A Great (and Guilt-Free) Belt

This shows the clever ratchet/rack mechanism on the inside of a ratchet belt, and the clean appearance on the outside.

If your belts are at all like mine, they’ve got five holes in them, an inch apart from each other.  In my case, there is a sad hole or two – a memory of earlier slimmer times, and a hole that shows way too many signs of stress because I’ve been slow to admit that somehow, the belt has shrunk and I need to move to another hole.

This is particularly challenging when on a cruise, with the inevitable consequences of too much food (and a few extra drinks) making their way to the waistline.

A friend (thanks, Lary!) introduced me to a great type of belt which I term my “guilt-free” belt.  Instead of having visible-to-all holes, and requiring one to make big one-inch at a time decisions about which hole to use, it is a ratchet belt, where, in place of the holes, the underside of the belt has a series of notches into which the buckle mechanism can lock.

This has several advantages.  The series of notches are just under a quarter-inch apart, so you much finer control over how tight or loose you want to set your belt – over four times as many notches as holes on a normal belt.  Plus, instead of a short four-inch strip with five holes, you’ve a much longer strip of just over 7 inches and 32 holes.

I find this very useful – sometimes I just have a belt on my trousers, sometimes it has to stretch slightly because I’ve a holster on the outside of the belt (that requires another 1/2″ or so), and sometimes it has to stretch considerably more because I’ve a holster on the inside of my belt (which requires 1 1/2″ – 2″).  Instead of having holes that are always either too tight or too loose, you can choose the notch that is exactly right.

There’s another benefit to this as well – the “guilt-free” benefit.  It is impossible to tell which notch your belt is clicking into.  So you don’t have to wrestle with your conscience (and your belt!), and can instead choose a comfortable setting.

There’s also a certain “cool” factor to putting on and doing up such a belt, and hearing it go “click-click-click” as you tighten it, and the resulting product, for the benefit of any people who, ummm, may stare at your belt-line, is nice too – a smooth strip of leather (or other material) and your choice of various nice buckles, without the usual their traditional appearance and with no visible holes anywhere.

The belts are shipped in oversized lengths, and you cut them to a suitable size (there are markers on the inside of the belt to show the usual sizes).  The cut end is then slipped into the buckle, so the visible tongue end remains professionally finished.  Cutting the belt was easily done with a pair of regular scissors, or a sharp knife.  We recommend you cut slightly oversized to start with, because, of course, you can always trim more off if needed, but you can never add any back!

Another interesting concept is that you can buy the belts and the buckles separately, so if you should want to have different buckles but the same belt, or different belts and the same buckle, you can do this.  It is very easy to take the buckle off one belt strap and affix it to another.

They are available in a range of lengths, widths, colors and styles, and in suggested forms for men and women.  There are dozens (probably hundreds) available on Amazon, at varying price points from $15 up to $75 and more.

We decided to get a top-of-the-line belt from a US company, Slidebelts, and although it was twice the price of similar seeming belts from China, we really liked Slidebelt’s story of themselves and their company on their website, and were impressed that they even had patented their own enhanced version of the buckle locking mechanism.  We decided to pay a premium price for a premium, US belt.

We chose from their lineup on Amazon and had a $38 belt the next day.

The belt came nicely packaged in a black box, and within a couple of minutes we had trimmed it to size, fitted the buckle, and threaded it through our trouser loops.  We loved the clicking sound it made when we pulled it through the buckle, the buckle itself felt solid with a good amount of heft and weight, and we spent the next several days delighting in how we could set the belt to the “just right” size with one or two clicks in or out.

The belt seems to lock in place securely.  We tried tugging at it with a considerable degree of force, but it didn’t slip or fail in any way.

There were a couple of disappointments.  First, in our ignorance, we’d not fully pondered the significance of the term “Vegan leather”.  Sure, their site had lots of commentary about the difference between full grain and top grain leather, but nowhere did it mention vegan leather at all.  When choosing a belt, they had four categories – premium, classic, canvas and vegan.  We chose a classic style belt, never realizing that they too were “vegan” and not at all leather.  This is the fabric equivalent of “non dairy artificial whitener” for coffee instead of milk, and if you view that an abomination, you’ll probably also dislike vegan (non)leather.

Of course, vegan leather isn’t actually leather at all – the name is a lie.  It is some abomination of an artificial substance, but that is probably a shame on us, more than a shame on them for not realizing the impossibility of the promise within the name.  But still, “vegan leather” is surely an insulting oxymoron, and we found it hard not to dislike Slidebelts for the lie.

And, the whole “American company” thing that we were paying a premium for, and with their own patents we were again sort of blind-sided to the apparent fact that in fine print on the box, it says “Made in Taiwan”, and on the belt itself, it says “Made in China”.  A careful revisit of their website showed that nowhere did they actually say they made their belts themselves; we just created that assumption based on all their US “top company” and other awards.  Nonetheless, we were confused to see both a claim that their product was made in China and made in Taiwan – call us old-fashioned if you will, but we still perceive China and Taiwan as two separate countries (and neither of which is the US).

So, while we felt blindsided by the vegan leather thing, and let down by the inference that the reason their products were twice the price of other similar products was due to being made in the US, we still loved the belt, and if it were the only type of ratchet belt available, we’d still buy one.  And, for sure, further research showed us their true “an animal was killed in the course of making this” non-vegan real-leather belts, although at much steeper pricing ($85 and up).

But what about the cheaper belts that were unashamedly made in China?  They were so affordable we decided that rather than get another Slidebelts product, we’d treat ourselves to a generic Chinese belt instead, and so ordered one that seemed to be sort of in the middle of the price range of ratchet belts, a $20 belt from Bulliant, which was also designated as being an Amazon choice.  We made sure to check that it described itself as genuine leather!

Was it as good as the Slidebelts belt?  Better?  Or markedly inferior?  Please keep reading.

Comparing the Two Belts

So, should you spend $34 (or very much more for real leather) for a Slidebelts brand belt?  Or can you get away with spending as little as $20 or less on a no-name brand ratchet belt?

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Ratchet type belts are wonderful.  We like every feature and function of a ratchet belt – they solve all the challenges and limitations of traditional belts, without introducing any offsetting new compromises or limitations.

We strongly recommend them to you, not only for when you’re planning a week or more of cruiseship style overindulgence and anticipating needing to let your belt out a notch in the process, but for every other time you wear a belt, anywhere.  They are available in men’s and women’s sizes and Amazon has an overwhelming multitude of different colors, shapes, and sizes for you to choose from.

Generic Chinese ratchet belts are much less expensive than belts which, although also made in China, have been branded and distributed through US companies.  We discussed in the previous section, for our special Travel Insider Supporters, whether or not the adage “You Get What You Pay For” applies here or not.

Suffice it perhaps to say that you’ll probably be very happy with any ratchet belt.

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