A while back, I wrote about developing a combat load for a post-disaster situation in my neighborhood- a modern minuteman, if you will. I expressed interest in going with a belt load, as it provides better stability and more energy efficiency over uneven terrain. At the time, though, I didn’t actually have a complete kit. Since writing that post, I’ve been slowly completing the battle belt.
What is a battle belt? I think of it as the modern interpretation of the old ALICE webbing. Throughout most of American military history, a soldier’s combat load was carried on the belt and in pockets. This lasted up through the early 90’s, with the introduction of the Interceptor Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) and its rows of MOLLE attachment. The OTV was replaced by a series of successors, with the modern scalable plate carrier being the newest. With each succession, the combat load migrated more to the chest and armor cummerbund. These later configurations make a lot more sense for mostly mounted combat operations where the soldier is riding around in a vehicle, but can contribute to lower back issues when loaded up and standing or walking for long periods of time. I believe it, too, as carrying my 1 month old son on my chest in a carrier begins to wear on my back relatively quickly; but I’ve never had that issue through many long distance hikes using a proper backpack and waist belt setup.
Aside from the military armor carriers, there are an assortment of chest rigs available. Chest rigs perform essentially the same task as armor carriers, but without the armor plates. This isn’t new technology by any means. Chinese-built chest rigs were popular among adversaries in Korea and Vietnam. The origin of the western version probably goes back to Rhodesian Security Forces in Africa during the 70’s; they used a modified version of the Chi-Com ones from Korea and Vietnam. In any case, it has the same benefits and drawbacks as the armor-based carry. You will sometimes see a combination of the two, where the user is wearing a “slick” plate carrier with a chest rig on top (I think this would be my preferred method).
There is a school of thought that combines both chest rigs/armor carriers with battle belts. In these cases, the belt will be loaded only with a minimum of equipment. Usually one or two reloads for each the rifle and pistol (if carried), a pistol (maybe), first aid kit, and maybe a knife, and a dump pouch for dropping empty magazines. With this configuration, the individual can drop the bulk of the load (chest rig/plate carrier), but maintain a minimum fighting capability. It is also popular among those who spend most of their time carrying concealed weapons, as the primary magazine reload will be located in the same position whether carrying concealed or all kitted up.
My battle belt is decidedly old school in that I intend to run nearly all of my gear on it rather than a chest rig or plate carrier. It weighs more, but it sits tightly around my hips like the support belt of a good hiking backpack. This transfers the weight directly to my legs and avoids issues of back strain. The suspenders are present to help stabilize the load, not transfer any weight to my shoulders. The benefits of this configuration include keeping my chest and abdomen clear, which allows for better prone position. I can wear a small to mid sized backpack with no interference from the load carrying gear. In fact, when properly set up, a backpack resting just on the top of the belt helps transfer the weight of the pack to the belt, just like a hiking pack. Lastly, I believe a belt configuration appears more “low profile” than a full on armor carrier- but admittedly not by much if you run it in a similar fashion to mine.
I built this belt with an eye towards flexibility. I currently own several magazine-fed rifles and several pistols. All of the 5.56 guns use the same magazines, but I also have M1A mags, 308 PMAGs, and AICS mags for the bolt gun. I also have the M1 Garand and its en bloc clips. In the future, I’m looking at an AK variant (particularly the DDI Magpul edition). I wanted a rig that could sufficiently support all of these weapon systems.
- VTAC cobra instructor belt
- VTAC/Tyr Brokos belt
- Tactical Tailor fight light h-harness (suspenders)
Pouches from left to right:
- Tactical Tailor Magna Pistol Magazine Carrier
- 2x HSGI Tacos
- 2x Tactical Tailor Universal Magazine pouches shingled on top of the Tacos
- MOLLE Canteen Carrier/General Purpose Pouch
- ATS Medium Upright general purpose Pouch
- MOLLE Canteen Carrier/General Purpose Pouch
- HSGI bleeder IFAK pouch
- Safariland 3280 mid-ride holster for Beretta with light
- Space for future expansion
The pistol magazine pouches can carry any magazine I’ve stuffed in them so far. There are magnets sewn into the material that forcefully keep the magazines in place. There is a hook-and-loop closure over the top of them for even more security, but I don’t use it and have them tucked away. I competed for two years with the Beretta, my FNS, and a 1911 in various two and three gun matches and never had to close the top flaps. But it’s there if I need it.
The HSGI Tacos can carry basically any common rifle magazine. The TT universal magazine pouches can carry up to three STANAG 5.56 magazines each, or two each of 7.62 magazines. This allows me to carry up to nine magazines of 5.56 (270 rds), seven AK-47 magazines (210 rds), or seven 308 magazines from other rifles (figure 140 rds based on 20 rd magazines). Or, I could carry two AR mags and a couple of beers. Nominally, I expect to carry one mag each in the tacos, and then two mags each in the TT pouches (6 mags on belt, 1 in the gun: 210
rounds). The shock cord material around the outside squeezes the pouch so that it will not rattle, even with only one mag in the pouch.
The canteen covers can obviously be used to carry two liters of water (combined) in standard USGI pattern 1 liter canteens as well as a canteen cup/stove combo (mine are an updated design from the Pathfinder School, as opposed to the standard GI issue). However, the MOLLE canteen cover was also designed to be a general purpose pouch.
With the canteen removed, the pouch can hold up to five STANAG 5.56 magazines or a variety of other gear such as night vision, binoculars, snacks, or just about anything that will fit. Ditching the canteens means I could carry up to another 300 rounds of 5.56, bringing my total potential load up to a whopping 570 rds (or 600 if I use a mag coupler on the rifle). That is excessive, frankly, but it illustrates a point. In this way, the canteen covers work as passable dump pouches (though clearly not as well as the purpose built variety like the EMDOM USA version I removed from this belt). The small hook and loop closures on the sides of each pouch are sized for USGI field dressings, but I keep water purification tabs, soaked cotton balls (for fire starting), or other small items in them
The ATS GP pouch in the middle can hold any other items I need. The important thing to remember, though, is that there should be no hard objects in this pouch, as it is placed at the small of the back. Large solid objects in this position pose a significant risk to the spine during a backwards fall. In this pouch, I keep a cleaning kit, snacks, Cyalume sticks, batteries, and other small survival items (survival blanket, fire steel, etc.). Alternatively, it could be used as a dump pouch if I didn’t mind violating the rules of large hard objects, and wasn’t wearing an outer jacket (which I intend to use as a dump pouch, if needed, by dropping empty mags down the front to be retained by the belt). I also chose the ATS pouch to use as a type of shelf for a pack, this helps transfer the weight of the pack to the belt during movement.
The HSGI bleeder IFAK pouch is a comparatively small first aid kit to many on the market. It is designed only to keep the bare minimum supplies for trauma wounds. I intend to keep more robust medical supplies in my backpack, smock, or left cargo pocket of my pants. The bleeder kit is empty at the moment, but I intend to fill it with:
- (2) Nitrile Glove
- (1) Compressed z-pack gauze
- (1) Israeli Emergency Bandage, 4” (or Olaes bandage)
- (1) NAR Hyfin Compact Vented Chest Seal (2 pack)
- (1) Nasopharyngeal Airway w/ Lube, 28 Fr
- (1) Permanent Marker
- (1) Tactical Combat Casualty Care Card
- (1) Chitogauze (hemostatic agent)
- (1) ARS chest decompression needle
- (1) Small flat roll of duct tape (better than medical tape)
- (1) Benchmade Rescue 8 Hook for cutting material
Missing from the kit is a tourniquet, which I will have to add and carry elsewhere.
The holster is one I’ve had for a while. I would love to replace it, but it is devilishly hard to find holsters for the Beretta 92A1. This one is discontinued, but I hope to get a hold of one of the newer Safariland 7TSI holsters at some point. It started life as a Safariland 3285 low ride, but I replaced the belt loop with the mid ride model, effectively making it a 3280.
The last space is left open for now, but I am on the lookout for a small admin type pouch or TQ holder.
The final component is the Tactical Tailor Fight Light H-Harness. I already mentioned it before, but this is more for load stabilization than carriage. I don’t want the weight hanging on my shoulders. The fight light suspenders are very low profile, and fit easily under straps from a backpack.
The big hazard I see in this rig is weight distribution. If fully loaded in standard configuration, there is a lot of weight hanging off the left side of the belt (upwards of 8 lbs in just AR mags). Time will tell if this actually presents a problem for me. But, for now, since I don’t even have any magazines over 10 rds (thanks, California!), I will be unable to test it. The alternative is to de-shingle the TT rifle pouches from the Tacos and redistribute them around the belt. I would delete the second Taco and replace it with one of the TT mag pouches. The second pouch would be placed in front of the holster, on the right side. This violates one of the rules of keeping bulky items to the side or behind the hips for range of motion issues, but sometimes you just have to do what you need to do.
Another option I have considered is ditching the pistol all together. That would give me more room to distribute weight, and give me room to carry a fixed blade knife instead. The tacticool thing these days is to carry both a rifle and handgun, but most active infantry do not. That isn’t the end-all-be-all answer, but it is a data point to consider.
There are some other limitations to this style of load carriage. The first is that riding in a car seat is more or less a no-go. The canteen covers and ATS pouch along the back simply won’t allow for it. That means that this rig is pretty much dedicated to dismounted light-infantry style patrol work. Secondly, the location of the belt on the hips and the pistol magazine carrier somewhat limits my range of motion. I can still get a decent kneeling and squatting position, but it is more difficult than without the belt squeezing my hips. A chest rig would better allow for these shooting positions. Prone, however, is very comfortable and works better with a belt than chest rigs.
For now, this setup is relatively untested. A big reason for that is that I’m stuck with 10 rd magazines while I live in California, and this rig is built around 30 rd mags. All of the photos here are of my 10 rd magazines pulled out a bit to emulate where a 30 rounder would be positioned. Without the full 30 rd magazines to practice with, and their corresponding size/weight, I will never really know just how well this belt meets the intent of a modern day minuteman.
In the future, I do plan on adding a second system with both a chest rig (leaning towards a SKD PIG UCR) and minimalist belt. That provides me some options.