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Nylon and leather are the two most common lifting belt materials. Depending on your goals, preferences, and lifting style, both are great options for beginner to advanced lifters. Nylon lifting belts are more versatile, less expensive, and better for dynamic movements. Leather belts are more durable and rigid, making them better for heavy lifting.
Differences Between Nylon vs. Leather Lifting Belts
Weight belts come in two primary materials: nylon and leather. Both have advantages and disadvantages based on your training and preferences.
The biggest difference between nylon and leather lifting belts is stiffness. Leather is much more rigid than nylon, making it more suitable for heavy training.
In addition to rigidity, these two belt materials differ in durability, fastening mechanisms, price, and more.
In this article, we’ll look at nylon vs. leather belts in detail. I’ll outline the pros and cons and provide a few recommendations. By the end, you should be able to tell which is right for you.
The main purpose of a weight belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure, which helps protect the back and lift heavier weights.
While nylon and leather belts both accomplish this, they’re designed for different lifters.
A nylon lifting belt is much more flexible, making it a more versatile option. It’s especially popular in CrossFit and functional fitness because it’s comfortable and effective at dynamic movements. Nylon belts are also good for Olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, and recreational lifting.
I recommend a nylon belt to beginners learning how to breathe and brace. Wearing a weight belt correctly is critical to performance, and starting with a nylon belt is a great way to reinforce the technique.
A leather lifting belt is very rigid, making it an ideal choice for powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and Strongmen/women. With a firmer wall to press against, lifters can maximize internal pressure and generally lift heavier weights than with nylon belts. While anyone can start with a leather belt, they’re generally better for more experienced lifters.
While both nylon and leather have durable qualities, leather belts are much more resilient. A quality leather belt can last 10+ years of regular use. I’ve owned multiple leather belts and have never had a concern over their longevity.
In addition to leather naturally being more durable, these belts have metal rivets and buckles to help bolster strength and extend life.
On the other hand, nylon belts are susceptible to fraying, tearing, and becoming looser over time. That’s not to say they’re poor quality because many nylon belts can last years. However, it’s something to consider if you’re using the belt frequently, sharing with a lifting partner, etc.
The velcro strap, seams, and edges are the biggest concerns on a nylon belt. Keep a close eye on your belt to identify any problem areas. Several nylon belt manufacturers offer lifetime warranties, which can mitigate durability risks.
Nylon belts are thinner and more flexible than leather belts, making them more comfortable for most people. Although both belts are primarily made with uniform 4″ heights, the softer nylon edges feel better around the hips and ribs.
Some leather belts offer a tapered design, starting with 4″ in the back and tapering down to 2″ on the sides and front. Olympic weightlifters often use this style because it’s more comfortable on dynamic movements and reduces the risk of barbell interference.
While nylon belts typically range between 5mm to 7mm thick, leather belts can be much thicker. The two most common leather belt thicknesses are 10mm and 13mm. These belts provide excellent rigidity but can be uncomfortable to some lifters, especially in the beginning. Over time, however, they break in and conform to the body. Thinner leather belts are also available to increase comfort.
Nylon belts use a velcro strap fastening system, while leather belts use prongs or levers. Generally, you can achieve a tighter, more secure fit with levers and prongs. A lever is an excellent choice because you can instantly engage and disengage the belt. Although prongs require more effort, they offer great adjustments at consistent tightness levels.
The velcro straps on nylon belts can be tightened in two ways. The simplest application is looping the strap through a metal buckle and pulling it to the opposite side. The more secure application is adding a sliding pin to the buckle and routing the strap around it before tightening. This is known as a self-locking or quick-locking belt. Even if the velcro failed during a lift, a self-locking belt would maintain tightness.
Velcro systems are quick and easy, but they aren’t as durable as prongs or levers. Over time, hook and loop fibers lose their “stick,” making it harder to maintain tightness. The velcro patches may also peel after a lot of use. Look for a nylon belt with reinforced seams throughout the patch to increase longevity.
Some leather belts, known as hybrid belts, will have a velcro system for those who want the extra rigidity but with a more adjustable fastening mechanism.
Nylon belts are available in various colors and patterns. Generally, they have a wider range of aesthetic options than leather belts. For instance, the Gymreapers Quick-Locking belt has nine colors, including several camo options. The 2POOD Straight Weightlifting Belt takes it even further, offering dozens of designs and the ability to customize the belt with your own patterns, logos, etc.
Leather belts come in two varieties: raw or suede-covered. Raw leather makes the most classic-looking belt. It’s typically available in brown or black tones but can be customized with dyes for more options. Suede covers are available in multiple colors and help reduce slippage/control moisture. In addition to vibrant color choices, suede is easily embroidered, providing unique customization options.
On average, nylon belts are significantly less expensive than leather belts, making them great for budget shoppers. Most nylon belts are priced between $30-$65, while leather belts typically range from $50-$170. Most high-quality leather belts will fetch over $100, and some can cost well over $200, depending on customization and features.
Although both belt styles are popular among lifters, I took the lever nylon vs. leather lifting belt question to Instagram and polled the Garage Gym Lab audience.
80% of respondents said they prefer a leather belt.
While leather belts are generally more popular than nylon, this is just a single data point. If I conducted this poll on a powerlifting page, it would likely be even more lopsided. On the other hand, if I polled a CrossFit community, it would probably be reversed.
Nylon Belt Pros and Cons + Recommendations
I recommend nylon belts to beginner lifters, functional fitness athletes, and budget shoppers. The belt’s flexibility makes for a more comfortable lifting experience, and it’s a great tactile breathing tool to teach proper bracing.
Nylon belts are easy to use and offer more adjustments than leather belts, but they aren’t as durable or effective for heavy lifting.
When looking for a nylon belt, check for reinforced seams as an extra layer of strength. I also recommend looking for nylon belts with at least a 3-year warranty, and preferably a lifetime.
I recommend the Rogue USA Nylon Belt to most lifters. This belt has a slightly tapered design starting at 5″ in the back and tapering down to 4″ on the sides and front. It has a foam core in the back, making it more rigid than standard nylon belts.
This made-in-the-USA belt has a clean aesthetic with multiple color options. It also comes with a 3-year warranty and excellent user reviews.
I’ve owned and used this belt for years, and it’s held up very well. It’s more expensive than some budget nylon options, but you get a stronger belt that most lifters will appreciate.
Leather Belt Pros and Cons + Recommendations
I recommend leather belts to lifters looking to maximize intra-abdominal pressure and elevate their training. Powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and Strongmen/women are ideal candidates for a leather belt, but any lifting style can benefit from using one.
Leather belts are better for heavier lifting and are very durable. Their locking mechanisms create a strong, secure fit, and they’re more consistent than nylon belts.
Leather belts aren’t as effective for dynamic movements because they lack the flexibility and comfort of nylon.
I recommend the Gymreapers Lever Belt for those looking for a high-quality leather belt. Levers provide instant feedback, so you can tighten and loosen your belt in one second.
The 10mm thickness is ideal for most lifters because it blends comfort and stiffness. There may still be a break-in period, but it’s faster than 13mm. This belt is also IPF-approved.
Available in multiple colors with a suede cover, it’s a great-looking belt. I’ve owned and tested it extensively, and it performs as well as more expensive lever belts. It’s also higher quality than budget lever belts, which I don’t recommend.
Is a Nylon or Leather Lifting Belt Better?
Both are excellent lifting belt options, but it comes down to your budget and lifting style. Nylon belts are best for budget shoppers and functional athletes, while leather belts are best for those lifting heavier weights.
Should I Buy a Lever or a Prong Belt?
Levers and prongs are the two fastening mechanisms for leather belts. Levers can create a tighter fit and are much faster than prongs. On the other hand, prongs have more adjustments and are less expensive, but they take more effort. I recommend lever belts to most people, but if you share a belt or like varying tightness levels for different lifts, go with a prong.
Does Belt Thickness Matter?
Yes, the thickness of your belt determines how supportive it is. Generally, thicker belts are more rigid and supportive, while thinner belts are more comfortable and better for dynamic movements. Thicker belts may also require a longer break-in period.
When comparing nylon vs. leather lifting belts, consider your lifting style and budget.
If you have a bigger budget and perform heavier lifting, I recommend a leather belt. They’ll last years and provide the best support.
If you train for CrossFit or other functional fitness programs, I recommend a more flexible nylon belt. It’s a great beginner belt, but high-level athletes can also one and still lift heavy.
Whether you pick nylon or leather, investing in a lifting belt can benefit anyone by increasing back support and progressing lifts.