Woman climbing rock

Harnesses are a spectacular piece of human innovation that have enabled us to achieve the unthinkable. Rock climbing is one of the many activities that would be impossible without them (minus bouldering, of course). They hold our lives, our gear, and many great memories.

Believe it or not, climbing harnesses did not even exist until roughly sixty years ago. Climbers in the UK and Yosemite used to wear simple chest harnesses and swami belts…not exactly the epitome of comfortable and lightweight technical gear. 

Thankfully, these days there is an endless variety of high quality climbing harnesses in every shape, size, and style. Here is a list of some of the best out there, and all the information you need to know to make an informed decision when picking your first – or next – climbing harness.

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Top 15 List of Best Climbing Harnesses:

Black Diamond Momentum Harness

Black Diamond Momentum Harness

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The Momentum is a go-to favorite for sport climbers, as it checks all the boxes for a well-rounded harness. Key features include:

  • Adjustable waist belt and leg loops
  • Four gear loops with protective (“pressure molded”) sheathing
  • Adequate for indoor and outdoor climbing 
  • Super affordable 

Black Diamond Solution Guide Harness

Black Diamond Solution Guide Harness

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Designed for multi-pitch and trad climbing, the Solution Guide is made with extremely durable material to prevent abrasion on ultra physical routes. This harness has:

  • Non-adjustable leg loops
  • Releasable risers
  • Four gear loops with protective sheathing + a fifth non-sheathed gear loop on the rear

Black Diamond Technician Harness

Black Diamond Technician Harness

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The Technician can handle the crag, the alpine, and the ice. In short, this harness does it all, with:

  • Adjustable leg loops
  • Releasable risers
  • Quick-drying and durable material 
  • Four Ice-Clipper slots
  • Four gear loops in protective sheathing + a fifth extra 

Black Diamond Big Gun

Black Diamond Big Gun

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The quintessential and aptly named big wall harness. Tailored for trad and aid climbing, its key features include:

  • Removable and adjustable leg loops
  • A foam-padded, ultra supportive waist belt 
  • Seven color-coded customizable gear loops
  • Two color-coded belay loops and 12 kN-rated haul loop
  • Left and right holster slots with one hammer holster included

Mammut Ophir 3 & 4 Slide Harnesses

Mammut Ophir 3 & 4 Slide Harnesses

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One of Mammut’s most breathable and comfortable harnesses, the Ophir Slide can be used on the rock or the ice. You can also choose between the Ophir 3 and Ophir 4, numbered for the total amount of buckles they have (both with two buckles on the leg loops, and either one or two on the waist belt). Both the 3 and 4 have the following features:

  • Adjustable leg loops
  • 4 gear loops
  • Added synthetic material on tie-in loops for abrasion resistance
  • 4 kN haul loop

Mammut Sender Fast Adjust

Mammut Sender Fast Adjust

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Mammut’s lightest harness that works for performance sport climbing and has added features for ice climbing compatibility, including:

  • Attachments for 4 ice screw carabiners
  • 2 large, reinforced gear loops and 2 smaller, lightweight gear loops 
  • Tie-in loops lined with plastic for abrasion resistance 
  • Tie-in loop indicators show when harness should be replaced
  • Adjustable leg loops

Petzl Adjama

Petzl Adjama

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The Adjama is Petzl’s do-it-all harness, suitable for any type of climbing and capable of carrying a significant amount of gear. It has:

  • Five gear loops, with rigid front loops and flexible rear loops
  • Haul loop
  • Releasable risers 
  • Double-back, adjustable leg loops

Petzl Corax

Petzl Corax

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A super-adjustable rock climbing and mountaineering harness. One of Petzl’s best and most comfortable harnesses for beginner and intermediate sport climbers, with:

  • Two buckles for maximum adjustment of the waist belt
  • Pressure points lined with soft fabric
  • Rear-center accessory loop for clipping in chalk bag
  • Releasable risers
  • Adjustable leg loops

Petzl Sitta

Petzl Sitta

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A high performing harness for serious climbers, reflected in the price. Its thin and flexible waist belt is great for movement on the wall and transportability on the ground. The Sitta is lightweight without sacrificing the essentials:

  • Four gear loops
  • Releasable risers
  • Elastic, fixed leg loops
  • Haul loop
  • Tie-in points reinforced with synthetic material for abrasion resistance 

Petzl Altitude 

Petzl Altitude 

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Is mountaineering and ski touring your go to activity? Find yourself in skis and crampons for most of your climbing adventures? The Altitude is the harness for you. It is super packable, super light, and can be comfortably worn with feet on the ground or hanging in the air:

  • Two gear loops
  • Single tie-in point
  • Silicone retainers in leg loops for transporting ice screws
  • Adjustable, unclippable leg loops that allow the harness to be put on while wearing skis or crampons

Edelrid Jay III

Edelrid Jay III

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The Jay is extremely similar to the Black Diamond Momentum, with Edelrid flair and a little added ice climbing capability. This simple yet sturdy harness works great on indoor and outdoor sport climbs and not-too-gear-intensive mountaineering routes:

  • 4 gear loops
  • Adjustable leg loops 
  • Releasable risers 
  • 2 attachment points for ice screws
  • Chalk bag loop

Edelrid Huascaran

Edelrid Huascaran

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A super minimal and super cool looking high-alpine harness, with:

  • 4 gear loops 
  • 2 attachment points for ice screws carabiners
  • Adjustable, unclippable leg loops

Arc’teryx SL-340

Arc'teryx SL-340

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Arc’teryx’s most light and most sleek looking harness for rock and alpine climbing. The SL-340 includes Arc’teryx’s trademark “Warp Strength Technology”, which distributes weight over the entire area of the waist belt and leg loops as opposed to the traditional centered-webbing or running-edge binding which concentrates pressure to certain points on the belt. This Warp Strength design makes the harness very comfortable, and with the added bonus of a soft-feeling exterior. It can’t carry a lot of gear, and has a pretty high price tag, but the quality is worth it if you are an avid sport climber. Key features include:

  • 2 gear loops
  • Haul loop
  • Elastic, fixed leg loops
  • Wear indicators on tie-in points and belay loop
  • Releasable risers

Arc’teryx AR-395A

Arc’teryx AR-395A

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The more versatile, adjustable, workhorse version of the SL-340, made with Arc’teryx’s popular “Warp Strength” material. The AR-395A harness can get the job done on trad, alpine, ice, and mixed routes, with:

  • Adjustable leg loops
  • Four gear loops
  • Haul loop
  • Four ice screw carabiner slots
  • Releasable risers
  • Wear indicators on tie-in points and belay loop

Misty Mountain Original Cadillac Harness  

Misty Mountain Original Cadillac Harness

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Misty Mountain is known for its no-nonsense harness construction. They are the most durable, built-to-last, supportive, and versatile harnesses on the market (although, not an ideal first choice for climbers looking for light-weight and minimalist performance gear).  Misty Mountain’s most popular option, the Cadillac, is for trad climbing and big wall machines! It has all the gear carrying capacity you could possibly you need, including:

  • Six large, reinforced gear loops
  • Two waist belt buckles for maximum adjustability
  • Adjustable leg loops
  • Sizable haul loop
  • Releasable risers
  • Wide, foam padded waist belt and leg loops

Anatomy of a Climbing Harness

It’s important to know the different parts of a harness so you use it correctly. You don’t want to tie into the wrong loop! 

Also, different brands and styles often have unique features that you want to look out for. Knowing harness anatomy can help you identify these features and consider how they may or may not suit your needs. 

Anatomy of a climbing harness

Waist Belt (a.k.a. Swami Belt): The waist belt should rest around your upper to mid-waist when fitted correctly. When hanging on a rope, you will most feel the harness through the waist belt and the leg loops, so make sure you like the material and construction.

Buckle: The buckle is used to tighten and secure the waist belt. Some harnesses have two buckles to maximize adjustability. 

Alpine and trad harnesses have manual double-back buckles, meaning you have to thread the waist belt in and back through the buckle every time you put on the harness. This type of buckle is more tedious to put on in general, but is useful when you are wearing bulkier layers of clothing in alpine and big wall scenarios. 

Sport harnesses have automatic double-back buckles – these are already threaded and only require adjusting to get on and off. 

Gear Loops: Harnesses usually have four or more gear loops wrapping around the waist belt. These are meant for holding gear, like quickdraws, belay devices, and trad equipment. Gear loops are not designed to be super strong, and thus should never be “loaded” with your weight. This means you should never tie-in or anchor through them. 

Consider a harness with more gear loops if you’re looking to do routes that require a lot of gear, such as trad multi-pitch or big wall routes. 

Belay Loop: The largest loop in the center of the harness, underneath the waist belt. The belay loop is aptly named because only hard gear should be attached to it (i.e.carabiners and belay devices). 

The belay loop is made of nylon webbing. Soft goods, like rope or slings, should not be attached to the belay loop, as they are made of nylon as well. Nylon-on-nylon causes friction that can wear through the loop. 

Tie-In Loops: The two smaller loops at the top and bottom of the belay loop, to which the latter is attached. You should tie-in the rope through these two points, as well as any slings or PAS’s you would use for attaching to anchor points. 

The tie-in loops are made of nylon webbing as well. However, the two points help distribute the wear of the rope more than one. They also help secure the rope in a more static position – it can’t slide up and down as much against the two loops to cause enough friction. Having two points also adds redundancy, which is a pillar of climbing safety. 

Leg Loops: Padded loops attached to the waist belt via elastic straps. The distance between the leg loops and the waist belt is called the “rise”. The leg loops can have buckles for adjusting, but not always.

Anatomy of a climbing harness

Risers: The elastic straps connecting the leg loops to the waist belt on the rear of the harness. On “drop-seat” harnesses, you can detach the risers from the waist belt and remove the leg loops while remaining tied in. This enables the climber to use the bathroom on the wall – which is generally only necessary in alpine and big-wall climbing. If you gotta go, make sure to use a wag bag

Haul Loop: Harnesses of almost every type of climbing have haul loops. This is the tiny loop on the back of the waist belt, meant for attaching a second rope (a.k.a. “tag line”). You can also clip a chalk bag to it. Just remember: like the gear loops, it should never be loaded to hold your weight. 

Types of Climbing Harnesses 

Rock climber

From gym to crag, rock to ice, holler to peak, harnesses are there to hold us up. The trick is to find the right one for your objectives. 

Sport Climbing 

Sport climbing is all about carefree fun and focusing on the send. The only gear that needs to be carried on a sport route are quickdraws and a chalk bag. Thus, low weight and transportability are essential to a sport climbing harness, both for the indoors and outdoors. 

To reduce weight, sport climbing harnesses have less bulky material making up the waist belt and the loops, fewer gear loops (generally two on each side), and sometimes no buckles on the leg loops. The waist belt buckle on a sport climbing harness is an automatic double-back, making it easy to get on and off over light clothing. 

Trad Climbing

Oftentimes, you need a lot of gear to get up a trad route – and a harness that will carry it all! Trad climbing harnesses should have increased gear-carrying capacity to hold your rack and supportive comfort for hanging out on longer routes. Inevitably, they are not as lightweight as sport harnesses, but not as heavy as a big wall rig. You’ll be thankful for the extra padding after the first couple of pitches!

On trad climbing harnesses, expect more than two gear loops on each side. Bulkier padding on the waist belt, particularly in the lumbar area, is typical to add support and to prevent the harness from digging into the waist too much on hanging belays. As trad climbing is only done outdoors, the harnesses have adjustable leg loops to accommodate layered clothing for cooler weather. 

Big Wall/Aid Climbing

Big Wall climbing utilizes trad and/or aid techniques to scale very large cliff faces. A popular destination for big wall climbing is Yosemite National Park. 

Completing a big wall climb can take days, and involves rigging and hauling up bags and sleeping (also known as “bivvying”) on the wall. It also requires advanced knowledge and tons of gear

To handle the heavy gear load and extensive periods of hangout time, big wall harnesses are like trad climbing harnesses on steroids. They have a surplus of gear loops, sometimes up to ten, and extra wide, extra thick waist belt and leg loop padding. A distinct feature of a big wall harness is the double-belay loop; this adds redundancy and extra room for rigging systems. 

Alpine Climbing/Mountaineering 

These two climbing styles involve traversing through varied terrain and weather, and are sometimes done wearing a backpack for camping. 

A harness may not have to be worn for the entire trip, and also needs to be easily removed for bathroom breaks. In some cases, it has to fit over several layers of winter clothing. Alpine/Mountaineering harnesses thus have automatic or manual double-back buckles. They are also designed to be lightweight and packable, by having less gear loops, thinner belay loops, and less material in the waist belt. A thinner waist belt also rests better underneath a large backpack. NOTE: If you will be ice climbing, make sure the harness has loops for ice screws to clip to!

Alpine Climbing

Rappelling

Almost all climbing harnesses can be used for rappelling. It is a popular method of getting down from sport, trad, and multi-pitch climbs. It is also an activity in and of itself. 

The most suitable harness for rappelling would have a belay loop to attach the rappelling device to, gear loops for holding carabiners and extra rappelling devices, and even a haul loop for a chalk bag (you can get sweaty hands while rappelling, too!). Because rappelling involves a lot of hanging out, the more comfortable the harness, the better. 

Canyoneering also involves a lot of rappelling, but requires a harness that can endure a beating (and scraping) through tight slots and a soaking in water. Canyoneering-specific harnesses are more durable than climbing harnesses, although unfortunately not as lightweight. Some even have built-in “seats protectors”: pieces of material that cover the rear of the harness to protect it from wear. 

Chest Harness

The types of harnesses we’ve been discussing until now are all “seat harnesses”. Seat harnesses wrap around the waist and thighs. 

Chest harnesses are not super common in rock climbing. They wrap over the shoulders and across the chest, and should always be worn in combination with a seat harness. 

Chest harnesses are worn in situations where a climber might be at risk of flipping upside down. For example, wearing a heavy backpack while ascending or rappelling can pull your upper body backwards. A chest harness keeps your upper body pulled forward, so you can remain in control of your devices. 

Chest harnesses

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Full Body Climbing Harness 

A Full Body climbing harness consists of a connected chest and seat harness. Certain body harnesses are designed for specific scenarios:

  • For very young children: Kids arounds ages 5 and under are generally top heavy and have small waists, giving them a greater risk of flipping upside down when they fall. The higher tie-in point of a body harness (usually closer to the chest) reduces this risk. 
  • For pregnant women: To not pressure the belly, a full body climbing harness is necessary for women who rock climb while pregnant. Mad Rock’s Mountain Mama is the first full-body harness specifically designed  with an open midsection for pregnant climbers. 
  • For rescues: Responders performing a climbing rescue may wear full body harnesses to attach rescue equipment to, and for extra support in carrying heavy equipment, like litters. 

Men’s vs. Women’s Harnesses

Climber woman

Most harnesses have both men’s and women’s versions, with a few noticeable differences in fit between them. 

Women’s harnesses have smaller waist belts, which are angled to be narrower towards the top and wider towards the bottom. They tend to sit higher on the waist, versus closer to the hips like men’s harnesses do. 

Women tend to have wider hips and thighs than men, so the leg loops are also distanced farther apart on a women’s harness. 

Don’t discount one or the other because it’s not your gender, though. We all have unique body types, and you may actually prefer the shape and feel (and colors!) of the opposite gender harness.

Sizing 

Like climbing shoes, you’re going to be wearing your harness a lot, so it’s important to make sure it fits right and feels good. 

Harnesses have different sizes like a pair of pants, ranging from Extra Small to Extra Large, based on waist and leg circumference. If you know your measurements, you can follow the brand’s sizing chart to select your size and most likely get the right one. 

Ideally, though, you should go into your local climbing gym or outdoor store and try a few on. 

Every harness has different shape, feel, and adjustment options based on the brand and their design. You may not realize you dislike a certain feature until you’ve got the harness on, or even are hanging in it. 

Here are a some tips for trying on and sizing your new harness:

  • Check out the instructions included with the harness to make sure you put it on in the right orientation. 
  • Verify whether the waist belt buckle is automatic or manually doubled-back. 
  • Loosen all adjustable straps on the harness before putting it on. 
  • Tighten the waist belt to rest above your hips. Be sure you cannot insert more than two fingers between your body and the waist belt. 
  • Tighten the leg loops if they are adjustable. These do not have to be as tight as the waist belt, but you don’t want them to slide up and down your legs too much while climbing and hanging. 

If the adjustment straps of the waist belt and/or leg loops are “maxed-out” (meaning you cannot loosen them any further), consider getting a larger harness. A well-sized harness should give you enough room to tighten AND loosen it to a reasonable extent. 

It should never easily slide down over your hips when tightened; if it does, you are at risk of slipping out of it if you ever fall and get inverted. 

A well-sized harness should also feel comfortable, and be easy to sit up-right in. You may not be able to determine whether a harness fits this criteria until you actually climb and sit in it on a rope. Some harnesses may even have pinch points when you weight them that you could find intolerable.

When to Retire Your Harness

Man climbing

No good thing lasts forever – and especially not harnesses. 

It’s tough to want to replace your gear when doing so puts such a dent in your wallet. We’ve all been there. But when it comes to saving your life, no price tag should ever stand in the way. 

Do not climb if you are not willing and able to maintain safe and suitable gear. Your harness not only holds your life, but often your partner’s life as well. 

Although harnesses are manufactured to withstand a great amount of stress and use, they do wear out over time (and over less time than average if used frequently and in certain high-humidity climates). 

IMPORTANT: Get in the habit of inspecting your harness before every use. 

The general rule of thumb is to get rid of your harness as soon as you notice any signs of serious wear such as tears or fraying. The first spots that tend to show this are the tie-in points and the belay loop. These are also the most important parts of the harness, so you want to make sure they are in tip-top shape. 

Check your waist belt buckle, too. Some buckles are made with metals that corrode and break apart over time, especially in very sunny, moist, and salty climates. The salt in your own sweat can cause corrosion, too! 

 Avoid using harnesses and soft gear that you do not know the history of. The entire history of. 

It may be tempting to use that free, vintage yet polished looking harness your uncle found in his garage. Don’t do it. Although it may look nice on the outside, it may have invisible wear or deterioration in its core. 

If your friend offers to gift or lend you their old harness, ask for its age and history, and inspect it thoroughly. 

Please note: Even perfectly stored harnesses – harnesses that have never left the store’s shelf – should be retired after 5 to 8 years. The specific number is usually provided by the brand manufacturer. 

Want to prevent an early retirement? Check out REI’s guide to harness cleaning and storage

Conclusion

Deciding on gear is by no means an easy process, especially not with the seemingly endless amount of options out there. However, knowing your needs and what features matter most to you can help narrow down the search a lot

If you’re new to climbing, don’t drain the wallet too much just yet. Wait and see if you’ll stick with the sport, and then go for the pricier options. Until then, the Black Diamond Momentum and Edelrid Jay III will work well all the way through your first routes to the advanced grades. 

For advanced climbers searching to shed those few critical ounces for redpoint burns, check out the Mammut Sender Fast Adjust or the Petzl Sitta. 

Going outdoors and taking a moderate foray into trad and multi-pitch? Consider the Black Diamond Technician or Technician Guide, the Petzl Adjama, and the Arc’teryx AR-395A. 

Although we only covered the Black Diamond Big Gun and Misty Mountain Cadillac for excellent all-around big wall options, there are numerous others with unique features and varying levels of comfort and gear capacity on the market you should check out. 

Likewise, the Petzl Altitude and Edelrid Huascaran are just two of many other harnesses for alpine-specific terrain. 

Good luck on your journey through the realm of harnesses! After reading this article, you are hopefully well-equipped with knowledge to make an informed purchasing decision. 

Looking for cool places to wear your new harness? Check out the Wandering Climber’s destination guide for the Todra Gorge Area of Morroco!

 

Published by Melissa Kochanowsky

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