September 2013

Belt Slide Holsters — A Viable Choice For Concealed Carry?

We test the holsters and the concept and find that the holsters are better than we thought. However, some have problems.

The belt-slide holster design is basically a sleeve of material through which the carrier pushes the muzzle of the handgun, leaving the nose of the sidearm and the grip uncovered and the middle of the gun secured by the sleeve, aka the slide. Many criticize the design because it doesn’t protect the muzzle or front sight, the gun can be pushed up when the user sits, the gun can be noisy when it hits against chairs or other hard objects, and the carry arm can be unsecure if the slide isn’t snug on the frame and slide.

As a range holster for easy use in training, the belt slide can excel. The belt slide is handy, comfortable, and fast into action. But only a few of the best types are suitable for concealed carry, in our testers’ opinion.

Despite these worries, belt-slide holsters are among the most popular holster types. Some view them as convenient for range use and carrying the handgun to the range and back and little more. Others feel that the belt-slide holster is a good choice for concealed carry. As is often the case, the rule is that the belt slide only works if you use a good example. The thin suede-leather or fabric types just do not make the grade except for range use and even then, they do not properly present the handgun for any type of draw angle. The draw angle is derived from the necessary gap between the handle of the handgun and holster and the torso as well. The handle of the handgun must be presented in such as way that the hand may grasp the grip and draw into the target. If the holster does not allow a fast presentation, then the handgun must be partially drawn with the fingertips to facilitate a draw. This is slow and fumble prone.

The belt slide was once almost universal among trainers, as they found it an excellent holster for general range use. They ended up using it for concealment under a light shirt or vest. There are a number of impressions of the belt slide that are not always accurate. It has been noted that the belt slide may be worn without the gun and it doesn’t look like a holster. We fail to see the advantage of wearing a holster without a gun, recognized or not, but rather see a disadvantage. If anyone does recognize the belt slide as a holster, then they will quickly realize you are not armed. The better type of belt-slide holster is clearly molded to the outline of a gun. It is unmistakably a holster, not a tobacco pouch.

As noted above, a persistent criticism of the belt slide is that with the muzzle and much of the slide exposed, the handgun may be levered out of the holster if the muzzle contacts a chair when the user sits. If any holster meets the edge of the chair, the holster will be levered up against the body. If a long-barrel handgun is used in a belt slide, there is some chance of the gun being pushed up, but it depends upon the retention involved. The handgun may be levered out if the handle meets the chair as well as the muzzle meeting the chair. You really need to be aware you are wearing a gun!

As for the balance of speed and retention, the speed of the type cannot be disputed; it was the retention that worried us. The belt-slide holsters tested proved to be very fast on the draw. The better examples featured good retention for a minimum of leather. For use under a light jacket with a short-barrel handgun, these holsters have merit. The problem of positioning the handle away from the body to allow a good sharp draw is solved to an extent by some of the holsters, and the draw angle makes for good speed in others.

Gun Tests recently compared several of belt-slide designs to assess whether they are secure enough for us to recommend for everyday carry, and whether their minimalist form offers any advantages in comfort over other styles. We consider them piece by piece below:

Don Hume Leathergoods J.I.T. Slide, $30

Don Hume is an old-line company that sells extensively to law enforcement and also offers holsters that are well suited to civilian concealed carry. The holsters are no nonsense and well made, but off the shelf, not custom grade. The J.I.T. belt slide was well stitched and was molded to fit the individual handgun. We tested two, one for the Glock and one for the 1911 handgun. Retention was good. Speed was good. The Glock holster demanded a few draws as a break in. The holster keeps the handle tugged into the body, and the tunnel-loop design was ideal. The blocking was good, and this belt slide has more to offer than similarly priced holsters.

Gun Tests Grade: A — Best Buy

Wild Bill’s Holsters Radical Belt Slide, $60

The Radical Belt Slide appears simple at first. The old thin bikini holster is flatter than the Radical Belt Slide, but the difference is the Wild Bill’s holster is well molded for the individual handgun. Fit was good. This holster required a modest break in to achieve real speed. The draw angle was the FBI cant or rear rake, which allows the holster to be carried far behind the hip nearly on the rear belt line just above the rear pocket. The tilt keeps the handgun hidden under a light jacket. The handgun may be reholstered with one hand. We could not help but think that this is the holster for those who cannot tolerate an IWB holster. The excellent fit was coupled with real speed and a good draw angle. It was the most concealable A-rated holster.

Gun Tests Grade: A — Best Buy

Pink Pistol Holsters Belt Slide Custom Order, $75

If the name of the company puts you off, order the men’s holster from Vigilant holsters by the same company. Clover Rinehart wore these holsters personally while developing the line. A combination of access and retention was the design goal, and the belt slide was a likely start. However, these holsters are molded tightly to the individual handgun and represent a step above the original belt-slide design. The draw angle was ideal and the retention was superior, due in part to a particularly tight grip on the muzzle end of the slide. Most users will wish to add some form of embellishment, and this adds to the price of the holster, beginning at $10 dollars per option. But this neither adds nor detracts from the tactical aspect of the holster. The stitching was well done, and the dyes are low key, but rich. We were particularly impressed that the revolver holster tested properly held the cylinder and frame for good retention. These holsters will do the job at a fair price.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Liberty Custom Leather 4X Belt Slide, $50

This was a well-designed belt slide with a single-tunnel loop. The draw angle was designed to place the handle at the correct rake for a rapid concealed carry draw, which sets it apart from a mere range holster. As such, the holster works well for both near-the-hip and behind-the-hip carry. The stitching was good and retention and speed were both good. The holster features a holstering welt on the mouth as well. The 4X was tested in examples for the Glock 19 and the Beretta 92. Each featured the ideal draw angle, and the holster carried the heavier Beretta 92 well. The offset of the holster is greater than some, due to the tunnel loop, but the draw angle is the high point of this holster.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Milt Sparks Holsters #88 Mirage, $95

We scratched our heads and debated a little on this one. It may not be a true belt slide. But it certainly isn’t a gimmick either. The Mirage was similar in appearance to the belt slides, but was worn between the belt and the pants. The Mirage was ambidextrous, and the tunnel loops were very stable. The handgun was more stable as a result of being sandwiched between the belt and the pants. If you use a good gun belt — and you must with any holster — the Mirage is a very stable design. The handgun was tucked close to the body, and it seemed less likely the gun muzzle would be pressed out of the holster with this holster. Draw speed wasn’t quite as fast as with the 4X, a holster that offsets the gun from the body, but was similar to the Radical Belt Slide, and the Mirage sits flatter to the body than the 4X and as flat as the Radical Belt Slide. You might think the Mirage would collapse after the draw, but it doesn’t. Looking into the body, there is a considerable section that is blocked for fit and which prevents the #88 Mirage from collapsing. As a bonus, of all the belt slides, this is the only one that we would admit doesn’t look like a holster when no gun is being worn, particularly if the belt and the holster are the same color.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Old West Reproductions #101 Bachman Slide, $110

This holster is offered plain or with the basketweave for $10 more. We took the basketweave; it looked good and the pattern hid scratches and scrapes. The #101 is one of two competing styles of belt slide. One uses belt slots simply cut into a pancake-style holster, and the other uses tunnel loops. The Bachman slide uses tunnel loops. The advantage of this type is that if the belt isn’t an exact fit for the loops, the design ensures retention. Loops are sturdier and offer excellent adhesion to the belt. The wraparound design was well done and the stitching first class. Weapon retention was excellent. When testing the Bachmann slide with a short Para Ordnance Carry 9, the draw was brilliantly fast. With the Springfield GI 45, a much larger and heavier handgun, speed and retention were still good. The Bachmann belt slide held the Carry 9 tight on the belt. With heavier guns, the drag out was noticeable, but the well molded holster held the piece secure. For what it is designed to do, this belt slide was a good load-carrying device. The draw was fast and the Bachmann belt slide comfortably carried larger 1911 handguns.

Gun Tests Grade: A

SwapRig Holsters MiniSwap IWB & Belt Holster Rig, $66

This holster is an IWB by design, with flat loops on the back of the holster for use as a belt slide. We belted the holster on for this report using these loops. The J hooks could be removed and should be for use as a belt slide, as they may snag on the jacket, although we did not experience this problem when carrying the rig concealed. The loops simply did not seem to hold the pistol rigidly on the belt, although the problem was less pronounced with lighter guns. It would be better as an IWB, in our opinion.

Gun Tests Grade: B

Pro-Tech Outdoors Belt Slide Holster PTBS, $29 (average)

This was a leather holster with decent stitching and finish. It is molded so that each holster fits a range of handguns. The size ordered should accommodate the Glock 19, SIG P 250 and the 3-inch-barrel 1911, and it did, but not to the same degree. The Glock 19 was a very snug fit but was not as secure as we would like. The 1911 was a bit loose, but was serviceable for a range holster. For the SIG P 250 compact, one of our raters said the fit was perfect with good security, and it offered real speed after a modest break in. So, if you decide this belt slide is the one that fits your budget, try it with the pistol first, if possible. As a fit-many-guns-holster, the PTBS is head and shoulders above the fabric types.

Gun Tests Grade: B

Gould & Goodrich 892-1 Ambidextrous Holster, $24

This is one of those holsters that is designed to do more than one thing and fit a number of handguns. The 892 belt slide is a combination OWB and IWB. The J hook for IWB use looks like it may be removed, but it is probably too much trouble, best to simply leave it attached. The holster was basically formless with gravity as the main retention device. The holster accepted handguns from the Para Ordnance Carry 9 to the Beretta 92 with various compromises in retention. Speed wasn’t good with most handguns, and retention was far from ideal. We kept telling ourselves that here is a range holster for less than $25. While this is true, it did not do the job we wanted, and that is to carry the handgun effectively for personal defense.

Gun Tests Grade: C

Uncle Mikes’s Hidden Hammer Super Belt Slide Holster, $45

This holster is suitable for range use, but it is not usable for concealed carry, in our opinion. When the handgun is drawn, the holster collapses. When the handgun must be reholstered, it is a two-hand chore, using the index finger to open the holster while attempting to guide the muzzle in, which is awkward at best and dangerous at worst. When the proper size for the 1911 was ordered, the triggerguard fit okay but the muzzle shifted back and forth with every touch on the handle. We might use this for storage or range use, but not for concealed carry.

Gun Tests Grade: C

Direct links for products in this story have been loaded onto the Gun Tests Facebook page and the GunReports.com web page for easy access. Log on there and search for “belt slide holsters” with the quote marks.

Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT