A brief rant concerning proprietary buckles

It used to be that if you broke the male end of a fastex buckle, a not entirely uncommon occurrence, the only metric you needed to worry about when finding a replacement was size.  All buckles, be they 1″ or 3/4″, looked like the leftmost pictured below.  One buckle, or part of a buckle, reliably worked with another.

This is no longer the case.  None of the buckles above interface with each other, even the ones which look all but identical.  And this is a quick sample from my spares collection.  Go into REI with a pair of scissors and you’d have a hard time harvesting buckles from any two different brand which matched.  At all.  Do companies have really good customer service, and promptly mail a proprietary buckle for free at customer request?  I have no doubt some do, but am even more certain you can’t buy replacements for most proprietary buckles anywhere.  Given that these fancy designs have no practical value, this is unfortunate.  I imagine most of use would rather see R&D dollars go into better packs than integrating the company logo into zipper fobs (as a very nice Lowe Alpine pack I wore today does).  Of course, in this game of curb appeal few companies can risk not participating.

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9 thoughts on “A brief rant concerning proprietary buckles

  1. R&D money goes into buckle design.
    http://global.itwnexus.com/content/onyx-sr (for example)

    Stronger & Lighter. Are those things considered practical to you?

    Secondly, it is less common to find “proprietary buckles” backpacks in the outdoors market. As you may well understand, there are many players in the game, and need to create unique products to sell manufacturers. None pictured are proprietary, excepting maybe color.

    This rant/article overlooks some basics in buckle/pack design, if you maintain that “these fancy designs have no practical value”. While sometimes true your statement is often false. Just as you may choose a car based on its application, a pack designer will do the same with a buckle. Sturdy? Light? Sleek? Sexy? Metal? 1″? 2″ .75″?

    1. I’m not saying buckles can’t be improved. A light metal job for the oft stepped-on hipbelt buckle would be great. And I’ll be one of the last people to dismiss stronger and lighter. My use of the word “proprietary” may not have been especially technical or exact, either.

      All that said, I’m not buying it. The only instance of plastic buckle failure I’ve ever experienced has been breakable due to blunt trauma, not normal/intended use. Maybe the newer, fancy buckles save 2-5 grams each, which could easily be multiplied 10-20 fold over a pack. But one of the features listed for the Onyx SR is different colors.. If Osprey (for example) was that serious about cutting weight they’d eliminate a bunch of other, much heavier geegaws off even their lightest packs (I trimmed 50 grams in excess fabric alone off a Hornet 24). I maintain that the simplest explanation is that they want to maintain a coherent colourway in each pack, and make it look modern.

      Which often leaves folks like Cyrus and I out in the cold when things break or need to be modified (not that I expect the later to be a design goal).

  2. I encountered the same frustration the other day, when I can up two buckles short for my MYOG pulk sled gear harness. The two I purchased from REI did not work with the rest of them even though they looked identicle. So now I have to buy all new ones or never change my strap configuration.

  3. We’re missing out on the last of the great customized pieces of gear – buckles. Way back in the old days, my grandpappy would pass the long winter nights whittlin buckles. He’d use the finest grained sassafras and whittle away while he told stories by the fare. By the end of the winter he’d have a pair of matching buckles ready for the next season’s backpack. He’d customize it too, carvin his initials in the center prong just beside the flared end that clips into the mating part of the female buckle. Sometimes, bein’ fergetful while telling a perticulerly tall tale bout him rasslin grizzlies, he jest fergit hisself an carve the wrong initials! Waal thar went a long winter’s work. An he’d start it up agin next winter.
    Thar’s a big need here for artisanal pack buckles like grandpappy used ta make. Long as sassafras don’t git too scarce.

  4. @ cyrus. The other option would be to find the buckle you used on the internets, not everything is stocked at REI! Look at the back and search by it’s name. There are two major manufacturers, ITW-Nexus and National Molding who shares shapes with Woo Jin. There are also buckles made by YKK, and a couple others but for the most part the first two are likely candidates for decent outdoor gear! If you need help finding a buckles, shoot me an e-mail with a photo of your buckle!

    If you have problems with damaging your pack, a mil-spec buckle might be best for you. You can smash them to your hearts content- step on them, etc. Careful, though- they are not compatible with the other buckles you have!

  5. I buy my buckles on Ebay. Get a lifetime supply for a few dollars, if you are willing to wait for shipment from Korea or China.

  6. I feel your pain, but when I’ve broken one of those fancy buckles I just replace the whole buckle with a new one and don’t have any problems with fit between the pieces since they match. If you snip a slot in the back of the female end of the buckle you can slip it onto any loop and don’t have to worry about cutting stitches and restitching it on there. I’ve had good luck with that and not having the buckle fall off in the backcountry and I don’t care if buckles match.

  7. I agree with it being a pain to replace buckles. The buckles are made by buckle companies which do the R&D for strength and weight and hope their diverse line appeals to different customers (pack companies). It’s up to the pack company to choose wisely. But yes in many cases it’s to have a set style and be different than the rest. The simple replacement ones at REI are not the best and I would not want something with all those clunkers on it.

  8. Commenting a bit late here, but I recently had an issue with my Mountainsmith Circuit 3.0; the male buckle broke. Mountainsmith was actually very kind, and mailed me (within a week of asking) a replacement buckle for my pack. They didn’t charge me for the first one either!

    You are right though; it would be nice if we standardized outdoor buckles. If we could do the same with cell phone chargers, we’d be well on the way to a perfect society…

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