Best in Revolver Reloads: The Safariland Speedloader

— James MaybrickCADRE Dispatch

Although revolvers are no longer the archetypical weapon of policemen and private citizens, there are more revolvers on the market to choose from today than in years past.

Despite the advancement of automatic pistols, there are still viable reasons to select a revolver for any given role. The biggest digs against the revolver are the lower ammo capacity and the inability to reload in a hurry. While the former is true, the revolver reload is less complex than it seems. One issue is the reload is technique-sensitive. Another is the sheer number of reloading options on the market. Some are good, some are bad.

I count the Safariland Comp series of speedloaders and the Bianchi Speed Strip as the best. All of Safariland’s loaders work differently in different contexts, but all are worth considering.

The Safariland Difference

Long before I learned Safariland makes holsters, pouches, and communication devices, I had been using their speedloaders since I was old enough to own a handgun.

There are other speedloader brands on the market. All of them line bullets to chamber mouths at the same time and release them, but I found them to be wanting in some regard.

HKS loaders have been around as long as Safariland loaders and are solidly made, however those loaders require the separate step of twisting a release knob to drop the rounds. SpeedBeez loaders lose rounds when dropped or thrown into a pocket. Five-Star loaders operate like HKS loaders but hold the rounds too loosely.

Nothing against these brands — these are just my observations. But if I use a revolver that Safariland makes a loader for, I use the Safariland option as a rule.

safariland speed loader set and speed strips
Safariland speedloaders are rigid and fast.

The Safariland Comp series has the advantage of turning the linear force of pushing the rounds into the cylinder into a perpendicular force that releases the locking mechanism. The locking ratchet that holds the rounds in place is grooved to move to the side as it is depressed against the face of the ejector rod. Put simply, the act of pressing the rounds into the cylinder releases the loader in an instant.

For partial reloads and deep carry, the Bianchi Speed Strip is another time-tested option. It is not as fast as a conventional speedloader, but it is a handy packet of loadable ammunition that will never print inside a pocket.

The Safariland Comp I SpeedLoader

The Comp I is Safariland’s smallest conventional speedloader. It features an injected-molded polymer base and a polymer locking ratchet. At the base of the ratchet is a stamped steel-toothed gear and a polymer locking knob. This is the base design that the Comp series uses, although its actual release mechanism varies.

The Comp I is loaded by holding the loader face up and inserting the ammunition rim first. After the ammunition is inserted, press in the locking knob and give it a clockwise twist. This act pushes the steel gear past and over the rims of the cartridges, holding them in place.

To load your revolver, all you have to do is press the base of the loader down against the cylinder face to release the ammunition. The loader falls away and you can close the cylinder and keep shooting.

safariland comp I speed loader
I use the J-frame Comp I for all Small-frame Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers.

The Comp I is a go-to option for smaller framed revolvers like the five-shot .38/.357 Ruger SP101, LCR, Smith & Wesson J-frame, or Charter Arms Undercover revolvers. I have also found the J-frame loader to work just as well with the Taurus Model 85. The Comp I loader is also available for large-frame revolvers like the Ruger Redhawk, Colt Anaconda, and Smith & Wesson N-Frame .44 Magnums.

These loaders are fast to use and easy to carry, but the smooth and smaller base is not as tactile in the hands as the Comp II and Comp III.

safariland comp II
Push in on the locking knob and twist clockwise to lock the ammunition in place. All comp loaders load this way. To unload, depress the other end of the knob with a finger.

The Safariland Comp II SpeedLoader

The Comp II is mechanically and materially similar to the Comp I but is cosmetically different. The base has a series of grooves milled in it and is therefore easier to grip in the hands. The back of the Comp II is also more sealed up against ingress and features a larger locking knob. It loads and unloads the same way and is intended for medium and large-frame revolvers.

safariland comp II speed loader
REloading a Colt Python with the Safariland Comp II. Push the base home and the rounds fall in.

I started my handgun shooting days with Safariland Comp II loaders and a Smith & Wesson Model 10 K-frame revolver. Safariland is still making a six-shot K-frame and L-frame loader. The Comp II can also be had for the Ruger GP100 and Service Six series of revolvers as well as the Taurus Model 66, and Colt I-frame guns like the Official Police and Python.

The Safariland Comp III SpeedLoader

With the Comp I and Comp II, I could reliably do a revolver reload in under four seconds on the firing line. The Comp III can cut that down even further. The Comp III is the fastest and easiest to manipulate.

Geared toward competition, the Comp III features a spring-loaded release knob. Instead of pressing the base forward in one motion, releasing the rounds with the Comp III is done with a gross hit to the knob.

 comp III speed loader
You have to fight a long coil spring to load the COmp III but that spring forcefully pushes the rounds in place and the empty loader away from the cylinder. A smack of the release knob and you are loaded.

The Comp III speedloader has sheer speed on its side, but it is the largest speedloader that Safariland offers. It is also only available in the six-shot configuration for the Ruger GP100 or the Smith & Wesson K and L-frame handguns.

The Bianchi Speed Strip

Going into the 1950s and 1960s, revolvers usually loaded by filling the cylinder one round at a time with loose ammunition from a cartridge belt. Many law enforcement agencies authorized dump pouches to be worn on the belt. These pouches dumped six rounds into your hand for loading. None of this was ideal in a fight and the need to reload quickly was paramount.

The turbulent 1960s saw the rise of a number of reloading devices, most of which did not last. But one that did was the Bianchi Speed Strip. First trademarked by John Bianchi in 1965, the Speed Strip was a simple strip of rubber that was bored through to accommodate the rims of the cartridge. Safariland catalogs the Speed Strip today and it remains a viable reloading option.

bianchi speed strips in use
Loading my Smith & Wesson 686+ using a bianchi speed strip.

The Speed Strip works by pushing the rim of each cartridge into each depression in the rubber strip until the strip is full. Loading consists of lining up two cartridges in the cylinder and peeling off the strip to load the cylinder. You can repeat the process to load the rest of the cylinder or stop there and effectuate a partial reload if time is short.

The Bianchi Speed Strip is stiff when you first try it, but the strip will grow supple and easy to work after a few repetitions. It will not be as quick to fully reload a revolver cylinder as a conventional speedloader, but the strip’s flat profile carries well in a pocket, where the bulk of the speedloader is a nonstarter.

The Speed Strip is also a valuable tool if you have not fired all the ammunition in your revolver. The strip allows you to top off load more quickly than doing so with loose rounds.

Get Speedy with Safariland SpeedLoaders

The process of reloading a revolver takes a few more steps than an autoloading pistol. Once you are empty, reloading is not as easy as hitting the magazine release button and inserting a freshly loaded magazine.

With revolvers, you have to open the cylinder, smack the ejector rod to get out the empties, then go for that speedloader and execute the reload. Each step in the process requires deliberate technique to get up to speed and any one technique may or may not work for any one shooter or even a particular revolver. But just because the reload is a bit more involved doesn’t mean you should write off trying.

With Safariland speedloader options, bobbles with the loader itself are minimalized and speed increased. This gives you time to work on the finer aspects of the process so you can shoot more, reload more, and be ready on and off the range.

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