The Ready Up series teaches the fundamentals of configuring your equipment for success. Today we’re focusing on the battle belt, which has seen a lot of evolution over the years. The “ideal” battle belt setup seems to vary from person to person and whatever the latest influencer fad is pushing. It’s been a minimalist fighting kit, middle-weight plate carrier supplement, full-blown load bearing kit, and back.
At times, people refer to battle belts 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 load bearing system. Similarly, I shy away from calling them duty belts, because that also describes a slightly different setup attaching to your pants.
For a prepared citizen, think of a battle belt is a minimalist fighting kit that stands alone or supplements additional equipment like a plate carrier or chest rig. It’s the Goldilocks of fighting kit: not too much, but not too little.
Before we dive in, I find it helpful to establish a mission set.
At The Everyday Marksman, Scenario-X is our generalized emergency situation. A natural disaster has swept through your region, leaving you and your neighborhood isolated from government services and fending for yourselves. Your priority, along with a team of like-minded citizens, is providing security for your families against nefarious elements taking advantage of the situation.
You are not necessarily looking to fight, but you must present the impression that you are ready to do so in an organized fashion. This creates a layer of deterrence and presents your neighborhood as a hard target better left alone.
Load Carriage Options
You have two major options for managing your fighting equipment. Do you want it on your hips, chest, or mixed? Each have their pros and cons as far as comfort, capacity, and accessibility.
The battle belt, or something like it, belongs to the second tier of The Everyday Marksman Gear Hierarchy, right after your everyday carry (EDC) and basic essentials.
Configuring your belt is a personal thing. Everyone has a different idea of what they need or want based on their circumstances. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, there are some common principles that will help you out.
This post lays out those principles as well as shares my lessons learned through years of experimentation and mistakes.
Background of the Battle Belt
The exact origin of the battle belt is a little difficult to pin down. Carrying equipment on the hips has been practiced for thousands of years, and was the default carrying method for the US military all the way up through the well-known All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) era in the 1970s and 80s.
ALICE consisted of a gun belt with suspenders. ammunition pouches, canteens, entrenching tool (E-tool), and other personal equipment all attached around the belt via metal clips.
After ALICE, we added more things to the chest using load bearing vests (LBV). These evolved to individual body armor where we started attaching pouches directly to the armor carrier.
Battle belts came about as a solution for carrying a minimum effective load when a full kit was not required. 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, wearing a belt equipped with some fighting essentials made it convenient for day-to-day tasks like preparing fighting positions, digging latrines, and performing other duties around the base aside from fighting.
If needed, fighters could put on additional equipment like a vest or plate carrier in conjunction with the belt to complete the fighting kit.
Battle Belt Guidelines
Let’s talk about some quick philosophical points I’ve learned over time. These serve as our guideposts for the final configuration.
- 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 thing here or there. But the principle here is that you shouldn’t be carrying a ton of stuff on a battle belt.
The goal is a lightweight minimum viable fighting kit. Think in terms of fighting your way to your main load carrying system or just enough to break contact and run away.
At some point, if you add enough weight, you’ll need a suspension system. That gets us to the next guidepost.
Suspenders and Weight
As a battle belt gets heavier, it requires a suspension system 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 it’s not the original intent of the battle belt as a minimum fighting load.
I’m a fan of LBE systems, and often prefer it for many things. But, if you turn your battle belt into an LBE system, then you must make other choices about your gear and what you carry. For example, a belt with suspenders combined with a chest rig (or PC), and then a small backpack results in a lot of straps to get tangled in.
It’s best to consider belts and LBEs as two different systems serving different purposes. The battle belt is supplemental to things like chest rigs and plate carriers while the LBE is a standalone fighting kit.
Avoiding Drop Legs
The trend is 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, but people realized carrying a few pounds on your thigh sucks for real world use.
Research shows that adding weight to your legs increases your energy expenditure by 4% per pound and makes running awkward and uncomfortable.
If you must use some kind of drop leg configuration, and I do at times, then situate as high as possible on your leg. I also recommend Safariland’s UBL system or the True North Concepts Modular Holster Adapter. Both are rigid connectors that lower the holster a few inches without attaching it to the leg.
Don’t confuse this with with a leg stabilizing strap. Many holsters today have a slight drop to them to help clear body armor, and this usually comes with a strap that goes through the bottom of the holster and around the leg. This exists to stop the holster from rolling upwards during the draw, but does nothing about supporting the weight of the gun. The main belt is still the thing carrying the load.
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 like to add 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. On top of that, I’m constantly tinkering, adjusting, and evaluating what works for me. So by the time you read this, it might already look entirely different.
The inner belt is a Viking Tactics (VTAC) instructor belt with cobra attachment. The outer MOLLE belt is the VTAC 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 that offer a bit more flexibility.
From support side to to strong side, these are the pouches:
- Tactical Tailor Magna double pistol magazine pouch
- G-Code Soft Shell Scorpion
- Tactical Tailor canteen/utility pouch
- SO Tech Viper Mini IFAK
- CZ P07 pistol in a Dara duty holster with QD attachment
- [Not pictured] TQ pouch
To illustrate my lessons learned and why I’m making the suggestions I do, let’s look at the evolution of my equipment.
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, I realized that I needed a way to carry extra magazines to the line. These picture threads provided the inspiration. My first iteration wasn’t too far from what it looks like now. It consisted of two pistol mags, two rifle mags, a dump pouch, IFAK, and holster. This worked well for those outlaw matches, but eventually I became interested in small unit tactics and what those instructors were suggesting.
Learning From Max Velocity Tactical
In 2014, I found my way 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 harnesses. The battle belt configuration he advocated was closer to load bearing equipment than a lightweight belt. It’s also the one he wrote about his first book, Contact!, which was the predecessor to his tactical manual that I’ve reviewed.
Inspired by Max, I included suspenders. The 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. That was very imbalanced.
By this time, the Air Force had moved me to California and 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.
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 too much. Version 3 was an effort to shift things around and achieve better balance.
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.
Looking back, this configuration wasn’t all that bad from a practical standpoint. It was slightly better balanced, though not by much since it still had seven rifle mags on one side. The big reason I drifted away from it was the a decision to include a chest rig in my load out.
Driving Towards Light Weight
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 away from the battle belt a do-all fighting implement. Instead, it became a minimum-capability system that you could keep with you all of the time without being encumbered.
It wasn’t just Max relaying this, but I was seeing it come from several other combat veterans and trainers.
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 you needed to step up capability, 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. This represents what life would look like in Scenario-X.
Your job isn’t always 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.
All of this led me to scale back my belt to something a bit more “mid weight”
With most of the history out of the way, we should talk about a few of the lessons you can take away.
First, the battle belt should not be too bulky. As a minimalist fighting tool, you want freedom of movement in and out of vehicles, doorways, and other confined spaces. Since you want to avoid suspenders, you simply can’t carry too much equipment on the belt.
Second, you want it to be relatively balanced. Without a suspension system, the belt easily tips more to one side or the other. This becomes uncomfortable after standing around or moving on your feet for a long time.
Third, one of the main reasons I had to make my mid-weight belt even lighter has to do with anatomy. I still keep the canteen/utility pouch on the back, but I rarely stuff a full 1 quart canteen in there. To much weight on the rear tends to drag the belt down my backside. You need your belt to stay put.
Back to the Current Battle Belt
My belt, as it stands now, is a mixture of all the advice and experience I’ve gained so far. A few items routinely go on and off the belt depending on circumstances. For example, a good fixed-blade field knife should be part of everyone’s kit and go with you when you’re in the field.
An enclosed canteen or utility pouch can do more than carry water. Most range days, it holds tape, a staple gun, and snacks. But you could also small survival essentials, binoculars, chemlights, or extra mags. An enclosed utility pouch is just a handy way to carry some stuff- as long as it’s light.
Configuring Your Own Battle Belt
With all of that setup out of the way, let’s talk about your belt. 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
Let’s work from support side to strong side and break things down into zones.
Zone 1: Emergency Ammunition
In Zone 1, you should carry two pistol mags and one magazine for your primary weapon. The only exception is if you aren’t carrying a pistol, in which case I would say to carry an additional primary weapon magazine for your rifle.
Zone 2: Utility Space
- 1 rifle magazine pouch
- Fixed blade knife
- Radio pouch
- Roll-up dump pouch
- Leave it empty
Most of the time, I choose the last option and keep this spot empty. I used to always keep another rifle magazine in this spot, but as I became more focused on weight, I kept asking myself if I really thought I needed 90 rounds in easy reach all of the time. On the advice of some community members with combat experience, their take was that 60 rounds (one in the gun plus one on the belt) was enough to break contact.
Zone 3: Kidneys and Back
Zone 3 can be tricky. It’s an easy place to store things out of the way. On my belt, it consists of 8 columns of MOLLE so there’s plenty of room. But the heavier it becomes the more likely the unsupported belt is to slide down the body.
My suggestion is to only keep an IFAK and up to one of the following:
- Canteen pouch
- GP pouch
- Dump pouch
- Fixed blade knife
- Leave it empty
For an IFAK, I suggest putting it as close as you can to the center of the back. Mine is slightly offset because the pouch requires three columns of MOLLE, and the belt (being an old design), doesn’t have an even three spaces along the back. I like this placement on back for an IFAK because you can reach it with either hand and it doesn’t eat up any space on your front. The big caveat here is that anything up against your lumbar spine must be soft enough to fall backwards on it and not hurt you. For that reason, I suggest flat IFAKs like the SO Tech Viper model in the photos. This flat style doesn’t cause pressure on the spine and doesn’t get in the way of sitting in a chair or car seat.
Zone 4: Sidearm
The only thing that could fit behind the pistol is a sheathed fixed blade knife. The way the belt wraps around the body does keep the knife clear of the pistol grip. However, there is an argument that the knife is better placed on the support side rather than behind the pistol so that you have access to some kind of back up weapon with either hand.
Zone 5: Utility/Emergency
Zone 5 is the space directly in front of the holster. In general, you should keep this space clear so that it doesn’t interfere with drawing the pistol. That said, this is a prime location for a TQ, especially when placed horizontally.
I have experimented with small GP pouches, but they never end up staying. Alternatively, this is a common spot to hang a carabiner or something else that dangles and holds gloves, chem lights, or other items.
Whatever you choose, be sure to avoid interfering with the pistol draw and don’t place anything that’s tall and rigid enough to interfere with the leg as you go up and down stairs or terrain.
This is your basic battle belt template. As a word of caution, remember you’re aiming to keep it as light as possible. Just because I gave the option to fill a spot doesn’t mean you actually should- I also gave the option to keep it empty.
Battle Belt Frequently Asked Questions
To round this out, let’s go over some of the frequent questions that I see about setting up a belt. We’ve had over a decade of innovation in the space, so there’s obviously a lot of “what should I do” regarding old school and new school techniques.
Should I put put pouches directly on my pants belt?
I call this a duty belt, or tactical belt. There’s nothing wrong with it, and there are a lot of benefits to doing so if you have the patience to thread pouches on and off the belt every time you change pants. The main thing is to get even more minimalist and drop any of the utility space slots I mentioned in the template. Keep it to three magazines (2 pistol, 1 rifle), a low profile IFAK, your holster, and a TQ.
In a worst case scenario, a battle belt being too heavy means it will bounce around a lot and maybe slip down your hips. But an overly heavy duty belt threaded through your pants might pull your pants down while you’re running.
Where does does inner/outer belts fit in?
The inner/outer design gained a lot of traction over the last several years. It consists of an inner loop-side belt run through the pants, like a duty belt, and then the outer hook-side belt that goes on top. The pouches and everything else are on the outer belt.
In practice, this solves the issue I mentioned before with having to thread your pouches on the belt every time you change pants. The inner/outer lets you only put the inner belt on and move the outer belt wherever you need to. It’s great for that purpose.
I have three drawbacks to the inner/outer design for you to consider.
First is the hook and loop material overall. This stuff wears out and gets caked with dirt, mud, snow, and other grime. Over time, that means the holding strength between the inner and outer belt weakens, and the outer belt becomes liable to peel away under vigorous movement. During a recent discussion with tactical biathlon competitors, this tendency to get dirty and lose “stickiness” was an issue as the event went on.
This only gets worse when you realize that most pouches you add to the inner/outer remove surface area between the hook-and-loop contact points. This can be mitigated a bit by using outer belts with MOLLE loop (as Diceman did), or with pouches have have additional layers of hook-and-loop at the belt attachment point.
Secondly, you still have the same limitations of how much you can put on the belt. The inner/outer design still ultimately attaches to the pants belt, and could still pull your pants down if the belt is too heavy.
Lastly, the inner/outer system is very streamlined and clean when you’re wearing a tucked in combat shirt and your belt line is exposed to the outside world. So what happens if it’s getting cold outside and you need to wear a smock or parka? If all of your pouches are attached directly to your pants belt, then you have to dig around under your jacket to get to them.
In contrast, a traditional padded belt rides on top of all of your clothing and retains easy access. That’s why I tend to suggest it for beginners. It might not be the most “optimum” solution, but it works well enough in the widest range of circumstances. That said, I do know a few companies make an inner belt pad that converts the inner/outer design into a regular padded battle belt to solve this issue. It’s only a matter of how much money you want to spend to do it (and you’ll still deal with the issue of hook-and-loop wearing out over time).
Do I have to do a MOLLE belt?
No, actually. One interesting option I’ve experimented with is similar to the inner/outer belt, but with less hook-and-loop. You can take a regular 1.75″ duty belt and then weave it through an HSGI Duty Grip inner belt.
This effectively turns your 1.75″ pants belt into a padded battle belt while also being lower profile than multiple rows and columns of MOLLE. I’ve really come to like this style of belt, and would suggest it more often if there was a wider selection of ways to attach pouches to the duty belt.
As it is, there are relatively few duty belt-focused pouches and pouch attachment methods, so this isn’t a good option for beginners who haven’t quite figured out what they like yet. On the other hand, if you already have experience, then this is a very flexible option. I would probably still keep it lighter since the padding is much narrower, though.
Over to You
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, or how you plan to set up your own battle belt!