In October 2019 I came across an article while putting together the outline for our 357th episode of the Concealed Carry Podcast. The topic of that day's episode was news related to new products and general gun industry news. I included an article that spoke about a product called ‘Reach' by Vara Safety. The Reach, was part safe, part holster and fitted with some state of the art biometric technology.
Sure biometric locks in safes are not new. However, I felt the Reach may have some unique attributes addressing some concerns which cause gun owners to leave their firearm unsecured at home. The major concern is quick access to a home-defense gun which was shown in a 2017 survey we conducted.
About 3,700 people responded, with around 80% saying they kept a loaded, unsecured firearm near their bed at night. As shocking as those numbers are, of those who have children aged 0-10 years, 53% kept an unsecured firearm near the bed and of households with kids 11-14 years old, 61% left the gun unsecured.
Ease of access is a legitimate concern when it comes to a firearm for home defense. But on the flip side is a legitimate concern over unwanted and potentially fatal access to the firearm by children. There are a lot of options out there when it comes to clever ways to secure your firearm, yet have access. Reach is Vara Safe's approach to securing a firearm while providing quick access.
I think it is important to note that safes have various needs. This is a super minimalistic way of securing your firearm. If you need something to house multiple firearms, long guns, protect against fire damage or house other items along with your firearm, this just isn't for that application. The specific design facilitates a quick and easy way to secure and access your firearm.
The basic unit has three main components. The body, which is made of metal alloy, houses the biometric fingerprint reader. The gun is secured in a model-specific holster insert. For example, my insert seems to fit all double-stack Glock firearms. The final piece is the base that also charges the unit.
The device is designed to be plugged in but has about a 10-hour battery backup for access in case of power loss. It is important to note that after the device ran out of battery power, it did not forget the stored fingerprint information. So if the device loses power for over 10 hours, as soon as it is powered up, you will have immediate access.
If the unit were to completely die and no power is available, there is a key override that allows access to the gun.
The Reach is so minimalistic that is can be mounted in a variety of orientations and locations. If you need some ideas on where and how to mount your safe, you need only reference the included manual or the many videos on their website.
Some of the locations the safe seems suited for would be mounted to the side of the bed, nightstand, under a desk, or even horizontally on a shelf. If you want to mount the safe inside a vehicle, there is a car mount you can purchase separately.
The safe can secure your firearm and be mounted with the included plastic base in a way that makes it difficult to separate the safe from what it is mounted to. If you have an application that requires more security, there is a metal security bracket that will make it more difficult to be removed from whatever it is mounted to.
I see this as additional peace of mind rather than a must-have upgrade from the included mount. Vara Safety has a video showing how durable the safe is when the security mount is used. Of course, a lot depends on what the safe is mounted to, and the motivation of the person trying to access the safe. From my impressions, if you use the standard mount, the safe is not easily removed.
I could probably get enough force to pry the safe off what I mounted it to, but doing so would likely destroy the base and still wouldn't give me access to the firearm.
Vara Safety says the biometric fingerprint reader in the Reach uses the most recent technology and is extremely accurate. I was skeptical of biometric safes in the past because I was not completely sold on the technology. With the success of fingerprint recognition on other consumer devices like the iPhone, I thought it was time to challenge my opinion on the technology.
Setting up the device is a pretty straight forward process. The first fingerprint added to the system will be assigned as the master profile. This fingerprint is required to unlock the device before adding any other users. Reach can recognize up to 10 different fingerprints.
I don't have 10 people I want to have access to the safe, so I entered my fingerprint in slightly different orientations to give the device a better chance at reading my fingerprint regardless of how my finger landed on the reader. I decided to set the master fingerprint as the index finger on my non-dominant hand.
I did this because I added several versions of my dominant side thumbprint and did not want to struggle to find which exact angle was the master print.
The device reads your fingerprint five different times so it can recognize the print at slightly different angles. Initially, I had a bit of difficulty in where to place my finger for the device to register my thumbprint and was questioning the accuracy of the reader.
The included documentation says to practice locking and unlocking the device to get used to how the reader works and where the thumb should rest on the reader. Make sure you do this because it does take some practice. Once I figured it out, the unit stored and recognized my thumbprint without fail. Vara Safety says the unit gets better at recognizing your fingerprint, the more you use it.
It's impossible for me to prove this, but the unit got quicker and accepted my thumb at different angles the more I used it. Check out my video:
Because of the design of the holster, there is access to the grip of the gun while it is locked into the unit. This makes access quick, and natural. Simply grab the grip as you would while drawing it from any holster. The fingerprint reader is situated in a place that allows the thumb of the dominant hand to fall onto it naturally.
When the reader recognizes the fingerprint, it releases the locking mechanism. A spring pushes the holster and gun up into the dominant hand. From best I can estimate it takes a second or less for the device to recognize the print and the unit to unlock.
One thing I noticed is that because I have small hands, my thumb landed on the reader on an angle. I registered my thumbprint on an angle as well as aligned on the sensor so it wasn't an issue. If I pushed down on the gun as I positioned my thumb, I found this allowed everything to be in alignment.
I resorted to this method and found it works well and doesn't hinder the locking mechanism from disengaging. I don't know if it will be more or less of an issue with other sized guns and hand size combinations.
The device has 3 small led lights near the fingerprint reader. The lights blink green while the unit is charging and illuminate red indicating it is locked. I would recommend a way to dim or turn off the lights for applications where it is mounted near a bed.
Additionally, I think it would be beneficial to add a way to turn on or off an audible beep when the safe is locked or unlocked. You are able to hear the mechanism engaging and disengaging, but a low-volume beep would give a definitive auditory indication on the status.
My overall impression of the safe is that it is a great option for some applications. The biggest hurdle to accepting a safe like the Reach is having confidence in the fingerprint reader's consistent reliability. I was not only satisfied with the biometric technology used but that the unit has battery backup and remembers the data even if the backup power dies.
While some may see it as a downside, I like the fact that the safe is gun specific. It would be the only way to make this holster design work safely. Vara Safety already has holster inserts for a large number of popular handguns. If you need one for another gun it will only cost you $25 which is great.
While biometric safe locks aren't new, the location of the reader on the Reach is intuitive to the draw stroke, which makes it quick and instinctive. I have not seen a safe that provides quicker access to the gun than Reach. As soon as the safe unlocks, the gun is ready to use.
Other designs require you to reach inside, establish a grip and then withdraw the gun from the safe. The difference is noticeable. When quickness is a necessary criterion for many searching for a quick-access safe, the Reach's advantage is desirable.
While there are clear advantages of this holster/safe design, there are some things to consider. First, the safety information in the manual recommends not securing a gun in the unit with a round in the chamber. This is not unprecedented, as I have even seen this admonition in documents included with holsters.
I have looked at the device, and without damaging the unit with tools, the trigger is not accessible and the locking mechanism could not actuate the trigger. At least with the Glock holster insert, the magazine release is not easily accessible. Again without tools and some serious motivation, the magazine will stay in place. The slide can be manipulated while the gun is securely locked into place.
The worst concern I could imagine from having access to the slide is that someone could manually rack the slide and unload the firearm and send the slide forward without you knowing. If this is a concern, perhaps the safe should be mounted in another location or you have a need for a vault style safe.
I like the idea of using this safe for my everyday carry (EDC) gun, even more than a home-defense gun and here's why: A safe for a home-defense gun only gets opened periodically to ensure the batteries are working on the lock mechanism, and the flashlight/weapon-mounted light inside is good to go.
But the safe I use for my EDC is open multiple times every single day. Whether it is when I get home and decide to offload my EDC, want to dryfire, or store it for the night, the safe I keep my EDC in gets a workout.
The constant sliding in and out of the safe has caused me to ding my optic several times while pulling my gun out of the safe. While this hasn't affected the performance of the optic, a bright ding mark on the optic body isn't ideal. Thankfully the holster insert works with suppressor sights and optics, so I don't have to worry about this.
Even though the holster inserts are model specific, people typically only have one or two EDC guns. Purchasing a second holster insert isn't cost-prohibitive.
Additionally depending on where you mount it, it is a visual reminder of where your EDC is if it isn't on your person. Ideal or not, I know of many people (myself included) who have locked up their EDC in a car safe, only to forget to remove it when they reach home. That split second of fear when you open your safe to grab your EDC and not see it there is not fun.
I like the idea of being able to see if my EDC is secured when it is not on my person.
At a price of $299, the Reach is not cheap when compared to other storage methods. But I really like Reach's features and design and I plan to use it as my EDC safe. Every gun owner is different, and so are their firearm storage options so the Reach may not suit your needs. I am excited to see where Vara Safety takes this design.
I also truly respect and am grateful that Vara Safety is giving gun owners a reliable and viable option for gun security. As responsible gun owners, we should support and encourage businesses like Vara Safety to engineer viable options that allow quick access while securing the gun from children.
Check out their website for more information.