Having a range belt makes shooting a lot easier and allows you to carry everything you need. So much of setting it up is personal preference, and there is no wrong way to do things. Let's dive into a discussion of range belts to help make you a more efficient shooter when training or enjoying some quality blasty time.
Like the cereal aisle, you have a lot of choices - what looks good vs what is good. Before anything, you should consider your purpose for the belt and the wants vs needs. Having multiple belts isn't a bad idea either if you have the cash. A belt for action pistol, or one for just fun at the range for example. We personally prefer belts only set up for a purpose or two, so you can grab whichever one you need. Why carry the extra weight or add-ons if not needed?
We've trained thousands of hours with people from all walks of life - doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, etc - and they often have awesome gear belts. These set ups are sometimes better than anything I used in my army or copper days. The options out there are immense and each one of us has the luxury of building the perfect belt. We've seen enough to know what works and what doesn't.
These are typically your bigger, more comfortable belts and are great for spending hours on the range or carrying lots of gear. They carry more weight and distribute it well. Adding suspenders or an H-harness makes them even more comfortable and keeps the weight off your hips and pants. If you're like me, it helps me keep from pulling my pants up all the time. I've used a belt like this for 10+ years and still use it on occasion - especially when teaching classes.
If you insist on carrying a ton of gear, battle belts might be something to consider. Look for one that has the ability to use an inner belt, which can be a grippy inside texture to help prevent it from slipping around (in heavy clothing) or a velcro one that sits on your belt line. Having a belt with a MOLLE style exterior makes attaching pouches a breeze.
If you plan to have a lot of gear attached, ensure you place it in ways that work. Give your holster area enough room so drawing isn't interfered with, and make sure you can easily reach and operate anything on the back side. if you can't access your first aid kit (IFAK) with either hand, it's almost worthless.
The minimalist approach is really using the most common options available. It involves taking a belt you already own and attaching only the essential pouches and holster with belt loops. Often times I still wear a 30 year old leather belt because its thick and rigid, yet comfortable to wear. It supports a holster and pistol well. This approach is great for the range but works for EDC too. Train how you fight, right?
If you don't have anything suitable, you'll find some awesome minimalist belts for range purposes from companies like Ares, Kore, HSGI, Don Hume, and 5.11. One of our favorite options for EDC and brief range visits are the stretchy belts from Arcade. These are less rigid, but rigid enough for a holster and 1-2 mag pouches when tightened, and extremely comfortable when sitting down.
Shooting belts, as these are so commonly called, fill that middle ground and are very popular. These use a 2 layer inner/outer belt set up that provides superb security, rigidity, and comfort under weight. These are often 1.75" or 2" wide, which both work with the vast majority of attachment systems. Velcro onewrap offers the most security, because it keeps the outer and inner belt connected, minimizing any shifting. Other options include TekLok, MALICE clips, and regular ol' belt loops. Beware, too many pouches using these will give your outer belt less purchase on the inner belt.
Hybrid belts can support a lot of weight, but you still want to think about your essentials. A holster, magazine pouches, and a dump pouch. If you are trained to use them, include a TQ and/or IFAK. The IFAK doesn't need to contain the entire hospital. Stick to the 4 essential components that handle 99% of severe injuries - CAT TQ, Hyfin chest seal (compact), hemostatic gauze (Celox), and an Israeli (or other pressure) bandage. Keep the bigger kit in your bag.
Consider your limitations under stress. Whether under a true life threatening emergency or just a timer at the range or match, your gear needs to be accessible in as few moves as possible. Retention straps can be your enemy when the processing part of your brain disappears under stress. Make sure your TQ is unvelcro'ed. Try and keep your IFAK gear usable in under 2-3 actions.
Consider the weight of your equipment. If you're carrying a side arm and loaded magazines, you need something rigid enough to handle that weight. If your pouches are bigger, they tend to flop around and you don't want the belt following suit. (Side note - if you are carrying concealed in public, using the belt that came with your Dockers is a terribly bad idea!) Make sure the buckle is sturdy and solid too - avoid plastic or D-rings and stick with the modern Cobra style if you have a lot to carry.
Consider the width of the belt. The belt should be wide enough to match the belt loops on your holster and pouches. The best option is using loops that match the belt width, or even no more than 1/4" of size difference. Otherwise your pouches are going to slide up and down when accessing the gear.
Consider your comfort. The clothes you're wearing on a given day have a lot to do with this. It's not fun when you have a jacket interfereing with your access. Your body type should also guide your belt choice. If you're a skinny dude, a massive belt isn't the way to go.
Consider the ease of use. You will quickly learn to hate a belt that you need to unbuckle to get your holster and pouches on. Clips (instead of loops) on your pouches or holster are great and the metal ones are superb in terms of retention. For your battle and hybrid belts, the Velcro OneWrap is a superb attachment method. And ensure pouch placement works for you (bonus tip: try accessing everything with each hand).
Lastly, consider trying out a bunch of belts with your friends at the range. The best advice I can give you is to see what works for you before investing in the full thing. Ask others about theirs and what they like and dislike about it. Like a firearm, belt set ups are a 100% personal preference thing. A belt should be a "buy once, cry once" type of purchase. Do not cheap out because you will regret it later.
Co-written by Instructor Czerwinski and RD's Andy Rasico.