One of the most popular additions to the modern shooter’s range gear is what used to be called a “go-belt” or “war belt.” From here on out, we’ll just call it a “range belt.” You might have seen one; it looks like someone cut the belt off of a high-end mountaineering backpack, stitched MOLLE straps all over it, dyed it coyote tan and put it around the waist of a man who was at a range rather than on a battlefield. It’s handy, it’s a rather new entry to the scene and it’s a point of some contention with a lot of shooters.
Before anyone would condemn these as the stuff of wannabes or weirdos, I’d ask him exactly what he keeps on his person while at the range and exactly what he knows, deep down, he should. I’d ask him how many times he’s held something — a magazine, a cartridge, whatever — in the crook of his arm or in an armpit while trying to right a gun issue. I’d ask how many times he’s had to walk a considerable distance to his vehicle to retrieve a multi-tool or other item that just as easily could have been with him the whole time.
So, what’s to be gained from a range belt or a war belt? How about a go-belt? First, let’s look at what a decent model should feature.
When allowed, I am a big believer in always keeping at least one holstered, charged sidearm on my person whenever I’m at any range. I like to do so because sometimes I’m laying thousands of dollars worth of guns out on a table that might be surrounded by strangers. I like to do so because any number of those strangers might be armed, and a good number of them almost certainly are. I like to do so because it sets my mind at ease. Unless you’re actively training on it, keep the full-sized pistol with which you’re the most proficient ready to shoot and secured in a holster, preferably a model with retention. I prefer the open-top Safariland ALS when I’m not wearing a range belt; when I am, I go with any convenient MOLLE-compatible model.
After immediate access to the pistol you shoot best, emergency medical equipment is the next most important asset a range belt keeps at hand. As your med kits are the emergency lifesaving gear you’re most likely to use while at the range, don’t skimp. Depending on how far from a hospital you are, it might even pay to go overboard. What’s commonly known as a “blowout kit” is what we’re after here; you can skip the triple-antibiotic ointment and jump straight to the tourniquets, trauma bandages and Celox gauze.
Modern carbine courses require pouches for longarm and sidearm magazines. You can purchase carriers that will thread onto your belt, or you can streamline the process by basically constructing a private citizen’s version of a law enforcement duty belt. Unlike traditional carriers, this belt will have nothing to do with your trouser belt and you will be able to rig up for the firing line and then go cold for lunch with the click of one buckle. That’s the upside.
The downside is that you’ll be putting in a lot of training with that specific configuration of gear, which means that, during a crisis, you’ll likely revert to working from that configuration. When I run a pistol dry, my left hand immediately drops to my 11 o’clock. This is because I always wore my magazine pouches at that position on my duty belt and, as such, I still, several years after leaving the department, have to struggle with that training scar. Don’t kid yourself: If you’re going to be training with a war belt, make sure you keep it on hand and ready to go at home; more on that later.
A multi-tool that can be operated with one hand is a standard piece of equipment for many soldiers and Marines in the Global War on Terrorism. Why so specific? There are certain AR malfunctions that are fastest and easiest cleared with a set of needle-nosed pliers. Even if it isn’t as fancy as the tool you normally carry, get hold of one that you can stage on your rear-dominant side and keep it there. It will, of course, come in handy for all kinds of other fixes, but its utility as a tool that can quickly get your rifle running again is its main purpose.
In a lot of ways, I prefer to rig a pair of dump bags on a range belt: one large and one small. The larger bag is perfect for dropping magazines when I’m running actual rifle drills, and the smaller bag is ideal for … well … anything else that I might want to keep but not be physically holding onto. This is one of the aspects of the belt that does not have to always be full. Unlike the med, ammo and tool pouches, these are designed to stay empty until needed.
This can be as simple as your cell phone or it can be as complicated as your personal phone, your work phone and your radio that keeps you in contact with the rest of the guys at the club. Either way or in between, you know who you need to be able to reach and you know that a shooting range is never a great place to knock a phone off of a table. Like all other essential gear, secure it.
There’s another use for such a belt that came up earlier, and it is not recreational. Remember what I said about how if you’re training off of this belt, then it should be kept at the ready in the home?
I recently spoke with an active Army Special Forces NCO who was a big proponent of such a setup. In as many words, he said that he would rather have one belt that hung or sat by his bed staged and ready to go than a nice little array of gear laid out with only two hands with which to try to manage it all.
When you’re not actively training from this belt, it should be kept staged and ready to be thrown around your waist during an emergency. Now this isn’t the expanded fanny pack that some hikers love so much; there isn’t room for a windbreaker and four canteens on an immediate-action belt. When you’re not training with it, that range belt is kept on hand for if you’re ever faced with an immediate, imminent deadly threat, not for when you’re out on a walk.
If your plan is to have a belt that you can whip around your waist as soon as there’s trouble, you don’t want to be fumbling with the buckle any more than necessary.
The “go-belt” (which is a fancy term for “your range belt when you’re not at the range”) consists of all of the items listed above but also several gunloads worth of staged, ready-to-go ammunition. For most, this will mean anywhere from two to six charged AR magazines and a pair of sidearm magazines. It will also feature a carrier for your in-house flashlight as well as a backup, a holster for your go-to in-house sidearm and a double magazine pouch for same. The main advantage of creating such a system is that when an emergency arrives, rather than grabbing for your gear, you can secure the belt around your waist — clothed or not — and immediately be prepared to mitigate whatever crisis has found your home.
The biggest change that you will have to train to make is that when you return from the range, you will have to adjust the size of the belt to fit as closely as possible to what you normally wear in your residence. If this is pajama pants, then you adjust to that. If this is jeans, adjust accordingly. Just understand that, if your plan is to have a belt that you can whip around your waist as soon as there’s trouble, you don’t want to be fumbling with the buckle any more than necessary and you absolutely cannot have a belt that drops to your ankles when you try to move.
Your personal protection gear isn’t about being trendy and it isn’t about being cool. It’s about ensuring that you have the proper tools on hand and immediately accessible to you to take appropriate action against impending deadly threats in your home. When lethal violence makes itself an unavoidable threat to your life or the life of another, that’s not the time to start scrambling equipment.