What is a Level 3 Holster?

A Comprehensive Guide

Holsters are a device where you store a firearm for easy access. This can make your life much easier, especially if you have a career as an armed security guard or police officer.  You don’t have to worry about spending hours trying to find your gun when it’s time to use it. In the US, there are mainly four levels of holsters: Level 1, 2, 3, and 4. In this blog post we will learn that what is a level 3 holster?

Table of Contents

There are many different types of holster storage mechanisms, from using a traditional belt to drop leg platforms for military applications. There are also special holsters specifically designed for hunting, tactical thigh rigs, and even secret storage pouches that could be hidden under your clothes. 

Retention of A Holster

Retention is defined as the amount of force applied to your firearm by the holster about your body. Some holsters will feature a lock or button mechanism to keep the gun secure within the holster. A drop leg platform will typically have the highest retention level, with these types of holsters usually also featuring a secondary locking strap to keep the holster in place without you having to compress it against your body. A lower retention level would be a friction fit, where there is no locking mechanism keeping your gun in the holster.


With friction holsters, the gun is simply placed into and then removed from the shell of the holster. This retention level can pose a problem with negligent discharges occurring due to the gun being removed from the holster accidentally. In this article, we will also discuss the different levels of retention for a holster. In particular, what does each level mean, and which one should you get depending on the type of gun you carry?

Retention of A Holster

Retention Levels

Level 1

The lowest form of retention, and commonly seen in friction holsters. These holsters only provide the friction between the holster and the gun and do not keep it in place if it’s jarred. These types of holsters are best for people who carry concealed weapons and aren’t likely to be involved in a struggle while wearing the holster, such as a plain-clothed police officer.

Level 2

These holsters also lack an active locking mechanism; however, unlike level 1’s, there is often a secondary retention feature. This can be seen in the form of a strap, button, or even an active locking mechanism such as a rotating lock.

Level 3

The next step up from level 2 is an open-top style holster that lacks an active locking mechanism. However, a secondary retention device usually can vary from a simple strap to an electronic locking mechanism.

Level 4

The last tier of retention is typically seen in military or police holsters with a manual lock or an electronic locking mechanism. These holsters are the highest retention level and can be removed with a security clearance or if the officer removes them. Level 4 is the highest level of retention for a holster. It features a locking mechanism, like a button or rotating lock. A secondary retention device such as a strap is also present to further secure the firearm in place. Level 4 holsters are commonly seen in police duty holsters, military holsters, and high-security government applications.

Level 3 Holster

A level 3 holster will feature a button or additional locking mechanism that keeps the gun secure in the holster when it’s being worn. Because of the additional locking mechanism, you cannot pull out the gun unless it’s unlocked by either you or an authorized person.

A level 3 holster is typically found on military or police duty belts, with most using an active lock such as a button lock. The difference between military and police holsters is that most police holsters will have an additional strap to hold the holster in place while worn. In contrast, military holsters tend not to feature this. A level 3 holster is a great option for those who carry around their gun every day and could potentially be involved in a struggle where they might need quick access to their weapon (such as law enforcement or security). It’s important to remember that level 3 holsters are not designed for quick-draw, so it’s generally advised that you do not use these types of holsters for concealed carry.

Safariland ALS Level 3 Holster

Retention Devices

A retention device is any means of securing a firearm in a place that isn’t reliant upon friction or gravity to keep it in the holster. Retention devices such as straps that secure the gun’s grip against your body and buttons/paddles make it difficult for anyone other than you to remove the gun from the holster. Here are some retention devices that can be found on level 3 holsters:


The most common retention device is found on a level 3 holster; some have a strap that wraps around the back of the gun and secures it against your body. It will typically use a button lock to secure the strap in place.

Button Lock

You’ll often see a button lock on the rear of the gun that keeps it secure inside of the holster. A strap will loop around your belt or clothes and attach to a button on the back of the gun. This is commonly seen on military-grade holsters where fast access isn’t required.


Folding retention devices are usually found on level 3 holsters, as they’re made to conform to your body. A paddle is one of the most common types of retention devices that you’ll find on military-grade or police duty holsters. The paddle typically loops around the belt and connects with a button, although they can be attached directly to the holster itself.

Paddle Retention holster

Mechanical Locks

This retention device usually requires an electronic key to access the gun inside the holster (e.g., biometric fingerprint or RFID). It can lock/unlock itself via an electrical charge running through the key. They are commonly found on level 3 concealed carry holsters but can also be seen in police duty belts because they allow officers quick access to their firearms in a struggle. While all level 3 holsters have retention devices, not all of them feature a strap or button lock to secure the gun when not in use.


This is because many people think that using retention devices can slow down their draw speed, which isn’t ideal for self-defense situations. It’s also important to remember that while level 3 holsters may not provide rapid draw access, this doesn’t mean they’re completely useless if you need to get your firearm out quickly.


Some police officers wear level 3 holsters, while others use level 1 or 2. It usually comes down to personal preference and what training they’ve had.

A Serpa style holster is a type of level 3 holster that has a button lock on the side of the gun that locks into place when you draw the weapon. The button lock must be pressed for the gun to be removed, which means that it’s kept securely in place when it’s not being worn.

A variety makes level 3 holsters of manufacturers, including Blackhawk, Safariland, and Bianchi. They can also be found on several tactical belts and several militaries and police duty belts.


A level 3 holster is a holster that has a retention device, such as a strap or button lock, which keeps the gun in place when not in use. Level 3 holsters are used for concealed carry by civilians and police officers whose job doesn’t require quick draw access to their firearms. Level 3 holsters are also commonly found on military-grade tactical belts, as well as tactical vests and body armor. We have covered what a level 3 holster is, who uses them and how they work. Thank you for reading this article.

Author Profile

Gabriel Tackett
Double major in Engineering and Geology at the University of Minnesota. Experienced shooter & hunter for over 15 years. Certified NRA officer for over 10 years working as a writer at Ballachy.com .

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