Have you ever looked at a product and said to yourself “damn, this thing is just well made.”
Pretty cool feeling, right?
In the gym equipment space, there are some companies who really excel at craftsmanship.
American Barbell with barbells and Sorinex with power racks to name a couple.
Pioneer belts fall firmly in this category, and I would go so far as to say they make the most beautiful and carefully constructed belts I’ve ever seen.
Based out of Coleman Texas, their belts are completely made right here in the U.S.A.
With unprecedented customization and stellar customer service, they’re simply the best belt company out there right now, in my opinion.
Oh, and by the way, they also make wallets, dog collars, cell phone sleeves, etc… but for the sake of this article, I’m focusing only on the infamous Pioneer belts.
By the end of this review, you’ll probably be planning your very own belt design, and I can’t promise you won’t pull the trigger on one or more of their amazing belts.
Let’s dig in.
I get freakin’ excited when I write these reviews, I really do. But I’m particularly excited to write this one because I appreciate artistry, I appreciate customer service, and I appreciate high performing gym equipment.
Most online transactions go like this:
Step 1: Go to www.insertcompanyname.com
Step 2: Find the product you like
Step 3: Buy the product and go on with your life
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this process. Buying stuff online is ultra convenient, and I for one appreciate the simplicity of it all.
But where is the experience factor?
It’s the reason why you can go to a Starbucks and have a hard time finding an open seat but you rarely see anyone hanging around inside a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Both make great coffee, but one offers an experience.
Pioneer belts, unlike the Inzers or SBD’s of the world, offer an experience when it comes to buying a lifting belt… and a very pleasant and satisfying one at that.
I now own two Pioneer belts: a single prong belt and their new revolutionary Pioneer cut belt. I also own a lever belt from Inzer, which I reviewed here, and while it’s a great belt, I would have gone with a Pioneer lever belt had I known about them a few years ago.
A note on IPF approval: Pioneer belts are not IPF approved. This may or may not be a deal breaker for you. It’s not personally for me, but I’m also covered with my Inzer belt. As an FYI, it would cost nearly $200,000 for Pioneer to get approval from the IPF. It may or may not be something they look into obtaining in the future depending on the numbers, but know that as of the writing of this article, they are not IPF approved.
Prong vs. Lever
As I mentioned, I own three belts: a lever belt from Inzer, a single prong from Pioneer, and a Pioneer cut from Pioneer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to owning one style over the other.
A lever belt is a popular choice because it’s freakishly fast. You can tighten it down quickly and release it in the matter of a flick. Speaking of, the flick is a powerlifting power move. It reminds people that you mean business, so when you’re done hitting a PR, you flick the lever and then walk away calmly as the explosion goes off in the background.
The biggest drawback of the lever belt is that it’s not easily adjustable (unless you own the expensive SBD belt). Levers are traditionally attached to a belt with a couple of screws. If you’re someone who likes different levels of tightness for different lifts, it’s fairly inconvenient with a lever belt.
A prong belt, on the other hand, is much easier to adjust. The design is such that you can quickly and simply vary the level of tightness by moving the prong to a different hole. Plus you can make a Mark Bell belt boner, which is really important for Instagram. The drawback though is that it’s not nearly as fast as the lever. It takes a second or two to adjust and get in the right position.
One drawback to both the single prong and the lever belt is that it’s possible to be in between tightness levels. Holes are traditionally 1″ apart, so it’s not uncommon for someone to wish for a hole somewhere in the middle for that perfect amount of tightness.
That’s where the Pioneer Cut comes into play.
Pioneer Cut Belt
This revolutionary patent-pending belt design was created by Steve Strohm and turned into reality by Pioneer.
The design is completely brilliant and so simple… one of those “why didn’t I think of that” kind of things.
By using two rows of holes that are offset a half an inch with one single prong, you’re able to make micro adjustments very easily. This essentially solves the problem that a more traditional belt presents with the level of tightness.
As you can see in the image above comparing the prong systems of the Pioneer cut (left) and the regular single prong (right), you can see they’re slightly different.
The Pioneer cut’s leather is cut wider in order to allow the prong to slide up or down so that it can fit the holes on both rows. Check out the clip in the sizing section below of it in action.
In case you’re wondering, this sliding prong does not adversely affect tightness. Once it’s in the hole, it’s not moving.
In my opinion, the Pioneer cut is going to completely change the game. It offers all the same advantages of a single prong belt, but with the added benefit of micro adjustments. If you want a prong belt, I strongly recommend you get the Pioneer cut – it just makes sense.
With that, let’s have a deeper look into Pioneer belts as a whole to see what makes them so great in general.
When it comes to a lifting belt, construction is a major factor. You want something that’s going to last a long time, allow you to lift the most weight, and help you increase rigidity to keep you in a good, safe position.
A lifting belt is an investment, and as such, it’s not something to go cheap on. Sure, you can go buy a Valero belt, but you’ll be buying another one in a few months.
With a Pioneer belt, you’re getting a belt that’s going to stand the test of time and perform over the long haul.
View this post on Instagram
Someone mentioned they wanted to see “the turn” in real time so I made Greg come back and film me lol. It may look easy, but it is simply the most difficult thing we do (other than free-hand sewing) on this machine. Who thinks they have what it takes??? #americanmanufacturing #pioneerbelts
These belts are constructed with a single piece of genuine sole leather, unlike some other belt manufacturers who glue multiple layers together to reach the stated thickness. The belts feature nickel-plated rivets and buckles, which help to bolster life expectancy.
The inside of the belt is covered with a garment-grade, non-slip suede that looks awesome and helps further keep the belt in position. You can also have suede covering the outside depending on your aesthetic. The suede is attached with high-quality stitching that looks perfectly applied.
Pioneer belts are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most popularly, they are 10mm or 13mm thick and 4″ wide. They also make 3″ wide belts, 6.5mm thick belts, and others.
I personally like 10mm belts, as I’m a relatively small-framed guy at 5’8″ 160 lbs. I don’t like the feeling of a 13mm belt myself – it’s too stiff for my liking. 10mm is perfectly acceptable for the vast majority of lifters. 1,000 lb squatters have used 10mm belts without concern.
There is certainly a break-in period with pioneer belts, whether it’s a 10mm belt or a 13mm belt. When your belt arrives, take some time to bend it, roll it, twist it, etc… but most importantly lift with it. In time, it will break in. For what it’s worth, I found it much easier to break in than my Inzer.
Pioneer Belt Sizing
Belt sizing is an often-confused process that is made very simple by Pioneer. Their actual sizing is as follows:
Extra Small (22-31)
It’s best to measure where you’ll actually be wearing the belt. This is typically around the navel, so don’t think of the numbers above as a pant size.
So, as you can see, each belt covers 9″ of room, with overlap between sizes. That is, a person who wears a medium could also wear a small or a large.
Compare this to an Inzer, which has no overlap and only 3″ per size, and you can see where some would get confused, especially if you’re on one side of the range.
What I like about Pioneer, aside from a straight forward sizing approach, is that you can just contact them and let them know exactly how you’d like it sized.
Consider these two scenarios, in which you already own a prong belt or a lever belt (from anyone):
- Scenario A: You own a prong belt and you like the way it fits. Measure the distance between the leather fold (near the buckle) and the current hole you’re using. Give that measurement to Pioneer, and they’ll make it work.
- Scenario B: You own a lever belt and you like the way it fits. Measure the distance from end to end and give that to Pioneer – they’ll make it work. Similarly, if your current belt is maybe too loose and you want the buckle to land in the middle of the holes, tell them you want to shave off a few inches. The opposite is also true. Either way, they’ll make it work.
The moral of the story is that Pioneer will make it work, whatever you need.
These Pioneer belts perform extremely well.
I love both, but I definitely use the Pioneer cut belt more often than the regular single prong. I don’t think I ever realized just how much an extra half inch in either direction helps. With my lever belt, if I ever wanted to adjust the tightness, I just folded my Hip Circle in half and stuffed it in front (works very well, by the way). It’s much easier now with the Pioneer cut.
Since getting the Pioneer Cut, I’ve actually started playing more and more with various tightness levels between lifts. Before having it, I either kept it the same to avoid moving the lever or I used my Hip Circle hack.
Life is simply easier with the Pioneer cut belt. If, however, you want a regular single prong, it’s excellent as well, and while I’ve not used their lever belt personally, I’m fully confident the same is true.
Customization & Aesthetics
To put it clearly, nobody is currently touching what Pioneer is putting out in terms of overall look. The belts are just beautiful and the possibilities are literally limitless.
Pioneer gives you the option to customize your belt in a number of ways:
- Suede Color- Pick the color suede you want inside the belt and/or outside of the belt. They currently offer 22 color options.
- Stitching Color – Pick a stitching color you want to use. This color will show through on both sides of the belt.
- Buckle/Lever Color – With prong belts, you have the option for nickel-plated (default) or black. With the lever, you have the option to pick from nine different colors.
- Lever Image/Text – You can add a single image or text up to five characters on your lever. The engraving color is either black or silver. You can provide the font you like.
- Suede Images/Text – You can add custom embroidered images and/or text to the inside, outside, prong loop, above lever, and/or tongue of your belt. You can provide the font you like.
- Leather Images/Text – You can add custom laser burned images and/or text to outside, prong loop, above lever, and/or tongue of your belt.
- Custom Dyes/Fades – You can choose from 12 different custom dye colors and choose to add a black edge or a fade.
I personally wanted a classic leather look, so I went with a British tan on the pioneer cut (no fade) and a custom dye on the single prong (with fade). On the inside of both, I wanted a navy suede with white lettering spelling ‘Garage Gym Lab’ in Bebas Nue font (like my logo). I additionally wanted white stitching to make it really pop.
What I received was beyond my expectations. They’re seriously beautiful.
Check out this gallery of some of my favorites that I’ve seen.
Pricing & Customer Service
Pioneer belts are competitively priced out of the box with the most basic customization. The base prices are as follows for lever, single prong, and Pioneer cut (minimum 10mm):
- Lever Belt: $94.95 – $124.95
- Single Prong Belt: $74.95 – $118.95
- Pioneer Cut Belt: $94.95 – $170.00
If you want to add extra customization, it can range anywhere from $9.95 up to $54.95 per customization item. A fully decked out belt could, therefore, cost up to a few hundred dollars.
Customer service is stellar at Pioneer. Matt, Greg, and the rest of the team are a delight to work with and they’re extremely responsive. They offer a lifetime warranty on their belts, which includes any manufacturer defect. This includes the leather splitting, the lever breaking, a rivet popping, the stitching busting, etc… These guys are true professionals – if they can repair it, they will. If they can’t, they will replace it.
You should carefully measure your belt, and if you have questions, you should ask them. They cannot accept returns due to incorrect sizing, nor can they accept returns on custom belts.
In terms of timing, they’re currently running 2-3 weeks on non-embroidered belts and 4-6 weeks on custom belts (check their website for updates on estimated timelines). One cool thing Pioneer Belts does on their Instagram is live updates on manufacturing. You can ask them about dates, they show belts being made, etc… It’s really cool, and it’s a part of that experience I mentioned.
Lastly, one thing I think could be improved to some extent is their website with regards to the customization options. Not that it isn’t understandable, but I think it could be enhanced some to make the experience even better. Minor gripe.
Pioneer Belts – Pros and Cons
- Pioneer belts are extremely high quality. I have no doubt these belts will last a very long time.
- The customization is second-to-none. You can essentially customize your belt to whatever your heart desires.
- You have the option to select from a number of belt options ranging in thicknesses, widths, and styles.
- The Pioneer cut design is completely awesome and it’s a total game changer.
- The suede is non-slip, which prevents any issues with belt-slide.
- I love the Pioneer sizing system.
- The belts are priced competitively at the base level.
- Customer service is superb.
- Made 100% in the U.S.A.
- The belts aren’t IPF approved.
- The website could be improved with respect to handling the customization options.
Pioneer Belts are just incredible belts for the money. They look beautiful and they perform just as well. As I mentioned earlier, had I known about Pioneer when I bought my Inzer, I would have gone with Pioneer. I’ll still be using my Inzer lever until I upgrade it to a Pioneer, but I’ll also be using the Pioneer cut and single prong Pioneer belts a lot.
The Pioneer cut belt is something I can’t recommend enough. It makes so much sense, it makes life easier, it’s more functional, and it looks badass.
Check it out for sure if you’re in the market for a new belt.
If you want to read more about powerlifting equipment in general, check out my ultimate guide to building a powerlifting home gym.
If you have any questions about this belt or belts in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own a Pioneer belt and you want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback. If you found this review useful, please feel free to share it on social media!
The bar is loaded,