Retention Holsters


Awhile back, I got into a discussion about retention holsters for open carry.  In between hearing/reading shouts of “I can carry like I want!” and “He thinks that if you don’t use a level 9000 retention holster it doesn’t count!” I realized that not only do many people not understand what the term “retention holster” means, they also don’t understand that 1) there are differences in quality between various holster types, and 2) there are differences in choices for optimal use between different retention holsters.

There are a number of different types of retention holsters out there (ones with active retention, that is):  Safariland ALS, Safariland ALS/SLS, Galco Matrix, 5.11 Thumbdrive, Uncle Mikes Reflex, SERPA (and the other companies that functionally copied the SERPA design), plus probably several others that I’m forgetting…and there simply are significant differences between them.

In some cases those differences are in reliability, durability, and quality. In some cases, they are based on design flaws that increase the risk of negligent discharges.  But some of those differences also mean that holsters themselves (even with roughly equivalent quality) are best used for different purposes.

As always, a video for some explanation:

I’ll note in the video, my draw speed there was not “as fast as I could go” or “trying to see what the maximum speed is”–it was what felt to me to be a comfortable speed to get all A-hits on a metric target at 5 yards from the draw.    And as it said, I don’t practice with the ALS or ALS/SLS holsters, so obviously people who practice and use those regularly can go significantly faster than I did.    What is interesting to me about that comparison is that there is only a tenth of a second difference between concealment and the ALS retention (much of which, I think, is because of the cant on that ALS holster—if I would ever wear it for some reason, I’d fix that), and the ALS/SLS combination was only a tenth slower than that–from a holster with significantly more retention.

To sum up:

  • Most holsters have some sort of passive retention, many of which have adjustable passive retention.  We still don’t call them “retention holsters.”
  • “Retention holsters” are ones that have an active retention system, requiring you to do something to release an active lock on the gun so that you can draw it.  There are a number of different kinds of active retention systems, and one thing I didn’t get into was the different “levels” of retention, primarily because people use THOSE terms with different meanings depending on who you talk to.  Suffice it to say that the ALS is one level, and the ALS/SLS/hood guard combination is a level higher.
  • In my opinion, the SERPA holster (in addition to its known reliability and durability issues) has a problem with its basic design that causes the chances of an ND to be higher than when using other holsters.  (Numerous national-level trainers plus the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center think so also.)  I don’t know why anyone would use a SERPA holster when a Safariland ALS holster (much higher quality, withOUT that design issue) is available for only $5-$15 more.
  • In my opinion, for open carry (and certainly for duty carry), the ALS and ALS/SLS holsters are a much better idea than the GLS or Uncle Mikes Reflex holster, because the latter two can still easily be pulled out of your holster by someone else–the retention system is easily unlocked from any angle.  The ALS and ALS/SLS versions are much harder to unlock for anyone who is not wearing the holster.
  • There’s a reason why the most-used retention holsters for law enforcement across the U.S. are from Safariland.
  • The GLS holster is fantastic for a situation where you don’t want the gun to come out of the holster no matter what sort of movement you are doing.  (In other words, you need retention not to stop others from getting the gun, but because you are worried about what YOU are doing knocking the gun out of the holster.) With the belt attachment adjustment kit, the GLS is what I’m using for Multigun starting this year because the gun is perfectly safe in the holster no matter what I’m doing, and literally isn’t slowing my draw stroke at all.  (This video was the first time I put the GLS on the clock, and my times with it were almost exactly what I got with my competition rig.)

Now, none of this goes into WHY I think you should use a retention holster for open carry.  (Truthfully, I think that should be self-evident, but apparently it isn’t.)  That’s a topic for a different blog post, though.  But at least (hopefully!) the next time I get into a discussion about retention holsters, we’ll all be starting our discussion with a better understanding of what we are talking about.


(I don’t work for any holster company, nor am I affiliated with any holster company in any way.  And no, there are no links in this article where I make money if you go buy something.  And yes, I know, I kept saying “ALS system” and “SLS system” and “GLS system” which means I was saying “system system” all the time. I know. I’m sorry.  I don’t know why I kept doing that.)

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