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Suiting Up: A Beginner’s Guide on How to Set Up a Tactical Vest?

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

how to set up a tactical vest

The tactical vest is one of the most important pieces of tactical equipment. It is the foundation of a solid tactical loadout, to which you can attach all of the tools and accessories that you need.

First responders, private security personnel, firearms and self-defense instructors, and regular citizens can benefit from the extra utility and protection that a tactical vest can provide.

If you’ve bought yourself a new tactical vest but don’t know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I will be showing you how to set up a tactical vest so you are always prepared for your next job.


How to Set Up a Tactical Vest


Now, if you came to this guide looking for the best police tactical vest setup, you won’t be able to find that here. The reason for this is that the configuration of your tactical vest is a matter of personal preference. The same way that gun users are very particular about the configuration of their firearms, tactical vest wearers can be very specific about the way they set up their tactical vests.

So instead of hard-set rules, I will be giving you a few useful guidelines and tips to help you find the tactical vest setup that works best for you.

Tip #1: Get a good fit.

If you want to have the best experience using your tactical vest, you must first make sure that the tactical vest you’re buying fits you properly. A tactical vest that is too small will not be able to give you enough coverage for proper bullet protection; likewise, a tactical vest that is too large for you will severely hamper your freedom of movement, which is important to have in high-stress situations.

As such, it is critical to pick the sizing that fits you best. If at all possible, try them on in the store before buying your tactical vest, and take the time to perfect the fit for your body with its many adjustment straps.

Tip #2: Equip only for the job you need

With so many options for pouches, holsters, and clips, it can be very easy to get lost in the catalogs and buy whatever attachments and accessories that pique your interest. This, of course, is very inefficient and can get quite expensive if you end up buying more pouches than you will actually use.

To fix that, a good tip is to lay out all of the things that you need to bring along with you to do your job most effectively. For example, a police officer will likely need handcuffs, a baton, extra magazines for their gun, and a taser. Search and rescue personnel might need a flashlight, a radio, a whistle, and a first aid kit.

Whatever equipment that may be, make a list of all of it. Then, as you shop around for pouches and attachments for your tactical vest, look for the smallest pouches that carry the minimum amount of the equipment you will be storing in it.

So if you only need to bring two handgun magazines, for instance, you should buy a magazine holder that only has two slots. This makes sure that you are bringing exactly what you need, while also saving valuable space on your tactical vest that could be put to use for other equipment.

Tip #3: Master your setup.

Earlier in this article, I talked a bit about how tactical vest users can be very particular with how they set up their tactical vests. This is actually not a matter of snobbery or knowing what “the best military tactical vest setup” is, but rather a matter of mastery.

In high-pressure situations, split-second decisions are often what makes the difference between a life saved and a life lost. And in these situations, you would not want to be caught fumbling around looking for that critical first aid kit or magazine reload because you mounted it on your tactical vest without really thinking through when and how you will need to use it.

As such, people who use tactical vests will set up their pouches and holsters in whatever way is easiest for them to memorize. Many will even go further and actively practice quickly bringing out their equipment to train their muscle memory.

Once you have your vest and all of your equipment together, familiarizing yourself with your tactical vest is something you can do as well. It’s a simple and rather tedious tip compared to the others, but in my opinion, it is by far the most valuable tip that I’ve discussed in this article.

How a Tactical Vest Works


At first glance, the typical tactical vest doesn’t look like it has much to offer. Sure, a standard police tac vest setup looks a bit thick and bulky, but that’s mostly because of its many layers of fabric that provide some protection against small bullets.

The true usefulness of the tactical vest, though, lies in its modularity. Most of the tactical vests that are made and sold in the United States and Europe use something called the PALS or the Pouch Attachment Ladder System. This is the standardized design used by the United States military for a modular system of accessory attachments for use on load-bearing military apparel.

As the name suggests, PALS is seen as a set of nylon webbing strips arranged in a ladder pattern. These strips are attached to the broad, flat parts of a tactical vest or backpack and are stitched shut at regular intervals.

This leaves loose parts of the webbing open for attaching pouches, holsters, carabiners, and more. The modularity and standardization of this system makes it very easy for the wearer to come up with their own tactical vest configurations to fit their specific work needs.


As the trusted carrier of all of your essential equipment, the tactical vest is not something to be undervalued. With proper mastery over your setup, your tactical vest will help make your movements more efficient and make you more effective on the field.

Hopefully the tips I’ve shared in this article have shown you how to set up a tactical vest properly. If you have any additional thoughts or concerns with the information in this article, let us know in the comments section. Thank you for reading!

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