How quick is your draw? 6 ground rules for testing holsters and how these popular brands performed

For this month's columnLaw Enforcement Technologypicked several brands of popular duty holsters for evaluation. If you don't see your brand in this article, youmight want to wait for our test of concealed carry holsters.

The list of testing criteria included a mix of objective and subjective tasks primarily designed to wring the holsters out and communicate our findings. We drew from kneeling and seated positions, got the holsters (and guns) wet, and drew from them hundreds of times.

Before taking to the range, we practiced with a Red Gun, Airsoft and a SIRT training pistol. First things first—I had to set several ground rules. When individual officers are looking at holster products, they should too.

We knew that sometimes holsters don’t give an immediate impression, just a collection of qualities that correspond with the agency’s and users’ training, experience and needs. This rule also applies with the fact that there are different levels of retention, and manufacturers have different approaches to these levels. The product must agree with agencies’ training, uniform and safety policies.

The different levels of retention don’t necessarily mean the draw is faster or slower. Years ago, a higher level of retention generally meantthe officer had to manually overcome each retention device by a separate and distinct motion, and therefore the draw was significantly impeded as the retention of the holster went up. That is, it used to be the higher the security, the slower the draw.

A holster has different levels of gun retention. Although there is no consistent standard across the board, each level generally means a device that one must overcome to draw the gun. These are listed as Level1, Level2 and Level3, often designated in Roman numerals. Safariland is generally known for originating this concept after their purchase of the Rogers Holster Company.

New designs like Gould & Goodrich’s Triple Retention Duty Holster or the BLACKHAWK! Duty LV3 Serpa Holster epitomize new designs in holsters. Each of these models have three retention areas that an assaultive suspect would have to challenge, one at a time. The person wearing the holster, however, can disengage the handgun during his or her natural draw stroke, even though the manipulations are distinct. The G&G product, in fact, was fast enough for a three-gun match entry.

Nothing in the design of anything we tested here should displace sound tactics and defensive training. Let me make this clear—the holster is just one tool of many. The handgun is just the tool in an officer’s hand when the carbine or shotgun is out of reach. It is a level of force that must be applied appropriately. If the holster does not secure the handgun when another task is employed, it is useless. Yes, there are useless and far-fetched holster products out there, we did not (and we will not) test any.

The KISS rule applies. If the holster product requires the officer to learn an additional motion or skill that does not agree with sound tactics, pass. That is, if it isn’t natural, it will loose a gunfight.

If the holster interferes with the safe operation of the handgun in any way, including the magazine release, safety features or master grip when drawing, it is the wrong holster. Use common sense.

Most new holster products do not require break-in, unless the manufacturer specifically says this in their literature. If the product draws with a hitch, do not put it on duty. Only a fool would attempt to modify a duty holster or put the wrong or modified gun into a duty holster. There is no “second best” here. Buy the best piece of equipment one can buy for one’s training, ability and policy, and save money on trivial stuff like coffee mugs.

Finally, the minimum number of times one should draw from a holster going on duty is 500. I recommend several hundred times more, adding several hundred more draws over time. In my own experience, I worked with my duty holster like this for several weeks, until I could draw on autopilot. I was not aware of this until a suspect on a traffic stop had secreted a 9mm between his thighs in a moment of indecision. As he turned his head to see where I was, he bumped his nose on the muzzle of my Glock. This is what I mean by autopilot. I was using a Safariland 2005, by the way.

Testing

Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty holsters are made of a hard-molded polymer laminate. This hard shell laminate can be made into any finish, including gloss and matte. The laminate was pretty rigid, considering the thinness of the material. The holster is lined with a suede-like material, which made the holster very quiet, a quality that is not lost on testing officers with hundreds of subject and traffic stops under their belts. The sight channel is oversized in this model and the holster body barely touched the gun. Rather, it cradled our Glocks. Dousing or filling the holster with dirt did not alter the draw. Don’t be surprised here, most products cradle the gun these days.

The K-Force Duty holster also uses a lightweight hood which flips away from a separate lever. The surprising part is the fact that both locking devices disengage by the main latch. A natural draw throws them both off and the gun jumps into the hand. One unique quality belonging to the K-Force Duty Holster is itshood can be flipped on or off without affecting any aspect of the feel of the product. This differs from the BLACKHAWK! Triple Retention Duty Holster, which requires manually pressing the lever to close the hood. The K-Force received superior marks overall, especially with comments about the short learning curve. This product came with instructions cautioning against removing the belt loopfrom the holster body, which restricts its cant adjustability. This is likely because the springs are assembled into the body by marrying these two parts. How does an officer force transition from handgun to other tools? With the G&G K-Force Duty Holster, simply dump the gun back in. The latching mechanism is solid enough that we were able to prevent a gun takeaway with the hood off.

The Gould & Goodrich Astro Double Retention Holster looks like a traditional setup with a wraparound thumb break. The holster front presses a spring against the top of the slide, holding it firmly against the pinch retention device for the trigger guard. Thus the draw is forward, then up. This is fairly natural and the combined thumb release motion could be easily trained.

We liked the quality of this product (the B720A), except for one glaring fact. The level 3 Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster (K391) was faster and easier than the level 2 Gould & Goodrich Astro Double Retention Holster. Don’t feel bad Gould & Goodrich, theK-Force Duty Holster eclipsed most of the holsters in current production in one way or another.

We also tested two models of the BLACKHAWK! SERPAholster: the level 3 retention product, which includes their Pivot Guard device, a hood over the back of the slide;and the SERPA Level2 holster, which has the SERPA locking device and a straight draw. The design of the SERPA holster, or the SERPA Technology Active Retention Models, allows users master grip on the gun while the trigger finger rides alongside the holster. The pad of the trigger finger engages the release, which is a latch mechanism that grips the trigger guard.

The SERPA design allows for a very lightweight platform, especially with the injection molded carbon fiber composite used in its manufacture. The holster bodies are semi rigid and allow for mounting on different platforms. If the user wants a jacket slot, high ride or even thigh mount, the SERPA can do it. Probably one of their best mounting options is the fact that the vest carry option is particularly smooth and lightweight.

The latch mechanism is quite strong, able to sustain grab attempts and subsequent struggle for the gun without problem. It is impervious to water, but the potential for material to get behind the mechanism, locking the gun in or out through a trapped foreign object, exists. We were not, however, able to induce failure, except when we deliberately placed something there.

The SERPA draw is smooth and fast. OK, it’s really fast. The reholster is instinctive, and the device does resemble “active retention.” During live fire, the SERPA was quick and smooth. However, we all had some reservations. Since one presses one’s trigger finger along the area where the trigger finger naturally rests, one has to train to resist curling the finger into the trigger guard under stress. Trigger fingers should be reserved for making the gun go bang and writing the report that follows.

The Level 3 SERPA (We specifically used the 44H100BK-R LV3 Duty model) has a hood which fits over the back of the slide, further preventing unauthorized access. A huge treadle removes it, and the simple motion of the thumb acquiring the grip actuates the treadle.

We found that beginning the draw stroke is enough to flip the Pivot Guard, which is the nomenclature for the hood. It was as natural as any holster use and added to the quality and safety of the product. The only criticism of the Pivot Guard we had was the fact that one could not simply close it back onto the gun without pressing the treadle again. It wasn’t exactly a two-handed operation, but closing it was not as natural as opening it. In comparison, the hood on the Gould & Goodrich B720A could be flipped on and off surreptitiously.

Our findings suggested that agency policies shouldallow officers to select their duty holsters based on parameters, rather than being held to a specific product. Theoretically, this could increase officer safety just because it would be harder to predict which holster an individual officer might be using.

Testing the Safariland 7TS was a little different. We have been using this holster for various tests since it was available earlier in the year. Of the side-by-side shooting tests we did with various holsters, this result is the only one we will share with our readers, simply because I had enough time with it to establish a degree of muscle memory. The Safariland 7TS uses a thumb release, similar to the 5.11 Tactical Thumb Drive and both pop into the hand when released. The Safariland 7TS was especially suited for drawing from a seated position. Like the Thumb Drive, both holsters can be quickly popped onto the concealed carry belt for off duty/concealed carry use.

How fast is the Safariland 7TS? I drew and fired two center mass shots with it in 0.86 seconds using my Glock 22 with a Lone Wolf .357 barrel.

The 5.11 Tactical Thumb Drive came originally from Kyle Lamb’s idea of a holster without complicated levers that offered a degree of retention. He took the idea to Blade-Tech, who collaborated with 5.11 Tactical in this design. Blade-Tech uses proprietary polymers well known in holster manufacture.Most readers will recognize Sergeant Major Kyle Lamb(Ret.), a trainer with 21 years active military, 15 of which were in U.S. Army Special Operations.Sergeant Major Lamb is the Founder and President of Viking TacticsInc., an engaging writer and respected trainer. It looks like he designs a pretty good holster, too.

The 5.11 Tactical Thumb Drive has a removable switch guard called a Chop-Block, which adds a little safety to the Level 2 security of the product. This holster adjusts to three different cants and is cut out in the front for aftermarket optics.

In tests, Uncle Mike’s Pro-3 Duty Holster is a lightweight synthetic holster with a traditional look and feel, using a 3-point locking system. It looks and operates like a traditional thumb break, straight draw holster, with which anyone who has been on duty during the last several decades would be familiar. However, the gun does not release without a separate manipulation. This manipulation is natural for the person wearing the gun, but unnatural for the person trying to take it away. Our tests, which included trying to take a holstered Red Gun away, confirmed that it works well, even if the holster is unsnapped.

I personally have never used the Uncle Mike’s Pro-3 Duty Holster, but one of our testers has for many years. It is great for retention while the user is on his feet, simply because using a bladed stance and turning the gun side away from the suspect keeps the gun secured.

Their holster is made from a lightweight synthetic product. The part that cradles the gun is a rigid frame. The rest of the holster—the part that wraps around the front of the gun—is a laminate that can be made to mimic any finish, including basket and nylon weave.

I completely understand why many of my friends are loyal Uncle Mike’s users. This holster is suitable for officers who need a light, durable product for an active assignment like marine, park or bike patrol.

Finally, Officer Macchia, an experienced SRO, found he liked the Safariland 7TS so much, he stuck mine into his range bag and texted me about it later.

 

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade.

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