This post continues our discussion on ways to carry your gear. In particular, I’m going to dig into the so-called Battle Belt. You might also see battle belts referred to as War Belts, though I see the term less and less often. I won’t go so far as to call it webbing, a term associated with the Brits, because that actually describes another kind of system that I’ll cover in another post. Similarly, I shy away from calling them duty belts, because that also describes a slightly different setup.
If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, give them a look as well. I started by talked about the problem of weight and war fighting. A lot of what we’re discussing revolves around a hypothetical emergency scenario where you’ve found yourself and your neighbors in charge of providing security for your community in the weeks and months after a natural disaster.
We’ve also discussed the two major options you’ve got in for managing that weight. Do you want it on your hips or your chest? Both have their pros and cons as far as comfort, capacity, and accessibility.
This post is specifically about carrying weight on your belt line. The battle belt, or something like it, belongs to the second tier of The Everyday Marksman Gear Hierarchy, right after your basic everyday carry (EDC) and basic essentials.
But here’s the thing, how you configure your belt, if you use one at all, is a highly personal thing.
I’m not doing what every other article does by prescribing a solution for you regardless of your needs. Instead, I’m walking you through my own belt’s evolution and why I’ve made the decisions I have.
Background of the Battle Belt
It’s difficult to define the exact origin of the modern day battle belt. Carrying military equipment around the waist has been practiced for thousands of years. It was the default carrying method for the US military all the way up through, and including, the well-known ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) era in the 1970s and 80s.
ALICE consisted of a gun belt and suspenders. Ammunition pouches, canteens, entrenching tool (E-tool), and other personal equipment all attached around the belt via metal clips.
A pistol, if issued, replaced a canteen. The pouches stayed in place using metal keepers. The hooks and keepers are not well regarded, and most troops replaced them with paracord.
After ALICE, we started adding more things to the chest using load bearing vests (LBV). That eventually became individual body armor. In time, we just attached pouches on the armor’s exterior using the newly-developed Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE).
Battle belts eventually came about as a middle ground solution. As things picked up in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s, not everyone needed to walk around wearing their whole body armor system all of the time.
Instead of the whole armor system, wearing a belt equipped with some minimum fighting essentials provided an easy-on-easy-off way to carry fighting gear. That made it convenient for day-to-day tasks like digging a fighting position, latrine, and other duties aside from fighting.
Setting Up A Belt
Before I get to my own evolution, I wanted to talk about some quick philosophical points I’ve learned over time.
- Battle belts are for making holes and plugging holes
- If it’s heavy enough to need suspenders, rethink your approach
- Avoid putting things on your legs
Make Holes and Plug Holes
The first point, making holes and plugging holes, means that battle belts should focus on fighting gear and a medical kit. Obviously, that’s not a hard and fast rule as I routinely violate it by adding a knife and canteen pouch. But the principle here is that you shouldn’t be trying to carry a ton of stuff on a battle belt.
The goal is a lightweight minimum viable fighting kit. At some point, if you add enough weight, you’ll need a suspension system.
Suspenders and Weight
As a battle belt gets heavier, you’ll need suspension to help distribute the load and keep it in place. Once you add suspenders, you effectively turn your belt into load bearing equipment (LBE). This is not inherently bad, but you’re getting past the original intent of the battle belt as a minimum fighting load.
If you start turning your battle belt into a webbing system, then you have to start making other choices about your gear and what you carry. It’s best to consider them two different systems.
The battle belt is supplemental to things like chest rigs and plate carriers. If you have a belt with suspenders, and then a chest rig, and then a small backpack, you’re in strap hell and liable to get tangled up.
Avoiding Drop Legs
The trend is slowly dying, but drop leg holsters and pouches suck. For a while, it seemed like everyone was doing it because it was the cool thing to do. I think it peaked with HSGI releasing the Costa Leg Rig. Everyone rushed out to get the new hot thing, but quickly realized carrying a few pounds on your thigh sucks.
Research shows that adding weight to your legs increases your energy expenditure by 4% per pound and makes running very awkward and uncomfortable.
If you must use some kind of drop leg configuration, and I do at times, then you need to situate as high as possible on your leg. I also recommend Safariland’s UBL system, which is just a hard plastic connector that lowers the holster a few inches without attaching it to the leg. Some people use a leg strap, but this is for stabilization and not load bearing. The weight is still on the belt.
Allowing for Personal Preference in Battle Belts
This is my catch-all to say that these rules are not set in stone. Everyone has a preference or how and where they want to carry their stuff. I added a utility knife to mine as well as a canteen/utility pouch. Some people elect to carry dump pouches, others might attach a radio. All of that is fine as long as you keep the weight manageable.
Ultimately, what you carry on your belt is a reflection of your own needs. What works for me probably isn’t ideal for you, and vice versa.
My Personal Belt
Before I talk about my belt’s history, let’s look at the current configuration. I say current because experimentation is a constant thing. An underlying philosophy of mine is to accept the possibility that I might be wrong and always look for reasons to change.
This battle belt is the end result of nine years of experimentation, training, and competition. It’s not minimalist, nor is it a heavyweight. I put it in the “medium weight” category.
The inner belt is a Viking Tactics (VTAC) instructor belt with cobra attachment. The outer MOLLE belt is the VTAC Brokos belt. I bought these items in 2010, so they are fairly old at this point. A lot of other companies have since come to market with similar configurations and similar or lower price points.
From left to right, these are the pouches:
- Tactical Tailor Magna double pistol magazine pouch
- HSGI Taco
- HSGI Taco
- Bleeder/Blowout kit by HSGI with an attached tourniquet
- Tactical Tailor canteen/utility pouch
- Becker BK-10 Crewman knife in a kydex sheath
- CZ P07 pistol in a KT-Mech Akela holster
How I Arrived Here
I was first introduced to the battle belt concept not through my military service, but by the internet. Like most enthusiasts, I browsed the various picture threads on message boards. One of the longest running is still going at M4carbine.net. That particular thread started in 2006 and is still getting new pictures. The discussion provides a nice glimpse of the evolution of peoples’ kit.
After shooting my first “tactical” match in Montana, I quickly realized that I needed a way to carry extra magazines to the line. The picture threads provided the inspiration.
My first iteration wasn’t too far from what it looks like now. It had the same pistol magazine pouches, the same two tacos, and a Safariland 3285 for my Beretta 92A1.
That holster is discontinued, but it was the only one on the market at the time that would accept my Beretta with a TLR-1s on it.
I chose the Magna pouches and tacos because they work with a variety of magazines. The Magnas have magnets in them that provide retention on any metal-walled magazine. To date, I’ve used them with Beretta, CZ, FNS, and 1911 mags. All worked well.
The HSGI Tacos also allowed me to use regular AR-15 mags and 308 mags for both my M1A and 308 AR. That’s a lot of flexibility, and I highly recommend them.
I also attached an Emdom USA dump pouch, which I’ll circle back to in a minute.
I shot that configuration for years until I started learning more about small unit tactics.
Enter Max Velocity Tactical
Around 2014, my interest in skillsets outside of shooting alone began to grow. A lot of searching and blog browsing eventually led me to a series of articles by Max over at MVT. I wouldn’t get to actually attend a course of his for three more years, but his articles were free to read.
His approach was different. It wasn’t about being flashy and showing off pristine pictures for the internet. Rather, he spoke from a place of been-there-done-that and trained others to do it as well.
At the time, he was writing primarily from his experience in the British military, known for its webbing kits. The battle belt configuration he advocated wasn’t too far off from that. It’s also the one he wrote about his first book, Contact!, which was the predecessor to his tactical manual I previously reviewed.
So I gave it a try.
Battle Belt Version 2 – MVT Style
Inspired by Max, I included suspenders. TT Magna pistol mag pouches and HSGI tacos stayed as they were, but I attached a TT Universal Mag pouch on the outside of each taco. The belt also included a first aid kit, two canteen pouches, a utility pouch, and my holster.
That brought me up to carrying eight rifle mags, stacked four deep, and two pistol mags. All of it hanging on one side of my body. In hindsight, that was pretty imbalanced.
Living in California at the time, I honestly couldn’t give this kind of rig a good shakedown. I had no 30-round magazines to stuff in the pouches and test. When I showed it to others with more experience, the feedback was generally good. They thought it was well thought out but probably heavy and bulky on the sides.
I also ran into another problem. The TT Fight Light harness I used for suspenders had a drag handle on the back. That in of itself isn’t a bad thing, but the attachment loops on the belt didn’t appear inspire confidence that would hold up to dragging someone my size.
Battle Belt Version 3: Modern ALICE
What shaking out I could do of Version 2 helped me realize that the imbalance wasn’t going to work. Eight rifle magazines on one side was simply too much. Version 3 was an effort to shift things around.
The notable changes here were moving the pistol magazines to the right side next to the holster, deleting one of the tacos, deleting a canteen, and adding a knife.
Moving the location of the pistol magazines wasn’t ideal for speed and accessibility, but it worked well enough for just carrying ammunition. I considered moving one of the triple mag pouches to that location, but it got in the way of squatting, kneeling, and made it awkward to go prone.
But not so awkward that I wouldn’t try it again in another configuration.
Looking back, this configuration wasn’t all that bad from a practical standpoint. It was slightly better balanced, though not by a lot since it still had seven rifle mags on one side, and felt a bit more streamlined. The big reason I drifted away from it was the a decision to include a chest rig in my load out.
Back to Max for a Moment
Not long before Version 3, Max revised his battle belt ideas towards a much lighter-weight configuration paired with a plate carrier or chest rig. He called this the Lite Battle Belt, and it stemmed from his time training civilians and considering other logistics, like riding around in vehicles.
The philosophy is that this BB [battle belt] is light enough to not be an encumbrance, even while carrying out normal chores. Yet it allows you to carry enough gear to be useful in a fight. This is not a full BB as I have posted about in the past, which is more specialized towards infantry dismounted operations. Between a BB lite, a VERSA chest rig, and some form of patrol/assault daypack, you can carry all you need.
You can wear the BB Lite all the time, with the rifle either on you or accessible at short notice. You can simply wear it on its own for short duration range time/training where it allows you a basic ammunition load. As the situation changes, or perhaps you go out on patrol, you can add the VERSA chest rig ( and perhaps a plate carrier) as you feel the need.
The BB Lite will not interfere with riding in vehicles or simply sitting down on watch / QRF. Worn with the chest rig it is also vehicle/chair compatible. For me, it is the ideal gear layer system.
– Max Velocity Tactical
The idea shifted to using the battle belt less as a do-all fighting implement, but more of a minimum-capability system that you could keep with you all of the time without being encumbered.
In hindsight, this represents what life would look like in Scenario X. Your job isn’t going to be planning patrols and advancing to contact on a daily basis. Instead, you go about your daily life doing chores, taking care of family, and working with your community. A minimalist configuration supports those activities without getting in the way.
What Others Have to Say
Aside from Max, whose ideas I have a lot of respect for, there are others I’ve drawn information from as well.
Jeff Gurwitch, former Army Special Forces, outlined his thoughts for SWAT Magazine in 2016. He echoed a lot of the sentiment Max does for keeping it fairly minimal but recommends a utility pouch for miscellaneous items.
More recently, I had a live stream discussion with Marine and renowned gear nerd, Brent0331. He came to the same conclusion. A light weight belt set up for minimum combat makes sense for most people getting started.
I also closely followed the reports of guys on Lightfighter.net as they rotated in and out of training. Everyone came back with similar answers: it’s all about what you need it to do at a minimum, nothing more. When that moment comes, add a plate carrier/chest rig and a backpack.
The trend for huge loads on so-called war belts peaked around 2011. By 2016, it seemed to be slipping back to a scaled down minimal fighting kit.
Back to the Current Battle Belt
My belt, as it stands now, is a mixture of all the advice as well as my own experience attending Max’s training, which I wrote about over in this article.
I added the Tactical Tailor canteen/utility pouch for incidentals. A 1L Nalgene or standard 32 oz canteen fits in there nicely. If I don’t mind carrying the canteen in a small backpack, I can use the pouch for small survival essentials, binoculars, chemlights, or extra mags. An enclosed utility pouch is just a handy way to carry some stuff
I wavered back and forth on dump pouches for years. Sometimes I used it, sometimes I didn’t. I always thought there was a lot of utility in having an easy place to dump mags, water bottles, or other misc junk, but I just never warmed up to having the thing dangling off of me.
I would feel comfortable deleting one of the rifle magazine pouches to gain some other capability, like a radio. There’s also the option to add pistol taco pouches on the right side to carry either two more pistol magazines or a flashlight and multitool.
Configuring Your Own Battle Belt
So now we come to it, it’s your turn. I’m not terribly interested in cosplaying as an operator, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a few lessons with us. Something like our fictional Scenario X makes you consider your minimum essentials.
What do I recommend? That really depends on your needs and weapon choices. Remember:
- Battle belts are for making holes and plugging holes
- If it’s heavy enough to need suspenders, rethink your approach
- Avoid putting things on your legs if you can
I generally suggest 1-2 rifle magazines and a first aid kit at a minimum. If you want to carry a pistol, and I see no reason not to, then add the holster and 2-4 pistol magazine pouches.
A knife never hurts but is by no means a requirement. After that, I would suggest no more than one additional hydration, utility, or dump pouch. Again, pick one of those and accept the tradeoff. You do not want this belt to be too heavy.
As a side note, I want to separate this concept from putting equipment directly on your pants belt, which I refer to as a Duty Belt. This is certainly a valid technique as well, and one I might try eventually. But I consider that method to be a slightly different approach and outside the scope of this article.
Over to You
I want to know, do you currently run a battle belt? If you do, tell me how you have it set up, or post a picture.
If you don’t what do you think you would do to set one up?