What do I need to know about harnesses?

Of all climbing personal protection equipment (PPE), the harness is at the same time the cheapest and most important item. A decent harness costs around €50, while the price for better ones can rise to more than €100.

Although there are four different types of harnesses available, in sport climbing we only use the sit-harness model[1]. Some mountaineer may prefer full-body harnesses, as they prevent backward or head-down falls, particularly dangerous and frequent when carrying a heavy rucksack.

Climbing harnesses are all made of a Waist Belt and two Legs Loops. The Legs Loops are united by a cross-piece, which is connected to the waist belt by a big and very resistant loop, called Belay Loop. On both sides of the Waist Belt there are usually two or four Gear Loops, used to attach climbing equipment only.

Beware that Gear Loops can only hold about 5 kilograms and would rip-off if pulled hard. It comes without saying that you should never rely on them for security.

The Belay Loop is guaranteed to hold our full body weight and can be safely used in suspension (during safety manoeuvres or when belaying a second climber). On the other hand, we should never tie our rope to it when climbing, as it is not guaranteed to hold dynamic falls. The rope should always be tied in parallel, inside both upper (Tie-in loop) and lower loop.

 harness

How to I choose a harness?

NB: we cannot stress enough on the importance of making sure you always buy CE certified climbing equipment, whether this is a harness, a rope e sling or a karabiner.

When deciding what kind of harness to buy, there are a few considerations you should make. First, do you want a cheap and light harness for top-rope climbing only, or do you need a more expensive and complete climbing harness? Top-rope harnesses have neither Belay Loop nor Gears loops, vital for sport and trad climbing. And also, do you want a fully-adjustable and tougher harness (with plenty of buckles) or prefer a simple and lighter model?

Try before you buy! Think twice before spending money online and try a harness on before you waste any money. It is very important to try a harness in suspension and check how comfortable it is when hanging. Almost all shops have a rope on which you can hang for a while. So, put it on, tie the rope to your Belay Loop and see how good it is. If it hurts, don’t buy!

A good harness distributes your body weight uniformly between waist and legs. If you feel strong pressure on the sides of your waist, or feel numbness (pins and needles) on your legs you better choose another harness. Besides, all brands have different sizes: an M-size of one brand may correspond to a L-size of another!

When choosing a new harness pay attention to its Gear Loops. Some harnesses have two, some have four or more. Gear Loops are tested to hold 5 kg each. If you know you may be carrying a lot of material (quickdraws, karabiners, nuts, friends etc.) you should choose a harness with at least four Gear Loops. We advise to buy a harness with four loops, as they always come handy.

1 or 2 Adjusting Buckles?

Harnesses have either one or two side buckles to tight up the Waist Belt. Harness with two buckles allow for better adjusting, while those with one are faster and lighter.

The majority of harnesses have buckles on Leg Loops too. The advantage on having adjustable Leg Loops is clear to those who have robust legs, or have to wear winter trousers! Leg Loops should be left a little loose around the thighs and should not inhibit circulation.


[1] European standards (EN12277) recognize full body harness (Type A), small body harness (Type B), sit harness (Type C) and chest harnesses (Type D). Full body and chest harnesses have shoulder and chest straps, small harnesses are for kids.