There’s no avoiding it: if you’re going to carry a handgun, you need a gun belt.
No matter which handgun you carry, whether you carry IWB or OWB, concealed or openly, you need a gun belt of the highest quality possible to achieve proper and secure retention.
Learn what makes a good gun belt, which features to look for, and which to avoid.
Why Can’t I Just Use My Regular Belts?
If you are a concealed-carrying citizen, chances are you’re using some type of small, easily concealable handgun. Have you ever tried weighing your gun empty? Fully-loaded?
A typical concealed carry handgun weighs around 25 to 30 oz. A full-size pistol can easily surpass 40 oz, depending on the model, frame material, and caliber.
In short, guns are heavy. Typical belts found in clothing stores and at regular retailers generally cannot support this much weight. Even so-called “heavy-duty” work belts are not suitable for carrying.
Attaching a holster and a gun to a regular belt will cause it to sag. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it is also unsafe; your holster will be loose and unsecured, and your handgun runs the risk of falling off.
In contrast, gun belts possess the properties needed to carry a handgun safely and securely. They are built to withstand a loaded holster’s weight all day long.
The Properties of A Good Gun Belt
Suppose you have a regular belt and a gun belt in front of you. If you were to try and roll up the regular belt, you shouldn’t have any trouble doing so. But if you tried it with the gun belt, you’ll find it significantly more challenging to roll up, if not impossible.
A good gun belt should be stiff and maintain its shape. The stiffness is what allows it to withstand the weight of a loaded gun and magazines, keeping your holster in the desired position and preventing your pants from being dragged down.
One of the ways gun belts achieve their stiffness is through their thickness. No matter which material the belt uses, more material creates more strength.
The thickness also acts as a safety measure; if the belt is too thin, you increase the chances of experiencing holster slippage, causing it to slide out of position or remain stuck to your handgun during a draw stroke.
The two most common choices for gun belts are leather and nylon. Each choice brings its own set of characteristics, pros and cons.
The most common animal hides are cowhide, steer hide, bull hide, and horse leather.
Occasionally, you may also find more exotic leathers, such as crocodile, snakeskin, alligator, buffalo, or kangaroo.
Typical leather gun belts use full grain hide, 1.5” to 1.75” thick. Full-grain leather is the most durable and robust leather type, cut from the topmost layers of the animal’s hide.
Full-grain leather is naturally moisture-resistant and develops an attractive patina as it ages, unique to each belt, giving each leather belt a distinctive look.
In comparison, average department store belts range between 1” and 1.25” and do not use genuine leather.
Instead, they use leather scraps, processed using a principle similar to that of particleboard. The result looks and even feels like leather but has none of the durability.
Good-quality leather belts last a lifetime and have the advantage of looking good in any environment. If you’re carrying a concealed firearm, leather belts look innocuous, helping you maintain a discreet wardrobe.
However, they are the most expensive option. The highest-quality leather products tend to be handcrafted, driving up the average price.
Although all tactical belts and nylon gun belts use nylon materials, not all nylon belts are good enough for use as a gun belt.
If you’re interested in nylon belts, make sure they are durable and suitable for carrying guns. Look for the belt’s Denier or D rating; 500D is the minimum for gun belts. Lower ratings are too fragile and will wear out quickly.
The higher the Denier rating, the better. 800D or even 1000D belts are truly heavy-duty, durable enough to be used as makeshift harnesses.
Pay close attention to the belt’s thickness. More than 1.75” will be uncomfortable, and most belt loops cannot accommodate over 2”; such models are duty belts, meant for use with cargo pants or uniforms.
One of the core elements of a nylon belt is the buckle. Instead of the traditional loop and hole system typically seen on leather belts, nylon belt buckles exist in three forms: quick-release, military slides, and friction bars.
All three offer the advantage of being infinitely adjustable, as they rely on friction instead of preset increments.
Regardless of the buckle style you use, avoid using plastic buckles. While plastic buckles are very lightweight and more subdued, they’re also the least durable and will not stand up to daily use. Prioritize aluminum or steel instead.
Quality nylon belts are virtually indestructible; they will resist the sort of wear and tear that would cut or destroy lesser-quality belts.
However, nylon belts are distinctive, immediately recognizable as tactical gear.
They won’t look out of place at a range or a training facility, but they’re a poor choice for concealed carrying. Don’t wear a nylon tac-belt unless you’re trying to stand out as a “gun guy.”
It doesn’t matter how well-made a gun belt is if you don’t find it comfortable to use.
Although you don’t have to carry a gun when wearing the gun belt, test your belt with your everyday carry setup. Your belt should allow you to install your holster in the carry position of your choice, with the ideal ride height and cant for you.
If your EDC setup also includes magazine carriers, a smartphone pouch, a knife holster, or other equipment, test your belt with everything mounted.
The belt should retain the holster properly without sagging, but it should also not be so stiff that it becomes uncomfortable to wear.
Don’t hesitate to test your belt by trying different everyday body movements and positions; sitting in your car, bending down, crouching, kneeling, leaning, etc.
The Take-home Message
Finding the right gun belt takes time, and the price of a good gun belt can seem a bit steep.
However, in the long run, gun belts are like holsters: you can’t afford to use the cheap stuff. A poor-quality or ill-fitting gun belt will either wear out prematurely or be so uncomfortable; you won’t want to wear it again.
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