Weightlifting belts. They’re a mainstay in powerlifting and a crucial tool for any serious athlete. In this edition of Glycolytic Gear Review, we’re going to take a look at an amazing custom belt made by Pioneer.
Leather weightlifting belts are everywhere, and it can be hard to figure out which ones are worth it, and which ones are just rebranded “Made in China” models. Usually looking for a “Made in USA” brand is the best place to start, and Pioneer is exactly that. Made in Coleman Texas, Pioneer has been making lifting belts and strength equipment for nearly 40 years.
For our review today we ordered the 10mm thick, 4″ Training belt, by Pioneer. While they have a number of options, this one best fit my training style and gave me the opportunity to use it a lot. Before we even get into the review, I have to make one comment. One of the telltale signs of a great product and company is the level of their customer service. It’s what sets brands like Pioneer away from their competitors, and it’s what first impressed me about Pioneer.
Now, on to the belt itself.
The belt as we already looked at is very well built. What I liked most about it was as a single-prong belt, sometimes they can have a tendency to bow down in the middle at the buckle. With this Pioneer belt, the stiffness of the leather, combined with the positioning of the beltloop meant no sag or bowing which is fantastic. It held it’s form and certainly provided all the intraabdominal pressure any lifter will ever need.
The tongue was a bit stiff, but I know that is going to loosen up some over time, but it’s the price you pay for a solid belt, there’s bound to be some flexibility frustrations just before or after a PR lift.
Comfort & Fit
The fit of this belt was perfect. The online sizing chart was accurate and easy to use. Tolerances on the belt were really well done as well. The tongue is a bit snug slipping into the loop, but that’s what I like to see on equipment like this. Due to normal wear and tear, and general use I know that over time that snug fit will ensure a longer lifespan to the belt without it becoming sloppy over time.
I think it’s an incredibly well fitting belt. The geometry of the belt cut and it’s overall construction just make it a pleasure to sling on for heavy lifts. One caution I’d have is if you were hoping to use this for both powerlifting and olympic lifting, you may have some issues with barpath with a 10mm thick belt. But that’s likely not what most are hoping to do with this belt anyhow.
Material Quality & Durability
Outstanding. It’s the only word to describe the level of craftsmanship Pioneer brings to their product. When looking online, the pictures on the site really don’t do it justice. While it’s hard to convey clearly through images, every aspect of the belt is on point.
My belt is the 10mm thick version, which is perfect for any serious powerlifters our there. Constructed from 100% sole leather, these belts are bulletproof.
The suede on the inside and outside is very nice. Smooth and not too bulky. (I’ve seen cheaper belts with suede material that peeled off like lint on an old wool sweater.) To go along with this is the stitchwork and embroidery. Usually, in my experience, there’s always some sort of frayed threads on stitchwork and embroidery. I’m assuming this comes from mass production machines creating these products. Pioneer’s belts are handmade and free of any frayed strands.
As you know from previous reviews I’m particular about tags and threads. Obviously through use, things fray and tear so this perfection won’t last forever. But it’s really nice to see it come in the box free of those flaws. Especially if you’re thinking of buying this as a gift. They’re going to be blown away by the quality and materials.
Custom Options Include:
- Single/Double prong buckle
- Silver/Nickle or Black Buckle options
- Inside & outside suede options in a multitude of colors
- Embroidery options (including image stitching)
- Custom stitch color options
- Black edging to seal the leather
- Nickle plated rivets
Before getting into the pricing part of this review, I want to clarify that if you’re looking to spend as little as possible, and at the same time expect to be buying a world-class belt, it’s not going to happen. As with all gear, you get what you pay for. A custom Pioneer belt is an investment and a worthy one at that.
The belt starts at about the $65 USD mark, and each additional customization obviously adds to that price. If you went to town on customization it would add up. However, consider what I’d call the “heirloom” factor of a piece of gear like this. There’s a reason why we spend $4 on chalk and a whole lot more on a barbell. One will be washed away at the end of the night, the other a mainstay in our arsenal for years. These Pioneer belts are one of those mainstay items. As long as you stay close to the same girth … it will be wrapped around your waist for years and years to come.
A tell-tale sign of a high-quality piece of gear is additional products or tools to help maintain it. On their site, Pioneer offers a number of belt care products. Suede cleaners, neatsfoot oil, and leather conditioners. All these products are priced reasonably, and ensure that your investment will last a long time, and look as killer as it did the day it landed on your doorstep. Sure it’s a small extra thing, but I like to see a brand take that kind of care in the longevity of their product.
I don’t like to give a 10/10 review for a product. I like to find some area that the product falls short, whether that be in materials, or in workmanship, or in the design and function of the equipment. After wearing this belt in MANY workouts over the past few months, I can honestly say, I have yet to find any. Perhaps it’s like an automobile warranty and in 3 years all of a sudden it will fall apart. Who knows? But I highly doubt that. And to prove that’s not the case I plan on doing 6-month, and year-later reviews as well. I’ll post links to those in this post when that time comes.
If you or a loved one is into lifting, whether that’s a serious powerlifter, cranking out heavy deadlifts every week, or a CrossFitter, looking to put an extra few plates on their back squat, this is your belt.
A lot of companies make leather lifting belts. Most for a fair bit less than one might cost you from Pioneer if you get all the bells and whistles. However, what the other companies cannot compete with is the craftsmanship, build quality, and customization you get from Pioneer.
To order your belt, click here!
Today, Pioneer is run by Matthew Hadden, and Headquartered in Coleman, Texas. But Pioneer didn’t start there. It was founded by Matthew’s Grandfather, Leroy Speiker, 800 miles from its current home in Sidney, Nebraska. After Matthew’s parents acquired the company in the 80’s, it then moved to Texas.
Pioneer began as a 3rd party manufacturer of belts, only more recently transitioning to primarily selling direct. Since 2014, when Matthew took over, Pioneer began producing its custom line of belts which are now sought by powerlifters and athletes alike, from all over the world.
Matthew said that a large part of the company’s success stems from their motto: “Don’t buy our belt, buy ‘YOUR’ belt.” Honestly, that rings true. I had to ask to have their logo to be put on my belt, they don’t put it on there automatically. This really sets them apart from a lot big name brands who seem to want to put their logo on every side. Most of the time I wish there wasn’t the company logo on a product (but found myself wanting theirs on this belt!).
He attributes their brand success to his customers, and especially to his team. Matthew said he’s extremely thankful for them and all they’ve done to make Pioneer a recognized equipment provider in the strength industry. Outside of the local hospital, city, and school, Pioneer/General Leathercraft Mfg. is one of the largest employers in Coleman Texas.
They may just be a bunch of small-town Texans doing the only thing they know … but in our opinion, they’re doing that better than a lot of companies out there today.
Check out their full line of products HERE