It’s all too easy to get bogged down with endless details when comparing products and making purchasing decisions. Frankly, a lot of reviews out there focus heavily on raw numbers and can be difficult to navigate or to make sense of. Every piece of kit is an investment, but choosing the hiking belt or indeed any piece of equipment that’s right for you shouldn’t be difficult if you have the essential facts and informed opinions on the product in front of you.
Below we’ve outlined some of the most important areas to consider when it comes to how a belt is constructed and what to look out for. We’ve removed the fuss and complication to make choosing the best hiking belt for you a simple task.
The materials used to make a hiking belt are no doubt the most important attribute of the product as they impact factors such as durability, weight and comfort. In terms of the belt itself your first thought might be that leather would be the best option for a hiking belt. However, we feel that leather doesn’t offer as much as synthetic materials like Nylon – also called polyamide – or polyester can. Whilst leather belts can last for a long time, and are a traditional choice, they are relatively heavy and require maintenance to keep the leather in good condition. Synthetic material is incredibly strong, durable, lightweight, maintenance free and often cheaper than leather. Synthetic belts also offer an animal free option, making them better in terms of sustainability and the environment.
Nylon/polyamide and polyester are two of the most popular materials when it comes to hiking belts. Whilst they do have a lot of advantages, they do also come with disadvantages. Nylon is lighter than polyester (and both are considerably lighter than leather). Nylon and polyester are often blended with rubber or spandex (amongst others) to give the belt stretch which allows for a better individual fit. Nylon is also better at water repellence, and you’ll find that some polyester belts are treated with a water repellent.
The belt buckle is also integral to the usability and looks of the product. We think that more modern designs like quick release or flip-top buckles allow for the best experience for adjustability. Below, we’ll talk through some of the main types of buckle you are likely to encounter:
Friction buckle: This is basically the same as the buckle used to control the length of the straps on many backpacks. It’s the simplest design: a single piece with no moving parts that relies on friction to keep things in place – the belt does not require any holes, so it’s also very finely adjustable. Its simplicity is also its greatest strength. There simply isn’t anything to go wrong with the design as it is so simple. The downside is that fully removing the belt require unthreading the buckle, which is a fiddly process, especially with cold hands.
Flip-top of flip closure buckle: With this kind of fastener, the belt also doesn’t have any holes and has a flip mechanism with teeth on the underside to grip and keep the belt in place. This type of fastener is common on casual belts, but they are an effective design for hiking belts too. However, sometimes these fasteners can become loose easily, especially if the actual material of the belt is finished smoother, so you may find that you’re having to adjust the belt more often. If This type of fastener works best with a belt that has a textured band as it gives the buckle more to grip on.
Tongue buckle: This is the traditional belt fastener – If you think of a belt, your mental image probably has a tongue buckle. What is the tongue of a buckle? It is the metal prong that sits in the middle section of the belt buckle. It goes through the holes on the strap allowing the buckle to be hooked onto the hole to keep it in place at a specific length and tightness. Due to the reliance on holes in the belt, very fine length adjustment is not possible.
Quick release buckle: These are popular on military inspired ‘tactical’ belts. They promise very rapid opening and closing and often length adjustment too. Quick release buckles rely on relatively complex mechanisms and sometimes have protruding surfaces – this can impact long-term durability and comfort. A quick release is simply an opening and closing mechanism and will always be combined with either a friction or flip-top buckle to control the length of the belt. This adds another layer of complexity (and potential points of failure or discomfort) to an already complex design. However, the speed of opening and closing they offer may well be a critical feature for some buyers.
Hook and eye buckle: This is a very simple design favoured by ultra-lightweight design. The belt is opened and closed by connecting a hook into an eyelet. The hook usually also integrate a friction buckle to control the tightness of the belt.
Weight & Length
Some belts come in a single size whilst others are offered in different lengths. If the choice is offered, your decision should be based on which model is going to give you the closest match to your waist size as possible. If different lengths are offered, we strongly recommend measuring your actual waist and then comparing this to a manufacturer’s sizing guide. Simply put, sizing can vary from brand to brand and you shouldn’t make any assumptions. It might seem like a good idea to just get a longer belt, but having a belt that’s too long brings problems of its own as a long piece of excess material protruding from the buckle can snag and tangle in other garments or equipment. We also recommend that those with smaller frames look at models with smaller buckles as these will generally be more comfortable.
Material choices are the main factor in a belt’s weight and the buckle can really make a difference here. Bulkier buckles can really increase the weight of a belt (sometimes needlessly) making it feel more cumbersome. Does a heavier buckle necessarily make a belt better? We don’t think so! That said, we wouldn’t say that the weight of your hiking belt is something to worry about too much. Unless you’re packing for a long, self-supported expedition where every gram of weight saved on equipment counts, you’re unlikely to notice the weight of your belt too much, so all of the above suggestions are more for comfort than anything else.
As mentioned before, all of the belts we’ve assessed feature synthetic webbing, but each type of synthetic material has its own qualities andare some of the pros and cons of each:
- Resists marks and abrasion
- Doesn’t wrinkle
- Doesn’t shrink
- Quick drying
- Can get ‘bobbles’ on the surface when finely woven
- Can trap body odour
- Heat and chemicals resistant
- Resists marks and abrasion
- Resists dirt and fungus
- An inexpensive material
- Keeps heat
- Not always eco friendly
- Can trap body odour
We think that this is the most important aspects to consider when buying any piece of outdoor equipment and gear, not just a hiking belt. Comfort is everything when you’re outdoors. If a piece of your kit doesn’t fit properly (which is also why we need to see more inclusivity from outdoor brands) it can have huge ramifications towards your enjoyment. If you’re constantly thinking about something feeling itchy, or being too tight, you’re going to be less focused on what’s around you (and enjoying what’s around you is, after all, the usual reason for hiking in the first place) and more focused on the thing that is distracting you. This can also have more serious consequences if you’re into technical hiking, climbing etc where you really need to have your eyes on the prize and cannot afford to be worrying about your gear.
The size and construction of the buckle can have an enormous impact on comfort too – so look for buckles that have a slim outward profile and rounded edges with not protruding latches or parts. If the buckle, or any part of it, is protruding past the belt, you could find it digs in around the waist more than it needs to – making it uncomfortable when you sit down or when undertaking activities like scrambling to steep ascents. Complex buckles can also snag on other items of clothing or equipment and can feel uncomfortable if work beneath the hip band of a large backpack.
Assessing comfort is difficult as it’s a very subjective and personal experience. A belt that’s comfortable for one wearer may be irritating to another. At the end of the day, you know your body and what’s comfortable for you better than we do, so be sure to use your own judgement when reading through our comfort assessments.
Can a hiking belt be stylish? We think so. Even though a belt is seen as a utilitarian thing more than anything, a hiking belt, like many other pieces of outdoor gear can be designed to last and be stylish at the same time. We personally prefer the belts tested that were more minimal in design and low profile that look quite timeless, and some of our favourites here are the Berghaus Inflection Belt and the Arc’teryx Conveyor Belt 38.
The Belts we’ve reviewed come in at a wide range of price points. The brand name, material and design all play a part here. Whilst our reviews covers a wide range of price points, and some of the belts are definitely expensive relative to other belts, none of the belts we’ve looked at is expensive in absolute terms next to, say, a good pair of hiking boots or a waterproof jacket, so in this sense it may be easier to ‘justify’ the cost of the more expensive belts. However, price should not be your only consideration when choosing a belt – and the most expensive option may not be the ‘best’ belt for your needs. Design, durability, sizing and style all enter the equation too and it’s important to bear these factors in mind.
Why trust what we’ve got to say? We’ve got a lot of experience hiking and we really care about how we feel whilst doing so. This Expansive Adventure has been a labour of love for us over the years – we feel passionate about helping as many people as possible enjoy their time outdoors as much as possible. We see gear as an enablement – it allows you to go further and see things you may not be able to otherwise. In short, gear is important. When it comes to hiking belts, we wanted to create a guide for what to consider and make it much easier for you to decide which one is best for you and your needs without getting lost in endless information that makes it hard to make a decision. We don’t just rely on manufacturer’s stats for our reviews, but instead aim to arrive at an informed conclusion about how a product will perform in the real world.
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