Clint Smith, Gun guru and founder of Thunder Ranch firearms training center, famously declared that “carrying a gun is not supposed to be comfortable; it’s supposed to be comforting.”
I understand his point, but it’s also the kind of thing that people who live on ranches in remote parts of Oregon can say as they carry full-size duty pistols on their belts. To me, it’s in the same class of sayings as “anything less than a .45 caliber 1911 is too little handgun,” “dress around your gun,” and “a handgun is just what you use to fight your way back to your rifle.”
Unrealistic, for most.
Countless Americans who are permitted to carry a handgun in public do not do so because they cannot comfortably fit the gun into their everyday lives. As a result, a large part of the business of concealed carry is developing products that help potential gun carriers reconcile the competing demands of carrying a concealed handgun. To make it both comforting and comfortable.
One of the most promising products in this regard that I saw at the United States Concealed Carry Association’s Concealed Carry Expo recently was being introduced to the public by Elite Survival Systems: the Marathon GunPack.
What attracted me to the Marathon GunPack — in contrast to other “fanny packs” and holsters designed for use while running — is that it was very similar to the hydration belt I currently use, made by Nathan, a leading name in the running industry. But the pouch I have on my Nathan can only accommodate my iPod; not even a derringer could be jammed in there.
So, I handed over $48 (a nice 20% conference discount off the $59.95 MSRP) and Elite Survival Systems’ April Bergin gave me what her colleague said was the very first Marthon GunPack sold by the company to the public (it was introduced to the industry at the SHOT Show in January). A pretty cool, even if not terribly important, detail.
The Marathon GunPack comes in one size — pocket pistol — with a velcro holster to hold the gun in place. A Kahr P380 with extended magazine fit; a Beretta Nano did not.
Zipper color options include blue, gray, and green (my choice). Although Elite Survival Systems says that a smart phone can fit in the front pocket — which includes a headphone cord pass-through — I could not fit my Samsung Galaxy Note in it. A smaller phone or one without a case on it might fit. Instead, I put my driver’s license and concealed handgun permit in there, which I am required by the state of North Carolina to have with me any time I am carrying. I could also put a few dollars in there, which is very convenient.
For a pack made by a company that is not in the running or fitness business, the Marathon GunPack compares pretty well to the Nathan system. The nozzles on the 7 ounce flasks are push-pull, which is not quite as convenient as the one-way valves on the 8 ounce Nathan flasks. But I also understand that is a personal preference, because Nathan also sells flasks with push-pull nozzles (and see potential problem with one-way valves below). The elastic flask holders on the Marathon GunPack also accommodate the Nathan flasks I have, so I just subbed them in.
With two full flasks of water and a Kahr P380 with a 7 round extended magazine filled with Hornady Critical Defense ammo, the belt still weighed just over 2.5 pounds. Not much to carry on your waist. (Note: I did not chamber a round in the interest of safety, but put the extra cartridge in the front pouch to simulate the weight.)
The belt on the Nathan — elasticized titanium — is better: slightly more rigid, and actually designed to stretch less than regular elastic, but still with enough give to make it comfortable. The Marathon GunPack’s belt was softer and more elastic. Both the Nathan and the GunPack have double adjustable straps, and once adjusted the GunPack’s elastic band was secure enough and comfortable.
The backing on the front pouch itself is designed to grip one’s clothes to keep it in place, and that feature does its job well with no negative effect on comfort. The reflective panels on the flask holders are a nice touch; every little bit helps when it comes to safety.
Although my Nathan hydration belt and accessories are discontinued, the retail price for them are approximately: $15 for the belt, $15 for the pocket, and $20 each for the flasks and holsters. $70 total. The new Nathan Trail Mix hydration belts retail for $45 to $50. So, even at the full MSRP, the Marathon GunPack is priced competitively, especially since none of the Nathans include a pack large enough to hold a gun, or the specific zipper technology that the Marathon GunPack incorporates to allow quick access to the gun.
Key to the GunPack is a little tab (a “rip cord,” according to ESS) attached to the gun compartment’s cover that you grab and pull to expose the firearm. There are actually two tabs so the pack is fully ambidextrous, which is essential for a lefty like me.
Unfortunately, I could not reliably get a first grasp on the tab with my weak, sausage-like fingers, even when I was not under a threat, so I decided to use a small carabiner to hack the GunPack:
This made it much easier to grasp the tab. Through practice I also learned that I couldn’t pull out or down (as I am doing in the picture below), but had to pull up first to get the zipper to clear the rear of the gun, and then down and away to expose the gun.
I originally disliked the placement of the flask holders on the front of the Marathon GunPack. My Nathan belt’s modular design allow me to put the flasks wherever I wanted, and I usually carried my water on the back of the belt for comfort.
I also felt the flask would get in the way of my hand as I went to draw the gun. But, again through practice, I realized that I needed to put my left hand on the flask to steady the belt and create resistance as I ripped the pack open with my right hand. This worked well and with a little practice was a very efficient motion.
A downside of having the flasks on the front of the belt AND using the Nathan flasks with the one-way (speed) nozzles is that when I leaned over to tie my shoe, I squirted water all over myself. Which is an easy enough problem to solve by either using the ESS flasks with push-pull nozzles or not tying my shoes while sitting.
The Marathon GunPack was very comfortable to wear on the 3 mile walk my wife and I took. We stopped at the local farmer’s market after our walk and I continued to carry the gun without any of the self-consciousness I sometimes feel when I pocket carry in sweat pants. Ditto for our lunch at the local family restaurant. When we stopped in at a facility that didn’t allow carry, the quick-release buckle made it easy to just pop the belt off and leave it in the car.
As the hosts of the Polite Society Podcast always say, “Pants on, gun on” (POGO). But alot of the time, I don’t wear pants. Before you get the wrong idea, what I mean is that I frequently wear elastic waistband shorts or sweats – when I work at my home office, when I am working stringing tennis rackets, or when I am just out and about doing activities of daily living. So I can see myself wearing the Marathon GunPack more than just when I am walking or yogging.
Because it is comfortable, I could wear it all day, everyday. And in the end that to me is most comforting. With due respect to Clint Smith.