War Belt – 101

War Belt – 101

In this post, I’m going to talk about overt kit. This is ‘first line’ gear that I use for teaching classes or have used while deployed. Contextually, I want to be very clear: Your daily carry gear is more important to nail down than the allegedly cool cosplay gear. If you’re a regular dude, a kydex concealment holster and a magazine pouch is what you should master. That said, if you’re a uniformed cop, an overt security professional, member of the armed forces, or maybe you live in a state that does not have viable concealed carry licensing and you want to set up a belt for a class, this is for you. So sit, kneel, bend or pop a squat, because we’re talking about warbelts.

Sometimes known as battle belts, patrol belts, or duty belts, what I’m talking about is a dedicated pistol belt that is not intended for concealment use. Typically, these are paired with a Safariland holster. I try not to do a lot of specific brand recommendations, but Safariland definitely deserves a nod. Even if you don’t want to use a holster from that brand, here’s my advice: Use a retention holster for this application. I have used a variety over the years, Safariland, G-Code, and currently I am running an Omnivore holster so I can use Berettas, 1911s, or Glocks without having to change holsters all the time. Thus far, the Omnivore has worked well. I’m not necessarily ready to stake my reputation on recommending the model yet, but it has yet to fail me, break, or cause issues over about two years of use. Regardless, a retention holster is the order of the day. Many folks like some sort of dropped holster with a stabilizing leg strap. I personally don’t. Back in the day, we used drop-leg holsters in order to get the holster below our bulky Interceptor body armor. This is no longer a concern, and I have found the straps of drop-thigh setups to be constricting and uncomfortable when running, especially in hot temperatures. Your mileage may vary. Regardless, the best practice is to make sure that you don’t drop your holster too far. You should be able to wrap your fingers around the bottom of your holster without bending over. Your drop rig should not be so low that it turns into a knee holster.

Context in regards to retention for your holster: Uniformed police officers’ priority is grab protection. As a field MP, my primary need for retention was loss prevention. I was not especially concerned with a felon grappling with me and trying to swipe my M9 during a high-risk traffic stop or felony warrant. I was primarily concerned with retaining my service sidearm in case of a vehicle rollover or other oddball incident. Suffice to say, for an open carry rig, some sort of active retention is recommended to the point of being essentially mandatory. Note: Not all retention holsters are created equal. Avoid the SERPA holster like the plague. Avoid all other similar retention holsters that use the trigger finger to disengage the retention. These things have been directly linked to huge numbers of negligent discharges by a number of federal agencies and a ton of us in the private sector. If you show up to a Bellevue Gun Club class with a SERPA (or similar) holster, we’ll try to find a loaner holster for you, but we won’t allow you to use that holster for the course. These are lessons we’ve learned in blood. Regardless, unless you’re an overt security guy or a uniformed law enforcement type, I wouldn’t recommend going nuts on levels of retention. Colloquially, a ‘level one’ rig will likely be fine for most of us who aren’t arresting people.

Remembering that lessons are learned in blood, as a young military policeman who had transferred to a unit that did not rate MPs, I was regularly the only junior enlisted Marine shooting pistol qualifications alongside numerous staff NCOs and officers. Without getting too deep into it, suffice to say that I witnessed a negligent discharge that resulted in a staff sergeant bleeding profusely, necessitating the corpsman to respond. He was the only person on the range that had a first aid kit. I learned a lesson: Never go to a range without an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit). Ever. I have had an IFAK on my belt ever since. Even when I was mocked by senior Marines for having ‘too much’ stuff on my belt, I held firm. When I was deployed, I kept a tourniquet on my belt and a full-blown USMC-issued IFAK in a fanny pack that I work separately. Anymore, I keep a full, albeit smaller, IFAK on my belt along with at least two tourniquets. As a private-sector firearms instructor, my primary responsibility is for the safety of my students. As a result, having easy access to medical supplies is debatably more important than being able to draw a sidearm for me. Pro tip: Try to have your tourniquet(s) accessible with either hand.

As for other belt-mounted equipment, I have a carabiner for gloves or ear pro, two pistol magazine pouches, one rifle magazine pouch, and a dump pouch. Quick note on magazine pouches in general; make sure that you can actually access all of them. If you have body armor, make sure that all of your belt pouches are accessible while wearing the rest of your kit. I am personally not a fan of magazine pouches with adjustable shock-cord retention, as I have had them snag on things while getting into and out of armored vehicles before. Many use ‘taco’ style pouches without issue, but that’s my word of warning about them. Stress test all of your kit. Dump pouches are a debatable piece of equipment. I have found them useful in the past for carrying administrative equipment, stealing Rip-Its out of the chow hall in Kabul, and bringing extra ammo to the firing line for training classes. Dump pouches may or may not make sense for what you do. Some organizations make extensive use of them for SSE (Sensitive Site Exploitation) and other things, but if you can’t immediately think of a use, skip it. Don’t carry stuff that you won’t use.

Some folks carry a knife on the belt. Depending on the intended application, different types of knife make sense. If you’re looking for a defensive blade, the first thing you need to know is that you need to get trained in the use of defensive blades. Period. If you’re looking for a utility tool, that’s another thing. I carried a Leatherman on my belt for this application while I was deployed. Anymore, I keep a smaller Leatherman clipped to my pocket at all times, so I didn’t see the need to have one on my belt. Save for a flashlight. A white light is something that you should always have on your person in my opinion. If you live somewhere that you need to use a pistol more than a light, you need to move because it’s a really bad part of town. I keep my SureFire light on my person, so I don’t have one on my belt, but I did when I was deployed because it was much easier to access that way.

There are a few main types of belt circulating these days. Padded (with or without suspenders/H-harness) and two-piece are the most common. When I was in uniform, I used a variety of padded one-piece belts so they could be worn over a uniform blouse. I still have my last padded MOLLE belt from Afghanistan, but anymore, I use a two-piece system. The inner belt is loop ‘Velcro’ and the outer belt is lined with hook. What I like about this style of belt is that it’s very stable. Because its inner belt is threaded through your trouser’s belt loops, the whole rig doesn’t rotate around the waist or side up and down. With a one-piece belt, be aware that it’s possible for your kit to rotate or slide up and down your waist. Make sure that you fit this belt carefully. Most in law enforcement and uniformed security personnel often use belt keepers to fasten outer patrol or duty belts to inner trousers belts. This system has worked well for decades but be advised that it is somewhat slow to don and doff.

On that point, remember that what works for a beat cop may not make sense for a SWAT breacher. What works for that SWAT guy might not make sense for an infantryman. An infantryman’s kit might not make sense for a private citizen. Define your mission and set your kit up accordingly. Just because it looks awesome online doesn’t mean that it will make your life any easier when you’re taking a class or patrolling your property line with your dog.

So, those are some things to think about when setting up your warbelt. Remember:
-Retention holsters are the order of the day.
-Have an IFAK with tourniquets that you can reach with either hand.
-Don’t carry things that you don’t use.
-It’s easy to go crazy on magazines; try not to.
-Remember that mission drives the gear train; not the other way around.

And no matter how cool your rig is, you won’t know if it works or not unless you get trained and practice. Bellevue Gun Club offers a variety of defensive pistol classes in which you can wring out your gear in a safe, educational, and supervised environment. Defensive pistol training should be ongoing, and we offer a variety of courses to teach skills from the draw stroke to the use of handheld and weapon-mounted lights. And, if you’re using your belt setup to support a carbine, make sure that you’re growing that skillset as well. We offer defensive carbine training as well. And if you have specific training needs or schedule limitations–or if you just prefer a more direct, one-on-one experience–private lessons and personal training opportunities exist. If you have questions about setting up your equipment, our staff has decades of military and law enforcement experience and are happy to help you.

Stay safe and take care of each other.


~Brett L. Bass

Brett Bass – LinkedIn

If you, your family or organization is interested in private or group training please contact us.

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