Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Best Travel Money Belts: a Review

Are you tired of having to take your belt off at every airport? Do you worry about how safe it is to leave your cash in the hotel room - or to take it with you? Have you ever had a belt fail the morning of a big business meeting abroad? What you need is a good travel money belt.

What you need to know about travel belts

  • Going through security: belts ring at airport security gates if they have metal buckles. It is best to use plastic buckles if you can find good quality ones - the risk being, of course, that the buckle might fail at the wrong time. If the belt has a small money pocket, a metal zipper might ring at security as well, requiring you to strip the belt and go through again.
  • Travel belts vs. money pouches: A travel belt is not a money/travel pouch, which is often what some call a large hidden pouch, worn under your clothes, where you can put your passport, IDs, cash and critical papers. A travel belt, however, can have a small, hidden zippered compartment, on the inside,  to be used for cash only - you typically have to fold bank notes in third lengthwise. We refer to these belts as travel money belts.
  • Leather vs. webbing: Leather belts are sometimes more vulnerable to humidity, friction and stress, in particular when woven. Nylon webbing, while less elegant, is less vulnerable and lighter. Cotton, hemp, and other organic materials are not recommended because they are damaged too easily.
  • Plastic vs metal: Delrin or polycarbonate buckles, while strong, are more prone to failure than metal - but metal will ring at the gates... As Delrin is a DuPont brand name, it guarantees more reliable mechanical properties than generic polycarbonate, whose exact properties vary from supplier to supplier. We prefer Delrin. Quality plastic buckles are very tough, but they can still occasionally break  - typically when stepped on, in particular if they are open. Leaving them closed when not in use is best. While it is very unlikely that a good plastic buckle will break during a trip, a light brass or nickel military surplus belt buckle, for $1-2 in any military surplus store, will fit 1.25" webbing belts fitted with a plastic buckle, and would be a good spare to consider carrying with you when using plastic buckles.
  • Sized belts vs. one-size-fits-all models: From reading customer reviews, it is apparent that belts with specific sizes often are hit-or-miss when ordered on the web: many customers report having to exchange their purchase for a size up or down. Unless you can purchase locally, a one-size-fits-all model is more convenient.

What makes a good travel belt
  • Weight: a travel belt, like all travel accessories, should be light. Heavy buckles or wide belts are not recommended. A good quality nylon webbing belt with a Delrin buckle will top the scales at 3 ounces.
  • Strength: the last thing you want to do is to  have your only belt break in the middle of your Amazon rafting trip... Nylon webbing for the belt, and synthetic plastic for the buckle, if good quality, make for a strong and light combination.
  • Money pocket: even thin, light belts can have, on the inside, a zipped pocket for carrying cash. It is best to use a good quality, strong plastic zipper so as to make sure it will not trigger a security gate alarm. 
  • Good looks: it needs to look good (or at least OK) with what you will be wearing, business or casual. It must also look like a perfectly normal belt if it has a money pocket, with regular width, and no undue wrinkles or bulges. 
  • Versatility: the same model belt, in 2 colors, should be able to tackle both business and casual needs.
  • No Metal: airport security gates have become so sensitive that even a small quantity of metal, such as a small belt buckle, or a metal zipper from a hidden money pocket, may trigger an alarm. The best travel belt has a strong plastic buckle and a plastic zipper for a hidden money pocket. 
This review focuses on travel money belts, but, for the sake of completeness, will also research travel belts without a money pocket.
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