The history of military web belts
If you were ever in the military, you'll recall, maybe with other than fond memories, the standard government issue belt.
Now, I'm not talking about the cool tactical belts some got, I'm referring to those web canvas cotton belts with the brass buckle (I spent more time polishing that brass buckle than I care to remember). You essentially cut it to size (it was 54 inches, to begin with), snap one end to the bottom back of the buckle, and pushed the other end into the buckle to be secured with the friction rod that ran up and down the buckle.
They were inexpensive, easy to replace and most importantly, fit anyone. And I mean, that was the main purpose. How do you design a belt that fits everyone? Enter the cotton canvas web belt with friction buckle.
But, it wasn't a gun belt.
They were too thin, and cotton canvas is just a bit stiffer than jeans. It simply wouldn't hold up to the weight of a handgun and holster.
Criteria for gun belts
Although gun belts have the same need to “fit everyone“, it also needs to be secure enough to carry an inside or outside the waist holster with a firearm. Not an easy task. An additional requirement for concealed carry is that it would be nice if it – not to look like a gun belt. Since “where there's smoke, there's fire”, wearing an obvious gun belt is a dead giveaway that someone may be carrying. Just the opposite of what you want when carrying concealed.
When we were in our twenties, particularly in the military, we had somewhat of a consistent waist size. I mean, from year to year, within reason, we were essentially the same waist size – usually in the lower 30's. Since the military required and maintained some semblance of physical fitness, it was easier to keep this reasonable consistently.
As we age, this may no longer be the norm. In fact, waist size seems to go both up and down over somewhat short periods of time. The goal to fit many people has now morphed into fitting one person who changes waist sizes over time.
Secure essentially translates into stiff. The belt needs to be stiff enough not to sag under the weight of a gun and holster. Of course, it still needs to be comfortable and that is a major challenge – stiff enough to be secure and flexible enough to be comfortable. I've worn belts that accomplish the stiff/secure challenge but are miserable to wear.
Doesn't look like a gun belt
Of course, if a company is manufacturing belts for first responders, having a belt that looks like a gun belt is not a problem and in fact, needs to look like a gun belt. You, however, are probably not a first responder, or if you are, are looking for a belt to carry concealed. I would submit that it's critical that the look of your gun belt, for concealed carry, simply not look like a gun belt. It can look slightly tactical if that's how you're otherwise dressing but essentially, the belt should match your dress.
If you're all streetwear, your belt should match. If you're wearing tactical pants, a tactical belt, that doesn't glare gun belt, would be appropriate and fine.
First, let's talk about after military, corporate life
You may be interested to know that much of the military style has followed in civilian corporate life.
That's right, the concept of a wear resistant belt leather, either alligator or cordovan (horse) leather with some type of friction buckle is common in the corporate world. This look is very much like the military but only a little more sophisticated. These belts are certainly more expensive, sometimes running into $500 or so, but they last forever and simply don't wear out or look tattered. The buckles are either silver or gold colored and can look really nice. Too many simply don't know or take advantage of these products but they retain the flexible fit of the military web belts with an updated corporate look. Check it out sometime.
So how do you accomplish all three goals?
Let's look at a few options.
There's a small family-owned company in Phoenix, Arizona that manufactures belts and other tactical gear – The Wilderness. I've known of and have purchased from them for a number of years, and their products are top quality, while their service is second to none. Here's a link to their belts, but you may also want to look at some of their other products. Gear you won't find anywhere else.
The Wilderness belt is available in different thicknesses and stiffnesses to which you can determine is best for you. They range from plastic friction loops, their frequent flyer belt, to their full tactical titanium instructor belt. Choose the look you want and you're set to go.
Oh, and check out their safepacker concealment holster. Talk about innovative. You simply won't find this anywhere else.
I did try to fly with their frequent flyer belt on a flight, and as advertised, it didn't set off any alarms. TSA, however, did see that I was wearing a belt and was none too pleased with me. Oh well, you can't blame someone for trying. Just a heads up.
I actually love this company, not only for their product line but for what they stand for, a family owned operation that succeeds in the U.S.
Kore is a more recent line and is, I believe, a phenomenal gun belt. It retains some of the features of the government issue canvas belt and buckles with a modern twist.
The Kore has both a fashion wear line and a gun belt line. The buckles are not interchangeable between the lines but certainly are interchangeable within each line. All gun belts are 1 1/2″ wide, while the fashion line is 1 3/8″ wide. Although the gun belt line is stiffer, because of the track mechanism, even the fashion line has some stiffness or level of support. Both lines offer a few tactical belt (nylon web) options.
Although the fashion line is not sold as a gun belt, I believe it is supportive enough for some lighter handguns. You may want to check this out if you have something like a Glock 43.
With Kore, leather gun belts fit any waist size from 24″ to 44″ while the Tactical gun belts fit any waist from 24″ to 54″. To add to this range of sizes, a hidden virtually indestructible inside track (as pictured above) offers 40 plus sizing points, so you can adjust your belt 1/4″ at a time. I mean talk about flexible.
With the Kore system, you can purchase different buckles and match with whatever belt you wish (within each line). Changing them is a snap and the belts and buckles all look really nice.
Even more importantly, they have enough stiffness to carry and enough flexibility to be comfortable. Check them out, they really are a find.
So which belt to choose?
Both companies offer terrific belts that I've not found available otherwise. Remember, you're looking for fit flexibility, hopefully, comfortable security (stiffness), and a non-gun belt look while carrying concealed. Both companies offer a tactical look belt and I would submit that if that matches your other clothing, then it's fine. I wouldn't wear it with a suit as that might scream something you don't want to advertise.
I do like the flexibility in both belts but I feel that the Kore offers this flexibility in more of a fixed system that won't slip on you. I also like their buckle selection.
In any event, it's nice to have choices.
Be well, be safe.