Holster Retention Levels: A Comprehensive Guide

Holster Retention Levels 1

Holster retention levels can be a bit of a mystery for beginners. 

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. 

In this article, we’ll break down the different levels of holster retention, AND factors to consider when choosing the right holster retention level for you. 

Ready? Let’s get started…

What is Holster Retention, Anyway?

Holster retention refers to the mechanism that keeps your firearm securely in place within the holster. The level of retention determines how easily the gun can be drawn from the holster and how secure it will be during movement or other physical activities. The higher the retention level, the more secure the firearm will be, but it will also take you longer to draw it.

Holster Retention Levels 1-4

There are 4 different holster retention levels in total.

Level 1: Passive Retention

This is the right holster retention level for most people doing concealed or open carry. At the most basic level, passive retention relies on the friction between the holster and the firearm to keep it in place. Many holsters come with an adjustable tension screw that allows you to tighten or loosen the fit of the holster. This adjusts the amount of friction applied to the firearm inside the holster. Level 1 retention holsters are good for concealed carry and competition shooting, as they provide quick access while still maintaining a decent level of security. 

Level 2: Auto Lock Active Retention

Level 2 holsters are popular among law enforcement officers and those who prefer a higher level of security in their open-carry holsters to stop someone from pulling their gun in a brawl. Level 2 holsters come with an active retention device. This system engages the trigger guard when the firearm is holstered, providing additional security. To draw the firearm, the user must press an index finger release mechanism, which disengages the retention and allows for a smooth draw. 

Level 3: Thumb-Activated Pivot Guard

Level 3 holsters are typically used by law enforcement officers and those who require maximum security for their firearms. Level 3 holsters combine passive and active retention features, providing the highest level of security. In addition to friction-based retention, a thumb-activated pivot guard is used to secure the firearm. The pivot guard must be disengaged by pressing a thumb release button while drawing the firearm. This additional step can slow down the draw slightly, but it provides an extra layer of security against unauthorized access or accidental dislodging. 

Level 4: Triple Retention Devides

Level 4 retention holsters are very rare, and are the most secure holster that a law enforcement officer would use. A level 4 retention holster has three retention devices in addition to passive retention for a total of four retention mechanisms. No gun will come out of a Level 4 holster except if the wearer means it. They also require a lot of training and preparation to use confidently. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Retention Levels

Law Enforcement

For law enforcement officers, agency requirements often dictate the minimum retention level for duty holsters. Many agencies require at least a Level 2 or Level 3 holster, depending on the potential threats and environments officers may encounter. Open carry situations, such as patrol duty, often necessitate multiple retention devices to prevent unauthorized access to the firearm.

Concealed Carry

When it comes to concealed carry, passive retention is often preferred due to its lower profile and ease of accessibility. Concealed carriers must balance the need for a secure holster with the ability to quickly draw their firearm in an emergency. Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters, in particular, may have limited retention options due to their design and the need for concealment. See also the pros & cons of IWB vs OWB carry

Off-Body Carry

If you choose to carry off-body, such as in a purse or bag, additional considerations come into play. A dedicated holster within the off-body carry system should be used to secure the firearm and prevent unauthorized access. Slash-resistant straps and locking zippers can also help improve the security of off-body carry options.

Open Carry

Open carry situations require a higher level of retention due to the increased risk of unauthorized access or accidental dislodging. Level 2 and Level 3 holsters are popular choices for open carry, as they offer added security features that make it more difficult for someone to grab the firearm. Open-carry holsters should also be designed to keep the firearm visible and accessible for quick access in an emergency.

Competition Shooting

For competitive shooters, ease of access and speed are often prioritized over security. Level 1 holsters, or even custom competition holsters, are commonly used to minimize the time it takes to draw the firearm. However, some shooting sports or events may have specific requirements regarding holster retention levels, so it’s important to check the rules before competing.


Holster retention levels play a crucial role in firearm security and accessibility. Ranging from Level 1 passive retention to Level 3 active retention, each level offers varying degrees of security and ease of access. When selecting a holster, consider factors such as your intended use, carry method, and the level of retention required for your specific needs. Ultimately, finding the right balance between security and accessibility will help ensure a safe and effective carry experience.

Frequently Asked Questions about Holster Retention Levels

Q: Can I use a Level 3 holster for concealed carry?

A: Not really. Level 3 holsters are typically larger and made for open carry. You could theoretically cover up a level 3 retention owb holster under a long jacket, but that wouldn’t be very practical.

Q: How do I know if my holster has the proper retention level for my needs?

A: Assess your specific requirements and intended use. For example, if you’re a law enforcement officer, your department may have specific retention level requirements. If you’re a concealed carrier, a Level 1 passive retention holster may be sufficient. Ultimately, the appropriate retention level will depend on your unique needs and preferences.

Q: Are there any disadvantages to using a higher retention level holster?

A: Higher retention level holsters, such as Level 2 and Level 3, may be more difficult to draw from compared to Level 1 holsters. This is because they require additional actions, such as pressing a release button or disengaging a thumb break, to access the firearm. However, with proper training and practice, these actions can become second nature, ensuring a quick and efficient draw.

Q: Can retention levels be adjusted on holsters?

A: Some holsters offer adjustable retention, allowing you to modify the tension on the firearm for a custom fit. This can be particularly helpful when using a Level 1 passive retention holster, as it ensures the proper balance between security and ease of access. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions for proper adjustment and maintenance of your holster.


Understanding holster retention levels is vital for anyone carrying a firearm, whether for personal protection, professional use, or competitive shooting. By carefully considering your unique needs and preferences, you can select the ideal holster with the appropriate retention level for your situation. Don’t forget the importance of regular practice and training to ensure you’re comfortable and proficient with your chosen holster and firearm. With the right balance of security and accessibility, you’ll be well-equipped to carry your firearm confidently and safely.


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