I have made the argument in the past that speedloaders somewhat defeat the purpose of small-frame revolvers as they prove bulky to carry and the small revolver is a gun for use when the highest of discretion and concealment is required. The more I continue to use both reloading devices the more my experience solidifies that position. The strip disappears in a pocket, whereas a speedloader does make a bulge that can prove conspicuous. If deep concealment is needed, the strip is the alternative. However, if carrying a small revolver while dressed in jeans or cargo shorts the size and shape of the speed loader is of little issue. But why carry only a small revolver if dressed so permissibly? This is the question I consistently return to.
Even with a speeedloader the process of reloading a small-frame revolver remains so slow that, does it really matter which device you carry anyway? I find that I can reload my LCR with a speedloader, carried in a pocket, in about 5 and 1/2 seconds. That is an eternity mid-fight. This is with a twisty-style 5 Star speedloader, one of the few models available for use with the LCR. With a good push-style speed loader that time may prove about a second faster, as it did when I used to use my Ruger SP101 with a Safariland speedloader. I could reload that gun with that speedloader in about 4 and ½ seconds, from the pocket. Still, it is slow. I find that I can do the 4-round speed strip reload in about 7 seconds, when all goes well. Consider, though, the following:
The speedloader is not only faster, but is more sure and reliable in execution. While the 5 Star speedloader requires the twist of a nob to actuate, the streamlined design actually fits the small revolver quite well and does not bind against the grip. I find that this loader drops the payload of cartridges into the cylinder consistently as long as the gun is oriented vertically. The reload is so consistent that I can do it reliably even in the dark, going only on feel. This is a claim that I absolutely cannot make regarding speed strips. So, for myself at least, the speedloader proves the far superior option for actually getting the gun reloaded. therefore, the speedloader dominates in the speed category.
However, we come back to the much more easily carried form factor of the strip. When dressed formally, in light material slacks, a speedloader bulges like mad. To accommodate certain dress requirements the strip still serves as the only alternative for carrying a revolver reload that conceals easily. If the small-frame revolver is strictly a carry option for the deepest concealment needs, the strip is the obvious companion.
Beyond better concealment, a second benefit offered by speed strips is the ability to “top off” a revolver. For example, if you discharge the gun and fire only three rounds, post-event, you can eject and remove just the spent cartridges, then reload them with the strip. The speed loader is an all-or-nothing reload.
Does the “top off” ability serve any real-world value? I am not aware of an incident where it has. However, I am not aware of an incident where anyone reloaded a small-frame revolver in a fight anyway. Therefore, I submit that such debates are only a mental exercise. If you foresee the possibility of getting into a protracted fight that requires reloading your gun, carry a full-size auto loading service pistol, not a 5-shot snub. With a small revolver, you will get it done, or not, with the ammo in the gun.
I don’t see the revolver reload happening during a fight, but I admit that it remains at least closer to reality with a speedloader than with a speed strip. Still, the strip provides superior concealment, thus complimenting the intention of the small revolver. I would guess that most people who carry a small revolver are carrying a strip rather than a speedloader, and I also rely on the strip more often as well, for exactly that reason.
What is the final opinion of this author regarding these two reload options? I think if you are a dedicated revolver carrier and you use your small-frame revolver as your exclusive carry gun, owning and training with both speedloaders and speed strips makes sense. When dressed in a permissible way, carry a speedloader or two. When dressed in a prohibitive way that demands deep concealment, carry a speed strip. If you are like me and use the small revolver only for deep concealment you will probably find that the speed strip is much more relevant to your needs. If dressed in clothing where carrying a speedloader is no burden, then I am carrying my primary auto loader anyway.