Climbing Harness – How to Choose a Climbing Harness

For a new climber, choosing the right climbing harness can be a daunting task. That said, the goal of this article is to make the process of choosing a climbing harness a little easier.

To do that we are going to start by explaining the different parts of a harness, reviewing the three basic types of harnesses available and finally, looking at a few quick tips for when you are ready to take the leap and buy your new harness.

Different Parts of a Climbing Harness

A climbing harness is basically composed of seven parts:

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Climbing Harness - Front
Note the haul loop is not shown in picture.

Note that this climbing harness has an auto-locking waist buckle. Most climbing harnesses now use auto-locking buckles, but it is common for older harnesses to use buckles which need to be “doubled back” in order to be used safely.

It is also worth mentioning that the haul loop is used for trailing a second rope and the gear loops for carrying climbing protection. That said, they are not designed to be weighted and should never be used to attach yourself to the rope or a climbing anchor.

Finally, your belay loop is used for attaching yourself to “hard” gear such as carabiners and your tie-in points are used for attaching yourself to “soft” gear like the climbing rope. I see people all the time girth hitching runners or other soft gear to their belay loop. This is just wrong, especially if the soft gear is not nylon. It reduces the strength of the loop and can be dangerous over time.

The Three Basic Types of Climbing Harnesses

The three basic types of climbing harnesses are sport climbing harnesses, traditional or “trad” climbing harnesses, and ice/mixed climbing harnesses:

Sport Climbing Harness – Because sport climbers do not need to carry as much equipment as trad climbers, sport climbing harnesses are built to find the compromise between being light and fast without sacrificing comfort. In order to save weight, they may not have leg loop buckles, use a thin belay loop, and usually have stiff webbing gear loops.

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Climbing Harness - Sama

Trad Climbing Harness – Since trad climbers do need to carry more gear, trad climbing harnesses are built to withstand a little bit more abuse, maximize gear space, and provide comfort, while in a multi-pitch/hanging belay setting without being overly heavy. Trad climbing harnesses usually have leg loop buckles, at least four stiff gear loops, a haul loop, and a wider belay loop.

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Climbing Harness - Trad Harness

Ice/Mixed Climbing Harness – An ice/mixed climbing harness is essentially a trad climbing harness with specialized slots in the waist belt to put ice clippers to rack ice screws. Ice/mixed climbing harnesses should always have leg loop buckles in order to easily fit over multiple clothing layers in cold environments.

Seeking Exposure - Rock Climbing - Climbing Harness - Mixed Harness

It is worth noting that there is a fourth type of climbing harness known as an alpine harness. These are highly specialized harnesses and not what we are looking for in a typical non-alpine climbing setting so they will not be covered in this post.

Choosing the Right Climbing Harness

Harnesses should be fit so that the waist belt is right underneath your belly button or the top of your hip bones. You should be able to tighten it enough so that you cannot get more then a fist-width between your stomach and the waist belt. The leg loops should be snug, but comfortable. If you plan on climbing in colder weather, make sure you try the harness on with whatever you will be wearing to make sure it still fits over all the extra layers.

Unfortunately there is no way to test out a harness until you actually spend some time hanging in it. That said, armed with the information above, you should have a pretty good idea what type of harness you are looking for as well as what features you want it to include.

Finally, when you are buying a harness think ahead! A huge mistake I see a lot of new climbers make, especially coming out of gyms, is buying a sport harness only to realize that they need a trad harness once they get outdoors on real rock. It also helps to make sure you know the return policy of wherever you plan to buy your harness. Some retailers, which are usually very flexible with their return policy will not allow you to return climbing harnesses.

For more information on how to choose gear as well as climbing in general, make sure to Subscribe to SeekingExposure and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter!


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