How to Choose a Climbing Harness
Updated: Mar 3
Before we get started on how to choose a climbing harness, let’s get one thing straight: If you purchase any rock climbing harness from a big name company like Petzl, Arc’ Teryx, Black Diamond, Camp, Mammut, etc. you are buying a perfectly good piece of equipment. This guide is to help you optimize that choice! Some harnesses come with extra features, some fit differently than others, some are lighter, some are a little more bang for your buck. We want to make sure you are making the best possible choice when you pick out your next (or first!) harness. No matter what you choose, you are going to receive a rigorously tested product that will bring you to the ground safely after your climb.
Before we talk about what makes some harnesses preferable over others, let’s break down the anatomy of this thing:
Anatomy of the Climbing Harness
Probably the biggest determiner of comfort and a huge contributor to the overall weight of the harness. Houses gear loops, buckles, and the top tie-in loop or “hard point.”
Designed to hold quickdraws, cams, carabiners, extra belay devices, slings, shoes, gloves, glasses, wallets, watches, pretty much anything. Gear loops vary in quantity, size, and location from harness to harness. A trad climber may want a higher number of gear loops towards the front of their harness for easy access to gear while a strictly sport-climber may want them as out of the way as possible. Please note that gear loops are not meant to be weight bearing. Never tie-in or anchor to your gear loops.
You’re going to have 1 or 2 buckles on the front of your harness (a couple of inches to the left or right of your belay loops). Back in the day, most if not all harnesses came with a single buckle which meant you had to “double back” your harness manually. These days, many harnesses come with an automatic double back feature which means you simply tighten the strap and you’re good to go! Leg loops may also have buckles which allow for a more custom fit.
Tie-in or “Hard” Points
The two loops connecting your belay loop or “donut.” When tying in to climb, you will thread the rope through both of these points for redundancy sake. Sometimes the hard-points have a plastic cover to reduce wear. Please note that when you are rappelling or belaying, you should never have the carabiner through the tie-in points because it distributes force unevenly through the carabiner making it weaker. You always want to rappel and belay off of the belay loop.
The star of the show! This is the strongest point on the harness and is where you are going to attach anything hard and load bearing (carabiners, belay devices, etc.). Belay loops have been getting thinner as companies release newer and newer harnesses, but not to fear, the belay loop is always load tested before distribution.
Like the waist belt, leg loops are built for comfort and the material contributes to the overall weight of the harness. Please note that some harnesses have adjustable leg loops while others do not. This may be a huge factor for some people when purchasing a harness but is ultimately a personal preference.
Lastly, we have the thin, oftentimes adjustable, elastic straps that control the distance between the leg loops and the waist belt. Some harnesses have permanent straps that you cannot adjust while others may change the length of the strap or even disconnect altogether (called a “drop-seat” harness). Whether or not you want this feature depends entirely on what type of climbing you will be doing. Alpinists and trad climbers may need drop-seat harnesses while sport-climbers may prefer permanent straps because of the fewer number of buckles.
Alright, so that’s what all of the pieces do. Now, let’s use that knowledge to pick out a harness that works for you. What features do you want to look for in your harness?
Sport harnesses are light with good mobility.
“I mainly single-pitch sport climb outdoors..” or “ I mainly climb in the gym…”
Waist Belt: You’re probably looking for a lighter, thinner waist belt because you aren’t going to be sitting in it all day, just one climb at a time.
Gear Loops: Fewer the better. Look for out of the way gear loops because you aren’t going to be lugging cams up the wall. Usually, you are going to want to look for 2-4 gear loops on these harnesses.
Buckles: You definitely want an automatic double-back buckle to get in and out of the harness quickly.
Elastic Straps: Less important for sport and gym climbing. You probably don’t care how adjustable they are or if they have buckles. This is ultimately personal preference.
“I mainly trad climb…” or “I usually multi-pitch climb…”
Waist Belt and Leg Loops: You’re looking for a thicker, more durable padding on the waist belt and leg loops.
Gear Loops: The more the merrier! Usually, you are going to want to look for 4 or more gear loops located more forward on the harness for easy access to gear. It’s also important to note that some harnesses have special gear loops that spring upwards rather than hang down to conveniently hang gear. This is a nice bonus feature.
Buckles: This doesn’t matter so much because once you’re in the harness, you’re pretty much there for the day.
Elastic Straps: We’re definitely going to want adjustable straps so that you can stay tied in when you’re taking care of business.
“What is the difference between the Men’s and Women’s models?”