January 2016

Best Holsters for Handgun Retention, Part 1

This month, we look at the first five of twelve units to consider for wearing ‘outside’: Galco’s M4X and M6X, the Hogue ARS CF, Blackhawk’s GripBreak, and the DeSantis Facilitator.

Best Holsters for Handgun Retention, Part 1

In this first of two back-to-back reviews of higher-retention holsters, we examine the Galco M4X, Hogue ARS Stage One Carry CF 52872, Galco M6X (top row, left to right) and the Blackhawk GripBreak and DeSantis Facilitator (bottom row, left to right). The security of a thumb-release holster depends largely on keeping the release lever tucked in between the holster/weapon unit and the body. The $79 leather Blackhawk GripBreak (bottom left) let the user choose between high and low front belt loops to increase stealth. We think the $50 Hogue ARS C with carbon-fiber finish (top center) could do with a much smaller thumb-release lever. So could the $52 Desantis Facilitator (bottom right). The $45 Galco M4X (top left) and M6X (top right) holsters differed only in mounting hardware. We found the paddles on the Hogue and the Galco M4X to be inadequate, but the belt-loop options for these holsters kept them securely on the belt during our tests.

Handgun retention is serious business for uniformed police officers who, as a matter of course, practice open carry. Special holsters with retention beyond a tight fit are mandated in most precincts, yet the list of police officers killed with their own guns sadly continues to grow. So what does this mean for civilians who openly carry their firearms? On January 1, 2016 the state of Texas will join the list of states no longer requiring concealed-handgun license holders to carry their weapons concealed. How many Texas CHL holders will immediately change their habits from stealth carry to out-in-the-open carry remains to be seen. Gun Tests doesn’t get into how people carry and use their legally owned firearms, but we recognize that some legal gun owners will want to open carry, which creates two issues the shooter has to deal with in advance. Mainly, the gun owner must maintain control of a carry firearm while still having fast access to it. 

Joe Woolley, president of Firearms Operations and Responsible Training of Texas (FortTexas.us), thinks the new law might prompt licensees to carry larger firearms that are ordinarily more difficult to conceal. But more important, he said, “The security level of any open-carry holster I use will need to be higher than for the concealed firearm.” To see how manufacturers provide this extra security, we assembled a collection of 12 currently available holsters that supply more retention than most concealed models — that is, they require the manipulation of a locking device to draw the weapon. We’ll cover this dozen in two parts in back-to-back issues.

Our test holsters were Hogue Incorporated’s $50 ARS Stage One Carry, Galco’s M4X and M6X each priced at $45, Blackhawk’s $79 GripBreak, and the $32 Evader from Bianchi. In addition we tested three holsters from DeSantis, the $52 Facilitator, the $40 Quick Safe, and the $68 Prowler. We also tried a trio of holsters from Safariland, the $50 578 ProFit in Long and Standard sizes and Safariland’s $50 6378 ALS. Last, we also tried Blade Tech’s $124 WRS Level 3, which was much closer to being a police duty holster than what a civilian would typically wear. In this installment, we’ll tackle the Blackhawk GripBreak, DeSantis Facilitator, Galco M4X and M6X, and the Hogue ARS C.

Most people think a tight fit in a typical holster constitutes Level I retention and the addition of a thumb-break strap makes it a Level II holster. That’s not actually the case, any more than adding a mechanical locking device would change its rating to Level III. Retention ratings and their corresponding tests were originally developed by Bill Rogers, a former FBI agent and pioneer in modern police training. In purchasing the Rogers Holster Company in 1985, Safariland adopted his security rating system with tests intended to simulate a gun grab. Rogers’ Retention Level I test (trademarked) “is described as applying all the force to the grip or handle of the weapon by an individual while the weapon is totally secured in the holster and mounted on a suitable belt being worn by another individual. The direction of force is unlimited, but the duration of the force is limited to 5 seconds. At the end of the 5 seconds, the weapon must still be secure in the holster and the holster must still be attached to the operator.” By mounting each holster on a Blackhawk Instructor Gun Belt ($37 from OpticsPlanet.com) we made sure any failure would be traced back to the holster and not to the belt.

Our tests likely exceeded Bill Rogers’ protocol by wrestling to the ground for weapon control. We challenged retention using two types of grips, “educated” and “freestyle.” The educated grip describes how an instructor might handle the gun, with the trigger finger held straight alongside the frame with three fingers wrapped below the trigger guard, thumb hugging the opposite side of the pistol. The freestyle grip started with all four fingers beneath the trigger guard and thumb wrapped around the other side. We also tried grabbing the gun with the left hand from a right-hand-side-mounted holster. In the interest of security, we’re not going to tell you everything we learned about drawing from these high-retention holsters — just whether or not they might help protect you from a gun grab.

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