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Guide to Tool Belts

Tool belts are used by professional contractors and technicians to keep their most frequently used tools close at hand. They are especially useful when tool boxes aren't practical, like when working around large jobsites, in tight spaces or up on ladders. In the past, the only choices users had about tool belts was in the material: leather or nylon. Now, many belts are designed around specific needs, including options for specific jobs, left-handed professionals and even "belt free" systems to reduce back strain. Tool belts can be a significant investment for a professional, potentially costing upwards of $200. Our guide can help you decide which tool belt is best for you and will give you the most value for your money.

Belt Size Guide ¦ Top Picks ¦ Before You Buy ¦ FAQ ¦ Shop Tool Belts

Popular Tool Belt Options

Tool Belts
Tool Belts
Tool belts use a variety of pouches, hooks and holster to store and organize tools and keep them within easy reach. While some belts have the pouches or pockets sewn or built in, others are customizable, so you can add and remove pouches. Tool belts are typically made from leather, nylon, cloth or canvas, and they are usually wider than traditional pant belts in order to support the weight of the tools more efficiently. They are available in right and left-handed models. (Right vs left hand design reflects where the tool bags are positioned. Bags for frequently used tools will be positioned by the dominate hand, and bags for secondary tools and fasteners will be on the other side.) Some professionals experience hip and lower back strain after wearing a loaded tool belt for extended periods of time. The strain can be alleviated by suspenders or padded inserts designed to work with tool belts. Shop Tool Belts
Tool Aprons
Tool Aprons
Tool aprons are similar to tool belts but the pouches are usually stored in the front, rather than at the hips and lower back. Aprons are typically less mobile than belts, and usually aren’t customizable. Canvas ones are favored by craftsmen who need to access parts, fasteners and smaller hand tools, though heavy-duty leather models are also available. As with tool belts, it’s always wise to consider how evenly weight is distributed. Carrying the weight in front is preferable for some people, and uncomfortable for others. Shop Tool Aprons
Tool Vests
Tool Vests
Tool vests have a variety of pockets and compartments to store cell phones, fasteners, and other accessories. They evenly distribute their weight across the shoulders, relieving the lower back pain some people experience with tool belts. The storage capacity of tool vests can be somewhat limited, so they are best suited for technicians who need to carry small hand tools and fasteners. Some vests, however, also have lanyards or ties, which clip onto tool pouches and provide additional storage for larger power tools. Shop Tool Vests
Tool Suspender Sets
Tool suspender systems are relatively new alternatives to traditional tool belts. They are worn like regular suspenders and feature a series of clips and lanyards designed to hold tool pouches. The primary advantage of suspender systems is the way they distribute weight across the shoulders rather than the hips and lower back. Suspender systems are highly customizable, and they usually have more storage capacity than tool vests. They are made from a variety of materials but the most common is nylon, which adds durability and flexibility to the suspenders’ design. Shop Suspender Sets
Tool Pouches
Tool Bags & Pouches
Bags and pouches determine the actual storage abilities of a tool belt. Tool bags usually have several interior pockets to organize hand and power tools. Pouches tend to have a large, open space which provides easy access to fasteners or small accessories. Bags and pouches are available in a variety of designs to suit different professions and needs. Carpenter bags are large and roomy, intended to carry heavy framing hammers, drills and fasteners. Electricians’ bags, on the other hand, are frequently smaller with a lot of pockets and interior compartments to hold and organize smaller screwdrivers and pliers. Tool bags are usually made from leather, nylon or a combination of both. Shop Tool Pouches

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Popular Belt Materials

Leather tool belts are typically higher quality, better designed more expensive than those made of other materials. You will sometimes see leather categorized as top-grain and split leather:

  • Top-grain is fairly high quality. The surface of top-grain leather is sanded to create a finish coat that gives it a more durable, plastic feel. If the finish remains intact it can have a high resistance to stains.
  • Split leather is derived from the fibrous part of the leather hide that is left once the top grain is removed. An artificial layer is applied to the surface, then it’s typically embossed with a leather grain.

Leather tool belts are a worthwhile buy, since they tend to last long and are durable (some are even water repellent.) When these belts and bags start to wear, they can frequently be repaired rather than replaced. But they can also be pretty expensive, so opting for a more affordable material might be worthwhile if you don’t have much to spend on a tool belt.

Nylon is a strong, synthetic material, often blended with others like polyester. Nylon belts are popular because they’re typically comfortable to wear and fairly durable. Plus, the material is more affordable than leather, so the belts are often less expensive. There's a greater range in quality with nylon tool belts. While there are certainly high quality, durable models, there are also plenty of cheaply made versions which will fall apart quickly. If you decide to go with a nylon belt system, look for things like reinforced stitching and corner reinforcement on the bags.

Canvas is a versatile and strong material perfect for holding tools, accessories and other supplies. It’s frequently used for tool aprons rather than tool belts. Made of cotton, canvas fibers are woven tightly together, creating a strong, durable bond that holds up very well against repeated use and heavy loads. It can withstand an amount of force that would rip other materials and often lasts longer than other fabrics. Plus, the material is soft, so it’s comfortable to wear while you work. It also tends to be less expensive than tool belts made of pricier material, like leather. If you need to hold lots of fasteners, parts, accessories or just a few hand tools, a canvas apron might be the best option for you.

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Top Picks for Tool Belts

Framer Tool Belt The Seven Bag Framer™ Tool Belt Set from Occidental Leather® is by far the most popular premium tool belt set among customers. The pouches are roomy with plenty of space for large framing tools, while the NoSpill™ holders keep smaller tools from falling out. As part of Occidental's Pro Series, the belt and bags are made from premium, top-grain leather and the bags are reinforced with copper rivets. As with all Occidental Leather products, this belt set is 100‰ made in America. Shop the Occidental Pro Framer Tool Bag Set
Heavy Duty Tool Belt Customers love the Heavy Duty 5 Piece Tool Belt Set from Milwaukee® (49-17-0195) because it provides great durability at a very reasonable price point. The belt and bags are made from water-resistant 1800 denier ballistic polyester. There are a total of 33 pockets, including tool-specific slots for items like speed squares, tape measures and cell phones/2-way radios. The pouches have large, flat bottoms, giving you easier access to your equipment. Shop the Milwaukee 5-Piece Heavy Duty Tool Bag Set
DeWALT Apron and Suspender Combo The DeWALT® 19-Pocket Framer's Apron and Suspenders Combo (DG5641) is our most popular belt-free tool system. With 8 main pockets and 21 smaller sleeves, there's plenty of room for large and small hand tools and fasteners. The tool bags each have top handles (a unique, patented design feature) so you can easily adjust your belt. The adjustable, padded suspenders distribute weight evenly across your shoulders and chest, reducing strain on your lower back. The 5" padded belt has a double-tongue roller buckle for a secure and comfortable fit. The package is competitively priced and offers a very good value. Shop the DeWALT 19-Pocket Framer's Apron and Suspender Combo
Electrician's Tool Bag Occidental has really lead the way in designing job-specific tool belt sets. Their series of electrician bags and belts provides more organization than traditional carpenter tool belts. An increased number of pockets and slots give electricians easy access to their screwdrivers and pliers and prevent the tools from falling out. The Electricians Tool Case (5589) features a riveted latch for larger wrenches, and a long chain to hold rolls of electrical tape. All of Occidental's belts and bags are made in America from American-sourced materials. Shop the Occidental Leather Electrician's Tool Case

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Before You Buy

Before you buy a belt, apron, suspenders or vest, you should ask yourself the following questions.

What kind of tools do you carry?
Tool belts and bags can be very job-specific. Carpenter bags don’t have sufficient pockets to organize all the pliers and screwdrivers Datacom techs carry. And an electrician’s belt isn’t roomy enough for the framing hammers, drills and fasteners general contractors need. Think about your most frequently used tools, and make sure there’s a convenient spot for each of them.

Do you care about ergonomics?
Some professionals experience strain on their lower back and hips when they carry fully loaded tools belts. If this is a concern for you, you may want to consider a tool vest or suspender system. These designs distribute the weight across your shoulders and chest rather than your waist, and some professionals find them to be more comfortable options.

How important is durability? How important is price?
These two questions are linked. Belts from companies like Occidental Leather feature superior craftsmanship and unparalleled durability. They are also more expensive. Cheaper belt systems cost less upfront, but they fall apart more quickly, especially with heavy use. Think about how much abuse the rest of your equipment usually goes through: your belt needs to be able to withstand the same conditions. If you want a belt or apron for weekend projects, a “value-priced” model may work for you. If you use your tool belt every day as part of your job, you should invest in a system that will last.

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How do I figure out my belt size?
To size your tool belt, place your existing tool belt on an even surface and measure it from the end of the buckle to the most commonly used hole. Select the belt size (by mid range) that is closest to your measurement. If you do not have a current tool belt to measure, you can get an approximate mid range measurement by adding 4" to your pant waist size.

Size Mid Range Approx. Pant Waist
Small 34" 29" to 32"
Medium 37" 33" to 35"
Large 41" 36" to 39"
X-Large 45" 40" to 44"
XX-Large 49" 45"to 49"
XXX-Large 53" 50" to 54"

Source: Occidental Leather;

What type is best? Tool belt, suspenders, vest or apron?
It depends on your needs and preferences. If you just want a simple piece of equipment that holds your tools while you work, then go for a belt. If you’re worried about the strain that a loaded tool belt can put on your back and hips, suspenders or a vest would be a better option. If you want coverage in addition to tool storage, an apron is the way to go.

What material should I choose?
If you want a higher-quality tool belt, opt for leather. Many leather belts are well-designed and durable. If you want something more affordable, go nylon. It’s durable, comfortable to wear and much cheaper. Canvas, which is softer but durable, is also an affordable option.

I have more questions!
We'd love to help. Give us a call at 866-597-3850 (Monday - Friday, 8am to 5pm CDT). Or email us at

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