Sure, winter’s almost over but depending where you live, there are still a few more weeks of cold weather to deal with. And, given the extra layers necessary, sometimes a young man’s thoughts turn to outside the waistband carry. He knows that his IWB honey isn’t giving him what he needs, what with two, three, or more layers of clothing between his sweaty palm and her. That’s enough to strain any relationship between a man and his concealment holster. So the CHL holder’s eye may wander to duty holsters . . .
Honestly, I didn’t mean for this to be so personal, but I figured it would resonate. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? How accessible is my concealment holster with multiple layers of clothing atop it? The answer tends to range from not-very to might-as-well-not-be-there-at-all. Aside from breakaway pants, the most practical option short of a shoulder rig is outside-the-waistband carry. And the best way to do that is to get a duty holster that stays nice and hidden inside your baggy winter coat.
For me, there was a bit more to it than that. My Smith & Wesson M&P 45c doesn’t have much in the way of laser options, so I ended up getting a zapper that fits on the tactical rail. And as someone who insists on holsters that are formed specifically for my weapons for ease of accessibility and deployment, after a long search I ended up with a Safariland ALS 6378 with tactical light accommodation.
Just look at that beastly thing. There’s a reason why they make these things for cops. They seem to want everyone around you to see that you’ve got a big gun on your hip that it goes BANG. But if you want something that will accommodate what you’ve got on your tac rail, this may be one of only a few choices available to you depending on your pistol and laser/tac light combination.
The 6378 model is level 2-like retention with a belt paddle included alongside the belt loop. (This is the sole difference between the 6377 and the 6378: The 78 comes with the paddle in addition to the belt loop, all at no extra charge. The importance of this is discussed below.) It should be noted that according to the Safariland rep I spoke with, the ALS holsters do not conform to the level 2/3 system, and thus can’t be classified as such. If you serve as a LEO and you are looking for a holster that absolutely must be level 2/3 compliant, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The big draw to the ALS line of holsters is their Automatic Locking System, which provides level 2-like and level 3-like retention for your firearm depending upon the model you choose. But unlike the (some would say more dangerous) release system of the Serpa holsters which require that you use your index finger to release the firearm, the ALS system places the release lever on the inside-facing portion of the holster, placing it next to your side/belly.
To release the gun, simply place a commanding hold around the grip of your firearm, reach forward with your thumb, pull back on the release lever, and lift your gun out of the holster. The release lever controls a locking mechanism that is fashioned specifically for the model of pistol you plan to use and secures the weapon by latching into the breach.
This picture shows how the finish and sights of the pistol are protected by a suede lining inside the holster. You might also be able to see that the grey part of the lining has partially worn away on both the left and right sides of the forward part of the slide. Finally, you can also see that additional retention is provided by a small plug in the far end which slides into the end of the barrel. Together with the ALS lock, these two retention points are what prevent the pistol from rattling around, allowing you to securely holster your weapon with or without the tactical light (or a smaller item such as a laser) mounted on the gun.
Before I removed the safety on my M&P, there, uh, was a safety there. So I specifically asked Safariland to send me a version of the holster that accommodates the safety. This, naturally enough, is achieved in the design by raising the plastic up and around the height and width of the pistol’s safety. For some reason, though, they decided that this design would benefit from two things: The first is a small piece of plastic that surrounds and protects the thumb safety. The second was a reduced-surface area release lever, the small size of which was necessitated by the extra plastic that surrounded the left thumb safety.
Safariland probably figured that if the lever were any larger, it would start digging into your side. The result is a small lever with little surface area and a small piece of plastic right next to it which protects the thumb safety. Unfortunately, it also deflects your thumb away from the release lever. The only way to apply pressure against the small lever is with the edge of my thumb. This made activation of the release lever nearly impossible while practicing my draw with an empty pistol. A number of quietly-uttered four-letter words later and I quickly decided I’d had enough.
Say hello to my lil’ friend, Mr. Dremel. Actually Mr. Handi Works Variable Speed Rotary Tool. (What can I say? I’m a cheapass.)
This magically resolved the thumb-deflection problem altogether. The plastic was very easy to cut, and requires only marginally good aim. I would recommend using the rotary sanding tools that come with any respectable rotary tool set to file down those sharp edges for both your belly’s and your thumb’s benefit. Not all ALS holsters have this problem. I can confirm that the release lever is broader and has more surface area on the non-safety version of the 6378.
It’s also worth mentioning that the release lever, when depressed far enough, de-activates the thumb safety, thus readying your pistol to fire after pulling it from the holster. In theory, anyway. At first, it worked about half the time. As I practiced and loosened the retention screw, I was applying less and less force to the lever to release the pistol, and the ability of the lever to de-safe the pistol eventually went away completely. So don’t rely on this.
As mentioned, the 6378 version of the ALS differs from the 6377 in that it includes a belt paddle along with the 6377’s belt loop. If you have a muffin top as I do, or if you don’t always tuck in your shirt, you’ll need the paddle.
The belt loop secures the holster closer to your body making it somewhat more concealable. However, as you might have guessed, the extra close shave makes it difficult for your thumb to get to the release lever. It also makes it far easier for the lever to tangle up in your clothing. The belt paddle, on the other hand, actually angles the holster and pistol away from your body somewhat (a must for people of my body type) allowing your thumb the room it needs to reach the release lever.
I mentioned concealability at some point up in there, didn’t I? Whatever. If I did, ignore it. This is not the most concealable holster.
You’d think that for a compact pistol, the holster would be relatively small. Nope. This baby is long and unruly. On the other hand, my jacket seems to agree with it just fine, its baggy nature breaks up the pistol’s outline nicely.
How about everyday home carry?
…Oh dear. My poor office chair.
I have to adjust the holster forward under the front of my belly somewhat (insert Pillsbury Doughboy joke here) so that it doesn’t jam into the cushion of my chair. It’s noticeable, but I’ve learned to live with it, and I now use it for home carry without too much trouble.
But here’s the part I hate most of all:
That’s right: The trigger guard is not completely enclosed on the tac light version of this holster. There is probably not much that Safariland could have done about this as the holster was designed to accommodate a light (the 6378 is also produced without accommodation for a tactical light; that version encloses the trigger guard completely). Unfortunately, that means there’s no way to achieve the clearance necessary for the light without leaving the trigger exposed to air.
You could argue that the plastic could be formed higher to limit access to the trigger but this would probably adversely affect your ability to draw and re-holster smoothly. That being said, I’ve never had anything slip in there. It’s something to consider, though. I don’t wear chains above my holster, but perhaps you are some sort of new age hipster who does?
Of course, the biggest issue was the last thing I considered (and the first thing Captain Farago mentioned): you will probably only be able to use this holster if your thumb is long enough to reach far enough forward and press the release lever. Mine can, but RF was unable to attain a sufficient grip upon the lever when he handled one of these holsters at the most recent SHOT Show. To investigate this, I enlisted the help of my father, whose short fingers can not reach past the trigger guard of my M&P to activate the laser on my pistol.
He had no problem with it. He said it felt completely natural when he practiced drawing my M&P from the holster as it hung from his gun belt, and he’s not one to offer praise for anything lightly. Apparently thumb length tends to be more uniform from person to person than the lengths of their other digits.
RF, my father and I all have thumb lengths from tip to webbing of about 2.75 inches, and 4.75 to 5 inches from tip to base of palm at the wrist. If I had to guess, RF probably handled a dummy gun that was molded after a more common pistol such as a Glock when he put his hands on one of these holsters. That, or the particular holster he tried was proportioned very differently from mine.
Okay, assuming the dimensions of the holster and your hand both agree, how reliable is the draw? That’s what you’re here for, right? When you want your gun, you want it NOW. Bad guy is bearing down on you and your daughter is screaming with fright. Tally-ho!
Well, my opinion on this is a tad skewed. I seem to be in the minority in the Armed Intelligentsia when I profess my love for Serpa holsters and their index finger-activated quick release paddles. My first OWB holster was a Serpa CQC for my Government 1911. That holster spoiled me rotten.
When it came to quick draws and ease of access to my sidearm, I didn’t even have to try. I was going from zero to aimed in a little over one second with the Serpa with almost no practice whatsoever. It quickly became a benchmark for ease of access to a holstered firearm. Thus I became, well, more than a little irritated when first trying to use this holster.
With the tension screw in place it definitely fails when it comes to draw time vis-a-vis the Serpa. Though I don’t have much trouble with it here since I’ve been using this holster for a while and have become accustomed to the draw, you can plainly see that resistance is offered by the holster when it lifts my belt on the draw. Can’t say that I would trust myself to have that level of dexterity in the case of a DGU. If by some miracle I can actually pull the gun from the holster, my grip on it will probably have loosened or weakened so much that it will drop from my hand once it’s out.
You really need a firm grip on your pistol before even thinking of activating the lever on the 6378. When I first started to use the holster I found myself taking a noticeable amount of time to ensure a good, firm grip on the pistol before reaching for the lever. If not, I would almost certainly suffer a locking mechanism deactivation failure, resulting in a *THUK* that signaled my gun was NOT going to come out of the holster. You’d think that requiring a good grip would be a good thing, but in practice, if the bad guy is hustling toward you with a tire iron, he’s going to be laughing at you as he rains blows on your head.
The solution is not to loosen the retention screw so much as it is to remove it completely, at least on my model. Retention tension is controlled by a small screw toward the user-facing side of the holster. This is what controls how much force you must apply to the release lever in order to access your weapon.
Don’t worry, removing this screw does not compromise the integrity of the holster, and (again, on my model) does not compromise the ability of the holster to safely retain your firearm. Frantic yanking and pulling on the pistol, even with the screw off, will not defeat its retention capabilities.
Once the retention screw is removed, you’ll find that the lock release lever will have just about the right amount of tension to the point where its operation becomes natural and relatively effortless. That said, until you have sufficient practice working the lever, your thumb will not intuitively know how much pressure to apply to the release lever before your gun is ready to pull from the holster. Removing the screw and a good amount of practice will give you about a 98% or higher success rate. (Hey, if you want higher than that, then you don’t want an active retention system. Go for Level 1 passive retention.)
Where were we? Right, bad guy with tire iron, the latter about to be juxtaposed in space time with your head. Damn, you need your pistol, oh God where is my pistol? Fumble, fumble…
Oh dear. You’re wearing that really baggy sweater under your coat, aren’t you? Gotta watch out for all that fabric bunching up over the release lever which will hamper your attempts to depress it. If, however, you get one of these holsters with thumb safety accommodation and don’t modify it as outlined above, loose clothing will make depression of the lever darned near impossible.
The way to deal with this is to stuff your shirt/jacket/vest between your body and the lever. Only a couple of times has this YFWG (young fat white guy) had his clothing bunch up on him after doing that and even then it did not prevent me from directing and applying sufficient force to the lever after making the modification described above.
We have liftoff, despite my sweater being in the way.
Okay, so the 6378 is big, unreliable until you modify it and almost dangerous when you get the tactical light version of the holster. Sounds like a steaming heap of bad when you put it like that. But after you learn its quirks and cut off the excess plastic, is it reliable out in the the world?
In practice (and only after LOTS of practice), the answer I’ve arrived at is yes. What I’ve learned from using this holster is that, while it’s far from being the worst game in town (I actually like it quite a bit and would recommend it with a few qualifying factors), there’s no way it could possibly be the best (i.e., perfect) either. There are just too many things wrong with it for it to earn that distinction.
Yet, with practice these shortcomings can be overcome and the holster can be made to work well. So much so that I’m currently not interested in trading out this honey for anything sexier unless it’s completely superior and meets my tactical rail accommodation needs.
If you have a tac rail-mounted light or laser, it might just be the only game in town for you, depending on your pistol model and tac rail accessory. I’d suggest checking Safariland.com for their fitting charts but it’s probably best to call them instead and ask them what kind of options they have available for your model. Their website isn’t very well-maintained, and some of the information there is outdated or inaccurate. Also, be prepared for a long wait once you’ve ordered your rig. As in one to two months. I was lucky: they actually had this model in stock when I called. But that’s pretty rare.
Finally, about the best advice I can give you in terms of laser accommodation is to get a laser that is no wider than the width of your slide, and no longer than the length of your tac rail. On the 6378 that was made for the M&P 45c, the holster gets wider as it goes down toward the tac light space. But if your rail accessory is wider than the slide at the top, you’d be better off sticking with your current lady. I mean holster.