February 2016

Best Holsters for Handgun Retention, Part 2

This month, we look at seven more units to consider for OC: The Bianchi Evader, DeSantis Quick Safe and Prowler, Safariland’s 578 ProFits and 6378 ALS, and Blade Tech’s WRS Level 3.

In the first part of this feature last month, we noted that handgun retention for those who practice open carry is a prime consideration. Civilians, in particular, who plan to openly carry their firearms — such as our Texas readers were able to do for the first time on January 1, 2016 — must now be concerned with the safety considerations of out-in-the-open carry. We recognize that some legal gun owners will want to open carry, so the gun owner must maintain control of a carry firearm while still having fast access to it.

gun holster

Our second group of high-retention holsters included, from left to right, the Safariland 6378-53-411 ALS, BladeTech WRS Level 3, and Safariland 578-83-411 ProFit Standard GLS. Our top pick was the $56 Safariland ALS holster. The thumb drive was almost completely out of view and tucked in giving the wearer the best possible access. Center, BladeTech’s $124 WRS Level 3 holster relied upon a retractable cross strap or “bale” to keep the gun in place. Left, the $56 Safariland ProFit GLS provides a very fast draw, but in our tests the gun was released almost automatically, no matter how we gripped the gun.

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. In the first installment, we covered the Blackhawk GripBreak, DeSantis Facilitator, Galco M4X and M6X, and the Hogue ARS C.

Our test holsters this month are the $32 Evader from Bianchi, the DeSantis Quick Safe and Prowler ($40 and $68, respectively), Safariland’s $50 578 ProFit in Long and Standard sizes and Safariland’s $50 6378 ALS, and Blade Tech’s $124 WRS Level 3. By mounting each holster on a Blackhawk Instructor Gun Belt ($37 from OpticsPlanet.com), we made sure any failure from our vigorous attempts to snatch a gun would be traced back to the holster and not to the belt.

gun holster

Front left to right are the Bianchi Ranger Evader and DeSantis Prowler. In back is the DeSantis Quick Safe. The Carrylok system found on the Bianchi Ranger series Evader ($32) offered a telltale lever that required a long sustained motion to release the pistol. We think the $68 DeSantis Prowler (bottom right) is best worn as an inside-the-waistband holster and, indeed, concealed. That’s because the release lever on the outside is just too difficult to miss when grabbing for the gun, in our estimation. The $40 DeSantis Quick Safe requires that two levers, each independently locking down on the trigger guard, be released at the same time. We think it’s a great idea, but we found the release paddles were just too big to avoid being pressed during a gun grab.

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.

Safariland 6378-53-411 ALS, $56

gun holster

The Safariland ALS holster nearly covered the pistol to reduce access and protect the gun from damage.

Safariland’s Model 6378 holster was fashioned from a synthetic laminate similar in look and feel to polymer. This moderately concealable holster was lined with suede and arrived with a paddle in place that locked securely onto the pants below the belt line. We found this unit difficult to remove even when not wearing a belt. The paddle was large and form fitting, spreading the weight of our Springfield Armory 1911A1 pistol with 5-inch barrel evenly and comfortably. A belt-loop panel and hardware were also provided to accommodate 1.5-inch-wide to 1.75-inch-wide belts. Belt retention in either case was without failure. The body of the holster was a perfect fit, covering all but the handle, including the upgraded Heinie Straight 8 sights. The right-side safety paddle was exposed, however, and could be deactivated. A pistol with a left-side-only thumb safety would be that much more secure. The thumb-drive release for the locking mechanism was well hidden along the inside of the holster below its top line, approximately where we would stage our thumb to be ready to interact with the safety. But the thumb safety was not accessible until the gun had been raised from the holster about 1.5 inches.

gun holster

gun holster

The interior of the Safariland ALS holster was lined with waterproof velour. Belt loops were supplied, but the paddle offered excellent comfort and support. Connection to the belt was so strong, it was tough to remove when gearing down for the night.

Our Team Said: We found only a limited amount of angles from which the gun could be drawn — a good thing. Held in the Safariland 6378-53-411 holster, our gun was extremely well protected from damage that could result from rolling around on the ground during a fight for the pistol. Thanks to the ALS, perhaps the most effective system found in our tests, and a solid belt mount, there’s a good chance the gun may well stay in place long enough for a ground fight to conclude and the user get enough working space to safely draw the pistol.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Blade Tech WRS Level 3 Holster, $124

gun holster

gun holster

The BladeTech WRS Level 3 holster’s thumb drive was protected by a separate lever with its own detent that proved difficult to overcome from any angle other than the position of the wearer. Bridging the gap to uniform gear, this was a very solid choice for open carry. Given this leans toward being a duty holster, it is also somewhat bulky. But so is a bank vault.

Blade Tech’s WRS Level 3 holster is a good example of a duty-style holster that could also serve the private citizen. The WRS Level 3 is a full-coverage polymer holster affixed to a belt-loop hanger with 2.2-inch loops that was adjustable for cant. It positioned the unit slightly away from the wearer so there was enough room to operate the two thumb-drive retention units. Actually, only one of the dual thumb-driven levers was the actual retention release. The outer drive prevented access to the release-drive lever with a detent-style lock of its own, delaying, if not foiling, operation of the primary release. A similar Blade Tech holster without this extra lever is also available and is referred to as the WRS Level II.

Our WRS Level 3 was the FDE (flat dark earth) color option instead of the standard black, and it fit our Glock 17 perfectly, locking the gun in place. But without the hood or “bale,” which consisted of a heavy synthetic strap across the back of the gun, retention was barely enough to prevent the gun from falling out when the unit was held upside down. While stability was solid, the only protection against a gun grab was when the hood was in place. The outer protection lever was a good addition, however, because it took some real attention from the operator to push it fully out of the way.

gun holster

gun holster

Our Team Said: The WRS Level 3 sends out a very clear message that the gun is locked down. This alone may deter a gun grab. While somewhat complicated, when the WRS is fully closed, a practiced owner of this unit should have a great advantage in holding on to his or her self-defense pistol.

Gun Tests Grade: A-

Bianchi Ranger Evader 4584, $32

gun holster

The Bianchi Ranger series Evader’s lever movement was more difficult to perform than an onlooker was might believe. The wearer should have an advantage based on familiarity.

The Bianchi Carrylok system has been around long enough to be used in one of the first extra-retention holsters offered to the public. The Ranger designation indicates Cordura-nylon construction rather than leather, as found in the $78 Bianchi Model 82 holsters. The Evader had wrap-and-snap belt loops that enabled the user to apply or remove the holster with taking off the belt. This is helpful when encountering a facility that is off limits to civilian carry, such as a hospital, and the gun needs to be stowed temporarily. Belt retention was solid, without fail, unless your attacker chooses to release the belt-loop snaps. But the attacker still might not get the gun even with the belt loosened. To forestall such a problem, members of our staff said they would epoxy-weld the snaps shut and give up the convenience.

Less able to conform to the body than leather belt loops, such as those found on the Carrylok Model 82 holsters, the Evader was more comfortable when mounted along a straight surface line, such as behind or just in front of the hip.

gun holster

The snap-and-wrap belt loops were convenient for a quick on/off without removing one’s belt, but we’d glue them shut to keep the unit attached to the belt. Or we would choose another Bianchi Carrylok holster with solid belt loops.

With the release lever sticking out for all to see, one might think this design was too obvious, making a grab for the gun easier. But attempts to draw from the Evader were almost too awkward for the rightful wearer, and should prove even more difficult for a stranger trying to snatch the gun. Rather than making the user get a full grip, the Evader requires the middle finger be extended to press in the release. This means the gun is actually grabbed by only the ring finger and pinky finger opposite to the thumb. The release motion of the lever was long, and pressure on the release lever needed be sustained for the gun to be drawn. To attack this device, a gun grabber might need to use two hands, making him or her more vulnerable to a counterattack.

Our Team Said: Unlike most of the new higher-retention holsters, the Bianchi Carrylok system seems to focus more on security than on convenience. Even if the release draws attention, the reality is that only a practiced hand is going to be able to draw the gun easily from this holster.

Gun Tests Grade: B+

Safariland 578-83-411 ProFit Standard GLS, $55

Safariland 6378-53-411 ProFit Long GLS, $56

gun holster

gun holster

With the Safariland GLS holsters, anyone who has access to the grip of the gun from almost any angle is going to be able to remove it. The Pro-Fit holsters might be a great choice for the competitive shooter concerned with weapon retention while helping with chores such as taping and resetting targets.

gun holster

The Safariland Pro-Fit series utilizes the GLS “Pro-Fit” system, which is adaptable to fit more than 60 firearms securely. Both the Long and Standard holsters are made from a lightweight nylon blend referred to as SafariSeven. Our Standard Pro-Fit was used for our Glock 17, and our Long Pro-Fit held a full-sized Springfield Armory 1911A1. Delivered with a paddle in place, an adjustable belt loop, capable of both crossdraw and strong-side carry, was supplied. Belt retention in either case was without failure.

Weapon retention was via Safariland’s Grip Lock System that is released via the middle finger as the hand takes a natural grip on the weapon. The Pro-Fit holsters provided comfortable carry and user-friendly grip angles. The guns could be drawn extremely quickly.

Our Team Said: We think the Pro-Fit holsters with GLS retention are more suitable for training or competition than for open carry. There was almost no way to grip the pistol while it was in the holster and avoid releasing the handgun.

Gun Tests Grade: D

DeSantis Quick Safe 122KJB2Z0, $40

gun holster

The Galco M6X and the Safariland ALS holster were our two top picks for civilian open carry. But without the integrity of rigger’s-style Instructor Belts from Blackhawk, we might not have been able to ensure the holsters were the weakest link. Our tests included live wrestling, as well as tugging on the guns while mounted to a secured mannequin using every grip we could imagine.

The key to making the Quick Safe ambidextrous was the Redi-Loks that lock into the trigger guard from both sides. The trick was to release both of the locks simultaneously. Compressing only one release lever is not enough to free the sidearm.

Our staff was split on how effective the dual levers were on release. The inner release lever was tight against the body and, for the most part, out of sight. Whereas the outer lever may be inviting, the inner lever may go completely unnoticed, yet anyone who gets the thumb between the holster and the wearer’s body is likely to release the weapon. Mounting of the holster pod can be adjusted to add a slight muzzle-back cant, but we doubt this would have any effect on restricting access.

Our Team Said: DeSantis refers to the Quick Safe as a Level III holster, probably because you can release one of the Redi-Loks and still retain the handgun. But grabbing the gun could easily release both locks and the weapon. We think it would be much improved if it were possible to somehow lock one or both of the release levers. Otherwise, this is a very rugged and fast holster for very little money.

gun holster

gun holster

Currently, the DeSantis Quick Safe is only available to fit Glock models G17, G22, and smaller. But it may nevertheless be the most imaginative design in our roster. Constructed of heavy Kydex and a glass-reinforced polymer with heavy duty hardware, the Quick Safe is a belt-slide design that is ambidextrous. The holster pod can be attached to the belt loop bracket from either side. The opening in the belt loops can be adjusted to accommodate belts up to 1¾ inches wide, with shims held in place by Allen screws to accommodate smaller ones. Belt retention was without failure, we found.

Gun Tests Grade: D

DeSantis Prowler 120KAB2Z0, $68

gun holster

The Prowler holster consists of what could be referred to as a half-shell riveted to a synthetic, leatherette backing that comfortably forms against the curvature of the body. The shell covers much of the slide and the right-hand side of the gun. It was attached to the framework that supports the single Redi-Lok, which latches to the inside of the trigger guard. Belt slots measuring 1.75 inches in width were cut into the backing that completely shielded the gun from the body. The Prowler also arrived with J-shaped loops bolted on to the backing that can be slipped over one’s belt and waistband to anchor the unit for inside-the-pants carry. The belt can also be threaded through the outer loops and across the holster to pull the gun in tighter and make it less vulnerable to a grab.

gun holster

The Prowler holster was a half-shell riveted to a backing that forms to the curvature of the body.

gun holster

gun holster

The shell covers much of the slide on the right-hand side of the gun. A single Redi-Lok latch (arrows) fits inside the trigger guard. Open on the bottom, the Prowler holster allows guns of different barrel lengths (but built on the same frame) to share the same holster. We would prefer it for secure inside-the-waistband carry.

The Prowler holster was open on the bottom, so guns of different barrel lengths built on the same frame can share the same holster. Given the exposed muzzle, we think most buyers will utilize the Prowler for inside-the-waistband carry. Inside-the-waistband carry hides the gun best and brings it closer to the body, offering an extra degree of retention. The manufacturer claims the clips can be adjusted for ride height and cant, but, in our view, only the latter is plausible and then only to a small degree. In addition, the clips were intended to offer the ability to tuck in one’s shirttail and cover the upper portion of the gun by letting the material blouse away from the belt line. This may be a stretch given the size of the release lever mounted on the outside of the holster body.

Our Team Said: For open carry, the size of the release lever was too easily operated by incidental contact, we believe. The Prowler picks up some retention points when carried inside the waistband.

Gun Tests Grade: F (OTW)
Gun Tests Grade: D (ITW)

Written and photographed by Roger Eckstine, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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