How To Buy a Harness

Buy­ing a har­ness can be a daunt­ing task, espe­cial­ly for the new rock climber. There are a wide vari­ety of har­ness­es on the mar­ket and a lot of lin­go and jar­gon to sift through. The first stage in the selec­tion process is decid­ing the intend­ed use. The sec­ond stage involves dial­ing-in fit and fea­tures.

New buy­ers will find an expla­na­tion of basic com­po­nents and fea­tures a good jump­ing off point.

Buck­les: There are two types of buck­les: man­u­al dou­ble-back and auto dou­ble-back. Man­u­al dou­ble-back is more adjustable. It is also eas­i­er to put on over mul­ti­ple lay­ers of cloth­ing, moun­taineer­ing boots, cram­pons, and skis. Auto-dou­ble back usu­al­ly adjusts more quick­ly and snug­ly, with less room for user error; how­ev­er it can be cum­ber­some to get on over moun­taineer­ing equip­ment.

Waist­belt and Leg Loops: These are the parts of the har­ness that cor­re­spond with their respec­tive body parts. Some have padding to add com­fort while some have none at all. These com­po­nents are usu­al­ly fas­tened or adjust­ed with buck­les. On sport har­ness­es the leg loops are often fixed with­out buck­les.

Gear Loops: Gear loops are the part of the har­ness on the waist­belt used to clip cara­bin­ers and all sorts of oth­er equip­ment. They act as the pock­ets of the har­ness. While they can car­ry a lot of gear, THEY ARE NOT LOAD-BEARING.

Belay Loop: The belay loop is the strongest point on the har­ness where lock­ing cara­bin­ers are con­nect­ed for belay devices and rap­pelling. It should not be used as a sin­gle tie-in point.

Haul Loop: This is a small loop on the back of the waist­belt which is used for trail­ing a sec­ond line or haul line. Some are load bear­ing and oth­ers are not.

Tie-in Points (Hard Points): These are the two loops (one on the waist­band and one con­nect­ing the leg loops) where the climber ties the rope to the har­ness. They are also con­nect­ed by the belay Loop on most har­ness­es.

Four Cat­e­gories of Har­ness­es: There are four main cat­e­gories of har­ness­es on the mar­ket Sport/Gym, Trad/Big Wall, Ice/Mixed, and Alpine/Mountaineering. While these cat­e­gories are use­ful in retail shops and online mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, most har­ness­es will work for many climb­ing appli­ca­tions.

Sport/Gym: Sport/Gym har­ness­es are light­weight and more min­i­mal­ist, as the goal is usu­al­ly to climb hard and press lim­its. These har­ness­es gen­er­al­ly have few­er gear loops, small­er belay loops, no haul loops, and less padding in the waist and legs. Often the leg loops are not adjustable and the waist band has an auto­mat­ic dou­ble-back. Har­ness­es with no padding and only one tie-in point are gen­er­al­ly to be avoid­ed.

Traditional/Big Wall: Tra­di­tion­al (trad) har­ness­es usu­al­ly have a few more fea­tures to help with com­fort and gear man­age­ment on longer climbs. These are often good all-around har­ness­es that will work for trad, gym, sport and even some ice and mixed climb­ing if leg loops are adjustable. The sac­ri­fice here is a lit­tle more weight for addi­tion­al func­tion­al­i­ty.

A typ­i­cal trad har­ness will have more padding in the waist and legs. This helps a lot when hang­ing in the har­ness for long peri­ods of time. A good trad har­ness should have at least four gear loops. Most will have adjustable leg loops. The buck­les could be either man­u­al dou­ble-back or auto­mat­ic dou­ble-back. Many trad har­ness­es will also have a haul loop on the back of the har­ness.

Big wall har­ness­es are essen­tial­ly the next step up from a trad har­ness. They com­mon­ly have the most padding, as big walling involves hang­ing in the har­ness for extend­ed peri­ods of time. They usu­al­ly have the most gear loops, as well, and some even have two belay loops to help man­age aid climb­ing gear.


Ice/Mixed: Ice and mixed climb­ing har­ness­es are very sim­i­lar to trad har­ness­es, with some minor dif­fer­ences for climb­ing in cold, wet, snowy envi­ron­ments. They usu­al­ly have adjustable leg loops to accom­mo­date for mul­ti­ple lay­ers of cloth­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, the mate­r­i­al is often treat­ed to help min­i­mize the absorp­tion of water. Some ice/mixed har­ness­es have a bit less padding as they assume the user will be wear­ing some extra cloth­ing to help with the padding. They gen­er­al­ly have at least four gear loops. Some even have spe­cial­ized gear loops for ice screws. Ice and mixed har­ness­es may or may not have haul loops.

Alpine/Mountaineering: Alpine and moun­taineer­ing har­ness­es are the most min­i­mal­ist of climb­ing har­ness­es. They are gen­er­al­ly light­weight with no padding, and worn over many lay­ers of cloth­ing. They are also used used in climb­ing con­di­tions where a fall is unlike­ly, such as snow climb­ing, glac­i­er trav­el, and ski moun­taineer­ing. These har­ness­es gen­er­al­ly have at least a few gear loops. Some do not have belay loops. An impor­tant fea­ture of these har­ness­es is their abil­i­ty to go on eas­i­ly and quick­ly over large boots, cram­pons, and even skis. For this rea­son the leg loops are usu­al­ly ful­ly adjustable, as is the waist belt. While these har­ness­es are gen­er­al­ly the cheap­est, they are not rec­om­mend­ed for gen­er­al rock climb­ing due to their lack of fea­tures and com­fort.