A handgun with a mounted red dot offers many advantages to the shooter, but there are few holsters available. Here we test a drawer full of optics-ready holsters. Some are fresh designs, while most are based on existing designs but are cut differently to accept the new high-rise sights.
Not too long ago, one of our raters took several leather holsters and cut out a square in them to allow use of a mounted optic. The result was a loss of rigidity and a holster that began to fray at the cut out. No surprises there.
But now that optics are becoming more common on carry pistols, we’re seeing a few holsters appearing that accommodate the sights. Sure enough, the major makers, and custom shops as well, have begun to offer viable concealed-carry holsters suitable for optics use. We cover some of the better choices in this report. Furthermore, we predict that within a year or two, leather holsters will require a special order for optics-ready use, while it seems that Kydex holsters are coming off the work bench with optics cuts in every holster.
Also, we suggest you be certain that the holster you choose isn’t a mash up but is instead a purpose-designed holster. As an example, there are subtle differences in the DeSantis Speed Scabbard that ensure the handgun is held securely when the handgun is equipped with an optic.
Also, if you’re shopping outside our recommendations, be certain the optic does not butt into the optics cut-out seam. There must be an offset between the sight and edge of the holster.
Herewith, then, are a handful of optics-ready holsters we found to get you started on picking the right scabbard for your glass-equipped carry handgun.
Gun Tests Grade: A
Galco may be best known for classic leather goods, but they also offer a variety of Kydex holsters. Kydex is impervious to oil, sweat, and solvent, but will break. We are not getting into a leather-versus-Kydex debate. You probably need both types for your carry gun. The Corvus holster is a versatile rig with belt loops that allow both on-the-belt and inside-the-waistband carry. That is versatility. This holster was ordered for a Government Model 1911. Larger guns are more difficult to conceal, and it just brings out the plus and minus sides of any type of holster to try to conceal a larger handgun. The Corvus features a smooth finish. Leather holsters have edging holding the body together, while Kydex has mill-worked edges. The Corvus became an optics-ready holster simply by engineering a deep cut to clear the optics. The handgun fits well, and there is the distinctive snik as the pistol is drawn and holstered. We performed 50 draws and found the holster does what it was designed to do. Available from GalcoGunLeather.com.
Galco QuickTuk Cloud
Gun Tests Grade: A
This is a holster designed with a supple leather backing and a strong Kydex shell. It is among the most popular styles and a strong seller for every major holster company offering a variation. The QuickTuk Cloud features excellent fit and finish. The holster is properly molded. There is some adjustment in the belt clip. As one rater noted, the belt clip takes a firm bite on the belt. The holster performs well in the optics-ready version. There is really no discernible difference in performance when using an optics-ready pistol. However, when using a full-size Glock 17, the face of the optic hit the seam of the trousers. The handgun may not be completely holstered if the pistol is holstered while the holster is inside the waistband. If holstered first and then attached to the belt, this is a superior product. This isn’t an issue with the holster but the handgun. Either carefully tuck the red dot in, or adjust the belt loop. We found the QuickTuk Cloud to be a well-made and versatile holster. Comfort is high on the list. This holster is available from GalcoGunLeather.com.
DeSantis Speed Scabbard
Gun Tests Grade: A
This is a semi-pancake-type holster. The Speed Scabbard features three belt slots for cant or angle adjustment. The holster is molded for specific handguns and features slight variations in geometry for each handgun. This is a holster designed with care and which serves well for concealed carry.
The opportunity to compare both standard and optics-ready holster designs was presented with the Speed Scabbard. In the standard version, the holster flows up around the triggerguard and fairly high on the slide. In the optics-ready version, the holster is cut down close to where the holster body meets the belt loops. With very nicely done double stitching, the Speed Scabbard offers a strong, rigid draw. There is also a tension screw to adjust tightness on the handgun and to tighten the holster up when it becomes worn. Available from DeSantisHolster.com.
Gun Tests Grade: A- (BEST BUY)
The DeSantis Slim-Tuk is not only an optics-ready holster, it is a light-bearing holster. There are many options. The Glock 43 with a Streamlight combat light was tested with one version. This holster is a tuckable, but the rater carrying the pistol uses it as a standard IWB. The combination is a good one. The handgun with mounted light clicks into place sharply. The draw is excellent. The belt clip is adjustable, an important feature for comfort. Cant, ride, and angle may be adjusted.
The Slim-Tuk differs in applications in several versions. The belt clip may be located to the rear with larger pistols and forward with others, such as the Glock version tested. This is a practical, useful, and affordable holster. We would have liked thicker material, but then it is designed as a tuckable holster where space and weight are at a premium. As for the price, we were surprised at the modest cost of this one. We had to rate it down a half grade on thinness of the material. Available from DeSantisHolster.com.
DeSantis Veiled Partner
Gun Tests Grade: B-
This is another holster that exhibits the advantages of Kydex. The good points include that the holster hugs the body. In that way, it is similar to a leather pancake holster. The holster offers plenty of adjustment for drop, rake, and cant. The holster rides high, and we experienced a few problems with stability. The gun is stable enough in the holster as far as security goes, but we experienced some rebound during movement. When we placed our hands on the handle of the handgun during the draw, we felt there was too much lateral play. This one is available from DeSantisHolster.com.
Wright Leather Works Predator Pancake Holster
Gun Tests Grade: A
Making a holster adapt to an optic demands some thought. Wright Leather Works has accomplished this neatly with judicious modifications. The Predator is a pancake-style strong-side holster. The fit and molding are far superior to a standard pancake. Many pancakes are not molded as well as this one. The holster rides close to the body, and the result is good concealment. Wright accommodates an optic by simply cutting out the original holstering welt — a reinforced holster mouth — at an angle and retaining the welt’s grip on the slide. The result is an unobtrusive modification. The holster maintains a tight fit, and the optic isn’t likely to snag on covering garments. Available from WrightLeatherWorks.com.
Wright Leather Works Cruiser IWB Clip Holster
Gun Tests Grade: A
The Cruiser is a single belt clip inside-the-waistband holster. The holster is well designed, secure, and offers a sharp draw. The balance of speed and retention is good. One of the raters owns three he uses with handguns ranging from a 32 ACP to a Commander 45. So, the question was, how do you convert a relatively compact holster to take an optics-ready handgun? The Cruiser features a separate leather section sewn into the holster face. This leads to a holstering welt, an essential part of the inside-the-waistband holster.
Wright redesigned the holstering welt for each individual handgun. The handgun, when fitted with an optic, demands a certain set off. Wright doesn’t let the red dot/reflex optic touch the holster body. The offset is slight, but when the handgun is holstered, there is plenty of retention while the red dot offset from the holster is perhaps 1⁄8 inch. That is, when holstered, the red dot stops about 1⁄8 inch from meeting the holster. This is a neat trick, and the system works well. Available from WrightLeatherWorks.com.
Galco VHS 4.0
Gun Tests Grade: A
We tested a single shoulder holster, the Galco Vertical Holster System, which has been reviewed previously. The holster is well designed, affordable, and offers a nice load-bearing device for getting the weight of a handgun and spare magazines off the belt. Some vertical shoulder holsters feature a design that butts the slide into the holster itself. With the vertical design of the Galco holster, the design work was undertaken to make the holster optics ready. The slide cut-out allows easy clearance. The holster body offers good retention, and a security strap improves the holster’s hold on the handgun as well. The security strap need not be removed on the draw; simply raise the handgun out and up and toward the target. This is perhaps the easiest modification to adapt to the optic that we tested. There was no difference in handling between the standard holsters we have tested and the optics-ready shoulder holster. Available from GalcoGunLeather.com.
In the January 2022 issue of Gun Tests, Contributing Editor Joe Woolley used a Galco Kodiak Hunter holster to carry a pair of heavyweight 44 Magnum revolvers. Referred to as a chest rig, the Kodiak centered the gun up front on the body centerline to better distribute load and make room for other gear. But what if the mission was to conceal a full-size revolver and avoid detection? Even snub-nosed revolvers with steel frames can be far weightier than the polymer semi-autos we’ve become used to carrying. One very good answer is the Galco VHS, short for Vertical Holster System, available for most handguns, such as the optics-equipped ones reviewed adjacent in this issue, but in this case for revolvers.
The VHS holsters are one of the few vertical carry systems available today. Wheelguns from the small J-frames to the Smith & Wesson 500 X-frame revolvers can be accommodated. This includes the Charter Arms Bulldog, Taurus, Dan Wesson, Colt, and Ruger’s mid-sized Security Six/GP100 series. Our choice was the VHS 4.0 for medium-large Smith & Wesson L-frame revolvers with a maximum barrel length of 4 inches. Also available for revolvers with 6-inch full-lug barrels, we chose the 4.0 so it could accommodate our favorite trio of seven-shot 686+ revolvers featuring 2.5-, 3-, and 4-inch-long barrels.
The VHS holster may not be the original Dirty Harry rig, but we think it is one he would favor. Vertical carry makes barrel length a non-issue, as horizontal carry of a full-size revolver would certainly have the muzzle poking out rearward from beneath the arm. The butt forward was barely detectable. Instead of locking the gun in place with a strap across the hammer, which was effectively hidden, the retention strap ran laterally across the outside of the trigger guard. The retention strap was reversible so the rig can be quickly changed for the left-handed shooter. The edge of the strap was enhanced with a polymer trim. Overall, we think the vertical design of the VHS works better with revolvers because revolver grips tend to offer much more welcoming handles than the grip frame of a semi-auto. To release the gun, the fingers surround the face of the grip as the index finger sweeps off the detent strap. Lifting the gun slightly with rotation forward, the holster continues to support the gun as the thumb transitions to the other side to complete the grip. The fact that revolver grips typically inlet well above the lower edge of the trigger guard means the gun can be held in complete control as it is pulled from the holster.
The supplied shoulder straps were wide and soft with a pair of speedloader cases attached on the weak-hand side. The cases were ideal for HKS speed loaders or similar. The loaders were held horizontally, and each side offered snap closure, making the system ambidextrous. The cases were sturdy enough so that rounds mounted on moon clips, which can be bent out of shape on impact, were safe from being damaged. Alternative cases that stow loose rounds or ammunition mounted on speed strips was also available.
The key to shoulder-holster carry is balancing the weight. This was not an issue when carrying our 3-inch revolver because it was super light, built on a scandium frame. Our 4-inch stainless-steel 686+ sported a full-lug barrel, meaning its weight was noticeable. One way to offset the weight of the gun is by tying down the support side. The speedloader cases were fit with a polymer bracket that rotated down from behind the unit, for when connecting the supplied tie-down strap was desired. With the pants belt threaded through the tie-down loop, the unit added support and allowed us to back off a notch or two on our belts when desired. An alternate tie-down strap was connected to the bottom of the holster body. The strap can be applied for either right- or left-handed shooters. When not in use, the strap was held in check by a snap located on either side of the holster body.
For hunting, the $279 Galco Vertical Holster System easily stowed an effective backup or primary weapon. The thin, wide leather strap on the strong-side shoulder did not affect our shouldering a rifle. For concealed carry, the unit was exceptionally covert, and we think, ideal for those who spend a lot of time seated behind the wheel of a car, truck, or ATV. — Roger Eckstine