What is a Retention Holster?

A Comprehensive Guide

Holsters are devices that are used to hold weapons. It can also be used to store other equipment, especially small/thin, irregularly shaped, and have varying position requirements. In this blog post, we will discuss what is a retention holster?

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They hold the weapon or arm of an individual so he can quickly grab it when required during the time of need. A holster is supposed to keep the gun attached to you while walking, running, or performing any physical activities, making it difficult to pull out your weapons, but it still allows you to reach for it in case there is a need.

What is a Retention Holster?

A retention holster is one of the essential parts of tactical gear used to carry your weapon. This kind of holster is designed to offer extra security and safety for a weapon against its loss or theft when it’s not in use. The primary purpose of a retention-style holster is to keep the gun tightly held in place, even when you are running, jumping, riding a horse, or bending down. The word ‘retention’ means holding something in a particular position by preventing it from slipping away or being stolen. While the primary purpose of this holster is to make sure that your gun stays put while you run and does not fall out, there are various other reasons why you should be using one.

Retention Holster

Retention Vs Non-Retention

Holsters are generally available in one of these two main categories: retention or non-retention models. A retention holster has some kind of button, lever, switch, release buckle, or lock that allows you to secure your weapon on the holster but prevents it from falling out of the holster while you’re moving about. By comparison, a non-retention holster is one in which your weapon falls out of the holster when you move about or draw it out from its place within the holster. This kind of holster is generally used for concealed carrying purposes because there’s no visible outside hardware on it to give away its true meaning and intent for usage.

Retention Holsters Mechanism

There are three main types of retention holsters available: active, passive, and hybrid. Let’s take a look at the fundamental difference between these holsters.

Active Retention Holster 

An active retention holster uses an external device such as a lever, button, or switch to secure the weapon in place. It is built into the holster’s design either on its own or with other firearm safety mechanisms.

Passive Retention Holster

Passive retention holsters use an internal locking system to secure the gun in place, such as friction fit or a hood. This type of holster requires you to disengage the lock by using your fingers or both hands to pull up on the hood and draw simultaneously.

Hybrid Retention Holster

The hybrid holster is a combination of both active and passive retention mechanisms. It has an internal locking system and a device to disengage it that can be either activated by hand or released using grip pressure while drawing out the firearm.

Retention Levels

There are various types of retention mechanisms in a holster, such as:

Level 1 Retention

The primary type of retention only covers the trigger guard area and does not cover any other firearm part. It allows you to press your finger inside the trigger guard for easier draw-out. This is common in civilian-style holsters and shoulder holsters.

Level 2 Retention

This kind of retention holster covers the entire firearm and provides extra protection from being grabbed or snatched away from you during a physical struggle for your weapon. Level 2 typically consists of a hood that needs to be disengaged to draw out the gun. This is common in many kinds of police holsters, most duty and tactical holsters, and some civilian-style holsters.

Level 3 Retention

This is also known as the security holster, which covers the weapon entirely with a solid hood or device, such as a strap over the top of the gun. It can be released by using a thumb break mechanism. Usually, this kind of retention holster is used only during driving because its secure hold prevents your weapon from falling even in an accident.

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Level 4 Retention 

The highest level of retention holsters has multiple active devices to prevent anyone from taking away your weapon even if they manage to grab it during a struggle with you for your firearm/weapon. There will be more than one locking mechanism available on the holster so that it can be released with one hand and by moving your thumb in a specific direction. This kind of holster is mainly used for military purposes or law enforcement purposes.

Retention Devices

The most common retention devices are:

Thumb Break

This is a strap that hooks over the handle or grip of your firearm and can be secured by using a snap, buckle, or hook. You must release the thumb break from the holster before you can draw your weapon. In most cases, you will find this kind of device on Level 2 retention holsters. 

Finger Break

This retention device is a strap or flap on the outside of the holster that can be released by pressing a button, moving a lever, or pushing a switch. You must disengage this device to draw out your weapon from the holster. This kind of retention device is very common in police and military-style retention holsters.

Tension Screw

To use this type of level 1 retention mechanism, you will need a unique tool provided with the holster at purchase time for adjusting how tight your firearm fits into the holster before locking it down. This type of retention holster is less secure than other types but is more convenient during everyday carry because you might not need to worry about an extra device or strap to secure the holster.

Automated Locking Mechanisms

These are also known as Level 3 retention devices. It’s activated by you automatically when your hand reaches the pistol grip area of your weapon, i.e., upon drawing out your firearm from the holster. Some kind of safety switch or button must be pressed before you can release the lock and draw out your handgun/firearm from it. Most duty holsters used by police officers have this type of mechanism for ensuring complete protection against any external attack on their weapons during a physical struggle, with criminals seeking to snatch away their firearms and use them against them. This kind of retention is common in both civilian and law enforcement style retention holsters.

Maintenance & Cleaning of Retention Devices

All retention devices have a limited lifespan. They may become too worn out to function correctly after a specific usage or exposure to weather conditions. You can extend the lifespan of the retention devices by following proper maintenance and cleaning guidelines. As a general rule of thumb, you can maintain your holster by wiping it down with a soft cotton cloth after each time you use it. If the holster is molded to your body, an occasional application of leather conditioner/lotion (which does not damage rubber devices) can work well in keeping this area soft.


You should be aware that most retention holsters are handmade using natural materials with complex manufacturing processes. This usually results in irregularities, bumps, or imperfections on the leather surface. There may also be blemishes or natural markings on the leather, which you will probably not notice until decades after using your holster for a prolonged period.

Maintenance & Cleaning of Retention Devices


Yes, it’s a good idea to get one for carrying your firearm as they offer better protection than non-retention holsters.

Retention holsters are popular with police officers because they help prevent their weapons from being snatched away or accidentally discharged in a scuffle.

The primary purpose of these devices is to prevent unauthorized or accidental access by either snatching or bumping the weapon out of its holster while it’s in use. This is especially important for law enforcement and military personnel who may need to engage in intense physical altercations with criminals or armed foes.

Yes, they are the best holsters you can get because they are designed to help protect your weapon from being snatched away during a physical struggle.


Retention holsters are very popular with law enforcement personnel and firearm owners who depend on their weapons for self-defense. They offer better protection than conventional open carry holsters by securing your weapon against accidental or unauthorized use. You can choose from different types of retention devices like Level 1, 2, and 3 to improve the security of your holster. You should also learn how to properly maintain and clean your retention holster to increase its lifespan.

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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