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Austere Mfg. Lock Belt: Cracking a Conundrum

Meet the Lock Belt by Austere Manufacturing: a revolutionary twist on the classic belt, crafted for the modern adventurer. Tom delves into its ingenious design, proving it's not just a belt—it's an evolution of outdoor apparel.

Austere Mfg. Lock Belt: Cracking a Conundrum

The concept of a belt is certainly nothing new. In fact, belts have been around for millennia, with their first documented use dating back to the Bronze Age. With literally thousands of years of development behind us, you'd think we would have perfected their design long, long ago. However, things have changed dramatically since the days of ancient blacksmithing techniques, and as any respectable engineer would tell you, there is always room for improvement.

Let's shift our attention to more recent times. The year is 2020. Nestled in a quaint red barn in the Pacific Northwest, a CNC mill spins up and begins chipping away at a block of billet aluminum. Uriel Eisen is hard at work prototyping a cam buckle, which will come to be the debut product of a little company called Austere Manufacturing. Bikepackers, overlanders, and other outdoor enthusiasts alike immediately fall in love with these brilliant little pieces of engineering. Following this success, Uriel begins work on a dedicated belt buckle. The goal was to create an infinitely-adjustable belt that is truly secure, something unsolved by anyone else — it was destined to be a game changer if it could be pulled off. Fast forward through hundreds of prototypes and a couple of years of iteration, and the Lock Belt was born. Austere's CNC whirred away on the first production batch, and the belts began shipping at the end of 2023. We're fortunate enough to have one on our hands for review, so strap in and let's see if this new design really can revolutionize the humble belt buckle.

Specs & Locking Mechanism

Through all that meticulous refinement, Austere arrived at a locking double-plate mechanism, which is completely unlike their spring-loaded cam buckle. The new buckle is purpose-built for use as a belt, and consists of an inner "slide" piece with five teeth underneath, which interfaces with opposing grooves on the outer "body", leaving just enough of a gap to snuggly sandwich the nylon webbing. On the back of the slide, a brass "lock bar" secures it into the body via a pair of stainless steel torx screws. As with their renowned cam buckles, the belt buckle is CNC machined down from a block of billet aluminum. That's not because it sounds impressive, but because it's the only process that Austere felt could achieve the quality they sought. The complete buckle assembly weighs in at a modest 42g (1.5 oz), and sizes up to 2.3 x 2.04 x 0.5", about 3-4x the size and 5x the weight of the cam buckle. This is not to say that it's heavy, the cam buckles are just especially tiny and light. While the buckle's build quality itself is nothing short of outstanding, I do think there could be some minor improvement at the tail end of the webbing, where it is melted to prevent fraying. The melt job is a bit rough around the edges, and I feel like there must be a nice way to smooth it out somehow. Aesthetically, the belt has no place amongst corporate suits and ties, but instead comes together as an elegantly finished utilitarian accessory.

In the Wild

Handsome looks and an alluring spec sheet are great, but also meaningless if the belt lacks in functionality or ease of use. Fastening the belt is as simple as feeding the tail end of the webbing through the slide from behind, over the front, and back through the space between the slide and body, where it can then be cinched up. With a bit of finger power, the slide is locked into place, pinching the webbing in a tight S-shape. While not quite as straightforward as the cam strap mechanism, the belt buckle is still remarkably intuitive to operate. The slide is smooth and easy to work, and once locked in, there really is no concern of any slipping or self-adjusting. Seriously, none. Set and forget — the Lock Belt is aptly named.

Right, so the belt can keep your Levi's out of the mud while looking the part, but is it comfortable to wear all day? At 1.5" wide (twice the width of the cam strap), the smooth nylon webbing nicely distributes the tension to avoid creating any irritating pressure points. It's stiff enough to support clip-on accessories like a utility knife, and supple enough to not be too restrictive. The buckle itself is slim and stays out of the way while standing and walking, but when sitting it is just large enough to feel its presence. Not too uncomfortable for a mid-ride snack break at a scenic bench lookout, but I wouldn't want to sit all day while wearing it. I haven't experienced any discomfort while riding with the belt, but I ride in a fairly upright position compared to most. Others who ride in more aggressive positions may find the buckle gets in the way a bit. For those cases where something more minimal is desired, the cam straps work quite nicely as a belt too. It would be interesting to see a slightly smaller version of the new buckle, built for 1" webbing.

While the Lock Belt works wonders for holding up your trousers, how does it fare for other uses? In a pinch, you can use it to suspend your bike as a sort of trailside bike stand. It did take an extra set of hands, but I was able to suspend my 16kg (35lb) bikepacking rig from the belt, and it held solid. It should work equally as well to keep your food up and away from a bear's paws at camp. When it comes to using the belt as a general cargo strap, I find it difficult to cinch super tight. This is no problem for use as an actual belt, unless you're trying to put yourself in the hospital, but I couldn't confidently get it tight enough for securely lashing down gear. The cam straps reign supreme in this regard, with a good one-handed yank on the tail you could probably get them tight enough to crush a watermelon.

Case Closed

Austere sure have pinned the tail on the donkey with this one. They took a desire to create a reliable, infinitely-adjustable belt, got down to work, and didn't give up until it was perfectly refined. With impeccable attention to detail, their solution is impressively compact, light, and simple to use, all while being more secure than Area 51. Let's throw rugged in that mix too; I can't see why the buckle wouldn't last for generations. My only potential concern with longevity could be with the webbing, will it last after being gripped between those teeth and grooves a few thousand times? I couldn't enlist a robot to test, so time will have to tell. I haven't had the belt or straps long enough to comment on the durability of the paint, but a bit of patina never hurt anyone — embrace it. The Lock Belt is available in seven different lengths, suitable for a range of pant sizes from 22 through 58". There are currently six colour permutations, pair up your choice of coyote or black webbing with a buckle in either black, coyote, or ranger green/coyote. At $129 CAD ($94 USD), it’s gonna take a bit more than the loose coins buried in your couch. Nevertheless, it's absolutely one of those items that qualifies as "buy it for life". Through the synergy of a few simple, well-designed pieces, Austere have without a doubt cracked the conundrum of creating a securely-locking, infinitely-adjustable belt.

✓ Pros
Secure AF. It's called the lock belt for a reason
Superb buckle build quality
Straightforward to use
It's really pretty 💅
✕ Cons
Tricky to cinch tight enough - for use as a cargo strap
A little large and bulky for some situations
The webbing tail could be a bit smoother
Quite expensive, but what isn’t these days?
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