One important part of survival which can be easily overlooked in our world of modern survival gadgets, is the ability to improvise. When I got started, as a teenager, not only didn’t I have the money to buy all those gadgets, but most of them didn’t exist. We had to be creative back then, using what we had available to us. That ability to improvise is just as valuable to the modern survivalist, as it was to us back then.
With that in mind, everything we carry, whether when we are hiking through the woods or as part of our EDC should be part of our survival gear in some way or another. Even if it isn’t intended to be survival gear, you can turn a lot of things into survival gear in a crunch. We want to think of those uses ahead of time, rather than waiting until the last possible minute.
A good leather belt can be an amazingly useful survival tool. But I must reiterate, that’s a “good leather belt” not a cheap one or one that’s made of synthetic materials.
Belts made the old-fashioned way, cut from cowhide, are a lot stronger than synthetics or even the “engineered leather products” they have today. As anyone who carries concealed can tell you, the only kind of belt to have is the old-fashioned leather kind.
Make sure your belt has a good buckle as well. In a number of these applications, the buckle is critical and will be carrying a lot of weight.
A good buckle, with a thick, strong prong, will ensure that the buckle can do what you need it to. I’d recommend avoiding western-style buckles, which just have a short prong that goes through the belt, rather than a prong which is captured by the frame and bar of the buckle.
Please note that if one belt is good, several belts are even better. While it would look strange to wear multiple belts, there’s nothing wrong with making sure that every member of your family or survival team is wearing a belt, even if they don’t need it to keep their pants up. They might need it for something else. What else?
To Hang Things From
The most basic use of a belt, besides holding up your pants, is to hang things from. Just look at any uniformed police officer. Pretty much all the tools of their trade are hung from their belt. Carpenters do this too, although hanging a table saw or even a circular saw from a tool belt is extremely difficult.
Hanging things from your belt frees up your hands to do other important tasks. It also makes it easier to carry those things.
By being hung from the belt, the weight is transferred directly to the legs, which are much more able to handle that weight than the back is. You can carry more, by having the weight attached to your waist or hips, than you can having it hanging off your shoulders. That’s why good backpacking packs always have a belt.
As a Strap or Handle
If you are carrying something along with you, which doesn’t already have a strap or handle on it, you can readily improvise one from a belt. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a rifle that needs a sling or a suitcase with a broken handle, you can make one from a belt. Used properly, you might even be able to make multiple straps or handles out of one belt.
Convert it to Cordage
The belt itself is a strong cord, but it can also be cut down, turning it into 1/8” or 1/4” wide strips, which can be used to tie just about anything you need. In the Old West, cowboys carried “piggin strings” which were nothing more than this strips of leather.
Originally intended for tying a steer’s legs together for branding, piggin strings ended up being used by those cowboys for anything they had to tie. More than anything, they would use those cords to tie their bedroll and to tie things to their horse’s saddle.
When leather is wet, it stretches, drying once again as it dries. So wet leather cordage made from your belt can be used to tie a spear point to a shaft. Once the leather dries and shrinks, it will make a much stronger attachment than you can get with just about anything else in the wild.
Pull Things Up
If you need to pull something up off the ground, such as pulling your pack up into a tree where you are going to spend the night, your belt is the best possible cordage for it. Not only is your belt strong, but it has a buckle, allowing it to be bound around something that needs to be lifted.
Speaking of lifting things, if your partner falls in the river, your best rescue tool is your belt. Take your belt off and loop the end back through the buckle; then throw it to them. Once they put their hand through that loop and you start pulling on the belt, it will tighten up, so they won’t be able to slip out of your grasp, even if you both get tired. You’ll have a much easier time holding onto that belt, than you would holding on to their wet hand as well.
Tie Food in Trees
Bears are always on the prowl, looking for something to eat. That’s why you’re not supposed to leave food sitting around your campground. Rather, you should tie it up in a tree, hanging from a limb, high enough that a bear can’t reach it. That way, if they do come around, they’ll eventually get tired of trying to get the food they can’t reach and go on their way.
Hanging the food, rather than strapping it to a branch, also protects it from other critters that can climb trees to get to it.
Tie Yourself in a Tree
Speaking of tying things in trees, you might decide that you want to sleep in a tree, rather than on the ground, just to keep yourself away from those critters. That’s what Katniss Everdeen did in The Hunger Games. The only real difference is that she had a piece of rope to use. If you don’t have that rope, use your belt.
As a Tourniquet
Your belt can also help you out in some medical emergencies. If you have a bleeding injury on a limb, you can use your belt as a tourniquet; slowing the flow of blood.
But it will work even better as a pressure bandage, putting the belt directly over the dressing you put on the wound.
The problem with using a belt as a tourniquet is that the tourniquet is supposed to put enough pressure on the limb that it crushes the blood vessels, thereby blocking off blood flow. That’s why the best modern tourniquets have a windlass.
That’s still theoretically possible with a belt, but not easy. To do so, you really need to cut a strip of leather about a half inch wide. Tie it loosely around the limb, then slip a stick under it. Turn the stick, like a windlass, to tighten up the tourniquet.
Related: DIY Dollar Store First Aid Kit
As a Sling
It’s considerably easier to use your belt as a sling, than it is as a tourniquet. Actually, it makes a pretty good, natural sling, just as it is. Simply fasten the belt, making a loop, then put it over your head and put the injured arm through the loop.
As a Replacement Strap for Your Pack
Backpack straps can break, from time to time, making it hard to carry your pack. With a good belt, you can tie or sew the belt to what’s left of your strap or directly to the pack itself, making it possible to keep carrying your pack.
While it would be possible to cut your belt down in this case, making it narrower, that would be much more uncomfortable to carry, even though the belt would be strong enough to carry it. If you have to do that, then you might want to wrap an article of extra clothing around it, to act as a pad for your shoulder and keep the belt from cutting into you.
To Create a Bundle
Since a belt always has a buckle, it can be wrapped around just about anything and secured. So if you don’t have a pack, you can take whatever items you do have and make a bundle out of them, tying that bundle together with your belt.
If you don’t have a hole in the right place, you can easily make one with your knife. Just be careful to not let that turn into a long slit, instead of a hole.
Taking an article of clothing, like a coat, and wrapping everything inside it, then tying it with your belt allows you to carry small things in that bundle too, not just big things.
To Carry Firewood
Just as you can carry other burdens, bundled up in your belt, you can also carry firewood. Wrapping your belt around an armload of firewood to secure it will make it so you can carry much more wood, without struggling to keep from dropping it. In fact, if you have two belts, you can probably carry a bundle in each arm, doubling your load and saving time.
A Makeshift Weapon
While it may not be the best weapon going, tying your belt around a rock makes a pretty good melee weapon. The buckle end of the belt can easily tighten around the rock, holding it secure. The other end then becomes your handle. Swinging it around your head will ensure a lot of pain, when that rock comes into contact with your assailant.
Pull a Stretcher
If you have to move someone on a stretcher or are trying to use a stretcher to carry your survival gear and maybe a kill you made hunting, you’ll probably end up pulling that stretcher, rather than carrying it. After all, carrying it requires two people. In that case, a strap on the end of the stretcher will make it much easier to drag, than trying to hold onto a branch.
Strop Your Knife
If you ever went to an old-fashioned barber shop, you might remember the barber stropping his straight razor on a leather strop, before shaving the hair around your ears and neck. This was a common means of keeping a fine edge on that razor, so that it would cut well.
Stropping won’t work to sharpen a dull blade. You’ll need a good stone for that. But once you’ve got a good edge with a stone, stropping will work to make that edge even finer. If you strop it regularly, you’ll be able to keep it sharp, so that you don’t need to take the time to sharpen it fully.
Ideally, you should have some jeweler’s rouge or tripoly for this. These paste-like buffing compounds are intended to provide a very fine abrasive for polishing jewelry. Barbers also use them on their strop, as that fine abrasive action helps with the stropping process. But if you don’t have those (I don’t know anyone who has them in their bug out bag), then you can use toothpaste, as it is also a fine abrasive, intended for polishing.
Just as a Belt
If nothing else, keep your belt on, as it will help hold your pants on. Remember that you’ll probably lose weight in most survival situations, so even if your pants are tight when you start, they may not be tight when you’re done. You may very well need that belt, before all is said and done.
Of course, if you have to use your belt for any of the purposes above, you can hold your pants up with something else. A piece of paracord makes a pretty good emergency belt, if you don’t have any bigger rope to use. Although, I will have to say, a wide belt is much more comfortable than paracord.
You may also like: