Holster retention is how the holster holds the gun inside it.
There are two kinds: active and passive retention. Some holsters have one or the other, some holsters have both.
Active retention is when a mechanical device of some kind locks the gun inside the holster, which must be deactivated or removed in order to draw the gun.
Older holster designs had features like a hammer loop, thumb break or a flap that covered the pistol; more modern versions can include locking backstraps, ejection port wedges, and trigger guard locking bars that latch onto the trigger guard.
Passive retention is when the gun is held in the holster by friction alone, in that the gun fits snugly inside the holster and is held in place. Usually this requires precise molding by the holster company so the holster adheres to the contours and shape of the gun.
So, what are retention levels?
Generally speaking, every retention level is a feature that adds holster retention,
Level I is passive retention only.
Level II is passive retention plus one (1) active retention device.
Level III is passive plus two (2) active retention devices, and Level IV has three active retention devices.
What Retention Level Do I Need?
Generally, passive retention (Level I) is fine for concealed carry but at least Level II retention is called for if you're going to open carry.
Police officers generally use - if not are required to use - a Level III holster. It's common for modern day police departments to require a Level III holster for uniformed officers. The second active retention device makes it harder for a suspect to disarm the officer if a grapple for the duty pistol ensues.
The reason active retention is a better idea for open carry is that your gun is in plain sight. There is a modern precedent of criminals disarming open carriers by grabbing their pistol, pulling it out of the holster and fleeing the scene.
Since the responsible gun owner arms themselves and carries in case they need to defend themselves against an armed criminal, it is generally not a good idea to make it easier for the criminals to arm themselves. Therefore, if you are going to open carry or do so on a regular basis, you should use at least a Level II holster, if not a Level III.
What Retention Levels Does Alien Gear Holsters Offer?
Alien Gear Holsters provide product options with all three retention levels.
Our Cloak series holsters, Grip Tuck holsters, Roswell holsters and most of our ShapeShift series holsters are all Level I. They have passive retention only, which is adjustable (except for the Grip Tuck holsters) if you want more or less passive retention.
Level II holsters include select ShapeShift models (the ShapeShift Drop Leg, Driver Defense, MOLLE, OWB Paddle and Backpack Holsters) as well as our Rapid Force Level II Slim holsters. The Rapid Force Duty Holster is also available in a Level II configuration.
We also offer the Rapid Force Duty Holster with Level III retention, for both uniformed officers, armed guards, and armed citizens who want the utmost of security while carrying.
You do need to practice with a retention holster – just like any other piece of equipment. However, most folks find that after a few days of intense practice, they can achieve a high degree of competence with a retention rig that is designed well. All a person has to do to maintain proficiency is 10 dry-fire draws a day, four to five days each week, but that is another topic😉.