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What is a Bandolier?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

A bandolier is a band of cloth or other material that is typically pocketed and worn across the chest to carry ammunition. Resembling a belt in form and size, a bandolier can be worn singly crossing from one shoulder down to the other side of the waist, or two can be worn from opposite shoulders to opposite waist sides and cross at the midsection of the torso. Though traditionally worn to carry ammunition from the 1600s to the 1800s, they continued to see use during the 20th century in a more niche role by hunters or riflemen. They can also be seen used in ironic or counter-cultural ways by certain musical or artistic groups.

The bandolier was first put into use during the 16th century as a way for soldiers to begin carrying the packages of bullets and powder used to load their firearms. Since early rifle users did not have single cartridges that contained the powder and the bullet for easy use, they had to reload their weapons in a rather lengthy process that involved the loading of powder and a bullet. To help speed up this process, the bandolier was introduced to allow soldiers to carry the needed firing equipment across their chests for easier access and reloading. This also kept the heavy ammunition off the soldier’s waist to make walking for long periods of time more comfortable and sustainable.

Bullets can be stored and carried in a bandolier.
Bullets can be stored and carried in a bandolier.

During the early 20th century, these bandoliers continued to see use, though to a lesser degree, as more modern cartridges were introduced that contained powder, bullets, and primer all together. As these cartridges were usually placed together in magazines too large to be worn comfortably across the chest, the bandolier saw a decrease in common usage. The usage of a bandolier became less common among soldiers but could still be seen among hunters who used shotguns. Standard 12 gauge shotgun rounds will often fit easily into the pockets of a bandolier and make for quick reloading while hunting simpler. This can also leave the hunter’s waist unconstrained for navigating difficult terrain.

Through the late 20th century and into the early 21st century, the use of bandoliers as a fashion statement also became somewhat more prevalent. Such bandoliers have often been made from fired or dummy bullet casings to make a striking image that can either be used to make a statement about war or to simply add a militaristic edge to an outfit. These garments have been popular among anti-establishment groups, such as followers of punk music or heavy metal subcultures who strive to make their appearances outlandish or visually aggressive.

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    • Bullets can be stored and carried in a bandolier.
      By: dinostock
      Bullets can be stored and carried in a bandolier.