How to Set Up a Duty Belt

If you are a law enforcement officer, then your duty gear/duty belt is your toolbox and lifeline. Everything you carry has a purpose. Each piece of gear needs to be accessible in an emergency. That is why how you set up your duty belt could be one of the most vital decisions of your law enforcement career.

Setting up your duty gear, meaning planning where each item is placed, is about more than simply finding a spot for everything. You need to tactically consider where you place each item, as well as which items you will place in proximity to each other. An officer not being able to access any necessary gear during an emergency, or even accessing the wrong gear during a time of stress, has led to more than one unfortunate event in the past.

The following is a guide to how to set up your duty belt. It is based not only on years of experience, but also on trial and error. But it is just that: a guide. While I have found the tips discussed to be useful, and each has served me well, they may not work for everyone in every situation. Personal body build, tactical load, and even department policies will also come into play when setting up your duty gear.

As stated earlier, the proper placement of your gear has two aims: the ability to access each piece when needed and the ability to do so without thought. It needs to be immediate, second nature, and without obstruction. Since the majority of officers are right-handed, the following discussion will be based upon that fact. Left-handed officers should perform their setup in the reverse order.

We start the setup at the mid-point, or buckle area, and move in a clockwise direction (to the right):

  • Handcuffs and Case: This is the first item immediately to the right of the mid-point. Carrying your handcuffs in this position allows access by either hand. Two pairs or a dual cuff case can be carried in this location instead. Many officers prefer to carry their handcuffs in a position at or near the small of their back, but current training and tactics caution against this and favor the front strong side position. Need a cuff case? Shop here.
  • Firearm: The next item is the firearm and duty holster, secured to the front and rear by a set of keepers. This is the standard position for on-duty carry of the firearm, as it places it on the strong side and in a position most naturally accessed by the dominant hand. The placement of keepers to the front and rear help ensure the firearm, one of the heaviest pieces of gear, remains in place during movement or even a struggle.
  • Collapsible Baton: I carry a collapsible baton behind the firearm. I know that this will seem out of place for some officers who have been taught to never place ANYTHING behind the firearm. This a valid concern and one that is addressed by the use of both a baton holster that prevents unwanted movement and the placement of the keeper at the rear of the firearm. Reasons for carrying the baton in this location boil down to the ability to access it with the strong hand and a limited number of duty-belt locations that will allow this. US Patriot carries a variety of holsters, keepers, and batons.
  • You will notice that there is nothing placed to the rear of the baton. This was probably one of the first adjustments I made to my duty belt—one that was made because of trial and error. When I set up my first belt, I carried an extra set of handcuffs in this area, because it seemed like a good use of otherwise wasted space. That assumption was wrong.

    The placement of any equipment in the lower back area places the wearer at risk of injury, either during a fall or because of pressure from that equipment while sitting or driving. Of course, there is also the matter of access. After a few failed attempts to access this area with either hand, I recognized that it is difficult to access, even when not in a confrontation.

  • Key Ring Hook: As you continue clockwise around the duty belt, the next item is a small hook. It is usually used for a key ring, but it is capable of carrying other small items as well. It is carried in this location to prevent those items from interfering with tactical gear.
  • Flashlight: To the rear of the support side hip, you have a flashlight and holder. It’s an area that allows easy access with the support hand, but at the same time, it keeps the flashlight away from any other item that you might confuse with a weapon.
  • Radio: I do not carry a radio as a regular part of my duty belt. Because of frequent plain-clothes duty, I instead use a model equipped with a clip and corded mic. When wearing a radio on the duty belt, it should be worn on either side of the flashlight.
  • OC Spray: On the left support hip, opposite the firearm, I have my OC spray and holster. This again differs from the norm, but I have my reasons. Carrying the OC spray in this location lets me easily access it with my support hand, meaning it may be deployed without interfering with the use of the firearm. It will also prevent the impression that you are reaching for your firearm when your intent is to use a non-lethal alternative.
  • Spare Magazines: We have finally made it full circle and arrived at the left front side of the mid-point. Here you will find my double magazine pouch carried horizontally with its opening facing the center. This again allows access with either hand and places the spare magazines in a location that is within the natural range of my hands.

And there you have it: a 360-degree view of a duty belt and explanations for why, or why not, items are carried in a specific location. I hope it helps you set up your own gear and avoid some of the mistakes I made during my early years.

Looking for a duty belt? US Patriot carries several options. Check them out here.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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