I first encountered a Wilderness Instructor Belt on a POST-certified firearms instructor in Georgia about twelve years ago. The Instructor Belt is a cloth belt with rows of reinforcing stitching, with a sturdy steel buckle. After passing through the buckle, the tongue is secured with a strip of velcro stitched on the belt. The Instructor Belt was stiff enough for good use as a gun belt, and was so strong that a carabiner could be clipped onto the steel buckle, and used for load-bearing in an emergency. The thought of being able to rappel with the belt I wore everyday made an instant sell to my much younger self, and I bought one.
I seem to recall that Instructor Belt was black with red stitching. It was strong and supportive, but It didn’t really match with most things I wore, was extremely stiff, and was too wide to fit in many of my pants. I eventually stopped wearing the thing, and can’t remember what I did with it.
Fast-forward to September of 2011, and I and several others from Shooting Reviews are attending the Gunsite 250 Pistol course. I had brought two leather belts, one from Blade-Tech, and one from 5-11, but they didn’t feel quite secure and load-bearing enough for multiple magazines and high repetitions presenting a duty-sized handgun. After looking around at what some of the better shooters -and the staff- were wearing, I picked up a Wilderness Instructor belt from the Gunsite Pro Shop.
This belt was khaki, not black, and a slimmer 1 1/2″ width, so I knew it would fit almost all of my pants. And the reinforcement stitching was certainly not red. I was not alone. In my class section, half of the students were wearing Wilderness Instructor belts by the second day. That belt worked well for carrying three magazines and my handgun, with additional magazines stuffed in my pockets for the rest of class.
After I returned home, the 1 1/2″ Instructor Belt was the belt I wore most often. There were some occasions when a khaki belt did not match, and some pants that even 1 1/2 inches was too wide for, but in general, it worked very well. When I left for Afghanistan in November, I took the belt with me.
In Afghanistan, some of the traits that made the 1 1/2″ Instructor Belt a better belt for my daily life in the USA made it less than optimal for the battlefield. In particular, the slimmer belt that works for almost all of my jeans allowed the waistband of my ACU uniform trousers to curl over While not a major inconvenience, this was annoying. Buying the wider 1 3/4″ Instructor’s Belt solved this issue.
The 1 3/4″ Instructor Belt was nearly ideal for use in Afghanistan. I bought the Olive Drab belt, which faded into a sage-ish shade. The belt distributed weight well, and was comfortable, yet stiff enough to allow a smooth draw if I needed my M9. The only time the use of the Instructor’s Belt was an inconvenience was going through aircraft terminals.
Even though it seems odd, there are military terminals in Afghanistan that force passengers, even armed US and allied passengers, to go through metal detectors. My job this deployment entailed a lot of flying, so there were many times that I found myself dragging a bag or two, forty pounds of body armor and helmet, and a hopper full of all the contents of my pockets (which might seem inconsequential until you think dog tags, wallet, keys, M9, weapon magazines, gloves, Spyderco folder, fleece or patrol cap, ear plugs, lip balm, cell phone- you get the picture) through the x-ray and metal detector line at an aircraft terminal. Wearing the Instructor Belt with its steel buckle meant I had to remove the belt as well instead of just unclipping my holster and magazine carrier.
After I returned from Afghanistan, I decided to give a different Wilderness Belt a try, so I ordered two Wilderness Frequent Flyer belts. I already have Instructor Belts in 1 1/2 and 1 3/4″ widths, so I thought that I would try the slimmer 1 1/4″ belt width that is only available on the Frequent Flyers. When I ordered my Instructor Belt in Afghanistan, I paid the extra $5 for 5 rows of reinforcement stitching instead of 3. On the Frequent Flyer belts, I ordered one with 3 rows, and one with 5 rows, to see if there was a discernible difference.
Frequent Flyer belts have plastic loops instead of the large metal buckles found on the Instructor Belts. When I opened the box, I found that the Frequent Flyer belts “buckles”…look like a woman’s fashion accessory. The loops the belt is cinched against just look more- dare I say “cute”?- on a woman than a man.
Looks aside, the plastic rings on the Frequent Flyer do work well. I found the 3-stitch belt to be obviously more flexible, but stiff enough to carry a full-size handgun and a spare magazine, and to be secure enough for a smooth presentation from the holster. The 5-stitch I tried with a Commander 1911 and double magazine carrier. Both of these thinner belts worked as gun belts, so long as I did not use them on pants with very wide belt loops. If worn on BDU/ACU military pants, the 1 1/4″ belt still allows a smooth presentation from a holster, but the extra space in the belt loops will allow the belt to shift sometimes as you move. I believe the 3-stitch Frequent Flyer is a good choice for someone who wants a comfortable belt that can also be used sometimes as a gun belt. The 5-stitch Frequent Flyer may be a good choice for someone who is forced to go through secure areas sometimes, and wants to skip that extra step of removing their belt.
The 1 1/2″ Instructor Belt or Frequent Flyer 5-stitch would be good choices for anyone who regularly carries a lot of gear around their waist. If you wear combat style pants as part of your uniform, the 1 3/4″ Instructor Belt or Frequent Flyer, again with 5 rows of reinforcement stitching, should work well for you. The Instructor Belt, with its emergency weight-bearing ability, is also the obvious choice for anyone performing duties with a high risk of falling. The 3-stitch version should work well if you don’t need to carry as much on your waist. For those who carry an extreme amount of gear around their midsection, Wilderness also offers a version with a polyethylene insert, and for anyone who wants the original style Instructor Belt with the non-magnetic properties of the Frequent Flyer, a titanium Instructor Belt is offered.
So, the last big questions: are there any problems with Wilderness Belts, and how much do they cost? I have only noticed one real problem (aside from the Frequent Flyers not looking manly) in my last year of using Wilderness belts daily. The stitching on the edges of the velcro tab tends to fray a little, especially on the 1 1/2″ width (the velcro strip is 1 1/2″ wide on both widths of Instructor Belt, so the edges are rubbed more on the 1 1/2″ version). I estimate that daily use of an 1 1/2″ Instructor Belt may only net 3 or 4 years. While we all want our gear to last forever, 3 years of daily heavy use sounds pretty reasonable to me! The 1 1/2″ Instructor Belt with 5 rows of stitching, which I think is the best choice for most shooters, will cost you $44.95 and shipping. A 1 1/2″ Frequent Flyer with 5 -stitch is $38.95: the 1 1/4″ version will run $3 less. Wilderness will replace the “hook and loop” (velcro tabs) on a belt for $15 and shipping.