“Thigh” or “Drop-leg” holsters, lots of people are wearing them. How many of us are wearing them because we need them and how many of us simply because we can? I want you to know that this type of holster is a specialty item and most of us are much better served with a weapon (strong side) side holster mounted to our belt.
Thigh, drop down or drop leg holsters have been around at least since WWII when the British reportedly issued them to armored vehicle crewman because a holster on their upper leg made it easier to crawl out of a tank’s narrow hatch. Some claim that the British Special Air Service (SAS) can be credited with using in them in their current form in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Their holsters dropped “only several inches” so they didn’t interfere with the very bulky armor of that era.
More recently Bill Rogers of Safariland said that he designed the first thigh holster at the request of a Navy SEAL who needed a holster that wouldn’t interfere with a high-speed pick-up at sea from a Zodiac watercraft. “A belt holster would snag on the gunwale as the operator tried to roll into the boat. I worked with a Navy SEAL and came up with the idea of dropping the holster down onto the thigh so it wouldn’t interfere”. And so was born the Safariland 6004. It is considered the industry standard and the choice of professionals around the world.
Thigh rigs have their place, albeit a limited one. Besides Han solo and Laura Croft choosing them, if your mission calls for bulky armor or a life vest a thigh holster might be a good option. Also, if you need to rappel (really?) this type of holster might serve you well. I’m sure there are many other situations that you have been in or can imagine where a thigh holster would have worked for you. I submit to you that these situations are the exception and not the norm.
For six years I wore an issued thigh holster during pre-planned arrests and search warrants and it worked well for that purpose and I thought it was great. For my first year in that same assignment we wore our agency’s standard duty holster in conjunction with external armor and never really had a great reason to change. We changed to a thigh rig when we were issued weapon mounted lights and that was the only holster readily available to accommodate them.
If you use this type of holster there are several drawbacks that I want you to be aware of. Firstly, the vast majority of us wear them way too low on our leg. Your handgun will now seem to hang up and catch on everything and one pant leg will always ride up because of the straps around your leg. They are noticeably slower to draw from compared to a weapon side holster while seated in a vehicle or other confined area. Your handgun may now seem to get hung up or bump into your steering wheel when you get out of your vehicle. If you run while wearing a thigh holster it will have a tendency to slide to the front of your thigh. If you are forced to low crawl you will be dragging your holstered sidearm across the ground. If you have to draw while moving rapidly, and we really want you to move if you’re not behind cover, remember that your sidearm will be a moving target for your hand. It will be considerably more difficult to draw with your reactionary (weak side) hand if your weapon hand is injured.
There is nothing covert about this holster. You can no longer put a shirt on to conceal your weapon, or your intentions. Due to the increased distance created by the holster it will take you longer to get your handgun up to your line of sight or point shooting position. And if that’s not enough, keep in mind that all of your weapon retention training begins with you trapping your handgun on your weapon side with the handgun in a belt holster. In my opinion the biggest problem you will have to overcome is your instinct to reach for your handgun on your belt under stress, where you have been drawing it from the beginning of your career and developing muscle memory, and not finding it.
Think about that last sentence. If we knew beforehand that violence was imminent we would arm ourselves with a long gun, bring plenty of our friends and not have to worry about how fast we could draw. Handguns are defensive weapons and if we need them it’s usually in a hurry. The stimulus that tells you to draw your gun may be the sound of incoming rounds from your assailant and we have no time to spare wondering where our gun is. When you see photographs of soldiers and SWAT members using thigh holsters they are armed with long guns or other tools. Their handgun is not their primary weapon.
I want you to be informed and have confidence in your equipment. Confidence is a product of how you train, and training with the equipment you use on the street. Professionals do not say “this is my special holster I got for training”. Don’t be the person that uses a thigh holster in training because it’s “Tacticool” and goes back to their belt holster for duty use. Professionals push themselves and use their normal duty equipment while constantly evaluating how to improve. Tactics and equipment are always a compromise in some way. You are the violent professional and are fully capable of realistically evaluating your needs. If you use a thigh holster consider using only the bottom strap and wearing the holster as high on your leg as is comfortably possible. If it works for you then train with it. Practice your draw until it is second nature. Whatever choice your policy allows you to make, please train with it and use the best equipment you can get.
Shawn Pappas has been a police officer for 18 years and is currently a Deputy Sheriff assigned to the Training Division of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.