Lets talk about Levels of Holster retention. If you spend any time on the internet you’re bound to hear about “Lvl 1 retention” or “Lvl 2 or 3 retention” But what do these levels mean? What’s the right choice? And why does it even matter?Let’s take a look. So the levels of retention are loosely defined by the numbers of active or passive systems that need to be defeated in order to draw your weapon.
Well what’s the point of retention?
Simply put, Retention keeps your gun on you until you need to draw it. You don’t want your gun to fall out of your holster while you’re running or worse be taken from you by an assailant.
So what are the levels of retention?
Level 1 retention is defined by a holster that has an active or passive retention system that requires 1 step to defeat the system in order to draw your weapon.
An example of a level 1 retention holster is your typical molded Kydex holster like the LOA Performance Raider that is form fitted to your specific firearm and accessories. By closely following the form factor of the firearm body it provides a passive friction retention system that is defeated by overcoming the friction coefficient by drawing sharply on the firearm. Friction retention holsters tend to be the easiest to draw from as it requires no additional manipulation to defeat the retention system. The overall ease of retention can usually be adjusted by tightening or loosening a retention screw that adds or removes tension placed upon the firearm. Kydex friction is extremely fast to draw from but having no active retention system means that it is possible for the butt of your pistol to be caught on something and be pulled out of the holster.
Alternatively another form of level 1 is an active retention system that must be operated by the shooter to defeat the device in order to draw the weapon. The Safariland ALS (automatic Locking System) is a good example. It forgoes the Friction method and instead uses a locking device that attaches itself on to the ejection port of the pistol in order to mechanically lock the pistol within the holster body. In order to draw the firearm the shooter must depress a release mechanism with his thumb in order to draw the pistol from the holster. It take a little bit of practice, but it can be extremely fast to draw as well.
Level 2 retention requires two steps to defeat the active or passive retention system(s).
A Level 2 Active retention system example can be seen with this kydex holster that has the aforementioned level 1 friction retention but also has a mechanical hood that takes 1 step to be defeated in order to draw the pistol.
Another version of a Level 2 holster is the Safariland SLS (Self Locking System) it replaces the ALS that requires 1 step to defeat with a hood that covers the rear of the slide to retain the weapon. The SLS requires 2 steps to disengage the holster, the Hood must be pushed straight down to unlock it, and then pushed forward to move the hood out of the way so the weapon can be drawn. by adding an additional level of retention the Level 2 holsters increase security of the weapon.
Level 3 Holsters add an additional layer of retention to the existing two levels. Level 3 holsters are often viewed as the desired type of open carry holsters for duty professionals as it dramatically increases the security of the holster and makes it very difficult for an opponent to gain access to the pistol.
A kydex holster friction level 1 holster that is equipped with a 2 step mechanical device like the SLS mentioned above makes for an effective Level 3 holster.
Safariland pairs the Level 2 SLS Hood with the Level 1 ALS locking system to create a Level 3 retention system that can be disengaged with the use of just your thumb to unlock and clear the SLS hood and disengage the ALS system.
The choice for which holster retention level to use is determined by multiple factors to include: how you carry your firearm, the context of why you’re carrying it, and your environment you carry it in. There’s no “right” answer but we hope this information helps you make an informed decision based on your needs and your mission.
Stay Safe and Stay Focused,
- The Musa Team.