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Think About Your Holster

Follow these tips to choose the right duty gear and match it to your needs.

December 01, 2004  |  by Dave Douglas

I know you've seen this dance, too. All the hopping up and down is usually not caused by the equipment, but it happens due to the stress of qualifying on a timed course of fire and not being familiar with the holster. Now multiply that level of stress by about a zillion and you are just beginning to approximate the stress of a real gunfight.

Retention level is one of those areas that requires some significant introspective soul searching. You have to weigh retention and ease of draw for your personal situation and ability.

For years I carried a Level I holster. Maybe I'm a klutz, but no matter how often I practiced, I could never manipulate the snaps and levers efficiently enough to get the gun out of the holster rapidly. Even more so, I really had a problem re-holstering the gun to a secure condition with anything above a Level I.

Don't let peer pressure get the best of you here. Know what your retention level limitations are and embrace them. Get a holster that you can work quickly and every time. If it's a retention Level I rig, work with your defensive tactics instructors to improve your gun retention techniques.

Letting Go

If you have been a cop for more than six months, you probably have fallen in love with one particular holster. It fits just right, you can draw well from it, and it is comfortable to wear.

But don't get so attached to your trusty, old holster that you overlook wear. After about two years of knocking around a patrol car and banging into your locker every night, a holster just wears out. It loses its rigidity and ability to retain the gun.

Some older holsters may even mold around the gun too much and cause problems with ease of draw. Leather will soften over the years. I know you're thinking soft leather is a good thing, kind of like a great old pair of boots or shoes, but that does not translate well to the world of holsters and leather gear.

It's not just leather holsters that are affected by this kind of wear. High-tech, carbon-fiber plastic holsters can also break down over the years. While leather softens, plastic holsters have a tendency to become brittle.

In either case, inspect your holster often and buy a new one when your older holster starts to show too much wear.

And remember, holsters will age differently in different climates. Weather plays a big part in holster wear.

Hot and humid climates tend to break down the fibers in leather holsters at an accelerated rate. Horsehide does better under humid conditions than cowhide, but it too breaks down over time. Hot, dry climates impact plastic holsters, causing them to become more brittle faster than in mild climates. They tend to off-gas the binding agents and plasticizers at a faster rate. Once this occurs, they will break or chip at wear points.

The metal parts of a holster also wear out. Some of the new Level II and Level III rigs include springs, tensioning bars, or levers. They need to be inspected, maintained, and sometimes lubricated to keep them functioning properly. If a functioning part on a retention holster breaks or locks up from rust, it can ruin your whole day, if you get my meaning.

The Belt

The other area where condition is often overlooked is the support structure for your holster, the belt. A well-constructed duty belt should always be matched to your duty holster.

A good duty belt needs to remain rigid. This provides a foundation for the holster. An inexpensive, soft, or ill-fitting belt will not allow a well-made and well-designed holster to function properly. The same weather conditions that make holsters wear out make belts wear out too. Generally, wear makes a duty belt too soft. A soft belt or one that is too small for the holster will flop inward during your draw, and that will make it very hard for you to rapidly bring your gun from your holster to on-target.

Buy a good holster. Make sure it is comfortable and that it fits the specific gun you use. Get the retention level you like, not what your friends like. Inspect the rig weekly and maintain it so it remains serviceable. And above all, practice with it.

If you do these few things, a good holster should last a good long time and serve you well. But watch for wear and when your holster does wear out, replace it.

Sgt. Dave Douglas is the rangemaster of the San Diego Police Department, a veteran law enforcement officer, and a Police contributing editor.

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