Last updated: September 6, 2021

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Rock climbing is a mountaineering derived sport that first emerged in Germany and England in the nineteenth century. This activity consists of ascending walls or cliffs, relying on your own physical and mental strength. For instance, it not only requires intense focus, but climbing also demands both the upper and lower body to be fully utilized. The sport began to gain traction in the sixties with the emergence of climbing gyms.

Even though many consider it to be a risky sport, it doesn’t have to be so. It all depends on the modality you choose to practice. Moreover, just like with other sports, the equipment used in climbing has come a long way. Meaning, if you use good equipment, your safety is pretty much guaranteed. Using a harness, for example, is an easy way to ensure you practice safely.




Key Facts

  • Climbing harnesses are essential equipment for any kind of climbing, with the exception of free soloing (a form of technical ice or rock climbing where the climbers (or free soloists) climb alone without protective equipment.
  • When choosing a harness, make sure it is adjusted and tailored for the individual physical and anatomical characteristics of the climber.
  • The climbing harness you choose must also comply with all UIAA safety standards and regulations; compliance is usually certified with a CE stamp on the label. The first step to ensure safety, however, is choosing a harness that is of appropriate size.

Our Selection: The Best Climbing Harness

The safety of your chosen harness is non-negotiable. However, after you’ve found a product that passes all the rigorous safety tests required, there are other aspects you should value in order to determine the quality of the harness. In this section, we show you some of the best climbing harnesses available, so that you can become familiar with the makings of a well-rounded and quality harness.

Shopping guide: Everything You Need to Know About Climbing Harnesses

In order to choose the most appropriate climbing for yourself, you must learn about the different characteristics and types of harnesses available to you. This section is designed to answer any questions you may have about this type of equipment and to give you all the tools you need to find the right one. We will cover things like tying in, and the type of care it requires to stay in good condition so that your safety is not compromised.

Unless you choose a universal harness, it is crucial to choose a gender and size appropriate harness. (Source: Alexey Poprotsky: 40985751/123rf.com)

What is a climbing harness exactly?

A climbing harness is a safety piece of equipment used in rock climbing and other sports and activities such as abseiling, cave diving, mountaineering, kitesurfing, etc. It is also an important safety tool in construction sites, rescue missions, emergency services, and other activities requiring the use of ropes to provide access (i.e. industrial rope access) or safety (i.e. working at heights). Its basic mechanism works by securing a person to a rope or an anchor point.

What types of climbing harnesses are there?

What kind of climbing harness you purchase and use will depend on the climbing modality you choose and what you plan to climb. Before buying a harness or choosing a type, you first need to decide how you’re going to use it, what kinds of climbs you plan to do, and what features are important to you and your climbing style. Check out the different types of harness classified by activity:

Criteria Sport Climbing Simple Climbing Big Wall Climbing Ice or Mixed Climbing Mountaineering or Alpinism
Advantages Tying in and out is quick and simple. Easy to transport and take up little space. Comfort is a priority due to the hours spent hanging. Designed to withstand extreme conditions. Very lightweight taking up little space.
Comfort Lightweight and easy to move in. Lightweight and comfortable. Comfortable waist padding and adjustable, foldable leg harness. Specially equipped with ice-screw holders. Narrow and flexible waist-belt.
Features Only the belt has buckles and the leg hops are elastic. Reinforced back ring with padding and good lumbar support. Double anchorage in tare-tape increased safety The leg loops are adjustable and the lumbar padding is waterproof. Leg loops are adjustable and collapsible for changing clothes.
Gear Loop Few gear loops. Four or more gear loops. Rigid and strong gear loops, one reinforced one in the back. Must have specific and necessary gear loops. Should not have too many loops.

What are the main parts of a climbing harness?

Climbing harnesses consist of straps, buckles, and loops, all of which are of great importance for the safety and comfort of the climber. It is your job to make sure that they work correctly and follow instructions to keep them well maintained.

  • Waist Belt: It is the main part and the most varied piece of the harness, it supports most of the weight and other pieces come from it. Make sure to choose a harness with a good balance between comfort and weight.
  • Waist Buckles: Their mechanism depends on the type of climbing you’ll be doing. The latest models include a self-locking system.
  • Leg Loops: These pieces are usually made with padding and can be adjusted with an elastic or buckle systems - meant to facilitate changing clothes.
  • Tie-In or “Hard” Points: These are two rings which connect to the tie-in loop. The rope passes through them to distribute the weight correctly.
  • Tie-In Loop: A loop that passes through the two hardpoints, making it the strongest part of the harness set.
  • Gear Loops: Added loops meant for carrying equipment or accessories hung during the climb. The number of loops largely depends on the modality you practice and your specific needs.

What is the Difference Between Male and Female Climbing Harnesses?

As you may have noticed in our ranking, there are harnesses made one-size and unisex. This is a great beginner option, but we strongly suggest choosing a product that offers the characteristics that best suit your gender and build. Women, for example, have a lower center of gravity and will need to adjust the harness until they are comfortable and secure.

More often than not, women also have a smaller build and tend to place the harness at hip-level. Making it essential to take into account the distance between the waistband and leg loops. In short, it is important to look for gender and size-specific equipment, the same thing applies when looking for a harness for children.

How to put on a climbing harness?

Putting on a climbing harness is not rocket science. However, it should be done properly and thoroughly, after all your comfort and most importantly your safety depends on it. Check out the main steps involved in putting on a climbing harness:

  • Step into the legs making sure that they are on straight and the tie-in loop is in the front.
  • Place harness and tighten buckles, the waist-band goes over your hips and sits around the navel area. Tighten snugly, buckle up and double-back the buckles.
  • Adjust the leg loops, if they are not adjustable, use the elastic part to place them right. The tighter you fit in the harness, the less mobility you’ll have but the more comfortable you'll feel while hanging.
  • Double check everything again for any twists and that all buckles are double-backed.

How are Climbing Harnesses Cleaned and Maintained?

Begin by checking the manufacturing instructions for the piece of equipment you choose. Be informed of all the elements that make up your harness model. Before each climb, make sure to check even the smallest detail to ensure that each piece of the harness works and is in good condition. Keep in mind that over time it’s elements may wear down and compromising their integrity and safety.

As far as cleaning goes, most models can simply be soaked in soapy water for about two hours. If there are some tough-to-get-out stains, you can use a gentle brush to tackle the problem. Lastly, rinse it well with plenty of water and leave to dry in a ventilated place, but not exposed directly to the sun. After every wash, it is important to make sure all pieces are as they should be and that all the elements work correctly.

What harness you choose will be determined by the type of climnbing you do. (Source: Dmytro Gilitukha: 47346689/ 123rf.com)

Purchase Criteria

This last section includes an important set of criteria you should consider before buying a climbing harness. Weighing out these aspects will help you ensure the product you choose is safe and comfortable. One of the main things to consider, for example, is how you plan to use, and what modality of climbing you’ll be embarking on. You’ll also have to find the right size and fit for your frame and needs.

  • Use
  • Size
  • Leg Loops
  • Gear Loops
  • Regulations

Use

Climbing can be done in a variety of terrains and circumstances. Therefore, we have to look for a harness that adapts to the specific requirements and characteristics of the style we want to practice. Keep in mind that harnesses are made for safety, so it is important that they are made to meet the different performance requirements of the climbing modality and each specific climber.

Rock climbing walls use a more comfortable and practical harnesses system, while outdoor and sport style climbing usually uses lighter models, which do not hinder the ascent. Simple climbing harnesses often prioritize comfort over size and portability. Harnesses used on ice, require special screw holders and adjustable leg loops.

Climbing harnesses are used in many more scenarios than just climbing rocks and mountains. (Source: Jozef Polc: 80909050/ 123rf.com)

Size

It is essential that the size of the climbing harness is correct, our safety depends on it. It must be perfectly adjusted. Always check that the belt doesn't slide off the hips when upside down. Differences in male, female and child physique must also be taken into consideration.

Beyond safety, making sure the harness is the right size will also contribute to comfort. Keep in mind you may spend many hours with and in the harness, sometimes even hanging - like in mountaineering. Choosing the right size will help you avoid scratches or discomfort.

Leg Loops

Leg loops are another element you must consider when purchasing a climbing harness. Despite the fact that they may not seem as important as the hardpoints, waistband or belay loop. You’ll find the leg loops can be fixed or adjustable. The former is the most common, mostly because their elasticity will allow you to use them for all kinds of activities.

One of the main advantages of proper leg loops, in addition to the comfort they provide, is that they help you avoid chafing, as well as making it easier to change clothes, an important aspect when you consider the temperature fluctuations that can occur during a climb.

Gear Loops

These are found on the waist strap of the climbing harness and are mainly used in outdoor climbing harnesses. Most harnesses will carry a minimum of 4 gear loops to store all the gear you’ll need during your ascent. This number will fluctuate depending on the needs and preferences of each climber.

It is of utomost important to ensure all parts work properly before each climb. (Source: Alexey Poprotsky: 40985720/ 123rf.com)

Regulations

Climbing harnesses must comply with safety regulations imposed by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA). To best and easiest way to ensure that the harness you choose meets the standards set by international regulating bodies, simply look at the label. For regulation purposes, harnesses are divided into four categories.

  • Type A: Full harness. For people who carry a lot of weight, have a very high center of gravity, or are not in great shape.
  • Type B: Full harness. For users weighing less than 90 pounds. Most commonly used by children.
  • Type C: Waist harness. It must meet the appropriate specifications for each style of climbing or mountain sports practice.
  • Type D:Chest harness. Often used in activities of progression by rope in which it is necessary to use a tie-in blocker. They must always be used together with a harness type C.

Summary

The climbing harness you choose should meet all the guarantees required by safety regulations. Because of these regulating bodies, most equipment in the market meets all the basic standards and functions. Nonetheless, it is up to you to check the labels to make sure the harness you choose is the right one for your build and preferences. Remember to ensure all the pieces are working well before each climb.

So, to find the best piece of equipment for your needs, simply focus on the criteria we have outlined throughout this article. Carefully consider how you plan on using it, your specific preferences and comfort. That last one is important, especially if you spend long hours hanging from a wall. Lastly, remember to look at the size and whether the harness is made for your size and weight.

(Featured image source: Photobac: 16627098/123rf.com)

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