Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Comparing Travel Belts

Looking for travel money belts, or just travel belts, through the regular travel gear retailers is a fast process, as few of them carry good travel belts.  TravelSmith carries several interesting items. The $49 Pennington Leather Money Belt is actually a leather travel belt with a zipped money pocket on the inside.  It looks all right, but its metal buckle does not go through security. The Eagle Creek Travel Belt, for $18, has a lot going for it: the discrete nylon buckle does not look plasticky at all,  the  strong nylon webbing  comes in black, brown, khaki and blue, and an inside pocket with a plastic zipper allows you to store up to approximately $400 in $20s lengthwise. Finally, the unbranded and un-reviewed $24 men's airport-friendly travel belt (possibly sourced from Thomas Bates),  also has nylon webbing and a polycarbonate buckle.

Magellan also carries several interesting designs, including the Eagle Creek belt, with a large number of mostly positive reviews. Its $10 PacSafe travel belt is fairly similar to the Eagle Creek belt, one-size-fits-all, plastic buckle, inside zippered pocket for cash, and also carries a good set of mostly recent user reviews, (the Pacsafe belt can also be found on Amazon). Its unbranded braided, no metal belt is a stretch nylon webbing belt with a plastic slide buckle, and comes in black.   Finally, it shows off a good looking reversible leather travel belt (appears sourced from Thomas Bates) with a non-metal slip-through buckle, which, however, has mixed reviews.

 LeTravelStore carries the Eagle Creek money belt as well as the $39 Travelon Money belt, a good looking leather belt with a metal buckle that is removable when you go through security.  Rick Steves does not carry a travel belt, although it has a silk money belt with a large pocket for passports and IDs (Rick considers it a critical need for the traveler), which appears to be a rebranded Eagle Creek silk money pouch. Other popular travel gear retailers do not carry travel belts in their present inventory.

Going beyond the regular online travel retailers involves screening thousands of threads and posts from  hundreds of varied forums, travel blogs and review sites, and searching multiple product search engines, such a Google Products, TheFind, Shopwiki, ShopZilla, PriceGrabber, Bing, Pronto, Become and more. The process is long, painful and involved, but it allowed us to find some more interesting items.Several models had few or new reviews, or included non-removable metal parts, and we did not include them in our comparison - some of them. among many, were the Shomer parachuting belt, Rolf's casual money belt, Luxury Divas leather money belt, BT leather money belt, Tilley's premium money belt, and Patagonia's travel belt.

511tactical carries an interesting $15, 1.5" law enforcement TDU belt with plastic buckle from 511Tactical, with a set of good customer reviews as well. A very cool company founded by an ex-TSA employee, Beep-Free Products, manufactures a series of good looking travel belts with non-metallic buckles. They can look stylish, fashionable, or just business-like. Ex Officio carries an $18 webbing money belt in 2 patterns, brown and grey, and 2 sizes (medium and large), with a Delrin belt buckle, which was recently removed from the LeTravelStore inventory. REI carries, under its own brand, a $17, 1.125" stretch belt, with a plastic buckle.

Finally, the last two companies give you a very wide choice of patterns to go with specific  non-metal buckles. Thomas Bates, a small company long known for its interesting webbing belt designs, has several designs, all with nylon webbing, including a $13 1"1/4 hiker belt with polycarbonate buckle, a $13 backpacker belt with a plastic slide buckle, and a hiker money belt with  inside zipped money pocket and plastic buckle. Both the hiker's belt and the backpacker's belt are available in approximately 400 different patterns, often quite lackadaisical. Finally, Bison Designs carries the Ellipse Delrin buckle and the T-lock Delrin buckle with a very broad assortment of good-looking nylon-woven belts in southwest-inspired designs. The T-lock money belt offers the same T-bolt buckle, and a webbing belt with an inside zipped money pocket, with a small number of designs available.

What did not work out for us

The metal buckle from the Pennington leather belt ruled that belt out for us - we already have enough  trouble having to take off shoes, jackets, watches, wallets and more at security. The reversible leather belt found on Magellan was quite attractive, but there were enough problems with the buckle not cinching or holding in the reviews that we eliminated it early as well (along with its Thomas Bates original). We were not able to find  reviews for Travelsmith's unbranded men's airport friendly travel belt, and the lack of site reviews combined with the small amount of information available on the site compelled us to take it out due to lack of information. While the Ex Officio belt seems as good as any, the two patterns used for this belt  (they look so similar to two of the Bison Design patterns that we believe they are sourced there) make dual-use for this belt hard, and we removed it from the mix early as well. The REI stretch belt is a narrow belt that only comes in khaki, with a single user review - we are not sure that a stretch best is the right concept for travel. We will not consider it until it gathers more user reviews. The same applies to Magellan's braided no-metal belt, a stretch belt that comes in black only and with no user reviews.

Comparing travel belts

The Beep Free site has many good looking "beep free" belts. The most interesting are the 1.5" chestnut leather belts, the 1.5" chestnut braided belt, and the 1.25" brown braided belts, but they also have many other models, fantasy styling, glove leather, crocodile finish etc. These models are all good looking, in general made with good quality leather. They all share the same buckle type, which is a traditional tang buckle made of plastic. Because this buckle type is inherently more fragile than slide or clip buckles normally used for plastic, Beep Free also sells replacement buckles, as well as a nickel finish metal buckle that can replace the plastic buckle once you have reached your destination. Beep Free has very few user reviews, but some notice among experts (such as PracticalTravelerGear Review or 1bag1world review) and a fun TSA Beep Free Money Belt Youtube review. The braided travel belts in particular look good, although, because of the braiding, they might be a touch too fragile to endure rough travel.While we like the choice of belts and the styling, we feel that the buckle type is  too fragile, and too much of an impediment:. Needing to carry replacements and having to switch to a metal buckle, - it all seems too much trouble for travelers with little space and too many things to worry about already.

The $10, 1.2" PacSafe Cashsafe travel belt  comes from a company with an excellent reputation for making solid travel accessories - it is also available through Magellan and Amazon. It comes in black only (a drawback),  nylon webbing and plastic cam buckle, with an exceptionally long (27") zippered money pocket, in a one-size-fits-all model going from 30" to 46". It carries a good set of excellent reviews, although all of them are recent and none show a prolonged pattern of use - maybe too recent an item to carry much of a track record? Whatever the case, it appears as a solid choice for a low price - the only regret being that it does not come in any color that would work in casual dress or hot climate.

The $35 Travelon money belt is an interesting one: it is all leather, and looks quite good. Its solid metal buckle is easily removable at security. It comes in black and brown, making it possible to use as dual use business/casual. Its long inside zipped money pocket is well finished and covered with a leather flap. Its reviews, spread multiple sites, are good - check out this YouTube review. Because of the thickness of the zipper and flap, it can be a bit voluminous and noticeable when used as a money belt. It is a convenient one-size-fits-all  (32" to 40") model, which you cut to length on pre-finished cut marks - the cut end is hidden by the buckle. Like all full size leather belts, it is heavier than webbing belts, and subject to more environmental damage from water and friction.

The variety of patterns available for the webbing of the Thomas Bates belts is remarkable, and by far the most choice of all travel belts. All these patterns are available for their $13, 1.25" plastic oval slide buckle belt, and for their very practical $13, 1.25" polycarbonate cam buckle belt. All belts are conveniently one-size-fits-all, up to 42". Their $17, 1.25" webbing money belt, however, only comes in 4 solid colors, black, khaki, navy and olive - which is still at least as good as most competitors. This money belt, with a polycarbonate locking (cam?) belt, appears quite similar to the well reviewed Eagle Creek All Terrain belt.  Between the other two hikers' belts, we give the preference to the cam belt buckle, which seems intrinsically more solid in terms of design. Thomas Bates, a small US company, has very few user reviews  (we could only find one for their money belt) and no expert reviews that we could find, although it appears, to our eyes, to be the source for several  unbranded belts found on large online retailers - so it is possible that some of these reviews apply to Thomas Bates. All of Thomas Bates webbing belts appear of good quality, but we are unable to verify it through valid user reviews:(

We really wanted to like Thomas Bates' $33, 1.25" black/brown reversible leather belt (also available at Magellan) because they made so much sense: one business side, one casual side, polycarbonate slide buckle, and 3oz of total weight. Most reviews were positive, and pointed at the high quality of the leather.  However, several mentioned slippage (a common problem with plain leather and slide buckles), and one mentioned a broken buckle. as usual when a belt is sold by size rather than being one-size-fits-all, several users mentioned sizing problems (this belt sizes large).

Cabela's $12, 1.25" T-lock belt, aimed at outdoor people, is the prototypical nylon webbing/ Delrin cam lock outdoor belt. It has a very large number of reviews, most of which are positive. Some of the buckles experience early failure typical of quality control issues. Later -rare- buckle deaths,  from stepping or sitting on, are typical of plastic buckles.

The TDU belt from 5.11 Tactical comes in 2 widths, a 1.5" belt and a 1.75" belt, both with nylon webbing, a plastic slide buckle, and three colors: black, coyote brown and khaki. They have thick plastic slide buckles with a catching tab. Regrettably, they need to be ordered by size - they appear to size large, so ordering for the same size as your pants appears to work. They are made for law enforcement personnel, and their numerous positive reviews point out the robustness of these belts. Surprisingly given the number of reviews available, no user mentions a broken buckle - possibly an indicator of high quality buckles. Their appearance make them applicable to casual uses only, but, for this use, they seem to be strong and effective.

Bison Design, like Thomas Bates, is another company which offers a very broad choice of patterns for nylon webbing belts. Where Thomas Bates designs are mostly lackadaisical, Bison Design is mostly inspired by Southwest motives. The $12, 1.2" Ellipse belt comes in approximately 55 patterns (including sober solids), and a chunky Delrin slide buckle. The reviews are very positive and emphasize robustness and long lasting design in very sporty uses, with a generally non-slipping buckle (although some reviews do mention slip). They also mention, in passing, that the design lacks elegance and is appropriate to casual uses only. The $14, 1.2" T-lock belt comes in about 50 patterns, with a solid Delrin cam buckle.  Numerous and very positive reviews, where many users are quite passionate about their love for this belt. Several of them, while still very positive, also mention breaking the cam buckle -it seems that it is more vulnerable to breakage when open, if stepped or sat on. Multiple users have been using this belt for several years. Both of these belts come in two sizes, medium (up to 38") and large (up to 42"), and can also be found at REI. The T-lock belt also comes in a money belt version, with about 35 patterns available.

Last but not least, we have the $18, 1.25" Eagle Creek All Terrain travel belt, which is the easiest travel belt to find on the web, and the one for whom we have the most extensive set of reviews, going back multiple years. The All Terrain can be found on most travel sites. It is a nylon webbing belt with a Delrin cam buckle, and comes in four colors, black, brown, khaki and navy. Like other nylon webbing and plastic buckle belts, it is very light (under 3 oz). It is a one-size-fits-all model that you cut to size (we like that), with a 20" long zippered money compartment (shorter than the PacSafe), which can take up to approximately 20 US bank notes. We like Delrin as a material more than generic polycarbonate. The All Terrain has the largest set of reviews on the web (more here, here and here), as well as the best feedback scores - along with a Youtube review. Many users have been using these belts for years, and some of them are quite passionate about their attachment to the All Terrain. At the same time, similarly to the Bison Design T-lock, quite a few reviewers mentioned broken buckles, often due to unexpected stress (stepping or sitting on the buckle). The All Terrain is neutral enough to be used with casual business and dinner attire, as well as suits and ties unless the locale is truly dressy.

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