How to buy holsters

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. Even an officer’s lack of familiarity with his or her holster can prove fatal. Every officer dreads the worst case scenario of getting in a gunfight and struggling to draw their firearm.

Picking the right holster is an individual decision based on personal preference and operational needs, and it may be influenced by department regulations or protocol.

Here are the most important things to consider when buying a holster:

1. Functionality: When it comes to holsters, there is no “one size fits all.” A holster must fit the officer’s size, environment and duty assignment (different holsters may be needed for the bike officer, the patrol officer, the plainclothes detective, etc). Make sure you think about your role, needs and assignments. Consider where the holster will be worn. Options include: hip worn, cross drawn, high ride, mid ride and thigh. Other accessories or duty gear may interfere with certain types of holsters, so be aware of what else you may be carrying or wearing.

2. Security: A holster’s purpose is to provide safe, secure storage for your firearm on your person. Holsters fall in a range from simple friction-fit designs — which work well for off duty or concealed carry — to thumb break or rotating hood designs. These can be taken a step further with the addition of other security features to add a second or third layer of retention — some can even have up to four layers of retention. But holster manufacturers provide three levels of security to fulfill specific needs:

Level 1 holsters secure the firearm through tension fit. Primarily worn for undercover work, plainclothes operations or for backup guns.

Pros: They offer concealment and speed.
        Gross or fine motor skill operated.
Cons: Offers very little retention capabilities.
        At times, they are worn in uncommon, less-accessible areas.

Level 2 holsters usually have a secured thumb break (safety strap) and retention system that requires a specific motion to negotiate the firearm from the holster. These can be found in most standard police applications.

Pros: Gross or fine motor skill operated.
        Various types of construction.
Cons: Offers little concealment. 
        May be more difficult to draw from than Level 1.

Level 3 holsters feature three mechanisms that provide an added level of protection to safeguard the weapon.

Pros: Very secure retention of the firearm.
Cons: Offers virtually no concealment. 
        May be more difficult to draw from than Level 2.

2. Durability: Thoroughly inspect the internal mechanism of the holster, test the thumb break or security devices in the holster, and practice drawing your firearm to ensure the holster’s retention will remain intact. Remember: injection-molded plastic or nylon is best for durability but may be uncomfortable, while leather may be more comfortable and professional looking but is also more susceptible to weather.

3. Color and style: Always check with your department to determine if they have specific requirements for duty gear finish or material. Patent leather or plain black are standard options for holster finishes.

4. Maintenance: Duty gear products can typically be expected to last two or three years. Find out whether the holster you are considering comes with a warranty, and how long it lasts. Who would you call if a component were to break, and what is their policy for making repairs? Ask if the manufacturer or dealer accepts returns. Also consider whether the material of your holster scratches or discolors easily. Check the manufacturer’s cleaning and maintenance directions.

5. Comfort: Regardless of what holster you choose, make sure you are very comfortable wearing it and practice drawing your own weapon from it.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and evaluating holsters? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

Police1 Product Editor Kevin L. Jones and Police1 Contributor Dave Young, Director of Specialized Programs for Northcentral Technical College - RedMan Training Division, contributed to this report.

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