> TEOTWAWKI Blog: The Venerable Bandolier



The Venerable Bandolier

A four pocket 5.56mm bandolier and safety pinned charger
Ammunition bandoliers have been around for a long time--from the bolt action rifles of WWI, to the legendary Garand of WWII and the M16 platform in more recent conflicts. For decades, a fabric bandolier of spare ammo was how soldiers carried their ammunition in to battle. While bandoliers been largely displaced by armored vests and magazine pouches, they still hold a lot of value to the  modern survivor.

A bandolier packages what would otherwise be loose ammunition into a mobile package, allowing a fighter to replenish emptied magazines quickly. Unlike loaded magazines, bandoliers work well for deep storage--there are no springs to worry about. They're also fairly inexpensive, though the price has gone up in recent years; current "repack kit" prices run around $6 to $10, depending on the source.

M16 bandoliers come in different flavors--four pocket and seven pocket, with the seven pocket being the older design, intended for 20 round magazines. The British have 5 pocket bandoliers, sometimes also available on the surplus market.

The fabric bandolier itself is made of fairly low quality materials, and old, surplus bandoliers typically show quite a bit of wear. They're not pretty, but they work. Inspect your bandoliers to any major tears or other flaws before using them.

The four pocket bandolier has a white string running through the bottom half of each pocket. This string that can be removed with a tug, expanding each pocket to 30 round magazines size. This is a very useful feature if you were to find yourself separated from other fighting gear, and other reason why bandoliers are a good thing. If you're putting back an ammo can or two of loaded bandoliers, storing four empty magazines with 'em would be a good idea. Unfortunate, this white string is also the source of one of the most common flaws that I have found on old bandoliers. It will commonly give way on one or two of the pockets. Luckily, this simply expands the size of the pocket and doesn't cause major problems with functionality.

Bandoliers are typically purchased as "repack kits," which will contain a bandolier as well as the other components--in the case of a four pocket 5.56mm bando, that's twelve stripper clips, four cardboards, a safety pin and a charger. When you're done, each pocket will have three stripper clips contained in a cardboard sleeve, pictured above.

Stripper clips are fairly easy to find at gun shows and on the 'net; if you're lazy, Federal even sells ammunition already loaded into stripper clips. They are generally reusable--just make sure not to put too aggressive of a fold into the brass retaining tab at either end, as this will be the point of wear and failure for the clip. Another tip--don't use steel cased ammunition in these--it will hang up and not charge properly. Good brass ammunition will slide off cleanly.

Cardboards can be a bit harder to come by unless you're buying a repack kit--and then, many people balk at paying for flimsy cardboard that you have to glue/tape together. I've heard of people cutting/gluing their own to save on cash. Might be an option.

The charger is a key piece and what lets you load the ammunition from the stripper clips into your mags--so don't lose it! Good magazines will have a little groove at the rear of the mag, which is intended for the wide end of the charger. You then insert the stripper clip into charger and press down firmly on the cartridges, pushing them into the magazine.

Loading magazines with a stripper clip and charger takes a little bit of practice, but once you've got it down, your loading times will decrease dramatically. You don't need to be the Flash to go from empty to fully loaded in around 10 seconds. That's big.

If you're looking for bandolier repack kits, your best bet is a search of eBay, Gunbroker and similar sites. I would be hesitant to pay more than $7-$8 for a kit.

One question to any active duty readers--can you confirm how U.S. forces are currently issuing ammo? Are the venerable bandoliers still in use?


  1. Great post. Right now all of my ammo is in ammo cans. I really like these ones--they are heavy duty and not old/nasty like a lot of the mil surp ones. But the problem with ammo cans is they aren't super conducive to bugging out. I guess either way you're not going to bug out on foot with 100 lbs of ammo, but it would still be nice to have a more transportable option. I might get a few bandoleers, stuff em full of ammo, and then just put the bandoleer in the cammo can for long term storage. I like the idea of the bandoleer for magazines--simple, light-weight, grab-and-go option. Grab your rifle, grab the bandoleer--your ready to go. I always chuckle when I see civilians buying a chest rig to support their home defense rifle. Good luck strapping that on--by the time you're ready to stop the bad guy all your furniture will be gone. Chest rigs are great for military but make zero sense for civilians. When will you use it? Home invasion? Bugging out in a SHTF scenario? EDC/concealed carry? I like sneaky bags, but a bandoleer might be a lighter and cheaper alternative.

  2. I know they were still using these to issue ammo as of 2006.

  3. If I get my jury rigged stripper clip slot for my mini I think I would keep a couple bandoliers packed. If I had to I could hand someone the mini and a bandolier. Great post and blog!

  4. I do have a chest rig/tac vest as my bugout rig...but not because it is tacticool....because that is what Im used to wearing as a SWAT officer and former Marine shooter and because it carries alot morevthan just magazines. It supports my thigh holster for my sidearm, but is arranged with utility pouches w/firestartingvsupplies, folding knife, multitool and other small neccesaties as well as two quart canteen in back pouch. I think it comes down to personal preference, what your confortable with. Mine is well worn in, not shiney and new and i can locate everything on it in complete darkness, simply from habit. I do carry extra ammo in my pack as well as small lots of ammo distributed throught my gear.

    1. Chest set ups have been well proven in modern combat. Set up well, this is THE way to go for a fighting rig. No need to rationalize why you've gone with a chest set up, especially since you've used yours in hostile conditions!

      The only advantages that shoulder bags and bandoliers have are a greater level of concealability, speed in donning and generally a lower cost. There are low profile chest rigs that can be hidden under a light jacket, and generally, if I'm armed with a rifle and expecting to use it, concealment is probably not my #1 priority. And while a chest rig may be slower to put on then throwing a bag over a shoulder, it's not by much. Throw it on and buckle/velcro in and you're good to go.

      My personal set up is a plate carrier with Level III plates, rifle & pistol mags, blow out kit and some other supplies. I messed around with some other set ups before finally deciding to pony up the money and get some serious fighting gear. I can throw it quickly, and then have some protection against rifle-level threats, as well as the support gear that I need for fighting.

  5. These bandoliers are not a substitute for a legitimate fighting rig. There's a very good reason you don't see soldiers running around with crisscrossed bandoliers these days--they just don't work as well.

    While bandoliers and shoulder bags can be made to work, they are generally unstable and more inconsistent than more conventional solutions (chest rigs, plate carriers, etc.). Don't believe me? Get your war bag and practice going into various firing positions--at full speed. Drop into prone and see what it does. Go sprint with it. It will most likely flop all over the place, get in the way, dump magazines on the ground and generally be a pain. A good chest rig/plate/armor set up will have none of these problems.

    For a fighting rig, bandos like this would be used only if you didn't have anything better--if you were separated from your usual fighting gear, needed to hand out to a poorly equipped group member and so on. Mostly, they work well for transporting ammo and greatly speeding load times on empty magazines.

  6. Yes, ammunition is still issued in bandoleers. I like them for storing more ammo than you want in loaded mags. Example, You are going out on a long patrol (or bug out) and plan to carry 8 loaded mags but think some more ammo would be good to resupply. Tossing a bandoleer in your ruck and can reload a few mags if need be.

  7. I use one as a magazine carrier and one as an EDC for S.E.R.E. items. Pocket #1) Emergency Tent, Mylar blanket, Emergency poncho, water packet and a snack. #2) Matches, lighter, metal match, tinder. #3) Mutil tool, knife, para cord, signal mirror, whistle, compass, flashlight, duct tape. #4) I.F.A.K.

  8. Don't waste your money on cardboard inserts for your bandoliers when you can just hit up your smoker friends for their empty cigarette packs. Regular Marlboro packs work great for a single Garand clip or 2 rows of 10rd 5.56 or .30 Carbine, and Camel Wide packs work perfect for two 5 round 7.62X51 strippers. Tear off the top, insert loaded clips into empty pack of smokes, insert cardboard into bandolier, done.

  9. AnonymousJune 17, 2013

    A dood and interesting article. I found it looking for a DIY bandolier project for my insurgent loadout for an airsoft game :)

  10. For independent use home, vehicle, bug-in/bug-out, etc I found these to be really versatile. Very heavy duty with handles or carry strap, flexible to fit a multitude of objects unlike rigid ammo cans, and can be cinched down nice & snug.
    I picked up a couple on sale somewhere as the regular price is rather steep for a large qty.
    I have 8 loaded 30round AK mags packed in one bag and I think 140 rds of 12ga (boxes of 5) in another. Thats a nice setup for 1 or more people to work out of in a hurried state.