The Internet has many sources for information on gun belts. There are at least 50 manufacturers that make a gun belt of one kind or another. Each manufacturer usually explains what their gun belt is made from, how it is constructed, or what sets it apart from other manufacturers belts.
This article’s focus is not on the differences between each manufacturer’s belts, but on how using a good gun belt can make carrying a gun more comfortable.
A gun belt differs from a dress belt in its construction. Most leather gun belts are made from two layers of leather sewn together while most dress belts are made from a single piece of leather. Many people argue over the leather that makes a better gun belt – cowhide, bull hide, horsehide, or some exotic like elephant or alligator. I am not really sure if one of these is a whole lot better than another. I have belts made from horsehide and bull hide and each of them is a nice belt. The horse hide belts may be slightly stiffer, but that is really hard for me to say for sure since the bull hide belt is from one manufacturer and the horse hide belt is from another. The differences may just be due to the way each was made. My advice would be to shop around and choose the material that you like the best – whether it is because of the way the belt feels on, the way it looks, or because it fits your budget. Speaking if budget, expect to pay $80 or more for a quality leather made gun belt. Quality does not come cheap – most of these belts are made from premium grade leather, quality brass or nickel hardware, and finished with dyes and/or waxes that will last for years. (I have had my horsehide belt for 16 years and it still looks good.)
The double thickness construction gives a gun belt much more lateral stability than a normal dress belt. This extra stability is needed to support the weight of the holstered firearm on the belt. The double layer construction also helps to prevent stretching over the life of the belt. Don’t be mislead here – all leather belts will stretch over time, especially those that are used to support the weight of a two pound firearm on a regular basis (these are leather belts after all, not steel). The extra thickness helps slow this process down some. As a side note, a double layer gun belt will feel “different” when you put it on and wear it. You will feel the extra thickness and stiffness, and it will feel “weird” for a few days. It may even feel uncomfortable compared to a dress belt. Don’t worry – this is normal. My leather belts seem to break in over seven to ten days and then I do not notice them anymore.
Leather is not the only material choice for gun belts these days. Ballistic nylon is also a very popular option. Ballistic nylon belts can make very good gun belts. The ones designed for that purpose offer great lateral stability, so they do a great job of supporting the weight of a gun and other concealed carry related gear.
Many criticize nylon belts because they scream “I am wearing a gun belt and carrying a gun!” While those in the CCW culture may recognize one of these belts, I do not believe the general public will. Nylon belts also tend to be less expensive than their leather counterparts. I have friends who have nylon belts in black, tan, and OD green so they can match them to their pants during casual wear or at the range. Since many top brands are priced in the $45 range, it is a little easier for most people to afford multiple nylon belts. As with leather belts, you get what you pay for. A good nylon belt is made with quality materials (including a good steel buckle) and is thick enough to offer good lateral stability. There are a number of good brands out there, so shop around and see what you like. For me personally, all my nylon belts are “The Original Instructor’s Belt” from The Wilderness Tactical.
I encourage you to spend some time looking at gun belts if you carry a gun for personal protection. It really can make the whole CCW experience more comfortable and help you get the most out of the gear you use.
My impetus for writing this article was a personal experience I had this weekend. I decided to break in my new Milt Sparks holster for my M&P Compact, so I pulled out my usual leather gun belt and went about my Saturday carrying my M&P compact and breaking in my new holster. After about six hours, I was noticing the holster and the weight of the gun on my hip. Since I was at home, I decided to take the gear off for the day. I was a little disappointed because usually a new Sparks holster just wears and feels “right” for me. It didn’t this time.
The next day, I was going to run some errands so I decided to break in my new holster some more. This time I put on my newer leather gun belt with the new holster. Long story short, I did not even notice the gun or holster for the entire day. I guess my newer belt has more stability in it and it actually made a difference in how my new gear felt.
I know many people who blame their holster (or gun) when their chosen CCW setup is uncomfortable when they really need to take a look at the basic foundation they are carrying this gear on. I learned that my “go to” belt – which is broken in and comfortable – is no longer suitable for all day carry with a belt holster. I will need to use my newer, stiffer belt when I carry on my belt from now on. To me it is not a big deal; my “old” belt still looks good for casual wear. I guess I got my money’s worth after 16 years of service.