The best gait belt
Transferring a patient from a bed to a wheelchair, bedside commode or bathroom safely is a challenging task for caregivers. Professional physical therapists and nurses often use a simple but effective lifting aid called a gait belt to make the process easier and safer for everyone. A gait belt is a reinforced strap that fits around the patient’s waist and gives the caretaker a firm handhold for transfers or therapeutic walks.
A gait belt does not replace other lifting aids for certain types of transfers, but it does a good job of steadying the patient and reducing the chances of injury during a physical therapy session. It’s designed to fit over clothing, and many models have quick-release buckles for easy attachment and removal. One of the best gait belts for home use is the COW&COW Gait Belt, a strong cotton-based lifting belt available in a range of sizes.
What to know before you buy a gait belt
Advantages of a gait belt
Gait belts offer benefits to both patients and caregivers, especially when it comes to safety. Many patients with limited mobility are prone to falls during transfers or physical therapy sessions, and the waist is the best location for caregivers to support during a walk. Supporting a patient under the arms, for example, can aggravate an injury or limit balance. A gait belt allows patients to stabilize themselves before transfers or walks, and caregivers have secure hand holds that allow them to shadow the patient’s movements.
In the case of transfers, a gait belt also allows a single caregiver to lift the patient under control from a bed to a commode or from a wheelchair back to bed.
Gait belts are typically made from the same materials as safety harnesses or seatbelts. Canvas is a popular option, as are cotton weaves, synthetics, leather and vinyl. Canvas provides comfort for the wearer and a generous weight capacity for the caregiver. A synthetic gait belt has the same safety advantages as car seatbelts. Leather gait belts are generally reserved for professional physical therapists and nurses, but they can still be ordered for home use. Because of sanitation concerns, some manufacturers offer gait belts constructed from vinyl, which is easier to sanitize between sessions but can be noticeably more expensive than other materials. For most at-home applications, canvas or cotton gait belts are recommended.
Ease of use
One important consideration when choosing a gait belt is ease of use. The belt may need to be applied several times a day for a considerable amount of time. It needs to be easy to adjust from patient to patient, and it needs to be easy to secure. Many basic gait belts use a buckle system that requires users to loop the belt material through several openings before cinching. Others use a quick-release system similar to car seat harnesses. An adjustable loop takes up the slack, and a buckle snaps in place. Some caregivers may appreciate the security of a buckle system, while others prefer the rapid release offered by a snap-on version.
Sanitation between uses is also a factor to consider. An ideal gait belt should be machine washable and air or machine-dryable. Vinyl gait belts were developed after concerns about natural materials such as cotton or canvas. These models may be easier to sanitize, but they are not as popular with at-home caregivers as cotton or canvas options.
Gait belt features
Color and design options
While gait belts, in general, are much more utilitarian than aesthetic, there are brands (such as Lambox on our shortlist) that do offer gait and transfer belts in a range of colors and graphic designs. Patients may appreciate a belt in a favorite color or one with an appealing graphic. Caregivers with more than one patient could also use color coding to apply the correct belt to the correct patient.
Belt lengths and widths
The average gait belt for home use tends to be 2 inches wide and 60 inches long, which should accommodate most adult users. However, a number of manufacturers also offer gait or transfer belts with other dimensions. A 44-inch belt could be a better fit for younger or smaller patients, while a 100-inch belt may be needed for obese patients. The width of a gait belt can also be a factor, with a 4- or 6-inch belt offering more comfort or support for certain patients than the standard 2-inch version.
Gait belt cost
Most gait belts for at-home use retail between $7 and $15, but professional-grade transfer belts can cost $25 or more, depending on their complexity and weight capacity.
Gait belt FAQ
I use a gait belt at home to walk my mother to the bathroom and back. What do I do if she starts to fall?
A. Even with a gait belt, you cannot prevent every fall, but you can reduce the chance of injury. You may need to perform a controlled fall of your own, using your upper leg strength to guide both you and your patient slowly to the ground.
Can I use a gait belt to lift a patient from the bed and into a wheelchair or bedside commode?
A. There is a distinction between lifting a patient and transferring a patient. If you need to lift someone from a bed for a transfer, you should not use a gait belt as a lifting device. There should be other lifting methods available. You should only use a gait belt once the patient is in a stable position and ready to make the transfer under power.
Which gait belt should I get?
Best of the best gait belt
COW&COW Gait Belt: available at Amazon
Our take: This cotton-based gait belt works well in both professional and at-home situations, and is especially sturdy during lifts and transfers.
What we like: The strong cotton webbing is rated up to 350 pounds. Other belt sizes from 40 inches to 100 inches are available. A nickel-chromium-plated steel buckle fastens securely over clothes. The belt is machine washable and air dryable.
What we dislike: The buckle is not designed for quick release and can be challenging to adjust.
Best bang for your buck gait belt
LAMBOX Gait Belt-Walking Transfer Belt: available at Amazon
Our take: A budget-friendly gait and transfer belt, the Lambox offers the quick-release option many home caregivers prefer over standard physical therapy options.
What we like: An additional belt loop holds excess length in place. A 60-inch length should accommodate most adults, and the belt’s 2-inch width provides a solid grip. The buckle is designed for quick release.
What we dislike: Some consumers feel the belt is smaller than expected and the belt’s material is not supportive.
Honorable mention gait belt
Secure SGBM-60S Patient Transfer and Walking Gait Belt: available at Amazon
Our take: This strong and secure gait belt assists with transfers and walking.
What we like: The belt has a 350-pound capacity, with a 60-inch length and 2-inch width. The all-cotton webbing can be machine washed and machine dried at high temperatures. Optional hand loops for caregivers are available.
What we dislike: The buckle can be difficult to tighten or become loose during a PT session.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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