Load-bearing Vest vs. Duty Belt for Law Enforcement

After a research team of UW-Eau Claire concluded that load-bearing vests are a healthier and safe alternative to the duty belt. According to that the Eau Claire Police Department has decided to make a significant change in their equipment. This equipment that officers have to carry can weight almost 30 pounds. But when they carry it on vests, they will experience less lower-back and hip pain.

A professor of kinesiology, DR. Jeff Janot, who was the faculty lead on a six-month study that involved Mayo Clinic Health System, ECPD and UW-Eau Claire said: “The findings are clear, and they are significant.”. He also said,  ”While these vests weigh more than belts, their weight is more evenly distributed, so there is less strain on the lower back and hips.

Keep reading to know more.

Ergonomic Researchers Determine the Winner

Researches have concluded that the vests don’t create problems that could be dangerous for the law enforcement personnel and don’t limit the officers’ range of motion. Chantal Bougie, a senior kinesiology major and the lead student on this project said: “We haven’t found any unintended consequences from wearing the load-bearing vest that would cause safety or health issues for the officers”.

The transition to these vests is the right thing to do for the law enforcement personnel as the study shows. ECPD officers carry equipment in their belts. However, they carry only TASERs and guns. The other gear such as a flashlight and the radio will be placed on the load-bearing vests.

Fifteen police officers have been volunteering in this study. For 3 months, some of them have been wearing duty belts, while others have been carried equipment on the vest. After 3 months, officers wearing vests switched to belts and vice versa.

They were providing researchers with information from 6 months. The officers were rating the lower-back pain level and self-recording and self-reporting any discomfort. After the study was over each officer immediately began wearing vests.

Significant Investment

Given the costs of the training and the vests, this is a significant investment. But because this is great for the officer’s health, this is more than a great investment. Cory Reeves explained that after 5 years working as an ECPD officer, he has been experiencing lower back and hip pain from apprehending suspects or walking, running, and sitting in the car, while carrying heavy equipment around the waist.

But the vest will allow him to sit up straight when he should spend some time in his squad car, which is not possible when you are wearing a belt. Also, when he’s on calls, he might need to stand for an extended period, but he won’t have any additional weight on his waist so it will be easier and more comfortable on his back. The vest is definitely decreasing lower-back and hip pain.

Load-Bearing Vests Improve Back Health

Police officers have a very stressful and physically demanding job. They use their squad car as their office because they spend an extended period in it. Often, they need to stand to chase or hold suspects, talk to people, and at the same time carry thirty pounds of professional gear. This usually includes ammo, baton, cell phone, Taser, pepper spray, firearm, handcuffs, radio, gun, and other equipment.

The load-bearing vests are worn over the uniform shirt and allow police officers to move much of the gear to vest and off of officer’s hips and lower back. And as they are worn over the uniform shirt and do not trap heat, these vests also increase comfort.

On the other hand, they also serve as a carrier for the body armor that protects the officers, often named as ‘’bullet proofed vests’’.

More important, this gear provides relief and helps to mitigate long-term injuries by redistributing as much as ¾ of the weight away from their hips and lower backs.

switching from belts to vests

Comparison of Load-Bearing Vest and Duty Belt

Comparing belt with the load bearing vest sounds simple, but actually, it is more complicated than that. ‘’Law enforcement agencies all over the country want to know if these vests can reduce the back problems. They want information that will help them make an informed decision.’’ According to Janot.

Dozens of these agencies across the U.S. has been contacting Janot, asking him about the final results, since the study was announced. And at the end of this year, the UW-Eau Claire research team will show their findings to police officers across Wisconsin. Janot said that this is very exciting for him, and also great to know that their work makes a huge difference in the officer’s health.

The researchers also made a biometric profile of 36 law enforcement personnel, to give the ECPD a chance to monitor the health of these people. This screening tests things such as aerobic fitness, officer’s lower-body strength, upper-body endurance, core endurance, spinal mobility, and flexibility.


UW-Eau Claire research team compare the load bearing vests with the traditional duty belt, where officers carry most of their gear. They have determined that the vests are a healthier and safer way for the officer to carry all its equipment because it provides relief and helps to mitigate injuries by redistributing a lot of the weight away from the hips and lower backs.

To conclude, when university researchers investigated the health benefits of duty belts versus load-bearing vests, there was a clear winner. Not only were the pressures in the lower back reduced when wearing the vest, but more important, researchers conclude that vests don’t limit the officers’ range of motion.

Relocating appointments away from the waist has the potential to improve the ergonomic situation and sitting positions for police officers when driving fleet vehicles. And as we already have mentioned in this article, the researchers have not found any consequences from wearing vests that would cause safety or health issues for the officers.


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