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Buyers Guide to Duty Belts, Holsters and Duty Pouches

Buyers Guide to Duty Belts, Holsters and Duty Pouches

An officer’s duty belt is an essential item for anyone beginning a career in law enforcement or security. Early law enforcement officers carried their gear in jackets or specially adapted pant pockets. Over the years, the duty belt concept has remained relatively unchanged however there have been minor improvements such as different finishes (nylon, basketweave, high gloss, plain leather), hook and loop closure (velcro) and improvements in buckles. In the 1950 - 1960s duty belts were known as Sam Browne belts and some veteran officers may still refer to their duty belt as Sam Brownes.  Another common term for a duty belt is outer belt.

Duty belts

Along with your duty belt, users need an inner belt.  Depending on the manufacturer this belt may also be called a trouser belt.  This inner belt is worn just like any normal belt—through your pant’s belt loops and is used to keep your pants firm on the body.  Like any normal belt, it also keeps your uniform shirt tucked in tightly, maintaining a neat appearance.  This inner belt is also used to secure your duty belt to your body. 

 

Duty Belts Duty Belt attached with keepers Why we wear keepers Keepers for Duty Belts
Duty Belt, Inner Belt & Keepers
Some duty belts attach to the inner belt with a hook & loop system
Without keepers a duty belt will sag and gear may shift Keepers may also be used to keep Gear from shifting

 

Your duty belt is secured to your inner belt with keepers.  Generally most will use 4 keepers evenly spaced throughout the waist.  Keepers come in matching finishes and are available in a snap or velcro closure.  Some officers may also use keepers to space pouches and gear on their belts.  Some inner belts and duty belts are attached with a hook and loop system.  Hook and loop systems generally have a shorter lifespan than using traditional snaps.

All standard duty belts come in a width of 2 1/4”.  When ordering a duty belt, you will want to order your actual waist size. Duty belt manufacturer’s automatically add additional length to accommodate being worn over your inner belt. 

Plain Leather Finish Nylon Finish High Gloss Finish Basketweave Finish
Plain Leather Nylon High Gloss 
Basketweave

Many departments have specific requirements regarding the finish of the belt.  For leather duty belts, basketweave and plain leather are the most common.  Leather duty belts have the advantage of lasting two to even three times longer than a standard nylon belt, however quality leather belts are more expensive and require more care. 

High gloss belts were common in years past, however now high gloss is usually only worn by honor guard units and some highway patrol units.  High gloss belts are generally special order items and require daily upkeep to prevent tarnishing and smears on the finish. 

Nylon belts are now the most commonly used finish for duty belts.  Less expensive and easier to maintain, nylon belts are also less rigid than leather belts, which is believed to ease back pain compared to a more rigid belt.

Some nylon belts are manufactured with the appearance of leather for a more professional appearance.  Nylon belts will generally last 2 - 3 years while a quality leather belt may have a 10 year life.

Not all duty belts are created equal.  There are differences in quality and even differently priced belts offered by the same manufacturer will vary in quality.  Manufacturer’s such as Atlanco’s Tru-Spec gear offers low cost duty belts and accessories.  Although perfect for those on a tight budget the stitching may be inferior and the gear is more suited towards temporary or occasional use.  Companies like Bianchi offer several nylon and leather options.  Bianchi offers low cost options such as their Patrol-Tek series which is budget friendly duty gear and has higher quality duty belts and pouches as well in the AccuMold line. 

Although the common color for duty belts for police, sheriffs, security and federal agencies is black, there is occasionally some variation.  Some departments may use brown colored duty gear however few departments are using that color currently.

When in a tactical uniform such as a SWAT officer or military personnel, officers may wear an olive drab or nylon colored belt to match their uniform.  Generally military or tactical duty belts are 2” in width.  Duty belt pouches, holsters and accessories will generally be designed for the standard duty belt size of 2 1/4”.

In addition to your duty belt, depending on your equipment needs, the following pouches are the most commonly used duty belt accessories: 

Keepers

Duty belt keepers keep your duty belt in place and securely attached to your inner belt.  

Keepers Keepers Keepers  Keepers

 

Handcuff Pouch

Handcuffs are carried in various locations on the duty belt and handcuff pouches come in open or closed top holders and one or double sized pouches.  Some choose to carry their handcuffs using a loop design.  Your handcuff pouch should be located at a place on your belt easily retrievable when struggling with an offender.

Closed top handcuff pouch Open Top Handcuff Pouch Handcuff Strap Investigator Handcuff Pouch (not for duty belt)
Closed Top Handcuff Open Top Handcuff Pouch Handcuff Strap Investigator Handcuff Pouch

 

Radio Pouch

To secure your radio to your duty belt there are generally two popular radio pouch designs.  The first consists of an L-shaped bar which the radio rests on and is secured by a loop around the middle of the radio.  The second is a two-piece design consisting of a radio pouch and a swivel. The radio is held in the pouch by a loop over the top, then the pouch is attached to the belt by a swivel. This design allows the radio to be easily removed from the belt for handheld use.

Swivel Radio Holder Radio Holder Standard Radio Holder
Swivel Radio Holder L Shaped Radio Holder Standard Radio Holder

 

Baton Holder or Ring

It doesn't matter if you carry an ASP expandable baton or the traditional PR-24 side-handle baton a secure method of attaching your baton to your duty belt is a must.  A baton holder is the standard method for holding expandable batons.  Baton rings are generally used for securing straight stick batons.

Expandable Baton Pouch Expandable Baton Pouch Baton Ring PR-24 Side Handle Baton Ring
Expandable Baton Pouch Expandable Baton Pouch Baton Ring PR-24 Baton Ring

 

Pepper Spray Pouch

Pepper spray commonly referred as one of the four common formulations: OC, CS, CN or tear gas is held in a pepper spray pouch.  For duty use, pepper spray is generally used in two sizes:  The smaller MK-3 and the larger MK4.  Pepper spray pouches are available in both open and closed tops.

Pepper Spray Sizes Closed Top Pepper Spray Pouch Open Top Pepper Spray Pouch Pepper Spray Pouch
Pepper Spray Sizes Closed Top Pepper Spray Pouch Open Top Pepper Spray Pouch Pepper Spray Pouch

 

Duty Holsters

If carrying a firearm on your duty belt, a duty holster is the standard carry method.  Although there are many different type of holster options such as pancake holsters, paddle holsters and belt clip holsters, a duty holster is the most secure method to carry your firearm for duty use.  Duty holsters offer the wearer a higher level of security as they are designed with different levels of gun retention to prevent a suspect from obtaining the firearm or accidentally dropping or discharging the firearm.  All duty holsters will fit the standard 2 1/4" duty belt.

Level III Duty Holster Level III Duty Holster Level I Duty Holster Light Bearing Duty Holster
Safariland Level III Duty Holster BlackHawk Level III Duty Holster Level I Duty Holster Light Bearing Duty Holster

 

Magazine Pouches

Along with a firearm, carrying extra ammunition is a must.  Magazine holders generally come in 3 sizes from single magazines, double and triple.  Double magazine holders are the most commonly used. Because gun magazines are available in so many sizes magazine pouches are generally offered in either a single stack or double stack option.  Some magazine pouches are available in a more custom fit depending on your firearm.  Magazine pouches are available in either an open top or closed top being the most common.  Magazines are carried in a vertical position or horizontal position. Vertical, upright position of the magazine occupies less space on the belt and therefore more magazines can be carried. The advantage of horizontal carry is that greater comfort is provided, and magazines are in a position that makes it easier for an officer to retrieve and load them into the handgun.

Open Top Magazine Pouch Vertical Magazine Pouch Triple Magazine Pouch Single Magazine Pouch
Open Top Magazine Pouch Horizontal Magazine Pouch Triple Magazine Pouch Single Magazine Pouch

 

Taser Holster

The taser (Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle) is normally carried on the opposite side of the firearm or the weak side.  For ease of access the taser holster is most often carried in a slanted, cross-draw.

Drop Leg Taser Holster Drop Leg Taser Holster Cross Draw Taser Holster Drop Leg Taser Holster
Drop Leg Taser Holster Drop Leg Taser Holster Cross Draw Taser Holster Cross Draw Taser Holster

 

Flashlight Pouch or Ring

Flashlight pouches are available in an open top or closed top option.  Closed top tends to be the most popular to avoid accidental activation.  Most manufacturer's cater their sizing to the most commonly used flashlights in the law enforcement industry--Streamlight, Surefire, Mag-lite, Pelican, etc.  As a result, some users will find that unless their flashlight matches the dimensions of one of these other manufacturer's they might have difficulty finding a pouch that fits their non-name brand light. Flashlight rings are simple and inexpensive, and are convenient for larger flashlights.

Open Top Flashlight Pouch Closed Top Flashlight Pouch Flashlight Ring Flashlight Pouch
Open Top Flashlight Pouch Closed Top Flashlight Pouch Flashlight Ring Flashlight Holder

 

Key Holders

A key holder is available for the duty belt and helps keep the keys easily accessible.  Some prefer a simple clip on key holder, however those concerned about being more covert may use a silent key holder.  Silent key holders enable the keys to be clipped onto the belt and then secured with two hook and loop flaps.  This keeps the keys from jingling and perhaps giving away the wearers location when trying to be covert. Some traditional key holders will also have an extended nylon or leather backing to prevent the keys from snagging or rubbing on the wearer's pants while in seated position.

Silent Key Holder Key Holder Metal Key Holder Key Holder with Flap
Silent Key Holder Standard Key Holder Metal Key Holder Key Holder with Flap

 

Glove Pouches

Disposable gloves are a must have item for anyone who must physically interact, detain or render aid to the public.  Gloves help prevent infectious diseases when rendering first aid or making an arrest and protect evidence at crime scenes.  Glove pouches will generally hold one to three pairs of disposable gloves.

BlackHawk Nylon Glove Pouch Safariland Glove Pouch Leather Glove Pouch Nylon Glove Pouch
BlackHawk Nylon Glove Pouch Safariland Glove Pouch Leather Glove Pouch Nylon Glove Pouch

 

First Aid Pouch

Rarely do officers keep first aid equipment on their duty belts.  Most often first aid equipment will be stored in a patrol vehicle.  CPR masks pouches are available from some manufacturers but needing the mask is so rare that few if any normal patrol officers will carry one on their belt knowing that they are generally quickly accessible from their patrol vehicle.

Standard Tactical Tourniquet Tourniquet Pouch First Aid Pouch CPR Kit
Standard Tactical Tourniquet Tourniquet Pouch First Aid Pouch CPR Kit

 

Miscellaneous Pouches

Depending on the department or employer, many officers carry various other pieces of equipment on their duty belt including cameras, knives, multi-tools, cell phones, keys, window punch etc.  Often times there might not be a specific pouch built for the item needed to be carried.  As a result things like single magazine pouches are the most commonly used item to carry knives and multi-tools.  Few officers carry cellular phones on their duty belt but instead use their pockets.  In the past pager pouches, tape recorder pouches and cellular phone pouches were more common, however as the popularity of carrying these type of products have diminished, few manufacturers still offer these items.

Single Magazine Pouched used for Knife Tape Recorder Pouch Cellular Phone Pouch Alarm Pouch
Single Magazine Pouched used for Knife Tape Recorder Pouch Cellular Phone Pouch Alarm Pouch

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