I’ve seen countless internet posts about people’s home defense gear. Some have plate carriers or chest rigs. Some people might have a belt rig that they keep ready to go. Some have nothing other than a firearm. I think all those options fall a bit short, in the context of home defense, to an often overlooked and underappreciated piece of gear – the lowly bandoleer.
What is a Bandoleer?
When I type bandoleer, I am generalizing a bit. Many of the items that I am referring to are really more like shoulder bags than true bandoleers but for the purposes of this article, just about anything that can carry spare ammo and supplies on a single shoulder strap will work.
Why Would You Need/Want One?
As armed and prepared citizens, your goals are different than military and law enforcement goals. You are not hunting or apprehending bad guys and clearing structures alone is inherently bad for your health. So, if you can, your first choice should probably always be to shelter in place and call the police when confronted with a home defense situation. However, not everyone can do that. If you have kids in rooms on the other side of your home or large property with outbuildings, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to forgo the advantage of sheltering in place.
This is the reason people set up chest rigs or plate carriers for home defense situations. If you need to leave the relative safety of your room, you will probably want to have a few items with you like first aid, spare magazines, a spare light, and other support gear. This thought process is good but I think that this is where most people would be better served with a bandoleer.
Bandoleers are faster into action. They can be donned and doffed much easier and quicker than just about any chest rig or plate carrier. You simply pass the shoulder strap over your head and you are done unless there is also a waist belt (which are usually optional). Good plate carriers and chest rigs can be secured with just a single buckle or clasp but there are multiple straps and/or a cummerbund to navigate.
Similarly, bandoleers can be staged more easily. A good bandoleer is often more compact than a chest rig or plate carrier. If you keep a long gun for self defense, the shoulder strap can be draped on the long gun so that it is easily grasped and passed onto the shoulder in a single motion. They can even be staged with your handgun already inside (secured in a proper holster of course).
Bandoleers offer more versatile storage. Many bandoleers or shoulder bags have plenty of room for important items in addition to spare magazines and they can serve as a receptacle for items you might otherwise have a hard time retaining, like a cell phone, if you are also carrying a gun. Have you ever tried juggling a cell phone, firearm, and flashlight? Work through that on the range sometime.
You might consider what you need or what would be helpful in your own context. Here are some of the things I use:
- spare magazine(s)
- first aid (with easily accessible tourniquet)
- a Sharpie with a piece of water resistant paper secured to it (for jotting down a license plate or description)
- electronic hearing protection
Bandoleers may also offer a different perception of the wearer than a chest rig or plate carrier. This one is relative and something that each person will have to assign their own weight of importance to. It may be a complete non-issue for some of you or you may reject it completely on the grounds that a good shoot is a good shoot. I tend to agree but I can also see the line of reasoning that there could be certain perception of someone wearing a chest rig or plate carrier that might not be favorable in a home defense scenario.
I can only recommend bandoleers that I have used personally but lucky for you… I’ve used several.
Hawkepaks ITOA Survival Kit
The Hawkepaks ITOA Survival Kit is an incredible piece of gear at a bargain basement price. $30 buys you a really well thought out bandoleer that is just about perfect in terms of size, it’s built right here in the USA, and it’s ready to use right out of the box.
I had the opportunity to design a special variant of this bag with Hawkepaks that made it suitable for carrying a handgun inside and had external loops for items like tourniquets. It was called the ITOA Mod. EE but that bag is no longer available. We sold a lot of them so they may turn up on the secondary market. The good news is that the regular ITOA is a great bag as is.
UW Gear Bandoleer
The UW Gear Bandoleer is one of the best true bandoleers I have used. It is available in a few configurations that should cover all the most common home defense rifles. It works well without the waist belt secured which is important to me.
You can read a full review of the earliest version of it HERE.
Sneaky Bags SUB (Shoulder Utility Bag)
The Sneaky Bags SUB or Shoulder Utility Bag is another excellent option. You’ll need to add some kind of internal magazine pouches if you want to use it with a rifle but that is easy to accomplish. It has provisions in place already for securing a tourniquet to the outside and handgun magazines internally. This bag is basically purpose built for this application. The Small and Medium sizes both work with the Small being my favorite.
You can read a review of the SUB here.
There are a number of bags on the market sold as “active shooter” bags which can all work in this role though I find some of them to be too large. A simple sling style (single strap) backpack can also be effective in this role though you will have to figure out an organized way to carry things like spare magazines. Some chest rigs can be reconfigured to serve as a bandoleer. Chest rigs from Gadsden Dynamics are specifically designed with this feature.
In the context of home defense… Bandoleers are typically faster and easy to deploy than a chest rig. They do a better job of carrying the things a civilian home defender might need and can help you better organize/prioritize items on the fly. They may also have an advantage in the area of perception. They also tend to cost a lot less!
When I add all that up, I’ve come to believe that most civilian shooters could be better served with something like a Hawkepaks ITOA or similar option before they invest in other support gear like a chest rig.