Holsters 101

Posted in Pistol Posts on 23 Feb 2015 by mach1airsoft

Holsters 101

Holsters. It goes without saying that a universal holster is a poor choice. Nothing can ruin your day more than coming to the sudden realization that your gun is unloaded when trying to fire it or more distressingly, the realization that your sidearm is just simply not there. Hardly the news you want to get when trying to return fire with what is often your last line of defence.

On the Sidearm and the Role

Here at the Mach 1 team, we all have a variety of differing tastes when it comes to our sidearms. Our retail manager prefers the M1911, where my coworker prefers the compact third generation Glock 26. Myself? I prefer the fourth generation Glock 22. Each of these guns represents a different methodology at work. One views his sidearm as the ultimate last resort for when his main weapon goes down. The other views it as a compliment to his primary weapon, and for me, my sidearm is often the only gun I run.

Universal Holsters and a Universal Lack of Retention

Now, I know you’re thinking- what does this have to do with losing your sidearm? Well, just count the number of guns there. Between the three of us, there are five sidearms. The logical solution is to use a universal holster, but as we’ve mentioned above, it’s not an option. The nylon construction isn’t tailored to the specific gun, and the retention is passable at best. By this point, thumb break straps are very 90s and outdated. If I remember correctly, the only major user of them at this moment in Canada is the RCMP. However, what sets the RCMP holster apart from the typical universal holster is how it’s molded specifically for their gun with a variety of retention mechanisms. The result? A secure weapon for their operating environment.

Proprietary Holsters

The idea is we always want to have a hard holster designed for our gun in particular. Having the holster molded for your gun reduces the chances that it will shift around and decide to liberate itself in the middle of a field. However, there is still a chance your gun can come loose, it’s simple physics at work. In order to remove your gun from the holster, there is a path for it to go. This path does not magically stop existing when you stop thinking about your sidearm. This is where the levels of retention come into play.

What is a Level 1 Holster?

        A Level 1 holster is the most basic molded holster. It’s a simple friction fit holster that trades retention for speed of draw. Rich likes to use these holsters, in particular a KAOS holster, in close quarters battle for their quickdraw capabilities. The downside is the lack of retention.

What is a Level 2 Holster?

A Level 2 holster is slightly more complex. It adds in a locking mechanism for the pistol, preventing it from moving without manipulation. Popular holsters in this category are the 5.11 Thumbdrive, the Safariland SLS and ALS, and the Blackhawk Serpa holster. Ken runs one of these, as he’s content with leaving his gun in his holster, only to be used in emergency. In other words, he wants it to be there when he needs it.

What is a Level 3 Holster?

A Level 3 holster adds an additional mechanism or defense against unintentional release. In the case of the Blackhawk SERPA, a hood is added to the top of the holster that folds over the rear of the gun’s slide. In addition to the SERPA’s standard push button release, this provides a secure fit. Safariland’s version for the SLS is a tab that is used to lock the hood release button. Normally, the thumb is used to push down and forward on the hood that holds the gun in place. This tab locks that motion. I carry these holsters as retention is the most important aspect of carry to me. After all, if I lose my sidearm when it’s my primary, I’m in trouble. If I get disarmed of said sidearm, I’m in even more trouble.

The Selection Process

Now you may ask, well, why doesn’t everybody carry a Level 3 holster? Well, it’s a tradeoff. Level 3s are slower to draw than Level 2s, and Level 2s slower than Level 1s. Practice will help cut the draw time- about 200 repetitions should do it. With that said, a Level 3 in the majority of cases still will draw slower than a Level 2. As well, Level 3 holsters are bulky and get in the way. You will not find a Level 3 holster that is not a duty holster (meaning it’s supposed to be worn as part of a uniform kit) where on the other hand, it is very easy to find a Level 1 in a low profile load out.


The last thing I want to talk about are accessories on your gun. To have a molded holster means you can’t exactly swap things up on the go. You have to commit to a method of action before purchasing your holster. For example, swapping to a KAOS from my current Safariland SLS 6280 means I’d have to ditch my TLR-1 light. Most holsters are custom made for many different light, laser, and gun combos, but it’s up to you to ensure your variation exists when you’re choosing.

For Holsters, click HERE

For more information on Kaos Concealment Holsters, click HERE


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