Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Review: Blastersmiths UK Battle Belt (MkI)

Back when I used the Nerf-made tactical vest, I found some serious flaws in its abilities. While it could hold 6 dart clips (mags) ok, it struggled with anything larger, with 12 and 18 dart clips (mags) frequently falling out. As such, I needed a new piece of tactical gear that would be able to properly hold 12/18 dart clips (mags), and due to my financial situation required it as cheap as possible.
Enter the BSUK Battle Belt (MkI).
The BSUK Battle Belt is a piece of equipment designed to be worn around the waist, and is meant to hold 4 12/18 dart clips (mags).

Each "section" of the belt holds two clips (mags), and besides the buckles the two sections are basically mirror images.
The clips (mags) are held in these pouches that flatten when not in use and open up to accept clips (mags). This method produces an unfortunate ergonomic issue which I will describe later.
The clips (mags) are held in using friction in the pouch and these bungee retention cords.
The Battle Belt is designed to hold 12/18 dart clips (mags), but will hold any size of straight clip (mag), as well as straight Vortex mags and banana clips (mags). Shorter clips (mags) like the 6 clip (mag) will have no use for the bungee cord, as they will fit straight into the pouches.
Retaining the 18 clip (mag) requires stretching the bungee cord slightly, which gives a tight and solid fit. Removing the clip (mag) requires simply flicking the bungee cord off, then pulling the clip (mag) straight up.
As the bungee is by default set up for 18 clips (mags), it needs to be shortened for 12 clips (mags). With the bungee shortened, the 12 clips (mags) fit in nice and snug as well.
One additional job the bungee does besides retaining the clip (mag) is also retaining the top dart, which if worn down and thin can potentially pop out of the clip (mag).

 The rear straps of the Battle Belt can be adjusted based on your size.
The Battle Belt clips together in the front, allowing for easy wearing and removal. Pretty standard stuff for tactical gear.
The Battle Belt has four velcro loops at the bottom, meant to fit on a belt if you're wearing one. I personally use it with the Vortex belt and Sweet Revenge holsters. It's very useful to have a belt, as I will explain later.

The Battle Belt is covered in PALS/MOLLE webbing, a webbing pattern designed to allow easy customisation of tactical gear. BSUK manufactures a number of PALS/MOLLE compatible attachments, such as clip/mag pouches and the zip pouch I use. Additionally a lot of other aftermarket tactical gear uses the PALS/MOLLE mounting system.
PALS/MOLLE retains its attaching strength through having something (in this case a BSUK MOLLE Attachment Bar) weave through the PALS/MOLLE webbing of both pieces of equipment. In this case I've attached a BSUK Small Zip Pouch to my Battle Belt.
PALS/MOLLE equipment is designed to be removable with reasonable effort (outside of combat), but be solid enough to hold up in combat, as it was initially designed for the US Army. As such when sufficiently attached (and properly manufactured), PALS/MOLLE attachments are near impossible to forcibly remove outside of the correct methods or breaking/snapping/cutting/etc of parts.

Here's the Battle Belt loaded up with 18s. They stand up quite high, though they're 18s so that's kind of expected.

And here with 4 12s, much more compact than running 4 18s.

Here's the issue I was referring to earlier. Each clip (mag) loaded bulges the clip (mag) pouches slightly, tightening the belt. The more clips (mags) you load in, the tighter it gets. As such, the belt is significantly tighter when fully loaded compared to when it's empty. For comparison, with 4 clips (mags) loaded and the belt fastened relatively tightly around me, with the clips (mags) removed the belt is very loose and moves about easily.
Hence why I recommend wearing a belt when using the Battle Belt - the belt will keep an empty Battle Belt from shifting around too much and will remain tight around your hip regardless of what your Battle Belt is doing.

 Here's me wearing a empty Battle Belt. Note how the Belt wraps around my body and ends up under my arms.
 My back, with just the back straps of the Belt.

 Here's the Battle Belt loaded up with 4 18s. Their length brings up another ergonomic problem.
The side 18s are tall enough to come close to jutting into my armpits, which besides being plain uncomfortable also hinders arm movement slightly, particularly in shouldering blasters that have large buttstocks.
Additionally, the proximity of the clips (mags) to my armpits makes it that little bit harder to pull the clip (mag) out of the Belt. With a little practice or angling the clips (mags) forward, this problem is largely avoided, though arm movements and shouldering blasters can still be an issue.

Here's the Belt with 4 12s. No height issues here, they fit well and are easy to access, though you lose out a lot of capacity compared to using 18s. I'd use this setup for supplying a slow firing blaster, though as I prefer high ROF blasters personally, I don't use this setup much.

Here's a compromise that avoids the discomfort of 18s under the armpits, while still retaining some 18s for higher capacity than using all 12s. When I don't need absolute maximum capacity I'd this particular loadout of clips (mags).

Here's the Belt with a Small Zip Pouch mounted. Naturally you can mount the pouch in almost any position, but I've got it mounted here in a position similar to the Nerf Tactical Vest, as that's what I'm used to. I plan to mount extra clip (mag) pouches on the other side, as I found that 4 spare clips (mags) is pretty small for MHvZ.

This is my standard medium capacity setup, Battle Belt with Small Zip Pouch, Vortex Belt with dual Sweet Revenges, 2 18s and 2 12s, usually with another 18 in my primary.

The Battle Belt costs 25GBP excluding shipping, which at the current exchange rate converts to around 50AUD. There are a couple of things to consider when deciding if you should get a Battle Belt.
  • What you need it for - if you're just goofing around with friends and not playing any sort of competitive games (or don't need to carry many/any spare clips [mags] for that matter), you could probably get away with homemade duck tape holsters and pouches, or repurposing a cheap bag/pouch meant for less vigorous use. Heck even a Nerf-made Tactical Vest might suit your purposes better if you don't need to support a large clip (mag) system ecosystem. The Battle Belt is a piece of equipment useful only to someone who needs to carry a reasonable number of extra clips (mags). If you're going over say 15 spare clips (mags), you'll probably want a backpack as well/instead, and if you're carrying less than 3, you could get away with a simple belt pouch. If you use exclusively drums then the Battle Belt will be of no use to you as it only supports straight and banana clips (mags).
  • Money - the Battle Belt is one of the cheaper tactical gear options for holding clips (mags) and is designed as such - if you have the money to spend you should certainly consider building a tactical vest which can be specifically made to your dimensions, and set up specifically to your needs and abilities. Alternatively you could get pre-made tactical vests covered in PALS/MOLLE for reasonable amounts, and go on covering it with clip (mag) pouches and whatnot. A custom made tactical vest would probably also be more comfortable than using a Battle Belt, because of the aforementioned clip (mag) pouch bulging. Alternatively, you can buy a variety of basic belt or drop leg clip/mag pouches for less than the Battle Belt, if all you need is to hold just a few more clips (mags). The Battle Belt is a product designed such that you can expand it with extra parts in the future (thanks to the PALS/MOLLE) but will work straight out of package for carrying some straight/banana clips (mags).
  • Availability of other Tactical gear - if you live in a place where airsoft and/or paintball are legal, you could probably find some cheap airsoft/paintball gear and repurpose it for Nerf use. For instance, I've heard that pouches made for AK magazines fit Nerf clips (mags) well, so if you have easy/cheap access to such, you could probably build your own basic rig for as much as, if not less than, the cost of a Battle Belt. You could certainly also repurpose military surplus gear if you have access to such.
  • Your manufacturing abilities - if you (or someone you know) have the ability to sew, have access to the necessary fabrics and have sufficient spare time, why not try your hand at making your own basic clip/mag pouches? Like with many other hand-made products, a large part of the cost in the BSUK tactical gear comes from labour. It's certainly worth considering whether you can make your own gear rather than buying someone else's, as that way you can design it to exactly fit your needs and style.
For my situation, the Battle Belt was perfect. As a Uni student, I don't have a large amount of money to spend, but I knew that I would probably get more into the hobby over time. As such I wanted something that was relatively cheap (compared to other options), but could be easily expanded upon (ie have PALS/MOLLE). Being that I live in Australia, airsoft is illegal and paintball is very heavily restricted, so airsoft and paintball tactical gear are practically non-existent here. The cost of importing such gear meant that I might as well import tactical gear specifically made for Nerf. Though I am competent with tools and modding, I'm completely useless at sewing, so making my own tactical gear was out of the question.
If I had significantly more money to spend, I would probably have purchased a tactical vest and some clip (mag) pouches instead of the Battle Belt, and if I lived in a country where airsoft and/or paintball are legal, I would probably purchase some discounted tactical gear from those and repurpose them.

If you need to carry some spare 12s/18s, want something more sophisticated and expandable than some belt pouches and are on a low budget, then the Battle Belt is certainly an option to consider, but as with all tactical gear there are many options that could be more suitable to your situation/needs.

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