A buyer’s guide to climbing harnesses

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Sits, fits in and has plenty of room
Sits, fits in and has plenty of room

You went to quickly buy a climbing harness before the climbing course and wonder why the leg loops look so funny? Or whilst unpacking asked yourself why the strap is not padded or has such a ridiculous strap on the rear?

Buying a climbing harness is actually quite simple, but if you do not take some time when buying it and end up buying the wrong one, then it may pinch and tweak in the coming weeks and months and may even become really uncomfortable.

We have compiled some information that you should know before buying a climbing harness.

There are three different types of climbing harnesses:

We will explain each one to you, by going into detail about which one will be perfect for your chosen purpose and what to look out for when purchasing the harness.

Sit harness

This is the most common type of harness and can be seen in any climbing gym. Sit harnesses are widely available and can be used by adults for just about everything; sports climbing, alpine climbing, ice climbing, via ferrata, mountaineering etc. And if the harness complies with the standard requirements of the EN and UIAA, then nothing can actually go wrong except maybe that it does not feel comfortable.

But of course the manufacturers have created many different varieties of the sit harness which are optimized for different disciplines.

Climbing harnesses

These harnesses are intended for climbing. Depending on what discipline you climb (sports climbing, multipitch routes/big wall), you also need more features

Sports climbing: these harnesses are usually very lightweight and do not have as many gear loops or buckles to adjust the harness to the correct size. Since you don’t usually sit in these harnesses for long periods of time, the hip and leg loops tend to have less padding.

Multipitch routes: when these are used, then you are on the wall for a substantially longer period of time and need a lot more storage options for things such as a quickdraw, mobile belays etc. As such, these harnesses have a large number of gear loops. Padding can be of importance here, but does not have to be. But many gear loops are extremely important.

Big wall: since you often stand whilst belaying, and also need to take a lot of gear up the wall with you, the hip and leg loops should be wide and softly padded. These harnesses also need a haul loop on the back, which can withstand a lot of strain. The gear rope (a static rope) is attached to it and is then used to haul the gear up.

Via ferrata: here a sport climbing harness is preferred. It does not have a lot of padding, but allows you to move freely. You don’t normally sit in the harness on a via ferrata, so the focus is on minimum weight and maximum range of motion.

Sit harnesses for mountaineering or ski tours

Blue Ice – Choucas is a typical mountaineering harness!
Blue Ice – Choucas is a typical mountaineering harness!

Despite the name, these harnesses are not designed for sitting, which is why they are not padded at all. However, they have a small pack size, are lightweight and some can be put on and off, without having to take off your skis or crampons. In addition, the leg loops are very wide, so you can wear thick pants underneath.

Canyoneering harnesses

These harnesses are specifically made for canyoneering and are not so fun to climb in. And to be honest, turning up at the climbing gym with this type of harness would be very embarrassing.

Chest harness

To be used in addition to a sit harness. Never use a chest harness without a sit harness, it can be extremely dangerous!!!

The chest harness is designed to prevent a climber from flipping head first during a fall. Normally, adults (especially women) have an optimal centre of gravity which is approximately at the level of the navel. Thus the probability that we flip head first during a fall is very low.

However, there are situations in which the centre of gravity is moved, for example if the climber is wearing a heavy backpack or when the individual is obese.

Some climbers also just like to climb with the chest harness for their subjective perception of safety. This is as even threading with the foot can lead to a rotation. The chest strap is adjusted in such a way, that no force will be felt during a fall! It merely serves to prevent flipping the body backwards.

If you want to carry a backpack over the chest, you should choose a non-padded version, which is much more convenient.

Full-body harness

This form of harness is mainly used in mountaineering (“this is how we did it in the old days”) or used in industry/rope access climbing. When sport climbing etc. they are actually not used, since the hanging position for the climbers as well as falls are quite uncomfortable. Since falling is however part of sport climbing, you would not do yourself a favour buying a full-body harness.

Full-body harnesses are however perfect for via ferrata walks. Here you should not fall, and there are many beginners on the path.

Because of the firm connection between chest and sit harness, full-body harnesses are easy to put on and take off, however only when they have already been adjusted to fit perfectly. This is a bit laborious and inconvenient.

Small body harness

Infants under three years (depending on the level of development, this can also apply to older children) have a higher centre of gravity and less pronounced hips than adults. In addition, the reflex of straightening the body during a fall is not yet as developed. Here we recommend a combination of hip and chest harness, made especially for small individuals.

What should you look out for when buying a small body harness?

Ocun – Webee Quattro - Climbing harness with an excellent ventilation system
Ocun – Webee Quattro – Climbing harness with an excellent ventilation system

From the descriptions above, you should know by now what harness you need, but now for the finer points. The more buckles, the more you can adjust the harness to fit your body. This takes up time, however.

Adjustable leg loops are useful if you want to wear your harness over jeans or want to go climbing after putting on a few extra pounds over Christmas. They are definitely recommended for youth who are still growing rapidly.

If you like to be comfortable and do not care about the weight of the harness, then wide leg loops are ideal for you. You can then also boulder the project and fall a few times more (it just depends on what the climbing partner has to say about that). With sit harnesses, the wider the harness on the back, the more comfortable it is.

If you prefer a bit more air, then air-permeable leg and/or hip loops are perfect for you! Manufacturers are constantly developing exciting new products in this department.

In general, however, the harness should fit well and not pinch, as that can quickly take the joy out of climbing! So take your time when purchasing the ideal harness!

What size should you get?

Generally a palm should fit between the body and hip and leg loop. The sit harness is worn above the hip bone. You should buy a harness where the buckles do not block the clip-in point, but can still be adjusted to fit your clothing.

Nowadays many manufacturers also produce models made for women. These are designed to the anatomy of women and, depending on the figure, are perfectly shaped.

When do I need a replacement?

Time for a new harness
Time for a new harness

The rule of thumb is 5 years and an extra 5 years if it’s stored well most of the time.

However, this does not apply to a damaged harness or a harness showing signs of wear due to high usage. You should also be sure to read what the manufacturer has to say about the product.

By the way, the harness in the picture was only three years old, but was used at least 3-4 times a week during this time. We have therefore put together some information on how you can tell when it’s time for a new climbing harness. You can find the article here.

Find your climbing harness >>

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Alpinetrek-Expert Wiebke

A sunny day (not too hot, not too cold), at a nice climbing rock that’s not too crowded, yet not too empty, with awesome friends and my dog. There’s nothing better than that (except maybe Kaiserschmarrn).

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