Safariland | An Inside Look

Safariland. Live your legacy.
May 3, 2019  
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

If your current or past life involved law enforcement or military service, chances are you know Safariland. You have almost certainly been issued some of their kits, likely in the form of duty holsters or body armor.

Safariland holsters - Fifty Shades of FDE version

The Safariland Group

Safariland has been around for over five decades and has developed into the source of far more than holsters over the past few years. Several brands are now a part of The Safariland Group. The group writ large is very innovative and pays much attention to what end users say about various products in order to improve them. They’re all too aware their customers go into harm’s way as a vocation and so rely on Safariland products for life and limb. Perhaps best known among their brands are, of course, Safariland, but also Bianchi, PROTECH, Hatch, TCI, and Rogers. However, there are many others producing excellent products in their own particular “battlespace.” See below.

I have used Safariland gear in one form or another since I was a young Explorer in my teens, which means that I’ve had their kit on me now for more than half of my life. The holster I’m using now is Safariland, as is my current issued body armor. I have never been 10-8 [on duty/in service] with any other duty holster. In my opinion, they’re simply the best duty gear available.

Members of the Safariland Saves Club would no doubt agree.

The Safariland Saves Club
The Safariland Saves Club is a list of those whose lives have been saved by Safariland armor, helmets, or ballistic shields. Since this picture was taken, that number has increased to more than 2,050. Learn more at Safariland Saves online.

I have been fortunate to maintain a good relationship with the people at Safariland since I began my social media page and the Fifty Shades of FDE blog. They have sent me products to review and test out over the years. They stand behind their products and are always coming out with new features that continue to impress me.

Recently, Safariland invited to stop by their Ontario facility for a tour, and a few weeks later was able to take them up on their offer. It was an awesome experience that helped me better appreciate all the work that goes into the products  I use every day.

Upon arrival, I met up with the Safariland team, and they provided an overview of what was ahead. That particular location is a unique facility with both an Acoustics and Ballistics Lab in the same building.

The tour was broken down into three parts:

  1. The Acoustics Lab
  2. The Armor Ballistics Lab
  3. The Duty Gear Systems Area

Part 1: Safariland Acoustics Lab

Communications and Ear Pro

Most of you are familiar with TCI and their Liberator headsets that are in service with SWAT officers all over the nation, as well as our service members overseas. I have the DEHP and Liberator HP headsets myself, and their sound quality and hearing protection are outstanding. Safariland acquired Tactical Command Industries (TCI) in 2015 and transitioned it into their Ontario facility. Same great product line, now offered under the Safariland brand name.

A Liberator Headset undergoes testing.
A Liberator Headset undergoes testing.

The Chief Engineer of the Communications division showed me what every single headset goes through in the acoustics lab for calibration before it is approved to be shipped out.

The particular headset I was shown was in for service, getting tested and calibrated before heading back to the customer. The acoustics test took place inside a big black box, where the headset was placed on a stand with microphones representing each ear and surrounded by speakers and foam lining on the interior walls of the box.

Safariland audio testing is done on every individual piece of communication equipment before it is shipped out.
Safariland calibrates every piece of communication equipment before it ships.

The door was shut, and the test began to check the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of each ear. There wasn’t much variance at the conclusion of the testing and exceeded the advertised NRR rating. The headset is now good to go back into service.

Next to the acoustics lab is the assembly floor for all of their electronic headsets. Everything in the communications product line is handmade right in this room with every component made in the USA.

Safariland Comms kit is assembled by hand here of all made in the USA parts.

There is always room for improvement and the Safariland engineers take feedback from their customers to adapt and conform to the needs of those who use their headsets in the field.

Safariland's electronic hearing protection is made in the USA with American parts.
One of the current efforts underway in The Safariland Group’s acoustic lab is a drive to extend battery life.

The team is currently working on increasing the battery life of their headsets and making them more adaptable to helmet mounting options.

To buy Safariland.

Part 2: Safariland Armor Ballistics Lab

PPE – “Bulletproof Vests”, Helmets, and Ballistic Shields

The Armor Ballistics Lab is the home of all the Research and Development that goes into soft, hard and stab armor systems. There are two ranges that mimic NIJ standards.

Looking down the barrel of a gun used in ballistic testing on Safariland vests.
Staring down the barrel. Don’t worry, all safety precautions were used to take this picture!

Range 1 is for Soft Armor testing against Pistol and Fragmentation threats.

Range 2 is for Hard Armor Plate testing against Rifle threats.

Ammunition calibers and types for ballistic tests
Ammunition calibers and types on hand for ballistic testing: They have pretty much everything available. The only thing missing are double cartridges for a Callahan thorough gauge.
Reloading equipment is used for better control control over projectile velocity.
Reloading equipment is used for better control over projectile velocity.

The cabinets along the walls are full of factory ammunition from all over, which is used in the tests. They also reload ammunition to control the velocity of the rounds fired.

The purpose of these tests inside the Ballistics Lab is to see if there is any penetration and to measure back face deformation. The goal is to have no penetration (obviously, holes are no good) and back face deformation under the NIJ standards dependent on the level of protection of the tested armor.

The Safariland "Tube Gun" used for ballistic testing.
The Safariland “Tube Gun” used for ballistic testing.

Most tests are done with a tube gun that can be placed at a specific distance and is electronically fired via a button outside of the control room in the lab.

Various barrels for the tube gun.
Various barrels for the tube gun.
Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor

Armor pieces are held against a clay slab via straps and placed in front of the gun. After each test, the armor is removed and checked for penetration and the impacts in the clay are measured for back face deformation.

Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor using American Eagle ammunition.
Glock 21 was the test gun on the day I visited the facility. 

They also use actual firearms to do other types of testing, which is what I got to witness and it was definitely more fun to watch than someone pressing a button to remotely fire the round. The test that they had prepared for me involved one of their technicians firing a Glock 21 twice at point blank range into one of their Summit Level IIIA panels. One of the technicians took my phone to get some video of the first shot next to the shooter since I had to watch from the control room behind glass.

Testing Safariland armor.

The shot was fired, then the weapon cleared. We all went in for a look and you could see the round slide down behind the cover from where it had hit.

Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor
This is how to catch a .45 ACP slug!
Safariland ballistic armor testing
All clear!

We went back outside and they shot it a second time in a different position. That round stuck in the vest where it had impacted, just like you see in the movies.The vest was taken down so we could take a look at the back face deformation. The maximum distance for this level of protection is 44mm. The first shot was measured at 27mm and second at 24mm, well below the max.

Safariland ballistic armor testing
Shot number one. Note the slug just beneath the outer cover.
Backface deformation in the clay from the first shot.
Shot number two.
Vest flipped over. No penetration with the backface deformation in the clay slab.

Next, the vest was inspected to check for any penetration. There wasn’t any so the outer cover was cut off for a look inside. Both slugs were inspected and when taking a closer look, you could see striations from the fabric of the vest where they made contact and slowed the rounds down to stop them. They were formed into copper mushrooms and were still warm to the touch.

Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor
Cutting back the layers to get a closer look.
Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor
Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor
Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor
If you look closely you can see the striations from the ballistic fibers on the flattened bullet.

Safariland is the only armor manufacturer to have a full ballistics lab in their facility for in-house testing. Protecting the officer is paramount in their product development. They do these lab tests to make sure their products meet and exceed NIJ standards even before they send them to be tested by an independent lab for certification. Certifications are necessary and nice on paper, but it doesn’t sell confidence to those of us much when we are dependent on them as protection and confidence are what they want to sell. The more confident the end user is with a product, the more they would want to wear it.

This vest took plenty of hits outside the lab. Some real-world testing.

To establish that level of confidence for the team and those of their customers, they have a technician that takes armor out to the desert and shoots them with a wide range of firearms and ammunition. He also takes the armor on the road and does live demonstrations at law enforcement agency ranges.

Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor

I was also given the opportunity to take a look at their stab-resistant or Level I armor. Instead of trying to catch and stop a bullet like Level II and IIIA soft armor do, they deflect stab threats away from the body. To test these vests, there is a stab chamber that drops spikes, knives, and other stab threats.

Ballistic testing of Safariland body armor - stab resistant vests
A test spike used for testing stab-resistant armor.

The team is always doing research into new materials to maximize protection, minimize weaknesses, and at the same time make armor more comfortable for those who have to wear a vest for each and every shift. They understand that the more comfortable their armor is, the more likely it’ll be worn.

Safariland stab-resistant vest testing area.

Safariland offers classes to educate LEOs about body armor several times a year. This includes ballistic testing in the lab. Having a better understanding of how body armor works will help those who wear it utilize their protective equipment to its full potential, as well as appreciate the work behind it all.

Safariland Saves Club

To buy Safariland.

Part 3: Duty Gear Systems

Holsters, Belts, and Other Necessities

Safariland Duty Holsters have a reputation of being the best out there. They have very effective retention systems that, with practice, are very fast to deploy. Technology has improved over the years since the introduction in the 1980s of the first Level III retention holster, the Safariland 070.

Safariland holsters manufacturing
Prototype assembly line.

Today, the state-of-the-art Safariland holster product, perhaps any holster product, is their ALS (Automatic Locking System) retention. The ALS will fit a wide array of pistol types. Their 7TS series features highly regarded construction as well. These are some of the most durable holsters available and are able to endure a serious beating to protect the pistols secured within.

Safariland holsters manufacturing

The current focus of the Duty Gear Team is on expanding the 7TS series with their Red Dot Sights (RDS) line of holsters, duty holsters with smaller profile WMLs and more concealed carry holsters.

There are currently many offerings for those who conceal carry. They are adding to that lineup include more makes and models. Depending on the end user’s requirements and preferences, the GLS line of holsters offers what many other holsters do not: active retention.

From leather to injection molded holsters, Safariland offers something for everyone.

Safariland holsters manufacturing

Before Safariland took me on their tour, I’d thought that the duty holsters were all made by a single machine that took in the materials in one end and extruded completed holsters out the other. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was taken out to the factory floor, where the duty holsters were made. Mind you, this is not the 7TS series, which is a much simpler process via injection molding. These are the 6000 series line of bombproof holsters and they are mostly handmade down a long assembly line.

Safariland holsters manufacturing

At the start, there are the sheets of Boltaron that are then cut to shape, hardware added, and placed into metal molds specific to each handgun model. They are then put through a heat press and deburred to remove the sharp edges from the cuts. Every single holster is then fit-checked for full functionality. The entire process from beginning to end for a single holster is around twenty minutes.

Safariland holsters manufacturing

Going through each and every station along the assembly line gave me a whole new appreciation for all the hard work that goes into each and every holster made in this fashion. There are some stations that have an extremely small tolerance for error that if too little or too much material was taken off, the entire holster wouldn’t work at all. That requires a lot of attention to detail which is mastered by their employees.

I no longer look at my Safariland duty holsters the same way.

Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing
Safariland holsters manufacturing

Everyone I met during my tour of Safariland was very passionate about what they do. There is a palpable sense of pride in their products — they know who their customers are. Quality is built into everything they make, and they consistently innovate.

I had a great time getting to see how things I use on a daily basis are made and where it all comes from.

Thanks to the Safariland team for inviting me to such an educational and enjoyable visit!

Visit for more information.

Safariland Saves Club

Something unique at Safariland is their SAVES CLUB, which started in the ’70s and continues today. The SAVES CLUB honors those who, during the line of duty, experienced a life-threatening incident where Safariland armor or gear saved their lives. The number at the time of this writing was 2034. The company motto is “Together, We Save Lives.” It is very important to them and is a huge part of their culture.

Every year at SHOT Show, they invite members of the SAVES CLUB to speak about their incident, arguably one of their worst days on the job, and how they survived it wearing body armor from The Safariland Group.

Where to Buy Safariland

Buy Safariland or not, as you choose and after due diligence. If you do buy some, however, please do us a solid and do so via one of our links.

Safariland products on Palmetto State Armory
Safariland on
Safariland at Cabela's
Safariland at Midway USA
Buy online at Optics Planet
Safariland on USA

NIJ Armor Ratings

Would you like to know more?

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Included among the latter are:

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Fifty Shades of FDE

Fifty Shades of FDE

About the Author

Fifty Shades of FDE is a full-time LEO in California with about a decade's service in a very large metropolitan agency. He’s a husband, father and firearms enthusiast. He is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a proponent of law abiding citizens’ right to defend themselves with concealed carry permits. He runs his @fiftyshadesofFDE page on Instagram and writes gun/gear reviews on - when he's not writing for Breach-Bang-Clear, of course.


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