All holsters are not created equal. You know that. You also know that different types of holsters are designed to be used for different police applications. But what you may not know is how to evaluate holsters for quality, fit, retention, and general function.
Every cop should know how to evaluate a holster. This is true whether your agency lets you buy your holster from an approved list using your personal equipment allowance or it simply issues one. And it’s especially true if you are involved in making the decision about which holster your agency will issue to its officers.
No officer who has spent time on the street working in full duty gear will question why the greatest of care should be taken in choosing a holster. A good holster and belt combo can increase your effectiveness and minimize the discomfort of carrying all that gear. A bad holster and belt combo can make your day a misery and, in certain extreme cases, endanger your life.
It’s important that you have the right holster for the job and that you train with it to gain skills that you will need when things go bad on the street. Drawing and reholstering should be second nature to you from a variety of positions and with either hand. You should also take care to ensure that the gear on your belt does not interfere with your ability to access your duty pistol under stress.
Officers have been wounded or even killed because of improper, poorly designed holsters, and their own lack of familiarity with their holsters. About the worst thing that can happen to you in a gunfight is to have trouble drawing your gun.
The successful deployment of gear hinges on three actions: choosing the right equipment for the job, proper supervision of officers using that gear, and training so that officers gain familiarity with the gear. If you skip any of these steps or cut them short, then you compromise officer and public safety.
As veteran officers and police trainers, we’ve put a lot of thought into developing an efficient protocol for the selection of holsters. We’ve also created training programs that will help officers transition to a new holster. And we’ve worked with law enforcement managers and executives, teaching them how to perform ongoing reviews and evaluations of their agencies’ existing duty gear.
So let’s take a look at our evaluation protocol and discuss ways to improve your selection and testing of holsters. Note: The primary focus of this article is duty holsters with retention systems, but most of what we are about to discuss is applicable to other types of holsters.
Holsters are no different than any other piece of equipment. There is not one right kind of holster for all officers. A holster must fit the duty assignment of the officer wearing it. For example, different holsters may be needed for the patrol officer, the plainclothes detective, the bike officer, the court officer, the tactical operator, and the list goes on and on. There is no one specific style of holster that fits all functions.
On some agencies that issue holsters to their officers, the gear is selected by administrative protocol. This selection is primarily based on price, appearance, and estimated service life. This means that holster selection is made by the fiscal management/accounting departments, not the end user. Often the evaluation process consists of nothing more than reviewing the manufacturers’ and suppliers’ marketing material.
A better way to go is to select holsters based on an operational protocol that is conducted by the end users or the supervisors of the end users. Operational protocols should reveal how the equipment will function in the duty environment in terms of durability, accessibility, and security.
There are a lot of ways to evaluate a holster. The following is a detailed explanation of our method. If you are evaluating holsters for an agency, the manufacturers will gladly provide you with their products for testing. If you’re an individual officer who is thinking of switching holsters, about the only way to make this evaluation is by testing it yourself.
Warning: To prevent accidental discharges, do not use real pistols for pull tests. Also, we strongly recommend that you use non-functional metal training guns rather than the non-functional plastic firearms for this testing. With pull tests, the “hardness” of the firearm needs to be as close to the real thing as possible.
Tree Pull Test—Secure the holster on a duty belt; then strap the duty belt around a tree. Now stand at different angles to the tree to simulate a rear, side, and front pull. Use two hands and make three jerk and pulls for an average of one second each.
This is an excellent simulation of someone trying to disarm you. So obviously retention is one of the critical concerns that you are evaluating with this test.
But there’s more to it than that. It’s great to have a holster that can prevent the bad guy from taking your gun. However, a critical concern that’s often overlooked is the effect of a disarming attempt on the operation of the holster. Once you have tried to disarm the tree, be sure to strap on the holster and evaluate whether the “firearm” can still be drawn and re-holstered properly.
The tree test will tell you many things about a holster. It will help you evaluate the protection provided to your firearm inside that holster, the durability of the belt shank and holster, and expected serviceability of the holster and belt.
Officer Pull Test—You can only simulate so much using a holster strapped to a tree. So have one of your officers put on his or her duty gear, the holster to be evaluated, and the non-functional training firearm and holster.
Now have another officer or volunteer stand at different angles at the rear, side, and front of the officer and using two hands give three separate jerk and pulls, trying to yank the firearm out of the holster. Have at least three different volunteers of various heights and weights try to disarm your officer. Also, have your officer assume a variety of positions, including standing, kneeling, sitting, supine, and prone.
As you did with the tree test, once the disarming exercise is complete, attempt to operate the holster to evaluate whether the firearm can be drawn and re-holstered correctly without jeopardizing holster integrity. This tests the protection the holster provides the firearm, along with the durability and serviceability of the holster and belt system used.
This test is conducted in the various positions an officer may find him or herself in on duty, including standing, kneeling, sitting, on the ground, supine, prone, and sitting in a vehicle.
Wear your assigned duty gear, including ballistic vest. Then draw the training firearm, scan from left to right with the firearm drawn, and then secure the firearm. Repeat this drill in all positions with your gloves on and with bare hands. Once you have completed this drill with your gun hand, do it again with your non-gun hand.
Now, perform a series of draws while standing, kneeling, sitting, supine, prone, and while sitting in a vehicle. Draw with your gun hand barehanded and with gloves. Then do it again with your non-gun hand.
This may seem like an awful lot of trouble to go through just to evaluate a holster. But it’s important to remember that your holster is more than just a carrying case for your gun. It is also a critical piece of survival gear and the only way to know how this gear will function when the chips are falling is to test it under real-world conditions or as close to real-world conditions as you can simulate.