Safariland Holsters: ALS, SLS, QLS Explained

I was first introduced to Safariland holsters while attending the police academy. At the time, most cops were still carrying leather holsters with some type of button snap or leather strap for retention. Talk about cumbersome.

Lucky for us, the world has come a long way since those days, and holsters have transformed along with it.

Aimpoint ACRO P-2 red dot for handguns.
Safariland makes some great holsters that fit a variety of handguns [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Lessons were learned from those old, cumbersome holsters, and manufacturers started making some much-needed changes. Instead of serving as a simple device meant to carry your gun, modern holsters put an emphasis on the safety and security of the gun and the person carrying it, leading to the much-needed introduction of built-in retention systems.

And, founded in 1964, Safariland has led that charge. Though it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that Safariland released the first level III retention duty holster, the company is the unquestionable leader when it comes to holster quality, safety, and reliability.

Today, retention devices are a common feature on modern holsters, but there are many acronyms associated with them. Safariland has multiple systems integrated into its holsters, making it safer and more modular than other holsters, and each system has a separate function, purpose, and name. This can cause some confusion at times, so I’ve put together a brief explanation of the three most common acronyms you see associated with Safariland holsters.

Auto Locking System (ALS)

The Auto Locking System, or ALS, is a built-in locking mechanism with a convenient thumb release. When your weapon is holstered, the ALS system locks the gun in place from all sides. It won’t budge at all. To release the gun, the user must push back on the thumb release lever, which unlocks the system and allows the gun to be drawn. Because releasing the gun only requires one function (pressing the lever), the ALS has a Level I rating.

Safariland's ALS (auto locking system).
Safariland’s ALS (auto locking system) locks when the gun is holstered. Push back on the thumb lever to release the gun. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
That’s nothing to balk at, though, as the location of the mechanism makes it relatively difficult for anyone but the user to activate the release lever. So, while the gun is easily drawn by you, the user, it’s not as easy for a would-be assailant to unholster your weapon and use it against you.

Self Locking System (SLS)

The Self Locking System is independent of the Automatic Locking System. Some holsters have both the ALS and SLS systems working simultaneously, but we’ll get to that later.

The SLS is a hood that covers the top of the gun to keep it from being removed from the holster. It works somewhat like the hold thumb strap on leather holsters, but it’s much stronger. When activated, the SLS locks in place in the closed position (over the top of the gun).

Safariland SLS (self-locking system).
Safariland’s SLS (self-locking system) is a hood that rotates forward after pressing down on the thumb lever. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
To release it, the user must press down on the hood and rotate it forward over the top of the gun. Two motions are required to unlock the SLS (pushing down and pushing forward), so it has a Level II retention rating. When a holster has both the ALS and SLS systems, they combine together for a Level III retention rating.

Quick Locking System (QLS)

The QLS system is not a weapon retention system but a holster-to-belt retention system. It is designed to allow you to transfer your holster from one platform to another quickly and simply. Back in the day, if I wanted multiple options for wearing a duty/tactical holster, I would buy multiple holsters. With this system, however, you can purchase one holster and multiple mounting devices.

The QLS consists of two components: the holster fork and the receiver plate. The holster fork locks into the receiving plate, but it can be removed with a quick snap. The plate can be mounted to any Safariland three-hole pattern mounting device.

QLS system from Safariland.
The QLS system from Safariland. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
This can be a belt-loop attachment, paddle, thigh rig (drop-leg holster), and so on. I love the QLS system and use it daily as I switch between my paddle mount, drop-leg mount, and plate carrier rather often.

What is a duty-rated holster?

While not an acronym, you may also notice some holsters are listed as “duty-rated.” What exactly does this mean? For Safariland to recognize a holster’s retention level, it must be secured to the user in a way that cannot be pulled off. A Level III duty holster placed on a paddle, for example, is no longer considered a Level III holster. This is because Safariland only considers a holster capable of retention when it is duty-rated.

To be a duty-rated holster, it must be “belt or hip mounted.” Safariland conducts extensive testing to ensure a holster with a duty rating is completely secure. For this to take place, the holster must first stay attached to the belt or hip, typically with a belt loop attachment. Second, the holster locking devices must pass physical testing of someone attempting to remove the gun from the holster.

If the holster is not secured by a belt or hip device, however, an attacker can pull it off. This defeats the purpose of retention in the first place. So, a holster’s retention is only recognized when mounted on a belt or hip device. You can place the holster on a paddle, and the retention level is no longer recognized. Put it back on a belt loop attachment, and retention is recognized once again.

Do you have a Safariland holster?

A quick glance at Safariland holsters and all their proprietary systems can often spell confusion. But once you understand what those systems do and how the retention ratings work, it’s quite simple. Most full-size holsters from Safariland use the three-hole pattern, making them easy to reconfigure for any mission. Safariland also offers the same quick locking system for molle and accessory pouches like pistol and rifle magazines.

This allows you to move your mag pouches from belt to vest or the vest to belt. If you have not used a Safariland holster, you’re missing out. I’ve worked in law enforcement for decades, and they are by far the best duty/combat holsters I have seen. They are secure and strong and still provide easy access to your firearm.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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