Higher-Retention Holsters: We Test Seven Candidates for You

Tested: Safariland’s 126GLS Assent and GLS Pro-Fit holsters, Galco’s Summer Comfort Thumb Break, Tulster Contour, Blackhawk’s SERPA Level 2 Sportster, Hogue ARS Carbon Fiber Paddle, and others.


A reader asked us to do a report on retention holsters for concealed carry, so, of course, we listened. During the test, we came to several conclusions. Some shooters do not need — and should not choose — a holster with additional retention. Those who do not practice the draw are at the top of the list. A concealed-carry draw requires sweeping the covering garment back and then moving to draw the gun. These operations require training to get them fluent. Adding a third operation, disabling the retention device to draw the gun, adds complexity and slows presentation.

A balance of speed and retention is important when choosing a concealed-carry holster. The holster must offer a speedy draw while also maintaining a firm hold on the firearm during movement. A floppy holster is worthless as far as both speed and retention is concerned. Passive retention is simply the natural retention of a holster, designed into the holster by offering a hold on the long bearing surfaces of the handgun. Active retention is additional protection, including a safety strap, thumb break, or other device. The more retention, the more movement that’s required to free the handgun from the holster. A balance should be struck. Some holsters use a thumb break, while some feature a button or plunger to release the handgun safely.

The Assent holster is the most impressive as far as workmanship, but it is also the most expensive holster.

Fumbling with a holster with active retention slows the draw considerably, but not so much for those who practice. We feel that a minimum of 100 successful draws is needed to be proficient with this type of holster. Some holsters offer a natural draw and have a retention device that is intuitive. Others are more difficult. A skilled shooter will be slowed by perhaps 0.2 second by a properly designed retention device and will be much faster than those who do not practice.

A point the raters made is that a concealed-carry holster, such as an inside-the-waistband model, retains the handgun by dint of the holster’s design and body compression and pressure on the handgun as well. Also, some shooters open-carry their handguns, so more resistance to a gun grab is needed. Also, more security is needed as well because the open-carry pistol may move and be levered out if the butt contacts a chair. This is less likely when a covering garment is over the handgun. If you choose one of these holsters, we strongly counsel to practice with your holster to develop both speed and safety.

Safariland 126GLS Assent Holster, $91

The Safariland retention system had the most positive comments by raters.

Safariland and Bianchi are now branches of the same company. This holster is the most expensive tested. By the same token, you get your money’s worth. The leather work and stitching are excellent. Our example is the size 750. We used a Sphinx compact 9mm during the test program. The pistol worked much the same as the Safariland; however, due to the OTW construction, the draw was sharper. One of the raters felt that there is very little penalty in actuating the GLS switch — practice is the key, but the movement is natural. He felt the GLS lock moves the holster into usefulness when hiking or doing outdoors work. We like this holster very much. Unless you have a pressing need for ITW carry, this is a good choice for concealed carry. We rated the construction far above the paddle holsters for concealed carry. With price as no object for our testers, this is the top retention holster. Find it at BianchiLeather.com.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

Safariland GLS Pro-Fit, $48-68

We found the Safariland GLS Pro-Fit to be very well designed. While the Safariland holster is fairly slim, the locking mechanism must be accommodated.

The Grip Locking System (GLS) is an ITW design. Safariland has an enviable reputation in law enforcement and has been a recognized leader in security holsters for many years. The GLS polymer holster is designed to fit a range of handguns and may be manually adjusted. As an example, the Glock 19 and S&W M&P Compact may be worn in the same holster with appropriate adjustment. The Safariland grip locking technology holds the handgun with high retention, but the handgun can be released immediately by the proper action. Using a triple-checked unloaded firearm, we found the pistol could not be shaken from the holster. Upside down, or attempting to lever the gun butt against a chair, nothing worked to dislodge the handgun. Yet the pistol could be instantly released by pressure on the grip-lock lever. Cant is also adjustable.

The Safariland GLS Pro-Fit mechanism is a proven design that we liked. Releasing the GLS lock is simple enough.

In operation, the handgun is holstered and the GLS locks on the trigger guard. We like the open top of the holster combined with an intuitive but secure locking mechanism. The lock isn’t available to those attempting to grasp the gun from the front and is not immediately apparent in quick grab. The holster offers the option of a paddle or belt-type attachment. When you draw, simply move the third finger to the plunger instead of locking the finger on the grip immediately. Our raters are experienced handgunners and found the holster’s release mechanism to be fast — the best of the test, they felt. The handgun was drawn from the GLS two dozen times, standard for the test. The best means of beginning the draw is to take a good grip and then press the release button. With practice, affirming the grip and depressing the button are practically simultaneous. Just don’t release the button before you have the grip. After a thorough evaluation and much discussion, the GLS was rated the top choice and the best of the test. When ordering this holster, there are four sizes, from subcompact up and at least four types of mounting hardware for different-size belts and paddle or belt attachment. See it at Safariland.com.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Galco Summer Comfort Thumb Break Holster, $82

The Galco Summer Comfort is among the best choices in an inside-the-waistband holster.

The Galco Summer Comfort is among the best values in an ITW holster. Quality is practically the same compared to a custom-shop holster. The molding to the handgun is good, and the holster features a reinforced holstering welt. This means that the holster does not collapse after the handgun is drawn. The handgun may be holstered without adjusting the belt or trousers. One of the raters wears an open-top IWB for most of the summer. During the winter, when he bikes and hikes, he likes more retention. The Summer Comfort has a thumb-break option. It is very important that the thumb break is reinforced. If not, the leather extension will bind on the belt and body at some angles, making a draw difficult. The Galco design is reinforced properly with a spring-steel clip and heavy molding. We find the thumb break IWB from Galco to be a good option. As for draw speed, several of the raters tested the holster and felt it needed a modest break in. Compared to an open-top holster, there is perhaps 0.2 second difference in draw speed, depending on how much practice the user has. Check it out at GalcoGunLeather.com.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Tulster Contour, $80

This is the rear of the Tulster Contour and a look at the back side of the retention slot (arrow).

The Contour is an outside-the-waistband (OTW) holster. It rides high and offers an option for those who cannot find comfort with the inside-the-waistband (ITW) style. We tested two examples, one for the Glock 19 size and the other for a Smith & Wesson Military & Police 2.0 Compact. The holster is certainly low profile. The standard version is optics friendly. The pistol features asymmetrical wings that ride close to the body. The Tulster features a Retention Adjustment Slot. Simply adjust the slide vertically and then tighten the slot for added retention. The holster may also be adjusted for ride height. The Kydex material is .08 inch thick. This holster is a good choice for those who want a bit more retention. The draw may be fast enough, but the movement requires a solid tug — still faster than detaching a security device. After setting the holster up for maximum retention, we used an unloaded handgun and jumped up and down, and one of the raters did a back flip, all without losing the gun. The Contour is a viable option for those looking to notch up a bit on retention without adding a retention device that requires additional movement to draw the gun. If you are not comfortable with an IWB type holster, consider the Contour. Available at Tulster.com.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Hogue ARS Carbon Fiber Paddle Holster, $30 to $59

The Hogue ARS’s carbon-fiber holster is attractive and offered good results.

Be certain to shop around because we found a wide range of prices for this holster. The carbon-fiber construction is attractive. If you like paddle holsters, this one works well. The paddle is broad enough for security, but is fairly compact. There is good adjustment. The primary concern is the ARS locking device, which works by applying thumb pressure. Get a firm grip and press inward with the thumb to release. The lock is automatic, not applying a thumb strap or anything such as that. You don’t have to think about the retention device, and you should not have to think about releasing the device if you have several hundred draws under your belt. We found the Hogue holster to be well made and useful. The draw was reasonably fast. While we prefer the Safariland system, this holster may be the preferred type for some shooters. We rated it primarily on the usefulness of the lock mechanism. We don’t like the paddle offset for concealed carry. Find it on Amazon.com.

Gun Tests Grade: A-

Blackhawk SERPA Level 2 Sportster Holster, $29

While the Blackhawk Paddle is secure, when placed in the waistband, it is pretty large for a small-size handgun holster.

This is a lighter-weight holster than the full-size Blackhawk holsters. The Sportster with its lighter paddle is designed for concealed carry. All raters found it better made than the less-expensive ITAC. The paddle, however, was still a bit skimpy for hard use, we felt. The holster and trigger-guard locking mechanism worked well. We ordered this one for a snubnose 38 Special revolver. As such, the draw, when properly executed, is very fast. The paddle offset helped with speed.

We think there are better holsters for concealed carry, however, because the offset of the holster demanded a heavy covering garment to conceal the gun butt. The holster does what it is designed to do, but we do not like the trigger-finger release as much as we like the Hogue and Safariland types. See it at Blackhawk.com.

Gun Tests Grade: B

ITAC Defense Roto Retention Paddle Holster, $20-$33

The ITAC Roto Paddle’s primary advantage is that it is affordable to all.

This holster is of thin material, the first demerit. Fit seems good enough. There is too much flex in the paddle, and we felt that the holster was not secure. There are tabs on the paddle portion, however, that keep the paddle clipped on the waistband. The give we found when shaking the gun butt seems in the paddle/holster attachment to the holster itself. We do not like the retention device. When the handgun is pressed into the holster, the handgun locks on the trigger guard. The plunger to release the handgun is located just below the trigger. To draw, you must slightly press the gun inward toward the muzzle/bottom of the holster and press the release inward. This releases the handgun. We found this system slower and less natural than the Safariland.

We also did not like the rapid movement of the trigger finger toward the trigger after release, something that would require considerable training to overcome. We simply did not like the system. Available at Amazon.com.

Gun Tests Grade: B-

Value Guide: Holster Rankings

Gun NameIssueGradeComments
DeSantis Slim-Tuk Optics-Ready Holster, $40Jul. 2022ABest Buy. The DeSantis Slim-Tuk is not only an optics-ready holster, it is a light-bearing holster.
Wright Leather Works Predator Pancake Holster, $105Jul. 2022AMaking a holster adapt to an optic demands some thought. Wright has accomplished this neatly.
Galco Corvus Optics-Ready Holster, $89Jul. 2022AThe Corvus holster is a versatile rig with belt loops that allow both on-the-belt and inside-the-waistband carry.
Bullard Leather Mfg. Striker, $140Jul. 2021AThe company took the harsh tilt of the SOB and made it a 25-degree tilt and invented the Bodyguard.
Don Hume Leathergoods D.A.H. Belt Holster, $78Jul. 2021AAn interesting design, with three belt loops for use as an SOB holster or as a high-ride strong-side holster.
Wright Leather Works Bronco, $105Jul. 2021AModifies the original SOB design. The cant is raised, with the gun butt up and accessible at 20 degrees.
Galco FasTrax PAC Fanny Pack, $99Jul. 2020AWe sometimes forgot we were wearing the PAC because it didn’t sag, and it moved with the wearer.
Galco Switchback Strongside/Crossdraw Belt Holster, $49Jul. 2020A-The Switchback goes well beyond what we’d ask for in a budget utility holster.
Tulster AIWB Kydex, $60May. 2020AThe Tulster Appendix holster and magazine carrier are good choices for concealed carry.
Werkz M6 AIWB, $50May. 2020AThe Werkz IWB offers good features, including a special foot that prevents rollout in appendix carry.
Galco King Tuk Classic, $37May. 2020AFeatures a hard Kydex component attached to steerhide, which makes for comfortable carry.
DM Bullard Bodyguard Standard, $295May. 2020AThis hippo-hide Bodyguard was the most expensive holster tested. Surprisingly comfortable.
Nelson Holsters Stealth, $120May. 2020AAmong the most comfortable and well-crafted holsters we have tested. Neoprene backing is a trademark.
Sam Andrews Monarch Shoulder Holster, $455Apr. 2020A+One of the raters called the Sam Andrews rig “pure class.” Well thought out with good features.
DM Bullard Shoulder Holster, $225Apr. 2020AA revolver holster. The offside straps are not very wide, but they are strong, a good point in its favor.
Galco Jackass Shoulder Holster, $152Apr. 2020AThis is a horizontal design. Most of the raters put the Galco Jackass near the top in ratings.
Viper Holsters Shoulder Rig, $159Apr. 2020ACompact and lightweight. The Viper features a sturdy Kydex holster. Tabs and harness are well made.
Lobo Gunleather Deputy Shoulder Holster, $215Apr. 2020AChromed components and keepers are sturdy and make for both good adjustment and a bit of flex.
Galco Gun Leather Switchback, $46Feb. 2020A-Best Buy. While we prefer some of the more expensive driving holsters, the Switchback is useful.
Galco Gun Leather Phoenix Crossdraw Belt Holster, $159Feb. 2020AFor a heavy revolver or 1911 handgun, a robust holster that offers a superior design for load bearing.
Bullard Leather Holsters Crossdraw 1911 Series, $90Feb. 2020AWell molded and provided a good, snug fit. After months of wear, the Bullard holster is still tight and useful.
Jeffrey Custom Ranger R Leather/Alligator Trim, $235Sep. 2019A+Our Pick. Arguably one of the finest holsters we have tested; an excellent choice for concealed carry.
Blackhawk! Sportster Holster, $18Sep. 2019AInexpensive, but we cannot call it cheap. For those owning several firearms, this is good to have.
Barber Leather Works Chameleon, $30Sep. 2019AAmbidextrous, offered in two sizes. Intended to “tide the shooter” over until he receives a custom holster.
Jason Winnie Little Problem Solver, $30Sep. 2019AAt home on either side of the body, either as a belt slide or as an inside-the-waistband holster.
Swap Rig Holsters Cargo Pack2, $40Sep. 2019AIntended to hold a pocket pistol or backup in cargo shorts or pants pockets. Ambidextrous, adjustable.
1791 Gun Leather Open Top Revolver Holster, $53Sep. 2019AThe work is custom grade. Stitching is blocked to prevent unraveling. Impressive for the price.
Lobo Leather Offset Belt Clip IWB, $68Feb. 2019ABest Buy. The design works well for lighter handguns, especially those that are worn in the appendix position.
Wright Leather Works Banshee, $108Feb. 2019AOur Pick. Retention is good, yet offers a fast draw, with minimal break-in. Wide range of adjustment.
DeSantis GunHide Flex-Tuk ITWB Holster, $66Feb. 2019AThe design complements the short-barrel revolver very well. Speed, comfort, and draw angle are excellent.
Galco N3 Inside-The-Waistband Holster, $87Feb. 2019AThe N3 features a reinforced holster mouth and a raised sweat guard, requisites of a quality IWB holster.
Jeffrey Custom Leather EZ Carry, $99Feb. 2019AOffers a good, sharp draw. Offers secure carry with a very strong spring steel clip, yet is easy-on-and-off.
CYA IWB, $38Jan. 2019ABest Buy. The holster is secure, providing the wearer uses a quality gun belt.
Galco Triton IWB, $52Jan. 2019AThe Triton is designed as an IWB but worked well in the appendix role. Retention was excellent.
GearCraft IWB Plus, $70Jan. 2019AIf you do not wish the holster to extend to the belt buckle, do not choose this holster.
JM Custom Kydex AIWB with wing claw, $90Jan. 2019AShows mature design, good execution. Has an anti-roll-out device that keeps the holster tight against the body.
Keepers Concealment Errand, $90Jan. 2019ABilled as a holster for faster on and off use, yet it is said to be capable for all-day use.
Garrity’s Gunleather IWB Holster $90; Options, $30Feb. 2018AHolds a revolver tightly and does not collapse when the revolver is drawn. Reinforced holstering welt is strong.
DM Bullard Combat Holster, $85Feb. 2018AThe holster is double stitched, an important consideration when you are carrying a heavy revolver.
Jeffrey Custom Leather R1 Ranger, $155Feb. 2018AWhen wearing the Ranger R1 with a heavy revolver, it was one of the most comfortable holsters tested.
Wright Leather Works Banshee IWB, $108Feb. 2018AIf you are going to spend money on a custom-grade holster, this one gives you many options.
Tauris Holsters Semi High Ride (Practical Carry), $150Feb. 2018AMay be ordered in crossdraw for no extra charge, and the choice of cant includes muzzle back, muzzle forward, and muzzle vertical.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here