Holster Retention: All You Need To Know [Concealed & Open Carry]

Holster retention all you need to know about it

In simple terms, holster retention refers to how well your gun stays put in its holster.

A good retention system prevents your weapon from accidentally falling out of your holster. 

Or being snatched away by someone in a brawl.

So today, we’ll explore different aspects of holster retention and why it matters.

We’ll also check out the different types of retention systems out there and show you how to test your retention properly.

Ready? Let’s get started…

What is Holster Retention?

In a nutshell, holster retention refers to how well your holster keeps your gun in place. Retention usually means either friction or a mechanical device that is keeping your gun inside of your holster. 

For example, Kydex holsters have a piece of plastic inside of them near the trigger of the gun that snaps around the trigger guard as soon as you holster the gun. 

Leather holsters rely on passive friction to keep your gun in place. 

Why Is Retention Important?

  • Gun Safety: A solid retention system ensures that your gun won’t fall out accidentally during everyday activities like bending over or running after a runaway dog (or child.).
  • Keeping Someone From Accessing Your Gun: In case somene tries their luck at grabbing your piece… it’ll stay put.

Factors Affecting Retention

Several factors come into play when it comes to holster retention:

  1. Holster Material & Design: Different materials offer varying levels of friction and grip. Kydex, Leather, Hybrid – all have their pros and cons.
  2. Holster Design: Some holsters have built-in retention systems like thumb breaks or strap locks that provide an extra layer of security (usually duty holsters, or OWB models.)
  3. The “tightness” of your retention screw: Most holsters come with adjustable retention these days, which means that you can easily tweak your holster’s level of retention using an inbuilt retention screw. The tightness (or looseness) of the screw, then, affects the retention of the holster as well.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s move on to different types of holster retention so you can make an informed decision about which one suits your needs best.

Types of Holster Retention

Friction (Passive) Retention

Friction retention is the most basic form of holster security, most commonly used on concealed carry holsters. 

A snug fit between the weapon and holster is essential to ensure everything remains in place, with a tighter grip providing better friction retention. And a “snap” of plastic on Kydex holsters.

The tighter the fit, the better the friction retention.

The main advantage here is simplicity – no extra gadgets or mechanisms are needed to hold your gun securely. 

However, this type can be less reliable than other forms if you’re moving around a lot or find yourself in a physical altercation.

Active Retention

Moving up from friction-only holsters, we have active retention systems that use additional features like straps or thumb breaks to help secure your firearm more effectively. 

These holsters often still rely on some level of friction but add another layer of protection against accidental discharges and potential bad guys trying to grab your weapon.

  • Straps: A strap goes over the backstrap area of your handgun and snaps onto itself, providing added security while still allowing for quick access with just one hand.
  • Thumb Breaks: Similar concept as straps but uses a small flap that covers part of your gun’s grip; releasing it requires only slight pressure from your thumb during draw (thumb break vs. no thumb break).

Active retention systems can usually be found on both open-carry duty holsters (more about active retention here). 

While they provide excellent security, keep in mind that there’s a learning curve involved in using active retention under stress, as well as slower draw speed.

Unless you work in law enforcement, you most likely won’t be using an active retention holster for everyday carry.

Active Holster Retention Levels Breakdown: L2 – L4

There are different holster retention levels with active retention.

Level 2 Retention

Level 2 retention holsters have one active locking mechanism in addition to passive retention (think thumb breaks or trigger guard locks). In other words, it requires one extra action from you (the user) before releasing the firearm. 

Hence the name – level 2. You need to do 2 actions to release the gun.  

Level 3 Retention

Level 3 retention holsters have two locking mechanisms to ensure your firearm stays put until you’re ready to use it.

Keep in mind that these holsters may require more practice to master their release mechanisms, so be prepared to invest some time at the range.

You need to do 3 actions to release the gun with level 3 retention. 

Level 4 Retention (and beyond)

Level 4 retention holsters take security seriously with additional features like hood guards or extra locks. While these holsters may offer extra protection, they tend to be clunkier and slower when drawing. 

Unless you have specific needs that warrant this level of security (e.g., tactical teams), most folks will find Levels 2-3 sufficient for everyday carry.

You need to do 4 actions to release the gun with level 4 retention. 

3. How To Test Your Holster’s Retention

Before you show off your concealed carry, it’s essential to check the retention of your holster.

So let me walk you through how to test your holster retention like a pro.

The “Upside Down” Test

This one is simple but effective:

  1. Unload your firearm (safety first.)
  2. Holster it securely.
  3. Hold the holster upside down over a soft surface (just in case).
  4. Gently shake it and see if the gun stays put.

If everything remains secure during this little dance routine, congrats. You’ve passed step one of retention testing. If not… well, back to square one – either adjust that adjustable retention or consider another type of holster altogether.

The “Draw” Test

The next thing we want to check is whether drawing feels smooth and natural without too much resistance:

  • Pick up pointers on proper drawing techniques.
  • Incorporate these tips into practice sessions.
  • See if your retention gets in the way of drawing the gun.

By doing this, you’ll ensure that your holster retention is spot-on and won’t hinder your ability to draw quickly in a self-defense situation. Remember, practice makes perfect.

The “Force” Test

Now it’s time for the ultimate test: can someone else remove your gun from its holster?

This may appear to be an extreme suggestion, yet consider it. If an attacker manages to get close enough to try and disarm you (think Indiana Jones-style bar fights), we want to make sure they have as tough of a time as possible.

  1. Unload your gun and make sure taht there’s no bullet in the chamber.
  2. Grab a trusted friend or family member who knows their way around firearms (preferably not the same person who always steals fries off your plate).
  3. Show them how the retention devices on your holster work.
  4. Have them attempt to remove the gun while you’re wearing it.

If they struggle like crazy and ultimately fail – fantastic. Your retention game is strong. If not… well, back to adjusting or considering other options.

The “Real-World Scenario” Test

Last but not least, let’s put our holsters through some everyday carry situations:

  • Sit down.
  • Bend over.
  • Tie those shoelaces.
  • Jump around
  • (Optional) Do a handstand

If there’s an issue with your retention, it should reveal itself pretty quick. 

Remember folks; proper testing ensures that when it comes time for action, you and your holster are ready to rock ‘n’ roll. So, test away and carry on.

Key Takeaway: 

The article provides a guide to testing your holster’s retention. Proper testing ensures that when it comes time for action, you and your holster are ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Adjustable Retention

A Quick Overview of Adjustable Retention

Simply put, adjustable retention means a holster has built-in features allowing users to modify the level of friction or tension holding their firearm in place. 

This can be done through screws or other mechanisms designed specifically for this purpose.

The beauty of adjustable retention lies in its ability to accommodate different preferences and situations – some days we might want a tighter hold while others call for an easier draw. 

It’s all about finding that sweet spot.

Tightening Things Up: How To Adjust Your Holster Retention

  1. Check The Manufacturer’s Instructions: First things first – consult your holster’s manual or manufacturer website for specific instructions on adjusting its retention system (trust me; they know best).
  2. Gather Necessary Tools: Depending on your particular model, you may need tools such as Allen wrenches or screwdrivers handy before getting started.
  3. Fine-Tune The Tension: Once equipped with proper knowledge and tools at hand, begin making small adjustments until reaching desired levels of snugness (remember: patience is key.). Keep testing by inserting & removing your unloaded firearm from the holster throughout this process.
  4. Double-Check Everything: After finding that perfect fit, give your holster a thorough once-over to ensure all screws and mechanisms are secure – we don’t want any surprises.

Note: It’s crucial to always practice with an unloaded firearm when adjusting retention. Safety first, folks.

Key Takeaway: 

Adjustable retention is a feature in holsters that allows gun owners to modify the level of friction or tension holding their firearm in place. It can be customized for optimal security and accessibility based on personal preferences or situational needs, but may require additional tools and time to adjust.

Holster Retention FAQs 

What is the difference between Level 2 and Level 3 retention holsters?

Level 2 retention holsters have one active or passive security mechanism, such as a thumb break strap or trigger guard lock. In contrast, Level 3 retention holsters feature two security mechanisms for added safety against unauthorized access to your firearm. These can include combinations of straps, locks, and release buttons.

What is the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 holster retention?

Level 1 retention refers to friction-based holsters that rely on snug fitment to secure the gun in place without any additional locking features. On the other hand, Level 2 retention holsters incorporate at least one active or passive security mechanism like a thumb break strap or trigger guard lock for increased weapon protection.

What makes a holster level 3 retention?

A level-three-retention holster has two separate active or passive security mechanisms designed to prevent unauthorized access and accidental discharge while carrying your firearm. Examples include thumb breaks combined with push-button releases or trigger-guard locks paired with hood guards.

Should I have a retention holster?

If you’re concerned about weapon safety during daily carry situations, especially if you’re an open-carry user, a retention-style holster may be ideal for you. Retention levels vary depending on personal preference; consider factors like accessibility speed versus overall weapon security when choosing your preferred style.


Hope you learned something about the importance of proper holster retention. 

You should have a clear overview of holster retention, the different types of retention, how to test your holsters’ retention levels, and the various levels of holster retention available in the market.

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