The Battle Belt – Your Mission Critical Belt Setup

The battle belt, sometimes referred to as a war belt, is an overt belt system designed to carry mission critical gear in the most convenient way; these are items that are vital to the functioning of your mission. As a private security contractor who works in hostile environments, the battle belt forms part of my regular attire. Being overly content my with belt setup, and having carried my skillset across from an elite military unit, I firmly believe that you may find some gain in my current and up-to-date system. So without further-ado, let me answer this: when should you carry a battle belt, and what gear is considered critical for your mission?

Although unsuitable for concealed carry, the battle belt is often considered to be critical amongst military and law enforcement, overt security contractors, survivalists, and gun enthusiasts who are preparing for home defence scenarios – particularly those living in rural or isolated areas. While the contents may vary slightly from one user to the next, there are a number of items which are considered vital to the majority of belt setups. These are:

  • A secure holster and pistol
  • Multi-tool or combat knife
  • IFAK pouch with relevant contents
  • Magazine pouches with reserve magazines
  • Flashlight (optional)
  • Radio pouch with comms setup (optional)
  • Dump pouch (optional)

Once you have purchased or acquired your gear, your next step is to setup your belt system in a way that provides comfort, reliability and retention through rigorous use. This often takes a lot of time, along with a thorough test and adjust process, making sure that your belt system holds together when used arduously. This is where I intend on helping you out, saving you both time and energy, while also providing examples of reputable and current products which I have tried, tested and thoroughly enjoyed.


Choosing Your Battle Belt

Let me start off by saying that a combat webbing or ALICE system (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) is not a battle belt; they are heavy and bulky, defeating the whole purpose of the battle belt – a lightweight and manoeuvrable gear retention system. As soon as your belt becomes too heavy – requiring suspenders or a yoke – you’ve fallen outside of battle belt territory.

So how would you go about choosing a battle belt? Well, you can go one of three ways:

  1. Gun Belt – your first option is to select a good gun belt, otherwise known as a tactical belt. If you go this route, you’ll need to choose pouches that have belt loops instead of MOLLE clips. These will slide onto your belt, so you may need to come up with a DIY method of preventing your pouches from slipping around unintentionally. Shock cord often works well for this.
  1. Gun Belt with Modular Sleeve – your next option is to use a similar belt as mentioned above – a gun/tactical belt – but then to purchase an additional slotted MOLLE sleeve that slides over your gun belt. This will provide multiple attachment points for your holster and pouches, which will require MOLLE clips instead of belt loops.
  1. MOLLE Belt – your third option is to purchase a low profile MOLLE belt system, which typically comes as either one piece, or a two-piece layered system with a removable inner (velcro) belt. This is my preferred system, and also requires pouches with MOLLE clips.
Mustang Gun Belt by Direct Action
Modular Belt Sleeve by Direct Action
Shūto MOLLE Belt by Ronin Tactics

Which ever system you decide to choose, I’d recommend looking at the specs beforehand, ensuring that the belt meets the following essential requirements which are designed to improve both comfort and reliability:

  • Rigidity – the belt should be reinforced with stiffeners or additional webbing; a rigid belt is a sturdy belt. If rigidity is insufficient, the belt will flex or sag, which can be a massive nuisance, and also look unprofessional
  • Width and Comfort – your battle belt is going to be supporting a fair amount of weight. Purposefully select a width with good padding on the interior; this will disperse the weight evenly and comfortably. My preferred belt width is around 2-inches (or 5cm)
  • Grip – this is achieved by feeding an inner belt through your belt loops, which pairs up with an outer second layer system; an inner hook and loop webbing belt with an outer tactical load-carrying belt. Or, a rigid belt with an anti-slip inner pad designed to grip the trousers/pants
  • Buckle System – while cheap plastic buckles aren’t necessarily bad, I have seen many of them break when caught between car doors and other heavy equipment. The Cobra buckle by AustriAlpin is bombproof; the gold standard of battle belt buckles, which are individually test loaded to 11kN
  • Quality – this is crucial; quality and reputability guarantees a lasting belt system that can be put through its paces. Buying cheap knock-off gear is guaranteed to let you down
AustriAlpin Cobra Belt Buckle – Strength Test

Essential Battle Belt Gear

As we have already mentioned, the contents of your battle belt may vary slightly from others, but there are a number of items which are considered essential and are common across the board.

A Secure Holster [Level II Minimum]

Your handgun is arguably the most important piece of gear on your battle belt – your lifeline so to speak. When we talk about holster security, we are referring to a first-class pistol retention system along with proper placement and fitment, allowing for rapid access and visual awareness of your sidearm at all times.

I am going to strongly recommend staying away from Level 1 holsters on a battle belt (this includes form-fitted Kydex holsters), as the passive retention system is inadequate; they are ideal for concealed carry, but do not have sufficient weapon retention for an overt setup. This may mean ditching your weapon-mounted light (WML) until you are able to afford a suitable holster with a proper retention system. Safariland is currently leading the market in WML and red dot compatible retention holsters.

  • Level 1 Retention – passive retention only; friction keeps the pistol in place. Excellent for concealed carry, but not for an overt setup

  • Level 2 Retention – has an active retention device in addition to the passive retention, such as a thumb break or trigger guard lock

  • Level 3 Retention – has two active retention devices in addition to passive retention for a total of four retention mechanisms

  • Level 4 Retention – has three active retention devices in addition to passive retention for a total of four retention mechanisms
5.11 Thumbdrive Holster (Level 2)
Warrior Universal Pistol Holster (Level 2)
Safariland ALS Holster (Level 2)

When it comes to holster selection, please – at all costs – avoid cheap airsoft-grade Chinese holsters. As soon as they endure any strenuous work, they fail and become unusable.

Personal Holster Placement: as a right-handed shooter, I securely position my holster at my belt’s 4 o’clock position. This places my pistol within peripheral view, ensuring adequate visual retention, while also providing a consistent draw by matching my concealed carry IWB placement. If my concealed carry IWB was closer to the 3 o’clock position, my firearm would print. I therefore have good and consistent draws between my battle belt and concealed carry setups at the 4 o’clock position.

A Multi-Tool or Combat Knife

A must have on your battle belt: either a good quality multitool or a combat/survival knife.

Multi-Tool – often one of the most used items on your belt setup – the multi-tool certainly proves its worth. The pliers and screwdriver options are most handy, especially when used to maintain rifle standards. If you intend on purchasing a new multitool, I’d highly recommend Leatherman as a brand. Their accessory bit kit provides tons of useful Torx and Allen screwdrivers, which can be used to maintain a tight fix on weapon accessories and optic mounts.

Leatherman Multitool with Accessory Bit Kit

Knives – when the potential for conflict rises, a good combat knife may be essential.

Folding knives fit perfectly into pistol magazine pouches, but they are much slower to unsheathe than a fixed blade, especially when needed in a hurry.

Fixed blades are certainly the most suitable when it comes to a fighting knife, but they do tend to poke and prod your body’s trunk when adopting various firing positions. I will give some tips on how to overcome this below.

If survival is of concern, then I’d undoubtably recommend a fixed blade knife made from a strong steel that is able to hold an edge.

Esee Izula II

Personal Knife Placement (and Selection)

I used to use a folding knife variant in my third pistol magazine pouch (which currently holds my Olight). Aside from being exceptionally slow to draw, I found that the folding knife would often rip-free by catching onto external items such as seatbelts and tactical cummerbunds.

Some time back, I made the transformation onto fixed blade survival knives – currently utilising the Esee Izula II. For months I struggled to find an ideal placement that would see me through all firing positions while still allowing for a rapid draw with either hand. I finally settled on a canted bungee attachment which has been exceptional – at my 10:30 o’clock position. The shock cord provides flexibility when the knife presses against my plate carrier, springing back into position when my body position returns to normal posture.

Esee Izula II – DIY Canted Bungee Retention System

Your Individual First Aid Kit [IFAK]

Every battle belt should have some form of emergency medical supplies. The most commonly used is the IFAK – Individual First Aid Kit. This critical pouch and relevant contents are designed to treat severe trauma, and may be the difference between life and death during a medical emergency – particularly in remote areas.

Here are some considerations when selecting an IFAK pouch:

  • Accessibility – the IFAK pouch is one of those items that is very rarely used, but needs to be easily accessible in a hurry when needed. They are often attached to the rear of a battle belt setup – the least accessible area. For this reason, you need to consider using an inner compartment which tears away from the main pouch, allowing you to bring your medical contents into your workspace. Also, the majority of items should be properly secured to this removable inner, preventing items from falling free, getting lost, or becoming contaminated during rough handling.
  • Size & Capacity – the size and capacity of the IFAK pouch you choose should be closely related to your intended use. It is important not to add too much medical supplies and take away from the low profile nature of your battle belt. Rather keep the essentials, and store additional medical supplies in a dedicated grab bag. Blue Force Gear’s Micro Trauma Kit is an industry leading compact IFAK pouch.

Magazine Pouches

One of the most common pieces of gear found on battle belts are magazine (or mag) pouches. There are tons of different brands, styles and arrangements available out there, and the decision on which to choose is 100% personal. There are however a few considerations that you may wish to take into account.

  • Capacity – when it comes to reserve magazine carriage, it is easy to overdo it. You need to bear in mind that space is limited, and your battle belt weight needs to be kept to a minimum. The number of mags that you decide to carry is up to you, but think logically when deciding; how many pouches do you really need? I personally carry two spare pistol mags and one rifle magazine on my battle belt. The remainder are fitted onto my plate carrier and weapon systems (pistol and rifle)

  • Retention – it is important to ensure that the majority of your magazines are properly retained in their pouches, and are not loosely fitted. The last thing you want is for kit to go missing when crawling around in the dirt. Your first “go to” magazine during a speed reload should be readily available with as little retention as possible, but still unable to fall out accidentally. The remainder can be a little tighter if needed

  • Function – this can be an important decision if you carry different weapon systems or loadouts. There are some excellent universal magazine pouches which are designed to securely accept any make or caliber of rifle/pistol magazine. The High Speed Gear Taco rifle pouch for example accepts magazines from AR-15, AR-10, AK-47, and so on – you name it. If you are more likely to stick to a single magazine setup, then you can go for custom moulded mag holders

  • Orientation – while mag pouches generally only attach one way, the magazines themselves can be placed incorrectly. The correct way to place magazines into their relevant pouch, is to orientate them in such a way that allows you to correctly index the magazine and sweep it directly into the firearm with the most fluent motion possible. My pistol magazines for example sit on my left hip, with the rounds facing down and pointing forwards. My rifle magazine sits rounds down, pointed to the right, at my 8 o’clock position

Whichever pouches you intend on purchasing, always make sure to chose quality over aesthetics. An older, simpler magazine pouch which is well made, will quickly outlast a modern counterfeit/generic product. You need good materials and quality stitching, so don’t be fooled by good looks and bargain deals; if it is too good to be true, it probably is.

Extra Battle Belt Bits

  • Flashlight – if you don’t have a weapon-mounted light, then I’d highly consider adding a flashlight to your setup. Placing one on your support-hand side is a good idea, as this allows you to access your light while your sidearm is drawn. If you are unfamiliar with the importance or techniques of using white light for home defence, please give the following article a read: Flashlights & Weapon-Mounted Lights: Using White Light for Home Defense
  • Radio – depending on the type of work that you do, you may be required to carry a two-way radio or comms system on your duty belt. In this instance, I like the idea of storing a radio inside of a suitable rifle magazine pouch, which can then be transferred over to your plate carrier when needed, and replaced with a rifle mag; this is my method, and I like it.

  • Dump Pouch – often a favourite amongst tactical enthusiasts, the dump pouch not only provides a catchment area to rapidly dump spent magazines, but also a convenient storage space for water, snacks and other small items.

  • Carabiner – provides a secure attachment point for tactical gloves and vehicle keys, while taking up very little room

Your Test And Adjust Phase

I cannot stress enough how important it is to rigorously test your battle belt before settling on a setup. You may have spent hours rearranging and adjusting your equipment in the comfort of your garage or living room, only to find that it doesn’t work when arduously running around on the firing range.

My advice is to test your kit in number of outdoor scenarios, and then adjust where necessary.

  • Test it out with a rifle sling and bug-out bag
  • Do some firing and crawling around in kneeling and prone positions
  • Get in and out of vehicles or tight spaces
  • Have a friend or team member drag you to safety – simulating a casualty – and make sure nothing falls free or tears away
  • Do some mag reloads and practice a few simulated medical scenarios that require rapid access to your tourniquets and IFAK

Properly testing your kit is the only way that you will find any flaws and be able to correct them. It will also ensure that your kit is durable and robust enough to meet your demands.


My Personal [and Current] Battle Belt System

My own personal battle belt setup, as a right-handed shooter. Weight: 8lbs
  • Belt – Condor LCS Gun Belt
  • Buckle – AustriAlpin Cobra buckle
  • Knife & Sheath – Esee Izula II [Placement: 10:30 o’clock]
  • Pistol Mag Pouches with 2x Magazines – High Speed Gear Taco MOLLE [Placement: 9 to 09:30 o’clock]
  • Flashlight – Olight M2R Pro Warrior [Placement: 08:30 o’clock] with High Speed Gear Taco MOLLE pouch
  • Rifle Magazine/Radio – High Speed Gear Taco MOLLE Rifle Pouch [Placement: 7 o’clock]
  • IFAK – Black Hawk Compact Medical Pouch [Placement: 6 o’clock]
  • Holster – 5.11 Thumbdrive Holster Right-Handed [Placement: 4 o’clock]
  • Tourniquet – Hazard 4 Tourniquet Pouch [Placement: 3 o’clock]

Summary

Setting up a proper battle belt can take time, especially with budgetary constraints. But, it is an enjoyable assignment, and getting it right has the ability to improve your tactical efficiency tremendously.

One thing to bear in mind, is to avoid the temptation of overcomplicating your setup by adding fancy but unnecessary kit. Try to keep it minimalistic in design, and place any extra “nice to haves” into your grab bag, while additional mags can be stored on your plate carrier.

If you have any concerns or queries, then feel free to leave a comment below. And if you enjoyed our blog, please like and share it with friends and like-minded individuals.

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4 Responses

  1. Jonathan Miller says:

    do you like one or 2 piece belts better? I am trying to see what I want and have seen pros and cons to both.

  2. My favorite part of this amazing article has to be where you mentioned that using a gun belt will lead you to choose pouches that have belt loops instead of MOLLE clips. A great point you raised here, where I’m sure those interested in purchasing these items will be glad to hear. Thanks for this! I spent a while looking for information on the duty suspender with D ring belt keeper as my father was interested in it. I’ll send this over to him to read later today!

  3. Riaan Booysen says:

    Great article. Do you have a group or company that sell belts in South Africa. I use cr speed edc belt setup.

  1. April 11, 2021

    […] following article provides some real useful tips and tricks on battle belt setup: The Battle Belt – Your Mission Critical Belt Setup. Once you’ve come to the end of this one, give it a […]

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