Today we’re continuing our discussion on load carriage. But now we’re moving towards the discreet end of the spectrum. I didn’t think all that much about my belt when I first received my CCW permit. It was all about the pistol and associated holster. But the truth is that a good concealed carry belt is part of a system that includes the pistol, holster, belt, and you.
It took several months of wearing, stretching, and otherwise struggling with belts before I picked up a proper gun belt meant for carrying a weapon. That made a significant difference in my comfort.
In this article, I want to share some of the key points you should look for when selecting a belt for concealed carry, or even some duty use. I’ll throw out a few recommendations, but realize that the right belt for you is very much a personal preference about materials and style.
Bottom Line Up Front
I know I can spend a lot of time digging into details, so let’s get to the brass tacks first. When selecting a CCW belt, you really need to consider two factors: the profile of the belt, and the weight of the gun.
When I speak of profile, I mean how much does the belt stand out from any other belt those around you might be wearing. Think of my article on profile and deterrence– this isn’t the time for announcing your presence.
Nylon belts with cobra buckles are cool and all for the range, but remember that the point of carrying a concealed weapon is that it is concealed. You want to avoid wearing things that draw undue attention and might make someone look a little closer at you.
Secondly is the weight of the gun. Your CCW belt should always be stiff enough to support the weight of the pistol. But there are varying grades of stiffness. As the weight of the pistol goes up, so should the amount of support the belt provides.
For example, a relatively lightweight Glock 19 at 21 oz won’t have much of an issue with any purpose-built gun belt. But if you go up to something like my full sized 1911, which is 40 oz, then you might want some kind of internal stiffener.
I prefer belts about 1.5″ wide. It’s wide enough to support the gun and fit in most belt loops. It’s also narrow enough to blend in with most fashion belts in day to day life.
Depending on your personal style choices, check out options from Relentless Tactical (my preference), Hanks Leather, and Kore.
A Brief History of Gun Belts
While researching this article, I was surprised to find out that holsters and gun leather as we think of them today are relatively recent. “Gun Leather” goes back to the early and mid 1800’s, even though we’ve had pistols for far longer than that.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, those who had pistols commonly tucked them into fabric sashes about the waist. In my article on chest rigs, I posted a drawing of the famous pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, who carried six pistols in a custom bandolier.
During the Revolutionary War, the officers, sailors, and cavalrymen who carried pistols had them stuffed into all sorts of places. Some had custom-made saddle holsters attached to their horses, others had prototypical tanker holsters dangling to their sides.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s where we start seeing more purpose-built leather. In my opinion, it all started with the “pommel” holster derived from the revolutionary-era saddle holster.
The Frontier and Wild West
Cochise Leather, who specializes in classic old west leather has a great writeup on this topic- but I’ll summarize.
Early on, stemming from the revolution, it was common to carry pistols tucked into leather satchels draped over the horse. This was popular for large bore pistols commonly used for hunting.
By the 1840s, smaller pistols oriented towards personal defense rather than hunting began gaining popularity. This is where we start seeing more belt-mounted holsters. The early efforts were sub par, however. They were little more than a loop of leather to hold the center of the pistol, much like the slots on Blackbeard’s bandolier above. This left both the top and muzzle exposed to the elements, and didn’t come with much retention.
By the 1850s, western saddle makers began specializing in holsters. Among the best versions were the “Slim Jim” and “Mexican Loop” holsters, which protected the gun below the grip, and sometimes included a flap over the top for even more protection.
By the late 1800s, the classic “Buscadero” rig came to be. It’s the one that so many of us associate with the cowboy image. This particular gun belt adorned many an old west figure, from the Lone Ranger to the Hollywood cowboys of the 1920s.
The Quick Draw Fallacy
Interestingly, the prototypical drop leg holster we all remember seeing dangling from the hip of cowboys didn’t come around until the 1950s. This style of low-slung Buscadero came about due to a growing emphasis on “quick draw” competitions. They weren’t designed for “hard use” as we would think of it today.
Something to think about.
What I’m getting with all of this is that for most of the early history, gun belts were a complete system that included the belt, the holster, the pistol, and spare ammunition.
Modern Gun Belts
That gets us to the modern era, really. By WWI, pistols became much more common on the battlefield and that necessitated widespread development of ways to carry them.
Up to this point, the holster and gun belt were a one-piece system. By WWI and the industrial age, we started getting modular.
Pistols, when issued, rode in a classic flapped canvas holsters. That’s not the important part, though. By this point, every soldier had a cartridge belt for carrying their equipment. Those belts carried everything from rifle ammo to entrenching tools.
I covered that history a bit in my article on load bearing equipment.
From WWI through the Cold War, the idea didn’t change much. Everything was a modular system to which a holster could hang or be removed at will. Eventually we see a split into battle belts and duty belts. The latter of the two more closely aligns with modern law enforcement, and I’ll be talking about that in another article.
The lessons learned from these load carriage methods worked their way into the concealed carry and everyday carry community. At it’s core, you need a belt that’s wide enough and stiff enough to support weight hanging from it. And while the belt and holster are separate from one another, you should still consider them all part of a system.
Characteristics of a Good CCW Belt
With the history out of the way, let’s talk about what we need from a concealed carry belt.
Selecting your ideal concealed carry belt is a balance of factors. The ones I most focus on are
Let’s briefly hit the highlights for each one of these.
Make it a stiffy, so to speak
How stiff, you ask? Well that depends on the amount of weight you plan on hanging from it.
The reason you need the stiffness is to comfortably support the weight of the pistol. When I first started carrying, I used a standard thin leather fashion belt from some local store. The belt was about a sixteenth of an inch thick and made from a single layer of cheap leather.
When carrying OWB, which was how I started out, the holster flopped off to the side and pressed up against my jacket. Of course, that lead to problems with printing- or showing the outline of the pistol through my clothing.
When I switched to a proper IWB holster, things got a little better. But the whole belt still sagged under the weight of the pistol and holster together, which also pulled my pants with it.
To deal with the sagging, I had to cinch the belt another notch tighter. That ultimately led to the belt stretching out and becoming all but unwearable.
A good test is to pinch the belt from the short edges and see if you can bend it. A good belt will resist.
Concealed Carry Belt Stiffness Tradeoffs
Now there are some tradeoffs here, so my advice is not to buy the stiffest CCW belt you can get your hands on and run it. The stiffer the gun belt becomes, the less comfortable it’s also going to be.
Another factor to think about is how the belt appears. The larger and stiffer the belt, the less is looks like “just another belt.” But I’ll get to that in a second.
So your decision comes down to two questions:
- How heavy is your pistol and holster combo?
- How do you want to carry it?
The heavier your pistol, the thicker or stiffer the gun belt needs to be. In general, I make my decision based on carrying outside the waistband (OWB). Carrying that way is a greater test of a belt because of the weight wanting to sag away.
Generally speaking, if you only want to carry inside the waistband (IWB), you might get away with a lighter belt since the holster sandwiches between the belt and your body. It’s a much more stable position, but isn’t without its own concerns regarding how much the belt will stretch over time.
CCW Belt Materials
I’m not going to lie, I much prefer leather over other materials. Call me old school, but I think it looks better. It also stands out less day-to-day, especially in an office environment. Leather is just the classic gun belt material, going all the way back to the 1800s.
That said, leather does have disadvantages. Over time it can dry out and crack, especially if you abuse it. Leather also stretches under constant tension. The better belts made with heavy grain leather will certainly stretch less, but there is still some stretching involved.
Constructing a very stiff leather belt usually means adding additional layers of some other material such as nylon, kydex, or metal sandwiched in the middle. That adds to the overall cost of the belt, and might detract from the comfort.
A lot of companies produce belts made from tough SCUBA webbing. This is a great material from a practical sense, but it presents a decidedly more casual appearance than leather. To me, this would be ok on a weekend while bumming around town on the weekend- but I definitely couldn’t wear it around the office.
CCW Belt and Profile
What I’m about to say will probably annoy a few people out there.
Concealed means concealed. That doesn’t just apply to the gun and holster, but also your ancillary equipment such as your belt and other gear. Most regular folks probably aren’t going to notice your belt, clip, holster, or even if you print a bit. But you don’t carry because of “regular people.”
Greg Ellifritz over at Active Response Training put it well.
I’m certainly not an “apex predator” as Greg put it, but I notice things. If I see someone wearing a nylon belt with a cobra buckle, it stands out to me. Who is the kind of person likely to buy a 1.5 belt with a cobra buckle and wear it around town? Most likely a Sheepdog Shane type, who is probably also carrying.
Years of military training to pay attention to “gig lines” makes it really stand out to me when someone has a belt buckle conspicuously off to the side, I’ll notice it. I get it, doing that helps with the draw and comfort of AIWB carry- but it’s also a unique behavior to the people of the gun.
And if I’m noticing these things and know what they indicate, you can bet that the apex predators do as well.
Just Get to the Point, Matt
The truth is that CCW belts are very much a personal preference of material and style. You’ll probably have to shop around for one that matches your aesthetic from day to day.
I prefer my concealed carry belt to be 1.5″ wide. This is wide enough to provide good stiffness and support, while also fitting inside the belt loops of most pants. It’s also narrow enough to blend in with “Average Joe’s” workplace.
Sure, some of my pants could probably contain a 1.75″ or even a 2″ belt, but such a belt would clearly stand out compared to everyone else. They might not realize why it stands out immediately, but they would still notice.
For material, I prefer leather. It goes with just about everything, and nobody really bats an eye at it. You’re looking for a solid leather weight of 10 oz or more. This refers to the thickness of the leather.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the stitching to make sure it’s straight and not frayed at all.
My personal belt is a Relentless Tactical Ultimate Concealed Carry Belt. I actually bought two, one in brown and one in black. These two have become my every day belt whether I’m carrying or not. It’s made with 14oz full grain leather (nearly 1/4″ thick), and is very comfortable for all day wear.
Relentless Tactical also has a version with a steel core for added strength.
Now this is where aesthetics comes in. The Relentless Tactical belt has a slightly more “rugged” appearance to it compared to a lot of belts you might see around an office. This works for me, since that’s my jam, but it’s not for everyone.
Kore Essentials has a more modern and sleek looking leather belt that would blend it much better with a suit.
If you’re looking for a more casual look, then I really like the Ares Gear Aegis belt. It’s made from two layers of 1.5″ scuba webbing and uses a pretty standard looking buckle. This isn’t my personal preference or style, but it might work for you.
To summarize everything, you really need to consider your gun belt for concealed carry as part of an overall system that includes the belt, holster, pistol, and your own body. What works for one preson might not work for another, but there are some basic guidelines.
Look for a high quality belt about 1.5″ wide and made of heavy leather or multiple layers of material. A quick test is to try rolling the belt from the long edges (it should resist you). A “standard” stiffness gun belt is fine for lightweight and compact polymer pistols, but you might want to step up to more if you want to carry full sized metal pistols outside the waistband.
I personally like leather, as it blends in better with day-to-day wear- but that’s my personal preference. The goal is to not stand out to others. If your belt screams “tactical,” then the wrong kind of people are more likely to pay closer attention to you.
As always, let me know what you think down in the comments.