How to buy a holster

Buying a new holster for personal use or for an entire department is not a task to be taken lightly – improperly or poorly designed holsters can be deadly

There are few professions that can compare to law enforcement when it comes to the importance of their tools versus the frequency of their use. A carpenter’s saw is critical and gets used a lot. For cops, the handgun is always with us, but with any luck it is rarely utilized. We cannot work our shifts without this tool, yet, we may not give proper credit to the other device that ensures the pistol is always there – the holster. Here are some tips on purchasing a holster that will work for you and your agency.

Uniformity vs. mission

If the main idea behind wearing a uniform is that very uniformity, we have to carefully weigh out the needs of all those carrying a firearm. Having a shiny, patent leather holster may look great for some units, but what about others whose mission is vastly different? In most cases, there is no “one-size fits all” solution.

The best bet is to try different holsters with varied retention levels and find one that is right for you.
The best bet is to try different holsters with varied retention levels and find one that is right for you. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Many agencies allow for a variance of duty gear to reflect the assignment and this is wise. You will not see those patent leather holsters on a SWAT rig where performance and utility are king. Many tactical teams opt for lighter, more versatile gear because they are often carrying more (ammo, plate carrier, IFAK). Consider the role of mounted or motor units who often use leather. This owes itself in many ways to tradition, but there is good functionality there too. Regardless, pick something that is going to best be suited to your mission, with an eye toward uniformity.


Leather holsters have served law enforcement for well over a century. You could get them in various colors, weaves and sizes, but leather holsters were the only thing you would have to select from in the old days. Leather is great, but it is also heavy compared to more modern materials. In addition, if not properly cared for, an aged leather holster can be ripped right off a duty belt.

These days holsters come in a variety of materials. Thermoplastics such as Kydex and Boltaron are relatively inexpensive and offer a lot of benefits such as being light, strong and easily maintained. There are also woven materials such as ballistic nylon or Cordura, though I’ve yet to see a holster made of these materials that would be worthy of duty use.

Picking a holster from the above materials can be simplified by considering the qualities of each type of material. Leather is strong, traditional and looks good when maintained, but also heavy. Kydex and Boltaron are tough, lightweight and enduring, but they are also rigid.


This is the most important decision to be made when considering what type of holster to buy. Every situation we respond to, we’re introducing a weapon. Things could go from relatively mild to a life and death struggle in a very short order if the suspect who was otherwise unarmed goes after the officer’s weapon.

The solution is prevention and while one element of this is weapon retention training, the other is the retention built into the holster itself. Ranging from levels 1-4, these levels typically correlate with the number of retention devices that must be deactivated in order to draw the weapon.

While more retention devices can mean more safety, there is a small tradeoff with the speed of the draw. The difference in draw speed is nominal, but training is absolutely critical here. Even if an officer is comfortable drawing regularly from a level 3 holster, they need to also be able to make that draw while under stress. This very issue has been central in many officer shootings.

The best bet is to try different holsters with varied retention levels and find one that is right for you. Strike a balance between a retention level you are comfortable with and your personal ability to draw your weapon under stress. Remember that not even Mayberry is safe anymore. You might think your jurisdiction is low risk and you could carry a Yaqui slide where gravity is the only thing holding your pistol in your holster. A weapon grab can happen anywhere, at any time.

Go for quality

Some final thoughts to help you on your way to purchasing a holster would include leaning toward quality. While finer things have finer prices, you have to think of the holster as a mini insurance policy. It will be there protecting your weapon when you dive in the lake after that missing child. It will hold firmly if anyone ever tries to grab your weapon and use it against you or others. It will also be there to provide you with the tool that may save someone’s life should the need arise. The holster is not a place to cut corners.

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