Retention vs. speed

Alright, here’s a question for you gun nuts out there – in your concealed carry holster, what is more important to you?  The ability to retain the firearm in the event of a gun grab such as with the BLACKHAWK Serpa or the Galco holster I’m using here at Gunsite; or is your priority getting the gun in to the fight as quickly as possible without worrying about that?

I’d like to hear your thoughts – me personally, I’d err on the side of speed.  Civilian gun grab situations are almost unheard of for concealed carry, so for me the most important part of the holster is that when I need the gun in my hand right freakin’ now the holster must absolutely not hinder my ability to get my gun in the fight.  What are you thoughts?


  1. I don’t really see either happening , the 800 pound gorilla trying to take away my gun or the proverbial gunfight of the old west although I can go along with quickly but not lightning . If someone has their gun pointed at you and finger on the trigger you would have to be an idiot to think of going for your gun unless you want to take them to the grave with you ( kinda like a gun grab Eh? ).
    What I want is a holster with a gripping type of retention ( adjustable ) so I can just grab and pull .The only retention I really want is ,is that if I get in a position I don’t want hear a ker-smack and see my weapon on the ground or sit in a recliner and lose it in there.
    So yes I do feel some retention is a good thing and I believe a snap or blackhawk can be just as fast IF you train yourself with your equipment .NO its not as easy if you don’t train.

  2. Speed. I can’t find a single incident in which an armed citizen carrying concealed has had a holstered gun taken away. There are no shortage of situations where the armed citizen starts the fight behind the time line, if for no other reason than armed citizens generally can’t pull a gun until an actual threat exists.

    The holster needs to hold the gun securely enough that you can run down the street, bend over, and other normal tasks. The more steps and fine motor skill actions you have to do in order to get the gun in your hand ready to fire there are, the more opportunities there are for the user to screw them up. So far the only consequences of people drinking the gun-blogger and gun-writer and gun-TV-show-host Kool aid about the “need” for Tacti-Cool retention holsters is that some have shot themselves in practice and training when their trigger fingers go from pressing the gun release straight to the trigger as they draw. Hopefully those that make the (wrong) decision to use these unnecessarily complex holsters for personal defense will master their use and not end up in a bad situation as a result of a fouled draw.

  3. Speed,

    As a CCW holder the goblin should not see the pistol until it’s pointed at him/her. This is the same reason I do not open carry even though it’s legal in my state.

    It’s hard to disarm what you don’t see.

  4. For CCW, speed. For OC, retention.

    Both of these assume that you have enough of the other trait to be useful, i.e. the gun does not fall on the floor if you bend over and the draw is quick enough that carry is still useful.

    1. This.

      For CCW, concealment is my primary protection from gun grabs (they can’t grab it if they don’t know it’s there), and I will do all I can to avoid a physical confrontation where there would be a chance for someone to discover my gun and grab for it.

  5. Speed. I’ve got almost no chance of a gun grab happening, but gravity is always trying–to me retention means ‘gun won’t fall to the ground when engaged in vigorous activity”.

  6. I do believe that speed is more important for concealed carry. The only “retention” on my carry holsters is what’s provided by the shape of the holster and my belt – the Ruger SR9c rides in a Comp-Tac CTAC, which is incredibly fast from concealment.

  7. I’ve never timed myself from the draw (don’t own a shot timer — yet) but I know which of my holsters I’m fastest from…my Serpa. For me, it’s the best of both worlds. Plus, I can draw from it quietly, unlike my leather holster. So if I ever happen to be somewhere as trouble starts and I’m not yet spotted by the bad guys, I can quietly deploy my gun right before I quietly deploy my phone.

  8. I found a balance in the holster I selected. There is no retaining straps or anything, but the design of the holster squeezes the weapon quite tightly.

    I can tumble upside down and not loose it, but can still draw it with a little effort.

    1. Can you give us a brand?
      I can crawl around with mine, not sure if I was in a situation where I had to tumble if it would come out or not.

  9. Speed.
    I use a open top IWB holster almost exclusively, altho I do have a shoulder rig as well.
    If I feel I’ll be in a big crowded situation where someone might bump into me, notice I have a gun and possibly try to grab my gun I’ll carry a backup, usually a small 25 or 380 ACP on my off side, just in case.

  10. Speed when concealed, a bit more retention for open carry. I tend to rely on good, tight fitting leather with my SR9c (have one custom leahter holster and one leather PWL Glock holster) for open carry. I’m not a fan of retention holsters themselves, more due to my lack of experience and training with them–I’m sure I could get used to one if needed if I chose to open carry much more than I currently do.

  11. Speed. I will sacrifice speed for concealment (by using a SmartCarry) if it’s too hot out for clothes that adequately cover an IWB holster. I will not sacrifice speed for retention.

    For open carry it’s pretty much a SERPA.

  12. speed as long as I can move around and not drop the gun. If you have ever dropped a gun while running, well, it is a terrible feeling and dangerous too.

  13. Its possible to have both, with a quality holster. I’ll never understand why people find the money to drop $500 on a pistol and then go bottom of the barrel cheap for everything else they buy for it. My EDC rides in either a Peters Custom Holsters “Hold Fast” for IWB carry, or a Safariland 529 belt slide. My training holsters are all Safariland ALS rigs. None of those are terribly expensive, but I would have spent more if it was necessary. Get good gear and only have to buy it once.

  14. +1 on the Safariland ALS… Draws with accurate hits at 7-10 yards aren’t that tough under 1.2 seconds.

    That said, there doesn’t really seem to be a need for a retention holster in IWB-type holsters – unless you’ve got a shorty that is prone to “rolling over” – In that case a thumb break isn’t a bad idea…

    I do know of two incidents that stick out in my mind regarding this issue:

    1.) Off duty cop with a Safariland 6377 ALS holster took a spill on his bike. Slid on the holster and the gun – the gun didn’t get dislodged. While it was an extenuating circumstance, life is full of surprises…

    2.) Off duty Chicago cop Thor Soderberg was disarmed and shot this year.
    The two struggled, and he was disarmed, then shot…

  15. I sell all types of holsters, and while I believe the ‘thumb-breaK’, lever, or button-deactivated retention systems may be the best for some people, I’ve always leaned strongly toward the open-top types of holsters. A note with that, though. There does need to be adequate tension, whether created by the grip against the body, or the holster against the gun, tension adjustment, or pancake-holster being held close by the belt, that a little bump or jump won’t dislodge the gun from the holster. When I go out to the woods, or on the water, I like something more positive, which for me means thumb-break. I hate the idea of sliding down a hillside or wading a creek and taking a spill and having to go back afterwards after my revolver (which I dearly love). My rule of thumb otherwise, however: All other things being equal, simpler is usually better. Competitive speed is quite a lot different from Panic speed. It’s coordinated enough to make complex actions occur ease. Repetition will build much of that into what you do in a panic, however experts still tell us that in that situation, experienced people still get the order of the actions wrong sometime. In other words, pulling on the gun before pushing the button, lever, or thumb-breaK. I have encountered a popular holster on which pulling on the gun makes it impossible to push the release button, necessitating that the would-be pistolero start the process over from the beginning, relaxing the pull tension on the gun. I despise this system and would caution anyone who would use it to instead try out the Galco Matrix. It will release with tension on the gun and won’t endanger you by putting pressure on the trigger finger that close to the trigger at speed. Whatever you get, practice with it. The middle of an emergency is not the best time to attempt to perfect a new skill!

  16. I would argue that Serpa is neither a “good” retention or speed holsters, but that is a different discussion altogether.

    As for the question at hand, I don’t think that it is a static dynamic in that one has to make a choice of retention or a choice of speed. Training can negate the any speed deficits of a retention holster, but one should also consider their carry style and environment.

    When off duty I carry concealed. As such, I am not worried about a retention holster. I only carry openly on duty, and I make a decision about what holster to use depending upon what I am doing. Around the office, I typically carry with the same rig that I do when carrying concealed off duty; however, if I’m in uniform or going on a warrant I use a Safariland 6377 level two holster. If I am working large crowd situations, I step up to a Safariland 6360 level three holster. I like the retention holsters in the latter situations as their may be times when I don’t have both hands free to defend my weapon from a grab attempt.

  17. Civilian gun grab situations are almost unheard of, so for me…


    Neither my IWB nor my OWB holsters have active retention (i.e. latches, buttons, or straps), but both have to be able to pass me loading up my carry piece with dummy rounds (and checking repeatedly that they are dummies, so I do not turn out to be one), inserting it into the holster, holding the entire assembly upside-down, and then shaking the bejezus out of it – if the gun stays put, I know it will be fine with the added tension imparted by my belt and body. Then I strap on the rig, and see if there is any way to “incorrectly” draw the firearm quickly – from the front, from behind, from the side… basically, any way except the up-and-out it was designed for. Both the HBE Leatherworks IWB and the Little Bear Holsters OWB holsters I have passed those tests, and both allow me to present my sidearm quickly and smoothly (though, like others, I have no shot timer).

    So, I guess, my answer is “quick, but not so much that my junk falls out”.

  18. Guess I’ll be the odd guy out. I dont say that i open carry or conceal carry. I carry a firearm. You may see it, you may not. In 2 years, only had a handful of questions, all positive, and only one cop staring at me like I just grew a set of tits on my waist.

    Ive taken retention training and practices techniques when possible. Honestly, there is no such thing as mechanical retention, because bad guys can press buttons as well as we can.

    Now my personal holsters do use the button method, and they are from iTac. They are well made, handle the abuse of crawling on the ground under the car and other such yard work, and in our class, one of the few brands or models that did not deform or break. (I personally ripped out a pistol in a crossbreed super tuck, along with the holster, from a guy’s pants, because it wasnt tight enough).

    to me, I am an ambassador of our rights to average folks, and in a situation where would need my firearm, I would not be undressing and putting multiple things in the way of said firearm.

    How many who poo poo the idea ever tried to draw and fire from their deep concealment? Now try it from different angles, like if you were sitting in a car, or like me, on a motorcycle with protective gear.

    1. I do find AIWB pretty good with the whole “clothing in the way issue”… Easy(-ier) to get to from seated in a car too…

      That said a OWB retention holster isn’t too bad. WIth a light jacket, it is easy enough to get to, even in a car…

  19. My thoughts? That I am the most ungraceful human being to walk the face of the earth. I stumble and fall down on my own front steps and trip over my own feet.


  20. The problem is, when you need the gun you’re going to need it right the f*** now. I’d go with speed over retention. Oklahoma doesn’t have open carry, but I think I’d feel about the same even with open carry.

    Incidentally with my crossbreed holster (no retention other than kydex molding) and a rubber gun, I have done Krav classes that were quite vigorous and included ground work without loosing the gun even once. However, when I grab the grip it comes right out.

    I’ve even mod’ed my holster to make it easier and quicker:

  21. I like retention as long as it still allows for reasonable speed and doesn’t make me go out of my way.

    Example, a SERPA or thumb-break.

    Even when concealed, I have kids, ride a bike, wrestle dogs, hike, do yard work, so-on. I like active retention even when concealed. Passive retention makes me want to babysit my sidearm.

    Open carry? I like my SERPA, just different enough that not everyone can get the gun away from me, but simple enough that my draw is fast enough for me.

    So, I guess speed 45%, retention 55%, all the speed I can get from a basic level of active retention.

  22. Enough retention to keep the gun in the holster until I want it, AND NO MORE — and then speed after that.

    How much retention one needs depends, not just on the planned activity, but also on the method of carry and the shape of teh gun being carried.

    Milt Sparks SSII IWB? Sure, with automatics that aren’t super short. Open top with no straps, buttons, hooks, or biometric readers. Works great. For the flat guns. never had the gun fall out, even falling down the stairs.

    Bianchi IWB, with a 3″ K-frame? Sure. Thumb break that I just “naturally” sweep as I grab the grip. Gun stays put until I want it. Put an immediate end to the “spitting pumpkin seeds” effect I noticed with IWB and revolvers.

    Horizontal shoulder rig? Gotta have retention beyond friction or molding — if it’ll hold a loaded, steel gun firmly enough to be secure against gravity and clumsiness, especially if I end up on the ground before grabbing the gun, it’s too bloody tight for crisis use. I favor a nice taut thumbreak, one that blocks the hammer if its a SA semiauto.

    Vertical shoulder rig? I don’t use one anymore, but friction + molding proved to be plenty when I did wear one occaisionally. Heck, I found that I cold get adequate retention with a mismatched Uncle mike’s nylon turd, if I just rigged it right!

    Ankle rig? I’m not using it now, but considering it for more discreet carry, so I’m no expert. But, I would figure it’s about like a horizontal shouloder rig, in terms of retention needs. And it’s not like it’ll make much of a difference to the blindingly fast speed of my ankle draw, right?

    If I’m going to use ANY kind of retention device that has to be disengaged, I want a thumbbreak, simply becuase I;ve already programmed my thumb to sweep it, even if I’m not using a thumbbreak holster.

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