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How To Determine a Basic LE Combat Load

Determine the amount of rounds you'll carry, and develop a game plan for carrying it on body and in your patrol unit.

February 09, 2011  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author


DeSantis' Double Magazine Ankle Pouch allows you to carry additional magazines similarly to a backup gun. Photo via DeSantis.

The best way to determine the basic combat load you carry as a law enforcement officer is to define the reasons why you need to carry one or more firearms.

Once you have a clear cut single or multiple mission defined, you can use experience and common sense to establish what your basic combat load should be. In military terms, your basic combat load is at least seven 30-round magazines for an M4-style carbine rifle and two spare high-capacity pistol magazines for an issued personal defense weapon.  Those who were issued a custom-built 1911 carried as many as seven spare single-column magazines for their .45 ACP pistols.

One World War II veteran of the Pacific Theater told me that once he became an experienced jungle fighter he stopped carrying all the web gear and ammunition pouches that you see actors carrying in war movies. Because of the intense heat of the jungle, he often went on patrols armed with his Thompson submachine gun and one or two extra 30-round stick magazines stuck in his pants pocket. This provided him a grand total of 60 to 90 rounds as a "basic combat load" for routine patrols.

In contrast, a buddy of mine who served in Iraq carried 17 30-round magazines for his M4 carbine and had at least one occasion when he was glad he was that well armed. Another combat veteran who served in the Marine Corps during the War on Terror carried 12 30-round magazines for his M4 carbine and seven eight-round magazines for his issued 1911 .45 ACP pistol.

A U.S. Army soldier I debriefed after the invasion of Iraq said he carried 200 rounds of 9mm ammunition for his pistol and ended up using captured enemy weapons when they ran low on ammunition for their M16 and M4 rifles.   

Law enforcement officers are no different and should carry extra ammunition, especially when they know they will be involved in an enforcement action. One thing that drives me crazy is when I see plainclothes personnel such as detectives and federal agents carrying one spare magazine on a combination handcuff case and ammunition carrier.

I also believe in rigorously enforcing a policy of carrying extra ammunition of at least three spare high-capacity pistol magazines and four single-column magazines in your vehicle. I also like the idea of issuing a shoulder carried battle pack or nylon bandoleer that carries up to six 30-round M4 carbine patrol or tactical rifle magazines if you have plans to use a M4 carbine or some other patrol rife on duty.  

During my law enforcement career, I found it no real burden or inconvenience to carry one or two spare magazines or one or two extra speed loaders. One trick I learned is to invert double-magazine pouches to make them fit in a way that flatters your body and protrudes less.

You can also comfortably carry a pair of spare single-column or high-capacity magazines by using a DeSantis Double Magazine Ankle Pouch that lets you strap two additional magazines to your ankle as if they were a backup gun. I have also found it to be very easy and comfortable to carry one or two spare magazines in a leather ammunition pouch or in a nylon pouch in the front right pocket of my cargo pants.

If you ever have to lay down suppressing fire to cover the recovery of a downed officer, or if you are compelled to engage heavily armed active shooters such as the two North Hollywood bank robbers, you'll appreciate every round of ammunition that you have at your immediate disposal that you can fire at the enemy.

Do yourself, your fellow officers and your family a big favor and kick things up a notch by carrying at least a few extra rounds of ammunition when you are on and off duty because bad things are always happening to good people. I'm starting to notice that law enforcement officers are not carrying a backup gun on their person because they feel very well armed with a patrol rifle and three 30-round magazines.

The only problem is your rifle isn't always in your hand or close by when you may need immediate access to another handgun. I carried a backup gun at all times and even kept a second firearm close by, when I worked undercover on multi-hundred and multi-thousand-kilo cocaine smuggling deals.

Trust me when I tell you that I was not going down without a fight. Remember, the life you save may be your own!

Tags: Ammunition, How-To Guides, Officer Safety, DeSantis, Concealed Carry, Officer Involved Shootings


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Ed @ 2/11/2011 4:25 AM

I am much less worried about "flattering my body" than I am retaining my magazines. Given that I am issued, and required to use, snap-top magazine pouches with no other internal retention, inverting them is a horrid idea.

BC520 @ 2/11/2011 5:36 AM

I agree, mag pouches upside down are a bad idea. When I used snap flap pouches there were times when they would come unsnapped while worn the correct vertical way. Worn upside down, gravity would win and you'd lose magazines during extrenuous activity or basic daily tasks.

It may have been a trick that you learned, but I don't feel that it is a good one. Please make sure that tips, tricks, and techinques that are written about are not bad ideas, obsolete, or outdated. We've already experienced that with one of your authors... You have a duty to provide good information, like your encouragement of the backup gun.

Editor @ 2/11/2011 7:45 AM

BC520: This is not bad information. How to carry magazines is a matter of personal choice. This is one author's opinion. And the author has plenty of experience in law enforcement both in municipal and federal assignments, both in some hot territories. If you disagree with his opinion or his methods don't work for you, that does not mean that the information is bad or that the author has not been properly vetted. I have spoken with dozens of officers who like ankle holsters and dozens who hate them because they feel they are not secure. How an officer carries equipment comes down to personal choice and agency policy. This author is not trying to tell everybody to do what he does. He's merely explaining how he does it. Finally, the real meat of this article is not the carry method, it's the author's advice that you carry enough ammo for your mission.

Roberto Calderon @ 2/11/2011 7:54 AM

Very well stated. I personnaly agree that every Officer has the responsibility to develop an individual combat game plan concerning the amount of ammo that he or she should carry on them and carry in the patrol unit. Remember 'complacency kills' and so does tomb stone courage. I rather be over prepared than under prepared because the life you save may be your own!

Rick @ 2/11/2011 8:27 AM

Magazine retention is more difficult when the pouch is inverted. I've seen officers lose their magazines while using inverted pouches. The main reason I never carried magazine pouches sideways or inverted was due to the speed of reloading. Out of 21 Coast Guard tactical officers, I was faster than everyone when reloading. The officers that carried their pouches inverted or sideways were always the slowest when reloading.

Scott @ 2/11/2011 10:19 AM

Like was said to each his own in personal carry. I carry my duty magazine sideways as it the fastest for me. Upright is slower for me not a natural draw. I also carry BUG on my ankle and one on my vest carrier strong side. The key here is to take the suggestions and use them as they work for you. I agree with parts but differ on other as to carry of spare ammunition. I carry speed strips as well as speedloaders in pockets, does that make me different, it just works for me. I appreciate the authors recommendations as "it is better to have and not need than need and not have"

Michael Enright @ 2/11/2011 1:17 PM

I agree with "it is better to have and not need than need and not have" as there are only two times that you could be considered to be carrying too much ammo. That's when you are on fire or drowning. And if either of those are happening you have bigger problems than how much ammo you have. Like the author, I too lose faith in fellow LEO's that I see carrying a gun and only one magazine, or worse, no spare magazine. As we see all the time, the "you-know-what" can hit the fan anywhere, anytime. Like the Boy Scouts, be prepared. And most of all, be safe.

Ted Basset @ 7/6/2012 4:11 PM

It is important to test ammo with the magazines as sometimes there are feeding problems. We had a great deal of problems with RUAG, formerly Precsion Ammo Frangible. It appears that over the past 6 months that the ammo being shipped had cases that had problems, ammo that did not fire, etc. I think that all agencies should require that unless it is Federal/ATK, Winchester be able to provide at least 1000 rounds of ammo for functional testing. RUAG alone has blown up numerous agencies guns in Kentucty and Florida when talking to other IALAFEI members. Our job is tough enough without being worred about training ammo.

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