revolver in a CrossBreed Ankle Holster, paired with Bianchi Speed Strips. Rounding out the gear is a 5.11 Tactical TMT PLx flashlight, a CRKT Tighe Tac Two Tanto folding knife and a Blackhawk 2-inch Web Duty Belt.

Firearm: Smith & Wesson Model 638 ($469)

Arguably the first modern concealed-carry revolver, the Smith & Wesson J-frame was introduced in 1950. Originally offered with an exposed hammer (given the designation of “Chief’s Special,” later given the model number 36), the all-steel pistol was quickly joined by an Airweight model on an aluminum frame in 1952 (which would become the model 37). At the same time, the “Centennial” frame featuring an enclosed hammer would join the line as the 40 in steel and the 42 in aluminum. Three years later, the “Bodyguard” model—with its shrouded hammer—combined the ease-of-carry of the hammerless with the single-action capability of the full hammer. (Side note: The new Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38, confusingly, is a hammerless model, which would make it a “Centennial”…)

Revolvers can be overlooked as concealed-carry options given the plethora of micro-380 and even 9 mm semi-autos available today, but they’re still an important tool in the EDC toolbox. It can serve as a “front-pocket gun” in the winter, allowing immediate access to a defensive firearm when a primary arm is covered by a heavy jacket. It can also be a back-up gun carried, as this one is, in an ankle holster, accessible in a wide variety of common situations such as a seated position in a car or restaurant.

Chambered in .38 Special, the 638 carries 5 rounds and is rated for +P ammunition. This particular model has been equipped with a Crimson Trace Lasergrip to aid in rapid target acquisition, providing a bright, red dot that’s zeroed for 50 feet at the factory. 

In addition to the model 638, Smith & Wesson offers the polymer-frame Bodyguard 38, a new .357 Magnum version in the model 360 and the model 642 hammerless version popular for pocket-carry, among many J-frame and similarly sized variants.

Holster: Crossbreed Ankle Holster ($34.95)

Important when carrying in an ankle holster, the Crossbreed rig contains a hook-and-loop arm that covers the hammer while providing additional retention. In addition to a significant hook-and-loop strap on the main body of the holster, there’s a calf-support strap that helps keep the rig in place. Padding on the back of the holster helps ease the strain on the leg and just generally makes the Crossbreed more comfortable to carry.

Ankle carry is often overlooked as a carry option, which is a shame. Not only do you need to be wary of where you carry, as you can bang the rig on furniture, doorframes and other protrusions if not careful, but with even lightweight arms it can give a lopsided feel to your gait. Practice in the privacy of your own home to get a feel for it before you venture out in public if that’s a concern.

Belt: Blackhawk Instructor's Belt ($79.95)

One likely scenario for a small, light gun like a J-frame carried in an ankle holster is when it serves as a backup to your full-size rig. If you’re training, you’ll appreciate a basic hook-and-loop-equipped web belt for your specialized needs, as it allows for rapid attachment of specialized gear. Of course, it can also be used as a standalone belt, providing a rugged, reinforced rig more than capable of holding all your gear. This particular model is an older Blackhawk belt; the latest version has an updated buckle arrangement even easier to activate.

Flashlight: 5.11 Tactical TMT PLx Flashlight ($26.99)

Two AAA batteries power this 90-lumen light for up to 4 hours, offering plenty of light in a rugged aluminum housing. The PLx is water- and impact-resistant, employs a Cree XPE-B LED light, and has a beam that can reach out to 40 meters. It is a purpose-built light with two operating options: On and momentary on. You can push the tailcap partially for light only when you need it, or you can push it until it clicks to turn it all the way on. It is quite intuitive.

Knife: CRKT Tighe Tac 2 Tanto ($59.99)

Okay, so the name is an exercise in alliteration, but the Columbia River Knife and Tool Company Tighe Tac Two Tanto offers a 3.3-inch blade, glass-filled nylon scales and a tanto blade (obviously). Closing the Tighe Tac Two Tanto employs a pushbutton mechanism, keeping your digits far away from sharp edges, which is a welcome change. Opening the knife is accomplished either via an ambidextrous thumb stud or a flipper lever that protrudes from the back of the handle.

Spare Ammo: Bianchi Speed Strips ($9)

When it comes to recharging a revolver, there are three basic mechanisms. You can toss loose rounds into the cylinder (I do not recommend this method, as it is the slowest of the three) or you can use either a round speedloader or a flat speedstrip. The round speedloaders tend to be faster—that is if the speedloader can clear the grip of the revolver—but also harder to fit in a pocket without looking out-of-place. Speed strips allow you to carry extra ammo without the telltale bulge—but it does require a bit of extra practice.

Some practitioners of the revolver arts suggest you leave an empty space between rounds 2 and 3 of your strip. This allows two cylinders to be recharged at a time, with a place to rest your finger to allow a better grip. I prefer to fill that empty space with more ammo and practice with the strip to get rounds out faster. In any case, whatever method you choose, practice with it until you’re comfortable with the manual-of-arms, and always use inert rounds while practicing to be safest.

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