Shopping For A Duty Holster
There are a number of reasons why a person might shop for a duty holster.
Some people have to carry with a holster with specific retention and other attributes due to work, such as law enforcement and armed guards. Since LEOs can (usually!) supply their own auxiliary gear, including pistols and holsters, they have to find a viable alternative. Armed guards also may have to supply their own sidearm and holster, and it usually has to meet certain specifications per job requirements.
Additionally, some civilians prefer to open carry. Some of those who do want the greatest amount of security possible, which leads many civilians to purchase a police holster model for use as an open carry holster.
So, how do you pick one? Let's talk about that.
Employer Requirements For A Duty Holster
If you're buying one for work, you have to make sure to know, understand and comply with employer requirements for a duty holster. Usually, they'll make it known what that entails, but it bears mentioning.
Typically, many departments will state requirements for retention level, either by referring to industry parlance (Level II or Level III) or by the number of active retention devices. Level II retention holsters will have one active retention device along with the passive retention of the holster, and Level III will have two active retention devices.
Some departments will mandate a color and finish. Spoiler alert: they'll probably want it black. Some departments will mandate a matte, smooth or basketweave finish and some might not; that's going to be up to your department, agency or the company you work for.
Some employers, agencies or departments may also mandate certain features, such as a thumb guard or hand guard. This prevents suspects or otherwise hostile personnel from accessing the retention devices and therefore your duty weapon.
Belt attachment method may or may not be mandated, and other features may or may not be mandated as well.
First, understand exactly what's needed if a duty holster that you purchase is going to be for work purposes. If your employer, agency or department has specific requirements, make sure that they are complied with. There's usually a good reason for it.
What Features Should A Duty Holster Have?
A duty holster really only needs to satisfy a few requirements, just as a concealed carry holster really only needs to do a few things.
Those things are:
- It should be made for the make and model pistol you carry to ensure the best fit and function
- It should have the appropriate retention level for your intended use
- If you have any weapon attachments, such as a light, laser or RDS, it should work with them
- A police holster should attach to the wearer in the manner they desire, whether on the belt, to MOLLE webbing or a drop leg rig
- It needs to be durable enough to withstand the abuse of being carried
- Inclement weather and other conditions shouldn't affect it
- Drawing and reholstering need to be smooth and reliable once active retention is deactivated
- Active retention devices need to function correctly, reliably and should be easily actuated by the user
Basically, it needs to fit your gun and any attachments, it needs to work, and you should be able to wear it without too much discomfort. Doesn't sound like too much, does it?
Select The Appropriate Duty Holster Retention Level
If you don't have specific requirements, you should select the appropriate duty holster retention level for the intended application. Therefore, you should know a bit about holster retention.
Passive retention is the degree to which the holster itself holds the pistol, absent any active retention devices. Active retention is a mechanical device that holds the pistol in place.
A holster with only passive retention is considered a Level I, adding one active retention device is a Level II, and two active retention devices is Level III. There are Level IV holsters, but only a few are on the market at the moment.
The primary concern is not so much the gun falling out; if active retention is needed to keep the gun in the holster, then you have a bad holster and shouldn't use it. Instead, the REAL reason why active retention is needed is to prevent other people from accessing the pistol.
The uniformed officer needs as much as they can get. This is why most departments require Level III retention for patrol officers, as they often have physical contact with suspects. Make no mistake, criminals can and have disarmed and then murdered police officers and civilians with their own guns.
Detectives, many federal agents, armed guards and certainly armed civilians may not face the same level of risk as many patrol officers. However, just because a struggle for your gun isn't necessarily LIKELY if you aren't a uniformed patrol officer doesn't mean it isn't good to have just in case!
Also know that with every active retention device added comes the requirement to train to defeat it if needed. You have to train with the holster so you can reliably draw the pistol if circumstances should ever arrive when you have to. More retention devices means more steps that have to take place before you can.
Some people prefer to err on the side of security. They want the utmost in retention and will just deal with it on the training range. Others prefer to balance a little more on the side of fast access; enough retention for the holster to be secure but easy enough to use to get the gun out in a hurry.
Again, absent a requirement by your agency, department or your employer, this much is up to you. Make sure that you select the right retention level for you, if you have a choice in the matter.
Active Retention Devices Must Be Easy To Operate But Hard To Beat
The active retention device(s) of a duty holster also have to strike a balance between ease of use and efficacy. In other words, they must be designed and placed in such a manner that makes them easy for the user to operate.
This aspect is actually crucial. You have to be able to operate the holster when your life or the lives of other people depend on getting your gun into action, and anything that slows you down makes that harder.
The retention devices should be easily accessed by the shooting hand thumb, and operated with as little motion as possible.
Under extreme stress, fine motor control degrades precipitously. What can easily be done in a relaxed setting can be all but impossible when confronted by a real threat. Therefore, take care to select a duty holster that you can operate easily, but that is also fully secure.
Compatibility With Your Duty Pistol
You should also make sure that your pistol is made for and compatible with your duty pistol and any and all attachments. While it seems terribly obvious, some people will use universal holsters, which can lack the degree of retention and function as a custom-molded holster.
A custom-molded holster of quality leather or hard polymer is obviously the best choice. That way, the pistol can be drawn and reholstered reliably.
You should also take care to ensure the holster is compatible with any attachments, such as a weapon-mounted light or laser and a reflex optic. The use of either and in some cases both is becoming far more widespread among uniformed officers, federal agents and also armed civilians.
If your duty pistol or carry pistol is equipped with either or both, you have to select a holster that is compatible with them.
It seems painfully obvious, doesn't it? I mean, DUH!!!
Why bring it up? We've sold a lot of holsters over the years. You'd be surprised how many people have ordered holsters without checking if it fit their gun or attachment. In fact, supposedly professional reviewers have asked for holsters without mentioning they had a light or red dot optic...and then trashed us because of their mistake. We won't say who (because reasons) but the point here is a lot of people look before they leap.
We're happy to help when people have problems, but taking a few minutes to check compatibility will save you headaches and get you the holster you actually want that much quicker.
Belt Attachments For Duty Holsters
Another aspect to consider is that of the belt attachment for a duty holster. Just as with the retention level, you have to consider what's best for YOU, specifically. You might be a patrol officer, Border Patrol agent, a detective, other federal agent, an armed guard, or you might be an armed civilian that wants a durable, secure holster for open carry.
Most duty holsters come with one of four broad classes of attachment method. Namely, a belt slide, a paddle, a drop leg attachment, or a MOLLE attachment.
Some have a fixed attachment, some holsters can be configured at the owner's discretion. Some are available for only one belt width - say a 1.5-inch or 2.25-inch belt - and some can be configured for use with any of the popular belt widths.
Unless you're only going to use the holster one way, with only one belt attachment - you only wear a 1.5-inch belt, and that's the only way you're going to carry - then get one with a dedicated attachment method.
If you wear the holster and pistol from a duty belt, but occasionally switch to a drop leg platform for tactical duty or SWAT deployment, then you need to pick a holster that can change attachments.
Quick-release systems are excellent in this regard. If well-designed, it will be attached just as strongly as if the belt attachment were attached directly to the holster.
A quick-release system also gives the officer the ability to take the holster and gun off the belt for safe storage, and put them back on when it's time for your shift to start. If you trade attachment methods, say from a duty belt to a civilian carry belt to a drop leg platform, then a quick release system of good design is an excellent feature to look for.
You should know the drop height that you'll wear the holster at. If wearing on the belt, typically you'll have the choice of high, mid- and low-ride belt attachments. There's no real correlation between your physical height and what ride height you'll prefer; it's more that you prefer what you prefer. If you wish your holster rode a little lower or higher, that tells you the ride height you might want to consider.
To sum up, you want to make sure the attachment method suits your intended purpose. If that's multi-use, be sure to select a duty holster that can be used in that fashion. If single-use, then just make sure to get the right one.
Duty Holster Materials
Quality duty holsters are made with either leather or molded polymer. While the former used to be the standard, the latter are now. Both can work...though one will be much more in line with the needs of the modern patrol officer.
Leather holsters, if of sufficient quality, are fine for the plainclothes duty and for the armed civilian. They can be equipped with active retention devices, such as a thumb strap. In fact, the thumb strap holster - first invented by John Bianchi - were the dominant duty holster from the 1960s into the 1990s. Before that, the Jordan and Threepersons holsters were the most common amongst law enforcement officers.
However, they offer far less protection in case of a gun grab as the retention devices aren't as mechanically strong as those found on modern duty holsters. Leather also weakens with age; hard polymer does not.
If your job or lifestyle involves more than just going from your house to your car to your office and back...you want to invest in hardier gear.
Again, there are plenty of great leather holsters out there for light duty, civilian concealed carry applications or competition, but hard duty requires hard gear and there are better choices out there.
Make Sure You Can Stand To Wear Your Duty Holster
Unless you have no choice, you should make sure that you're wearing a duty holster you can stand to have on you. Ultimately, if you can't stand your gear, you're not going to look forward to wearing it. Granted, law enforcement is not a career for the weak or timid, but that doesn't mean you have to needlessly suffer.
A good top tip, therefore, is to find a holster maker that offers a test period after purchase, in case you wear it and find it isn't really the best for you. That way, you can return the holster for a refund if needs be or get some help from the manufacturer in setting it up for better results, rather than just being stuck with a useless piece of gear.
After all, those in the line of duty deserve to be equipped to succeed and not hate everything while doing it.