Holster retention systems and sloppy research

A few people drink from the fountain of knowledge but most only gargle.

Gun Digest recently published an online article about holster retention systems. The article begins by referencing Safariland’s retention holster rating system as being the standard. Unfortunately, the author, Corey Graff, should have done a little research and contacted Safariland about their retention rating system before writing about it.

That system, devised by Bill Rogers, the inventor of the modern security holster, has nothing to do with the number of mechanisms that the holster has. Corey’s interpretation is a common misconception in the industry. Safariland’s system is based on a series of hands-on performance tests in which the holster is physically attacked and tested. The holster must pass, in sequential order, each test to achieve a given level of rating. A holster can have several mechanisms on it and still not achieve any rating at all if it doesn’t pass the hands-on (literally) tests.

In point of fact, the Blackhawk Serpa holster pictured in the article will not pass even a Level I rating test, regardless of the number of mechanisms it might possess. The reason is that the holster must remain attached to the belt while attacker is pulling on it with a given amount of force. Because of its relatively small mounting area where the screws attach to the belt plate, the entire Serpa holster will pull off the belt when subjected to a Level I test. Unless, of course, the holster itself breaks, which has also been known to happen, when subjected to a hands-on test.

destroyed serpa

I won’t go into the plethora other unsatisfactory aspects of the Serpa holster.

Unreinforced leather holsters, such as the Blackhawk leather slide holster pictured, will not pass a Level I test either. They lack rigidity in the strap holding the pistol in place and the pistol will simply pull out of the holster when subjected to a significant amount of force. This is why true security holsters must be made from a rigid synthetic material.

It’s interesting that the author used Blackhawk holsters as illustrations despite the fact that they don’t pass the Safariland rating system. What is up with that, I don’t know, but it’s certainly poor research and understanding of the topic. Since this article is an excerpt from a book about Concealed Carry Holsters, I certainly hope the rest of the book is better researched and based on factual information rather than common misconceptions.

25 responses

  1. Slide holster? Did you mean to use a different pic for that one? Both appear to be Serpas, neither appears to be leather.

      1. Who is the manufacturer of the brown leather holster pictured above please

      2. That holster is manufactured by Blackhawk.

    1. Wish I’d read this before buying my Safariland GLS holster. Despite my initial concern about its level of retention I hadn’t researched it enough. Looks like it’s not even rated a level I and is touted more as a concealment holster. Maybe Safariland hasn’t put it through formal retention testing yet, as the .pdf supplied in the link above is dated 6/2011.

  2. Well you taught me something again Claude. I always thought the Level rating indicated how many levels of security the holster had. We were issued Safariland SSIII’s. I assumed they were called that because they had three different obstacles to overcome during the draw.

    1. That’s the common misconception in the industry. The number of mechanisms have nothing to do with the Level rating. It’s so common that gunwriters even get it completely wrong and I have to correct the bad info. 🙂

    2. When I was in law enforcement we were issued the Safariland Level 3 retention holsters, nick named ’em Triple Death. They retained, and retained…one of our officers who had carried a Colt gov’t in a bucket holster for years got in a situation, a bad, bad situation, like a sawed off coming at him. He fumbled the Triple threat, and fumbled it and fumbled it…….never did clear leather. The sawed off, a cut down Smith and Wesson pump, misfired once in his face and again at the back of his head after he fell. The perp then retreated, drove away. When he tried his gun later, it fired…..we dropped the Triple Threats the next day…….To give them their due: Practice, practice, practice nd practice some more…….

      1. Practice is key. If an officer is going use any retention gear, they have to practice with it.

  3. You did a great job explaining what a holster level test ISN’T, but it might be helpful to clarify what is IS. It doesn’t have “nothing to do with the number of mechanisms that the holster has”, it involves deactivating each mechanism one by one and running the retention test again. If there are three separate retention mechanisms, a test is run each time one of the mechanisms is deactivated, to ensure proper retention at each level.

    Good article!

  4. Wow, Great info! I was unaware of this. Keep up the good work Claude.

  5. I submitted both an email and a comment about the article. So far, neither have been posted or answered. Apparently, Gun Digest is all too aware of its ‘editors’ weaknesses.

  6. I think your article is just as misleading as the Gun Digest article. You state the rating system has nothing to do with the number of retention systems. That isn’t exactly true either. For a level one holster it must have a primary retention system of some sort and survive a 5 second grab and snatch. For the level 2 test, the primary lock must be disabled and the same retention test is run. This means a level 2 holster must have two retention systems. If it exhibits an ability to retain the pistol in a “meaningful way” it qualifies as a level 2. If it completely pass the test to qualify for further levels of testing.

    For the level 3 holsters it has to pass the first two test. It is then tested with the primary and secondary retention systems deactivated. It must exhibit an ability to secure the firearm in a “meaningful way” to be considered level 3. This means it has a 3rd retention system. If it completely passes then it can be tested for level 4.

    So to be tested all the way through level 3 it must have 3 levels of retention and survive a snatch and grab. That means it does have “something” to do with the number of mechanisms. The difference is they must pass a retention test.

  7. I have doubted about the book already. There is so much Missouri out there about CCW and PDW it’s downright scary. Loads and loads of regurgitated hyperbole passed down for generations from “expert” to “expert.” And they have never fitted a gun anywhere but training, and base their info on ballistics gel and hypothesis.

    I get sick of hearing thinks like caliber a is better than caliber b, or pistol a is better than pistol b.

    No research about muzzle velocities needed to get you bullet to do what it claims, nothing about the comparative advantage and disadvantages of bullet types or calibers. Nothing about the horrific shortcomings created by making a gun smaller.

    And until I read your article, nothing about what makes a good holster, except branding. A pulsar brand name doors not make a good product.

    Thanks for challenging the info. I’d love to see a more comprehensive article about holster selection, based on good info! Do you have one floating around, or can you point me in the direction of one you trust?

    1. Wow. I hate my phone! That should be misinformation, not Missouri.

      … Never fired a gun…

      … Particular brand name does not…

      Wish there was an edit or delete option

  8. Bill sent me an email about the article. It’s an succinct explanation of how the system works. Although the Gun Digest author revised the article, he basically took out the Safariland reference but still uses the “Levels” term, so Bill’s explanation is appropos.

    “Claude, in reading the below thread it might be worth while to explain why the Safariland 070 (Rogers SSIII) holster is a Level 3 holster. I will try and give a brief description of the levels. For a holster to meet a level 1 classification it must be able to withstand 5 seconds of force by someone using both hands directed at the handgun and or holster in any direction or combination of directions. This is with the holster properly mounted on a duty belt and worn by an average sized person. At the end of the 5 seconds, the holster needs to be secured to the belt, the handgun secure in the holster and then the operator needs to be able to draw the handgun in 1.5 seconds. A level 2 holster must first pass a level 1 test. Then with the primary securing device removed it must still maintain security at least in one direction that would normally be used to defeat the holster. The old 295 holster was a level 2. Once you released the strap that went around the top front of the holster, the pistol was still secure from a rearward, side, or straight up force. The operator was required to rotate the pistol forward to unlock the trigger guard from the holster before drawing. A level 3 holster must pass a level 1 test first. Then with the primary securing device removed, it must pass another level 1 test. Finally with the secondary device removed, it must still secure the weapon at least in one direction that would normally be used to defeat the holster. The Rogers SSIII holster, also sold as Safariland 070, could pass a level 1 test with both straps secured. It could then pass another level 1 test with the top strap secured. With all straps removed it secured the handgun from a side, up, or forward force.” ——-Bill Rogers

  9. Reblogged this on disturbeddeputy and commented:
    You carry a quality gun, right. One you can bet your life on? What about the rest of your gear? Can you bet your life on it, too?

  10. Reblogged this on tacticalprofessor and commented:

    Still a great deal of confusion and misinformation about this topic floating around.

  11. I admit I am still confused about your claim that it’s not three retention devices. Reading (three times) Bill’s explanation, it sounds like there are levels not just to testing but to securing mechanisms.

    As I read it, Level 3 requires:
    – A retention device to work
    – Another retention device that works, when the first one is disabled or deactivated
    – A third retention device that works when the first two are both disabled or deactivated

    Of course simply claiming to have the devices doesn’t make it so, and they must be adequately functional in all regards. But once you stipulate certification, then it does seem that a level 1 holster has one retention device, level 2 two devices, etc.

    If not, please explain again so I get it this time.

  12. […] Just what makes a holster “Retention Level 1” vs. “Retention Level II”? […]

  13. […] Holster retention systems and sloppy research […]

  14. Nice work Claude. You are usually more cerebral than most. I on the other hand consider that Level 1 is my hand on the pistol grip. Optionally, Level 2 is my non-dominant hand deploying a sharp, pointy blade. Also optionally, Level 3 is Very Loud instructions to the encroacher to Step Back. Level 4 is the stabbing/slashing of anyone moving to take me or my firearm, also included in Level 4 is shooting the offender. Of course, you know that I am speaking from personal experience. I consider that ANY attempt to disarm me is an attempt to murder me, and I behave appropriately. Simply ‘retaining’ a weapon is not up for consideration. Of course, for Law Enforcement Officers, making an arrest that is within ‘policy’ is a priority over staying alive. Their Holster Retention sequences would differ from mine. My comments relate to citizens concealed carry, not open carry. Good luck to us all.

  15. DO NOT CLICK ON THE tgrace LINK — it now redirects to a scam/virus site.

    1. Thanks for the headsup. Deleted.

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