By Massad Ayoob

Of all the gear on an officer’s belt, the holstered handgun is by far the most conspicuous, but the second least-often used piece of equipment. The least likely to be used in the line of duty is the pouch containing spare ammunition. Since the semiauto pistol took over from the revolver, the paradigm for spare ammo has been flap-covered magazine pouches.

Each year though, I’m seeing more cops wearing their spare mags in open-top pouches. Kydex and similar modern synthetics, combined with good designs using tension screws, have made this option more viable than it was in yesteryears. When all we had were leather pouches, they tended to be so tight when new you had to tug violently to get the magazine out, but once they had some wear on them, they got so loose the magazines could fall out if you went prone or were rolling around in a fight.

Like the Sam Browne duty belt, the magazine pouches followed the military model, so they had protective flaps. However, the flap had to be unsnapped and flipped out of the way before the hand could grasp the magazine, and not all these pouches had good ergonomics allowing a full contact of fingers on mags. Fortunately, things are better now.

I first started seeing standard issue open top mag pouches on police uniform belts in the early 1990’s in Alaska: they were issued by Anchorage PD, the Alaska State Troopers and darn near everyone else up there. I was told it was bad enough cold-numbed hands or gloved hands might have to perform the reload much of the year, and the lawmen would have to dig under long, heavy winter coats to get at them — without having to claw through a flap as well. And those coats protected the mags in open top holsters, so the flaps weren’t necessary. But by the 21st Century, LEOs in warmer climes (such as the Jacksonville, FL Sheriff’s Department) were also issuing open top carriers. Secure carry made possible by modern mag pouches, coupled with the obvious speed advantage, was the reason.


Protection of magazines is rationale of the flaps on this BLACKHAWK!
Cordura duty pouch. Having to get those same flaps out of the way
slows the reload.

A Need For Speed

How much faster is the open top pouch? That will vary, of course, with the given officer’s training, habituation, and skill. To test, I took Blackhawk! mag carriers to the range with a PACT timer and a Smith & Wesson M&P .45. Average times from the PACT’s beep to the next subsequently fired shot with the open-top carrier (worn vertically, left front of duty belt by right-handed officer) was 1.35 seconds faster than with the snapped-down flap carrier in the same orientation, and 1.06 seconds faster than from a snapped-and-flapped carrier worn horizontally in front of the holstered pistol.

In all testing, bullet noses were forward in the vertical pouches (because this has almost universally been found to be more ergonomic and therefore faster), and bullet noses upward in the horizontal pouches. Particularly with heavy-bullet rounds like 230-grain .45 ACP, we’ve discovered running or other strenuous activity can cause the topmost cartridge in the magazine to come forward and down if they’re inverted. Then, when drawn from the pouch for a reload that first round can be sticking out a bit causing an issue.

Why was the horizontal flapped pouch slightly faster than the same unit in vertical carry? Because reaching down just past centerline, the heel of the officer’s hand can more easily “pop” the flap open to access its contents, since the wrist is straight instead of somewhat bent.


Modern synthetics and an effective tension screw make open top pouches
(like this set from BLACKHAWK!) secure as well as fast.

Personal Options

Still, “more than a second faster” to “almost a second-and-a-half faster” can make a life-saving difference when incoming fire needs to be neutralized. So, why do we still have flapped pouches at all? Because the cop standing for hours at an accident scene in snow or sleet or moving through the woods or swamp on a manhunt and taking a fall or rolling on the ground with a suspect doesn’t want ice or mud on an exposed magazine to stall a reload, or for that magazine to be lost from the pouch.

My department adopted Blackhawk! belts and equipment pouches in 2005. They worked magnificently and still looked new a decade later when we adopted a new gun, with double-stack mags instead of our previous single-stacks. We didn’t need to buy new belts, cuff cases, etc., just new pouches, and we went again with Blackhawk! Because of our stark four-season climate, we stayed with flaps for standard issue, but made open-top pouches optional for officers. It’s an option I’ll personally take advantage of, and I can’t think of a better policy.

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