Battle Belt 101: Selection and setup (w/Video)

Technically, I suppose the first time I ever wore a “battle belt” was around 1982 at Ft. Benning.

The GI-issue pistol belt and suspenders combo — known then as Load Bearing Equipment or LBE — is nearly unrecognizable from the high-speed MOLLE battle belts of today, which consist or a rigid pistol belt mounted inside of a padded, breathable sheath or outer belt.

The same could be said of the old accessories. The stiff Army-issue mag pouches, which were so painfully slow to open and access, have been replaced by Kydex or open-top nylon pouches.

In the firearms industry, few things age faster than tactical gear, which is a good thing.

Once something better comes along, yesterday’s great ideas start gathering dust in the bottom of my closet.

Improvements are constantly being developed that make reloads faster and the load easier to carry.

Battle belts, or war belts, are the latest example.

In my humble opinion, their key features are comfort and modularity.

Got a pistol class? Off come the carbine mag pouches. Why carry the extra weight at the range.

Got a pistol/carbine class — more mag pouches can be added in seconds.

Battle belts work well with or without plate carriers, and they’re not nearly as hot as the non-ballistic tactical vests, which have fallen by the wayside. After all, why wear a vest without any ballistic protection.

The belts don and doff quickly, which makes them perfect for tactical teams and home defense.

A battle belt, if it’s set up well, can hold everything you need to investigate that proverbial bump in the middle of the night.

We set out to create a battle belt for this story, but before we go there, a disclaimer and a word of warning.

How you set up your tactical gear is the ultimate shooter’s choice.

If someone tells you how you must wear your equipment, they’re likely full of crap.

Most shooters, myself included, carry pistol and carbine mags on our weak side — bullets pointed forward for the pistol mags, carbine mags have the bullets pointed to the rear.

Still, I’ve seen other carry methods, and the folks seemed just as quick at reloads.

When your bolt locks to the rear and you have to get rounds in the gun, choose whatever carry method is fastest for you — period.

Experimentation and practice — dry and live at the range — are key.

Now the warning — beware of cheap imported crap.

The tactical gear market is swamped with poorly made Chinese junk. Much of it wouldn’t withstand the rigors of an Airsoft match, much less a day at the range or any kind of when-it-matters-most encounter.

Spend the money and buy American.

If you don’t, mags will rip through pouches and become lost, plastic buckles can let loose or break, and the belt will sag and not support the weight of your empty mags, much less a full combat load.

For the heart of our battle belt system, I chose the SIDEWINDER™ Adaptive MOLLE Battle Belt and the Cobra Riggers Belt from Elite Survival Systems.

Bryan Bogue, president of the Missouri-based firm, was kind enough to ship us both items free of charge for this story.

In my humble opinion, Elite Survival Systems makes some of the best tactical gear on the planet, and they’ve got a storied history.

In 2003, Elite Survival Systems purchased and revitalized the Assault Systems® brand. Remember them? In 1979 Assault Systems became the first company to ever make holsters and weapon cases out of nylon.

Elite Survival Systems is impressive. Right out of the box I was blown away by the quality of both items.

I chose their system because, unlike other MOLLE-only belts, the SIDEWINDER™ Adaptive MOLLE Battle Belt has slots cut that allow access to the pistol belt.

While there are now great options for mounting traditional belt-style holsters and mag pouches to MOLLE , I like the security of having my holster and mags mounted directly to a pistol belt. Again, it’s shooter’s choice.

Most MOLLE-only belt systems have slots cut in the bottom, which are made for mounting a thigh holster to the rig. I’ve never been a fan of thigh holsters. I’ve always carried handguns on my strong-side waist.

While they look cool if the shooter is just standing around, try running while wearing a thigh holster. The pistol flops around wildly, and could fly out of the holster if it’s not retained properly. Yet again, it’s shooter’s choice.

I chose a Kydex holster and magazine carrier from HBC Concealment.  Owner Charles Worley makes the finest holsters I’ve ever worn and, literally, everyone I know is using them.

I added a MOLLE pistol/carbine mag shingle and dump pouch, as I’m setting up the rig for a pistol/carbine class.

Since Elite Survival Systems does not sell suspenders, I purchased a pair from Tactical Tailor, another high-quality American tactical gear firm.

When the belt and suspenders are correctly fitted, the load is shared equally between your hips and your shoulders. Even the heaviest of loads can be carried much easier, and there’s no chance that your belt will end up around you knees during running and gunning drills.

What’s not on the belt?

Well, I’m a gear minimalist.

There’s no IFAK as that’s in my range bag, although I shall be adding a tourniquet.

There’s no hydration. That too is stored elsewhere.

There’s no BFK, because I prefer a small, light folding knife.

After all, chances I’ll need to stab any sharks or spies are, thankfully, slim.

— Dog not included —




About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Nicholas Kemmish on

    This was an excellent article! Well written and still leaves room for me to make some of my own choices. I have been researching battle belts for a few weeks and I have yet to find an article that has helped me make a decision. Thank you!

    Are you doing any classes in the future?

  2. David McNulty on

    Hi Lee:
    Thank you very much for your informative video on “Battle Belt 101: Selection and setup”.
    You did a terrific job!
    Did you consider the ATS Tactical Gear War Belt during your evaluation?:
    Until I found your video, I hadn’t heard of the SIDEWINDER™ Adaptive MOLLE Battle Belt from Elite Survival Systems.
    Now, I am trying to decide whether to go with that product or the ATS Tactical Gear War Belt.
    Your thoughts?
    Thanks again.
    Kind regards,
    David McNulty
    Allen, Texas

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