Tactical Skills for an Adventurous Life

The Battle Belt: 3 Essential Tips for Carrying Gear Like a Boss

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. In Part 1, I talked about the problem of weight and warfighting. In that post, I also posted 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.

Part 2 defined the two major options you’ve got in for managing that weight. It comes down to carrying it on your hips or on your chest. Both have their pros and cons as far as comfort, capacity, and accessibility.

With this post, I want to focus specifically on the battle belt. But here’s the thing, how you configure your belt, if you use one at all, is a highly personal thing. I don’t want to be like every other article that prescribes a solution for you regardless of your needs.

Instead, I’m going to walk you through my own belt’s evolution and why I’ve made the decisions I have.

This article contains affiliate links.

Background of the Battle Belt

It’s a little difficult to place the origin of the modern day battle belt. If you recall, from Part 2 of this series, 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 the well-known ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) era in the 1970s and 80s.

ALICE, if you’ve never met her, consisted of a gun belt and suspenders. Around the belt, you attached ammunition pouches, canteens, entrenching tool (E-tool), and other personal equipment.

The standard load was three magazines in each pouch, for a total of six. It was common, especially in the long range reconnoissance units, to double that and more.

Alice kit
US Army 1973 Technical Manual depiction of ALICE equipment

A pistol, if issued, replaced a canteen. The pouches stayed in place using metal keepers. The hooks on the back of the harness were notorious for digging into your skin. These earned the name “meat hooks” after this tendency, and were usually replaced with 550 cord in the field.

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 MOLLE webbing. By the way, MOLLE stands for Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment.

I know, the acronym doesn’t match the short version.

Battle belts probably 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.

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 if you can

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 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 for 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 need suspension to help distribute the load and keep it in place. Once you add suspenders, you effectively turn your belt into modern-day ALICE load bearing equipment (LBE). I’m not saying this is inherently bad, but you’re getting past the original intent of the battle belt as a minimum fighting load to supplement other equipment. If you’re getting into the realm of full-on webbing, then there are other options that work even better.

Part of the reason I want you to avoid suspenders on a battle belt is that it will absolutely get in the way of other gear. Remember, 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 third point, drop leg rigs. 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 just wasn’t a good idea.

Here’s the deal: 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. Yes, you may still see some people use a leg strap, but this is for stabilization and not load bearing. The weight is still on the belt.

A Note on Allowing for Personal Preference

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 current battle belt setup
After 9 years of experimentation, this is the battle belt configuration I've settled on

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 super 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 M4carbinet.net. That particular thread started in 2006 and is still getting new pictures. The discussion provides a nice glimpse of the evolution of peoples’s 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.

Old gear setup, including battle belt
My original battle belt configuration appears at the bottom of this photo, though with a different holster than the Safariland it usually sported

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

Probably around 2014 or so, my interest in skillsets outside of shooting alone began to grow. A lot of Googling 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
My second iteration of the battle belt, working much more like ALICE than the lightweight kit I'd started with.

Battle Belt Version 2

The next iteration included suspenders. I reused the same TT magna pistol mag pouches and HSGI tacos, but attached two TT Universal Mag pouches. One on the outside of each taco. That brought me up to carrying eight rifle mags, stacked four deep, and two pistol mags all on one side of my body.

In hindsight, that was pretty imbalanced.

The belt also included a first aid kit, two canteen pouches, a utility pouch, and my holster.

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. Feedback from others I showed it to was pretty consistent, though. It looked 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 like they’d be strong enough to hold up to dragging someone my size.

Battle Belt Version 3

What shaking out I could do of Version 2 made 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.

Version 3 of my Battle Belt

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 going prone just a tad awkward.

But not awkward enough that I wouldn’t try it again in another configuration for another post.

Looking back, this configuration wasn’t all that bad from a practical standpoint. It was slightly better balanced, though not by a lot, and felt a bit more streamlined. The big reason I switched away from it was my decision to pick up an accompanying chest rig.

Back to Max

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.

When you think about this, it’s really 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

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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.

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.

battle belt setup version 4
Battle Belt Version 4, which is about how it exists now. I took this configuration to MVT's small unit tactics class. I did swap out to a different first aid kit and added a dump pouch for the class, but it's fundamentally the same as it appears here.

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.

The knife joined belt because it’s just too useful of a tool not to keep handy. Honestly, a good fixed-blade field knife should be part of everyone’s kit. I also carry a folding knife in a pocket for small tasks.

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 extra stuff

battle belt version 5
The Current Belt, which removed the Beretta holster in favor of my CZ and replaced the traditional canteen pouch with an enclosed version

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?

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Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Nick_
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Nick_
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I am currently looking into creating my own battle belt and this article was super interesting and is making me reconsider a few things. I will get back with my setup when I have it complete!

Cutright
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Cutright

::EDIT::

:I forgot to mention, I settled on two different configurations all together. One is for CQB and the other for rural patrol. The rational is that I live in an urban environment and any conflict would most likely be very violent and very quick, then over. A moderate amount of ammo, no knife but a multitool, no canteen but a hydration bladder if any water at all. Shorter stints, but more intense is the line of thought. 10.5″ with a can.

In a rural setting, things draw farther out. A quick draw is typically less important than good retention on your side arm and the natural environment becomes more to contend with. Water and exposure become issues. Longer barrels, variable power optics.:

Great read as always.

All this gear reminds me, Eagle Industries used to be just a few miles from my home. They sold out to Blackhawk! I believe and became Eagle International, moving them to some U.S. territories closer to the equator. Then First Spear, a few others and Atlas 46 (great work gear, uses massive molle webbing) were began by the former owners of Eagle. SKD is also near that same city and that’s why they have exclusive First Spear items.

I hadn’t realized that so many top tier companies were around until I got into training and shooting more.

Back to your article, it’s great to see the evolution of thought and how it manifests physically. As the understanding of what’s actually needed progresses, combined with training (because of training?), everything becomes streamlined.

Being a bigger guy, I have been very fast and agile for my size. I have always instinctively hung close to walls and doorways in every day occurances. I walk close to furniture, etc. Well, I got hung up on every damn thing when wearing a belt and doing CQB for the first time. They had a mouse hole blown threw a door from some breaching drills, so when we got to it, the short fat kid almost got stuck in the door (me). Training kicks in though and you get through that fatal funnel and keep the pain train moving to the baddies. Luckily that did not happen when the simunition was being used.

Long day and I am ranting…great article. Thanks for sharing.

Shillelagh Pog
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Shillelagh Pog
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Great article, and I appreciate the candor with the 30rd mags…being from NJ. I’ve bought 15/30s now 10/30s to replicate the length of the standard 30rd. (Pretty soon it’ll be down to 01/30 mags!)

Ben Dover
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Ben Dover

Great article & I’m starting to think that I need to run 2 pistol & 2 rifle pouches on the belt instead of 2 pistol & 1 rifle. Also realizing I need to get a 2 layer belt ASAP instead of just hanging everything off a 1.75″ riggers belt.

Anyone have experience with the HSGI leg rigs? I’ve seen them & like the idea, but it seems like hanging that much crap off to one side would be a bad idea.

leg rig: https://www.highspeedgear.com/hsgi/HSGI-leg-rig-V1-21DL00.html

Ben Dover
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Ben Dover

Marksman

How do you feel about inner/outer belts vs just outer belts (like you have)?

Kenneth Harrington
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Kenneth Harrington

I might add that a multi tool is a handy add on. I always have a fixed blade and a small folder..think 2″ blade for mre’s, cutting cordage etc…

Kenneth Harrington
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Kenneth Harrington

I’d like to add that a multi tool is handy, I’ve always carried a fixed blade, but a smaller folder is real handy. I also carry less than lethal..think pepper or bear spray. Pulling a trigger is very final with no going back. Just my 10 cents.

Mark
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Mark
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Thank you for this article Marksman. Being in the United Kingdom we cannot use firearms as a member of the public without valid defense but that does not mean that this article was not useful to me. With my future hobby in Air soft this has helped me realize that i don’t necessarily need to be fully encumbered with a Wrap/Plate carrier or a chest rig. The pointers i will be taking from this will be: if it fits it sits, basically i wont be putting my sidearm on a drop leg and instead to accommodate it onto my BB along with two mag pouches both on my right side along with a dump pouch and knife. I will avoid the middle of the belt as i will need the opportunity to be able to sit but on the left i am planning to run two HSGI Taco with the TT’s as my rifle is my main firearm enabling me to run 8 mags as you stated.
The only thing i am debating is whether or not to run suspenders. The reason for this is because i would like to have access to radio on my chest (hence the suspenders) but i also want to run a camelbak. so my question to you is. Would you run the camelbak with the radio on the harness and remove the suspenders keeping your trousers up (haha) or would you run both the suspenders and the camelbak meaning you would have straps here there and everywhere.
Thanks in advanced.

Mick Fraser
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Mick Fraser
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Nice write up and very informative. I’m currently in the process of setting up a belt kit for myself to primarily use on my hiking/outdoor shooting day trips so that I can ditch the rucksack and lighten my load .
I live in Canada and regularly hike in the mountains with my rifle to do some quiet target and practical shooting in the bush. I’m building my belt by using the removable hip belt from my Savotta Jakaari rucksack combined with a Canadian forces style buttpack , a 3 mag capacity magazine pouch , an IFAK pouch and lastly my m3 trench knife.
I use a camelback hydration system for water. I also carry either my M1a , mossberg 590a1 or IWI x95 Bullpup carbine with me depending on what shooting I’m doing that day.
This article really helped me nail down what I wanted on my belt ie ; make holes and plug holes.
thanks for a good article and helpful information!

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