Retention holster

by Hayden Cooper
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retention holster

Retention holsters are a type of holster used to secure a firearm in place, while providing additional safeguards to prevent unauthorized access or accidental discharge. They are designed to keep a firearm securely in place until it is intentionally and deliberately removed by the wearer. Retention holsters are commonly used by law enforcement officers, military personnel, and private citizens who carry firearms for self-defense.

These types of holsters typically have additional features that traditional holsters do not have, such as multiple locking mechanisms, finger release, hood guard or straps that keep the firearm securely in place. This can help prevent the gun from falling out of the holster or being easily removed by an unauthorized person.

These holsters are often designed with different levels of retention, with higher levels of retention providing increased security and lower levels allowing for faster access to the firearm. Some retention holsters are also designed to release the firearm automatically when it is drawn in a certain way, such as by applying pressure or twisting to a specific point on the holster.


Holster retention levels

There are several types of retention holsters ranging from Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 & Level 4 retention holsters.


Level 1 retention holster:

Level 1 retention holster

Level 1 retention holster


Level 1 retention holsters typically have a simple retention mechanism such as friction fit. They are also known as a passive retention holster where friction is used to hold the firearm in place. There are no locking devices or additional support straps in a Level 1 retention holster. Therefore the retention is achieved through a tight fit or by using materials that grip the firearm. Passive retention holster or Level 1 retention holster are often the simplest and most affordable type of retention systems available but they may not be as secure as other retention holsters.

A good quality level 1 retention holster uses friction as well as shape molding in order to secure the firearm. These holsters also often have retention screws which are used to adjust the “pressure” on your firearm. Both leather holsters as well retention holsters made from kydex or similar mold uses a combination of these techniques.


Level 2 retention holster:

Level 2 retention holster

Level 2 retention holster


Level 2 retention holster includes the basic level 1 retention holster along with an additional support such as a strap, hood, locking system or thumb break. This is an additional support to help retain your gun in the holster in addition to the friction and natural retention of the holster.


Level 3 retention holster:

Level 3 retention holster includes a self locking system in addition to the features on a Level 2 retention holster. In other words a level 3 retention holster has three levels or steps of retention that you need to go through before you can begin to draw your gun.

Level 4 retention holster:

A retention holster with Level 4

A retention holster with Level 4


Level 4 retention holster has three holster retention levels or systems in addition to the natural or passive retention that is built in all holsters. Both Level 4 and level 3 holsters have additional locking mechanisms such as a strap that must be released, thumb break, finger release, or a hood guard to keep the firearm in place before the firearm can be drawn. These type of holsters also may have a secondary strap or require a slight twist of the holster to release the gun.

This is the most secure type of holster with regards to holster retention levels. Level 3 and level 4 retention holster are normally used by law enforcement agencies in the US and gun lovers who prefer to open carry.

It is important to remember here that if you wearing any type of conceal carry holster or an IWB retention holster, holster retention may not be an overriding consideration.

However, while wearing an OWB holster, thigh holsters or any other type of open carry gun holster, your firearm is visible to all those around you. It is precisely in these situations where higher retention levels are all the more important. An active retention holster is a must if you intend to open carry.


Advantages of Retention holsters:

    1. Improved safety: The most important reason for having a retention system on your holster is safety. A loose firearm can be a hazard, both to the person carrying it and to others around them. If the firearm falls out of the holster, it can discharge accidentally, causing serious injury or death. These types of holsters can help prevent the firearm from accidentally falling out of the holster or being dislodged during physical activity. This can help reduce the risk of accidental discharge and other safety incidents.
    2. Increased security: These holsters are designed to prevent the accidental or unauthorized removal of the firearm. This can help reduce the risk of theft, loss, or unauthorized use of the firearm. Higher retention holster levels may even safe your life. This is true especially if you are in a physical confrontation with someone on the ground trying to prevent him from accessing your firearm.
    3. Versatility: They can be designed to work with a variety of different firearms and can be customized to fit the specific needs and preferences of the wearer. This can make them a versatile and adaptable choice for individuals who need to carry a firearm as part of their job or for personal protection.
    4. Comfort: These holsters can be designed to be comfortable for extended periods of wear, even when open carrying a heavy firearm. This can make them a more practical choice for individuals who need to carry a firearm regularly.
    5. Deterrent: The visible retention features of the holster can act as a deterrent to potential attackers, who may be less likely to target someone who appears to be armed and prepared to defend themselves. 


Disadvantages of Retention holsters:

    1. Complexity: Since these holsters often have additional features and mechanisms that can make them more complex to operate and maintain than simpler holsters. This can require additional training and practice to become proficient in using the holster effectively.
    2. Cost: They are more expensive than simpler holsters, due to the additional materials and mechanisms used in their construction. This can make them a less practical choice for individuals on a tight budget.
    3. Draw speed: These holsters can sometimes be slower to draw from than simpler holsters, due to the additional retention features that need to be disengaged before the firearm can be removed from the holster. This is especially true for level 3 and level 4 retention holsters. This can be a disadvantage in situations where speed is of the essence. These types of holsters require more practice than a traditional holster to perfect the draw.
    4. User error: Holsters with a higher level of retention can be less forgiving of user error, especially if the wearer forgets to properly engage or disengage the retention mechanisms. This can increase the risk of an accidental discharge or other safety incident.
    5. Maintenance: Holsters with a higher level of retention may require more maintenance than simpler holsters, due to the additional mechanisms and materials used in their construction. This can add to the overall cost and complexity of using the holster effectively.


Best Retention Holster:

There is no one “best” retention holster that will work for everyone, as the ideal holster will depend on factors such as the specific firearm being carried, the intended use, and the individual preferences of the wearer.

However, one of the most popular retention holsters are made by Safariland. Their trademarked Automatic Locking System & Self Locking System holsters are as best as they come. Safariland holsters use a dual locking mechanism to keep the firearm securely in place, while still allowing for quick and easy access when needed. It is popular among law enforcement officers and military personnel. Safariland is currently one of the leading manufacturer of retention holsters.


Does Level 4 retention holster reduce your draw speed ?


A level 4 retention holster can potentially reduce your draw speed compared to a simpler holster, due to the additional retention mechanisms that need to be disengaged before the firearm can be removed from the holster. However, this depends on the specific design of the holster and the proficiency of the user. With proper training and practice, it is possible to draw quickly and smoothly from a retention holster without significantly slowing down your draw speed.


Should first time gun owners purchase a level 4 retention holster ?


It is not recommended for first-time gun owners to purchase a retention holster with a level 4 retention. Level 4 holsters are typically used by law enforcement or military personnel who require an extremely high level of security, and they may not be necessary or practical for most first time civilian gun owners.

Instead, it is generally recommended for first-time gun owners to focus on purchasing a high-quality, comfortable, and reliable holster that fits their firearm properly. A level 2 retention holster may be more than sufficient for most civilian gun owners, as these holsters provide a good balance of security and ease of use.

It is also important for first-time gun owners to receive proper training and practice with their firearm and holster, to ensure that they can handle the firearm safely and effectively in any situation. A retention holster can be a useful tool for keeping a firearm secure, but it is important to choose a holster that is appropriate for your skill level and intended use, and to receive proper training and practice to ensure that you can use the holster effectively.


Kydex versus a leather retention holster


A leather retention holster can have retention features, but they are generally not as secure or effective as retention holsters made of materials like kydex. Leather retention holsters are often designed to fit the specific firearm and are molded to the shape of the gun. This can provide a secure fit and help prevent the firearm from falling out of the holster, but it may not provide the same level of retention as a dedicated retention holster.

Some leather holsters may have additional retention features such as a strap or retention screws which are used to adjust the “pressure” on your firearm. However, these features are generally less secure than the retention mechanisms found in a dedicated retention holster made from kydex. Retention holsters made from kydex have mechanisms which can vary in level of security, with some holsters offering a simple “click” retention system and others incorporating more advanced multiple locking system. These mechanisms help keep the firearm in place until it is intentionally and deliberately removed by the wearer.



Irrespective to the materials being used to make a holster such leather or kydex, holster retention is an important aspect of any gun holster. Holster retention helps ensure safety and security while allowing for quick and easy access to your firearm. By understanding the different types of retention systems available and considering your personal needs and preferences, you can choose a holster that provides the right level of retention for your needs. Ultimately choosing the right holster retention system depends on a variety of factors, including your personal preferences & needs and how you plan to use your firearm.

Although retention holsters are designed to provide an additional layers of security it is important to remember that retention holsters are not foolproof and can still fail or be overcome in certain circumstances. Use of retention holsters cannot replace responsible gun handling and storage practices. It is important for individuals who carry firearms to receive proper training on the safe and effective use of retention holsters, as well as to regularly inspect and maintain their equipment.

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