The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Belting it Out

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

Dependable Support for Your First-Line Gear

Belts are the cheap cotton socks of the tactical world. Most of us grew up wearing bottom-rung stuff for so long we got used to those 12-pack athlete's-foot generators and scoffed at shelling out for the good merino wool versions.

The same psychology affects the way we buy belts. We bought the handgun, we needa holster for it, but a belt? We have a few of those already! And so it goes. It's so easy to give in to human nature and continue using the same comfortable belt we've had since high school instead of paying for a good gun belt.

Belts are a critical piece of first-line gear. Whether forming the basis of a concealed-carry setup or supplementing a combat fighting load, the last thing anyone wants securing their gear is a limp belt from a menswear department.

Concealed Carry

With a typical concealed-carry setup for everyday carry (EDC), a belt bears the weight of at least a firearm and a holster. Add the weight of a spare magazine, flashlight, pocketknife, phone, keys, and any other pocketfare, and you've got a few pounds riding on your hips.

An average department store belt is a flaccid, 1.25-inch to 1.5-inch-wide fashion accessory. It features a light-duty buckle and is held together with a single, cheap rivet or the least amount of stitching needed to survive an easy life holding up a pair of Dockers. There are many ways a cheap belt will fail. Under load, a poorly configured buckle prong can rotate on its shaft and allow it to slip behind the buckle frame; cast hooks on plate buckles can snap; straps can tear and strap holes can elongate; friction belts with straps that are too thin or too slick for the friction bar will slip.

And that's just the ways the belt will come apart. A crap belt can compromise your ability to fight in other ways. A belt without enough torsional stiffness can allow an IWB holster to rotate outward and down, potentially dumping a pistol or giving access to an adversary during a fight.

A good EDC belt will fit through common belt loops, typically 1.5 to 1.75 inches, be stiff enough to prevent a pistol holster from rotating or sagging, and comfortably distribute the weight of your carry items evenly around your waist.

Leather and nylon webbing are the two most popular strapping materials. A single layer of natural hide is rarely stiff enough to carry a gun; two layers sewn together with grains opposing works for a gun belt. Some types of leather are naturally stiff, such as horsehide, while others are more supple and benefit from the use of a stiffening layer between the inside and outside layers of hide. This is usually a strip of plastic or a length of resin-impregnated nylon webbing, commonly called SCUBA webbing.

Synthetic belts are generally made from several layers of nylon webbing. Nylon is very strong, and it doesn't slip through friction systems as easily as slick polyester webbing. The essence of a stiff nylon gun belt is a base layer of SCUBA webbing, sometimes two, laminated to an outer layer of regular nylon webbing that can be fed through a buckle. Variations include layers of decorative webbing, PALS webbing for attaching pouches, quick-release buckles, and inward-facing material, such as Velcro, that can increase friction against the waist and prevent the belt from spinning.

Tactical Belts

Somewhere between concealed carry and full-on battle belts is a range of belts meant to carry gear — with a few even acting as life-support equipment. These micro battle belts are leveled-up, concealed-carry nylon belts that fit through the belt loops on a pair of jeans; they just don't look like they belong in polite society. Your definition of polite may differ from others, so don't get bogged down in the label.

Battle Belts

Outside of concealed carry, the argument for a sturdy, well thought-out belt is just as important in the tactical realm. Real estate on a plate carrier is at a premium, so moving gear to a belt makes sense. IFAKs, pistol mags, dump pouches, and admin tools are still within reach, but not in the way when belt mounted.

One- and two-piece battle belts have exploded in popularity in the past few years. Large, PALS-equipped battle belts are still popular, but narrower micro battle belts have gained popularity since they still carry MOLLE gear without the bulk and weight of their larger, but sometimes more comfortable, siblings. If you're considering a full-size, PALS-equipped battle belt for use on the range or in the field, understand that most are not true belts despite their name. They are sold as padded channels that require a separate inner belt. And, that's in addition to the base belt you'll need to hold up your pants.

Dale Drowne has worn a gun daily in one kind of belt or another for 19 years as a police officer, a SWAT team member, and an Army National Guard infantryman NCO with a year in Afghanistan. Drowne suggests making sure your belt isn't so tall that it interferes with body armor and causes mobility issues. Padding is great, but it adds bulk, he says, and can decrease ventilation. Comfort considerations call for a rigid platform that distributes weight and spacer mesh or ventilation channels that prevent your midsection from becoming a squishy swamp.

Just be conscious of your mission when choosing what goes on your belt. “Thigh rigs weren't really good in MRAP seats,” says Drowne as an example. They stick out and get caught up on doors, gear, and seatbelts.

To make matters worse, he says soldiers usually didn't wear drop-leg rigs properly. They often wore them too low, and the guys would cinch the leg strap tighter and tighter to keep the pistol from swinging around while running. So, take some time to get your gear set up properly for comfort and safety sake.

Look for cutouts or access channels that allow holster or drop-leg platforms to reach the inner belt. And, speaking of inner belts, some battle belts are available with a high-friction inner face or a Velcro inner lining that attaches to a separate thin, buckle-less base belt worn through your pant loops. These linings help prevent the outer belt from spinning around your waist in a retention struggle.

Competition Rigs

If you're remotely serious about competition shooting, a good belt will keep your pistol and magazines where you expect to find them and provide the basis for a consistent draw and efficient reloads. Start with a solid concealed-carry-style belt and move up to a purpose-built competition rig as you gain experience.

The ability to reconfigure a belt on the fly with different amounts of pistol magazine, rifle magazine, and shotgun shell carriers is important to successful multi-gun competitors. Barry Dueck, nationally ranked three-gun shooter and IPSC grand master, says you can't have enough flexibility when it comes to competition loadouts.

When shooting in Heavy Optics Division, his standard equipment list for a match is four pistol mag pouches, nine four-round shot-shell caddies, four quad-load carriers, and three rifle mag pouches. He won't use all those at the same time, but sets up his belt using Safariland ELS modular carriers for each stage.

“I set my gear up for each stage to have an extra magazine as a backup,” he says, “in case I discard a magazine clearing a malfunction or something goes wrong and I'm shooting extra, unplanned rounds.”

Buckle Up

Belt buckles have evolved from conventional framed prong and plate buckles into impressive load-bearing devices. The most recognizable metal buckles on the tactical market are, from left, the Ares Aegis buckle, the JBC Corp. Raptor buckle, and the AustriAlpin Cobra buckle. Simple slide lock and friction buckles are popular, reliable, and inexpensive. Injection-molded plastic side-release buckles — such as those from ITW Nexus or National Molding — are also commonly used where weight and cost are a concern. Each has its pros and cons when compared to the old-school prong and frame buckle.

The original Cobra buckle was designed as a load-rated device, capable of holding thousands of pounds of weight in industrial, transportation, nautical, aeronautical, and tactical rigging systems. The company even produced a version of the side-release stab buckle for use in U.S. military MRAP vehicle seatbelts. The buckle's key features are its strength, ease of use and interoperability with other Cobra buckles of different size. All this in addition to its critical safety feature — it will not open, accidentally or otherwise, if there's weight on the buckle. It's also heavy, expensive and if you crank it tight enough, you'll need two hands to release the buckle. AustriAlpin teamed up with ITW to produce a polymer version of the Cobra called the GT Cobra that sheds cost, weight, and working strength, but maintains all other features. It's also a blessing when going through metal detectors.

The JBC Corp. Raptor buckle was created specifically as a made-in-America alternative to the Austrian-made Cobra buckle. The Raptor's wider-but-softer edge profile means it doesn't print through covering layers as much as the boxy Cobra. It also bears weight, but there is an ongoing slap fight between AustriAlpin and JBC Corp. about weight bearing claims. AustriaAlpin commissioned a lab to test the breaking strength of both products and you can read the results of their test online at

Just keep in mind one thing if you go with either of these weight bearing buckles — even if the buckle has a weight rating, it doesn't mean the belt system that it's part of is weight rated as life support gear. Further, any belt without leg loops is not a safe alternative to a harness. A loop around your waist can become a crushing ring around your chest in a shock-arrested fall. Dangling from a line with a constricted chest is an adrenaline-fueled route to suffocation. Some military units use rigger's belts instead of four-point harnesses in gun cupolas because they are faster to get on and off, but they aren't as safe as a full-body harness. Weight rated riggers belts alone are best used in low-angle work and in some static safety rigging systems with proper training.

The Ares Aegis buckle is a beefed-up box buckle with a tension bar holding the belt. It's similar in appearance and operation to what you might have worn as part of a Boy Scout uniform. It's far, far stronger, though. It's made from bead-blasted 17-4PH stainless steel that not only lasts forever and looks good, it's mean enough to clear a path out of a mosh pit when swung from the end of a belt in wide circles.

Ares made the Aegis buckle as an alternative to the very tactical looking Cobra buckle. When matched with the proper strap, the Aegis buckle blends in with any office or casual attire. Just be aware that the belt has to be pulled tight then drawn back a bit to put tension on the friction bar so it doesn't slip. Lastly, the front of the Aegis is a wonderful canvas for a laser-engraved logo.

There are miles of great belts on the market, and we've collected a few samples in an attempt to show the girth of options you're facing. Choosing a belt isn't a cinch. Gird yourself and read up — we don't want you wasting (waisting!) your money on the wrong belt.

Battle Belts

Velocity Systems Operator Utility Belt Gen1

Basics: Full-size battle belt with vented mesh and HDPE stiffener.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, MultiCam, ranger green
MSRP: $105 (shown with inner FirstSpear Assaulters Gun Belt, $64)
411: The original Velocity OUB is a simple, comfortable take on the battle belt. It's based around a three-dimensionally-formed HDPE sheet that's anatomically shaped and vented for comfort. In addition to the vented core, spacer mesh on the inside helps promote airflow. Interrupted PALS columns on each hip allow a place for a holster to attach directly to the inner belt, which isn't supplied. The OUB shown is the author's setup using a FirstSpear 1.75-inch Assaulters Gun Belt as an inner belt.

Tyr Tactical Brokos Belt

Basics: Tapered construction using Tyr Tactical PV material with optional soft armor.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, MultiCam, ranger green
MSRP: $160
411: The original Brokos belt was developed by Kyle Lamb and Dan Brokos as a battle belt with slits between sections of PALS webbing to allow an inner belt to run outboard and weave through a holster. Tyr Tactical is one of the original manufacturers of the design and developed this version featuring their own Pluma Vires material. It's a laminate of 500-denier Cordura and 200-denier Kevlar in an ultra-tight weave to maximize abrasion and tear resistance. As a result, the Tyr Brokos belt is featherweight and man-of-steel strong. The belt tapers from 4 inches around the hips to 6 inches wide at the back and incorporates suspender hangers for increased comfort with heavier loads.

Crye Precision Modular Rigger's Belt

Basics: Complete belt system with three configurations that comes with non-load rated inner belt and pants belt. (1)
Colors: Black, coyote brown, MultiCam, ranger green
MSRP: $112
411: The MRB is a low-profile, unpadded battle belt that comes with everything you need to run the belt through or over your pant belt loops. It consists of a PALS sleeve, main belt, and loop-lined inner belt. The option to run the inner belt through the belt loops gives excellent modularity and reduced bulk while allowing you to peel away and drop the PALS belt without unthreading anything. Running the entire MRB over a pants belt is a strong, fast, and simple way to wear the system. As a third option, the main belt can be replaced with a load rated riggers belt to tie into an anchor system.

High Speed Gear Incorporated SlimGrip Belt

Basics: 3-inch battle belt with non-slip neoprene liner and optional (included) HDPE stiffener.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, olive drab, MultiCam, Kryptek Highland, woodland camo, wolf grey
MSRP: $79 ($151 as shown w/ 1.5-inch Rigger Belt $72)
411: Unlike any other battle belt, HSGI's SlimGrip series belts use a neoprene liner. The material does two jobs, combining grip and padding. The neoprene holds the belt in place during dynamic movement, and the 3-inch uniform height keeps PALS mounted accessories from interfering with body armor. There are channels over the hips to attach holsters and drop-leg platforms to an inner belt. The channel is Velcro lined to retain a Velcro lined main belt, such as HSGI's own 1.5-inch Rigger Belt (shown, not included).

Mini Battle Belts

Kilo727 Assaulter Belt

Basics: Load supporting belt with tie-in loop at six o'clock and AustriaAlpin Cobra Buckle.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, MultiCam, ranger green
MSRP: $140 ($180 as shown w/Kilo 727 Inner Belt $40)
411: The Kilo 727 belt system stands out for its placement of the riggers tie in loop at the 6 o'clock position (2) instead of around the front of the belt. Tying in at the rear won't interfere with whatever's going on up front, and if you've ever worked out of a helo, you'll appreciate your safety line not spinning you around every time you load it. The outer belt is a sandwich of overbuilt layers of nylon. Not the stiffest belt, but stiff enough for real work and flexible enough for comfort. Stiffness and comfort increase with the use of the 1.7-inch wide, padded, Kilo727 inner belt (1).

Volund Gearworks Micro Battle Belt

Basics: Cobra belt with many custom options that can carry MOLLE gear horizontally or vertically. It is stiff, stiff, stiff!
Colors: Black, coyote brown, Kryptek Highlander, Kryptek Typhon, MultiCam, ranger green, wolf gray
MSRP: $110 ($125 as shown with Velcro hook lining)
411: Two layers of 2-inch scuba webbing, faced with nylon webbing and more nylon folded and sewn to form PALS channels makes the Volund (pronounced Vall-OOND) Gearworks Micro Battle Belt perhaps the stiffest belt we've held. A set of vertical loops allow items such as zip-cuffs to be threaded through the belt or some smaller MOLLE gear to be mounted horizontally. Ours wears a Bawidamann Blades Hrund fixed blade knife with sheath and a pair of HSGI TACO rifle mag pouches attached using Bawidamann's new PUP MOLLE QD Bikini Straps ($18).

Grey Ghost Gear Son of Paladin Belt

Basics: One of the smallest Cobra belt setups for carrying PALS-compatible gear.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, Kryptek Highlander, Kryptek Typhon, wolf grey
MSRP: $70
411: 1.5 inches wide, the Son of Paladin is the slimmest belt set up to carry PALS-compatible pouches. It's a single layer of SCUBA webbing sandwiched by a colored nylon webbing on both sides with a 1-inch strip of webbing for PALS attachment. Velcro panels attach the overlapping ends and keep them from scissoring. Fits in common belt loops. It's a great option to add load carriage to street clothes. But, once pouches are threaded, the belt isn't coming off the pants in a hurry.

Tyr Tactical Gunfighter Belt-E

411: The Gunfighter Belt walks the line between capable load carriage and a belt that can fit through 2-inch uniform belt loops. The novel webbing arrangement allows the attachment of full-size PALS or compatible, threaded belt loop or snap-over gear using almost the entire circumference of the belt. Worn as a low-profile war belt with the included antimicrobial, flame-retardant mesh liner, the belt is comfortable and stable enough to easily carry a pistol, mags, a dump pouch, and a med kit. Pull the liner and press the belt against a Velcro inner belt, and you'll have even more stability.
Basics: Carry as much gear as a full size battle belt in half the space with most of the comfort.
Colors: Black, coyote brown, MultiCam, ranger green
MSRP: $115

Low-Profile Tactical Belts

Jones Tactical 1.5-Inch Everyday Belt V1

Basics: Go-to everyday wear Cobra belt with ultimate stiffness and durability.
Colors: Custom choices based on black, coyote brown, tan, wolf grey
MSRP: $65
411: The Jones Tactical 1.5-inch EDB brings the ease and utility of the Cobra Buckle into the realm of casual wear. With a double layer of SCUBA webbing, the belt is stiff as hell, easily capable of carrying any full size pistol on the market with a gross of spare mags. It may even hold up an AR pistol, if you can find a holster for one. The 1-inch Cobra buckle, heavy-duty thread, and bomber stitching might make you think this is a load-rated belt, but it isn't. The sealed ends and Velcro tab on the loose end make for a neat appearance. The author's worn this belt as his daily carry belt for six years without so much as a frayed stitch.

FirstSpear Tactical Dress Belt 6/12

Basics: A full spectrum battle belt for the boardroom PSD or battlefield.
Colors: Any shade of black
MSRP: $140 ($196 as shown with FirstSpear Line One – BioThane belt)
411: Low-visibility setups usually carry a significant tradeoff in load carriage ability and comfort. But, the Tactical Dress Belt is a full-size battle belt that thinks it's a concealed-carry rig. The laser cut 6/12 PALS is lightweight and thin, but the rigid core offers plenty of stability. The full-size PALS field means comfort when carrying large, heavy gear. When worn with a suitable inner belt, such as the FirstSpear Line One belt (1) and cover garment, this belt supports a pistol and battle rifle loadout, first-aid gear, restraints, and anything else you can fit. The all black appearance blends in urban formal to casual settings.

Arc'teryx H-150 Rigger's Belt

Basics: Flat, ultra lightweight load-rated comfort suitable for rigging and more.
Colors: Black, coyote, wolf
MSRP: $109
411: The H-150 came about when Arc'teryx found out its customers were cutting the leg loops from its climbing harnesses and using it as a rigger's belt. The basis of Arc'teryx's high-end climbing harnesses is Warp Strength technology. Stripping the vertical strands from the waist-belt webbing, separating the horizontal strands out to spread the load over a larger area, and encasing the result in a thin, tough material makes for an ultra lightweight, extremely comfortable belt that's an EN certified fall-arresting device when used alone. It's also a rated climbing harness when used with the Arc'teryx IE-70 accessory leg loop ($34) and approved hardware. The H-150's not nearly as stiff as belt with a SCUBA webbing core, but it can support a pistol and mags, and gets our vote as the most comfortable rigger's belt on the planet.

Vertx Raptor Belt

411: Using a single sheet of HDPE, the Raptor Belt is stiff enough to handle range gear. But, it's not near as stiff as belts that use two layers of SCUBA webbing. Still, at 2 inches wide, the belt is comfortable and will fit through uniform pants, if not a pair of jeans. The stiffener runs the circumference of the belt with a split at the spine that lets the belt conform to the wearer's hips.
Basics: 2-inch wide reinforced nylon belt with Raptor buckle.
Colors: Black, earth, olive drab green
MSRP: $79

Concealed Carry Belts

Mean Gene Leather Victory Aegis Belt

Basics: 1.5-inch double layered leather with nylon webbing reinforcement looks rich and feels like an heirloom in the making.
Colors: Black, brown, chocolate with many custom options available
MSRP: $115 ($125 as shown with double stitching)
411: Mean Gene's belts are a labor of love, not profit. The difference is apparent in the details. Laser straight stitching, flawless dye application, burnished edges, and hand polished to near perfection. The icing on the cake is the Aegis buckle, shown here in bronze with a familiar laser engraved logo, showing how the belt flows from black tie to barbecue depending on custom options. Performance is on par with looks. The belt is stiff as a double layered SCUBA belt, but more pliable and comfortable thanks to the leather.

Ares Gear Aegis Belt, with stainless buckle, black webbing

411: As great as they look, Cobra belts scream tactical. Ares came up with the Aegis buckle as an alternative to the tactical look. It's basically the same buckle you had as a Boy Scout, but on steroids. The belt is a couple layers of ultra durable and stiff SCUBA webbing with a nylon webbing veneer sewn over that adds a bit more stiffness. The belt is as stiff as the Jones Tactical but sharper looking. Even the loose end is profiled and heat sealed. The Aegis is the near perfect fusion of looks, performance, and durability for everyday firearm carry.
Basics: The gun belt with a unique look that doesn't scream, “Gun!”
Colors: Black, coyote, grey, MultiCam, ranger green, with options for buckle.
MSRP: $121

Dynamis Low Pro Belt

Basics: Keep it under wraps using the three hidden pockets in this unreinforced 1.75-inch flame retardant nylon belt.
Colors: Black and red, black and grey
MSRP: $65
411: The belt is designed to carry the basic load of a pistol and mags, with some hidden extras. Three interior pockets can be used to carry small items from a spare key, folded bills, or even a handcuff key. One of the pockets is positioned at the very end of the belt such that it can be weighted with loose change and used as a weighted whip in a self-defense scenario. The buckle-less design makes it comfortable and perfect for combatives. Worn tight, the limp belt will support a pistol IWB, but threading it through a belt loop holster may not produce the most stable platform.

Competition Belt

Safariland Model 032 ELS Competition Belt 1.75-Inch

411: The Safariland ELS system is practically the only game in town when it comes to competition belt systems. The Model 032 belt forms the basis of a best-in-class modular system allowing customization for a range of competition use from basic USPSA pistol matches to multigun events. When combined with the 030 liner belt worn through pants belt loops, the 032 and 030 Velcro form a belt that approaches Viagra-overdose level of stiffness. The stability this provides means gear stays in position and reloads happen right on schedule. Female ELS plates are screwed to the belt at intervals of your choosing and mag holders on male plates are snapped into place as needed for each stage of a competition.
Particulars: The first and last word in competition belts using synthetic materials, unrivaled modularity and professional level durability.
Colors: Black
MSRP: $56 ($297 as shown w/Model 030 Competition Underbelt, Loop Liner $19, USPSA Holster Kit $86, Model 5198 Holster $39, Model 773 (pistol mag) $29, Model 774 (AR15 mag) pouches $18, Model 085 Shotgun Shell Carrier $30, All mounted with ELS hardware.)

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free