What Is and Isn’t a Duty Rated Holster, and Why?

— Jason MosherCADRE Dispatch

Have you ever wondered what it means when a holster is Duty Rated? If you have purchased holsters from Safariland before, you have probably seen the terms Security Mechanism, Duty Rated, and Retention Level. In addition, there are other terms like ALS, SLS, and GLS that make things even more confusing.

You probably won’t see these terms anywhere else because they started with Safariland. Over the years, Safariland developed a Duty Rated and Retention Level system that is unique to the company. Other companies often say their products are comparable or “Level 1” retention but do not follow the same standards.

As an example, a holster with the ALS system can be a Level 1 retention on a duty-rated belt loop attachment. When it’s not on a duty-rated belt loop attachment, it has the same security mechanisms but loses its retention rating. This happens because of the attachment method used to secure the holster to the person.

What exactly is duty rated?

Regardless of the retention level, a Duty Rated holster is a designation given to a specific attachment. You can buy paddle attachments, thigh rigs, and other types of devices to attach a holster to just about anything. I use the QLS (Quick Locking System) to switch my holsters from one carry method to another. But it doesn’t stay a Duty Rated holster when I move it from my belt.

Safariland places a focus on the safety of their holsters. For a holster to truly be safe, regardless of the retention level, it must remain secure to the belt. Because of this, only belt attachment holsters can have a duty rating when worn properly.

Safariland 7360 RDS holster.
A duty rated holster will attach directly to a belt system. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

To achieve a duty rating, you must first be wearing a secure belt for the holster to attach to. An example of this would be Safariland’s 7950 Duty Belt or the 4333 Low Profile Battle Belt. When worn as directed, a Duty Rated holster attaches to the belt. This doesn’t mean that any belt attachment holster is Duty Rated, however. Each holster with a belt attachment must undergo a series of tests before it is given such a rating.  

In other words, a holster that passes Safariland’s rigorous testing process and is used with a Safariland belt loop attachment achieves a duty rating. The retention level assigned to a specific holster depends on the type of safety mechanisms used on it.

If the holster has one safety mechanism, like the ALS, that would mean the Duty Rated holster has a Level One retention. If the holster has the SLS system, it would be rated as a Level 2 retention holster.  The levels of retention indicate the number of movements required for someone to draw the gun from the holster.

Why is the holster not duty rated when worn with a paddle?

If you take the same holster mentioned above and place it on a paddle instead of a belt loop attachment, it will not be considered Duty Rated. Put it back on the belt loop attachment and it is considered Duty Rated once again. This is because another person can pull a paddle holster off during an incident. It doesn’t matter how many locking features (retention levels) the holster has if it doesn’t stay on you.

The retention level indicates the number of mechanisms securing the gun in the holster, while the belt attachment determines how the holster will stay on your person.  

Safariland holster with paddle attachment.
The holster is not duty rated when a paddle is attached because it can be pulled off the person wearing it. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

I’ve told this story before, but one of my deputies was involved in an incident years ago where someone tried to take his gun from the holster. After a lengthy struggle on a rural gravel road, the deputy was able to push the suspect away and draw his firearm. Other items had fallen off his belt during the fight, but the suspect could not get the gun out of the Safariland holster. It stayed secure to the belt and came out quickly for the deputy.

When a holster is not Duty Rated, the gun can come off the person in situations like this. Both the duty rating and the retention levels saved this officer’s life.

What other options come with duty rated holsters?

We have established that Duty Rated holsters have retention ratings from 1-3. One reason some people look for alternatives to a belt loop attachment is because it can be a hassle to take on and off.

I mentioned above that I use the QLS system on my holsters. With this system, you place the QLS fork on the holster and the QLS receiver plate on the belt. Slide the holster onto the receiver plate and it locks in place to the belt. Safariland holsters retain their duty rating when using this system.

QLS system on a holster,
the QLS system on a holster doesn’t change the duty rating. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

You can purchase the QLS fork separately for multiple holsters to work on the same receiver plate of your belt.

Along with the QLS system, there are three “ride” options to choose from with Duty Rated holsters. The ride position determines how high or low the gun rides on your side compared to your belt line.   

Make sense?

Once you understand the reasoning behind such designations, the duty rating of a holster makes perfect sense.

These security mechanisms are still good to have on non-duty-rated holsters. You can enjoy a concealed carry holster with the ALS or GLS system, but it will not have the Level One retention rating because the holster itself is not attached to your person, and thus, not Duty Rated. An assailant could simply take the entire holster and weapon from you, therefore there is no retention level.

No other holster company meticulously scrutinizes and evaluates its own products like Safariland. If they say it’s Duty Rated, you know you are buying a secure holster. And I’m not saying this just because they say so. I’ve worn Safariland duty holsters for the past two decades, and they work.    

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