The 10 Best Climbing Harnesses
Since the initial publication of this wiki in September of 2015, there have been 25 edits to this page. When you're assaulting a summit or rappelling down a sheer rock face, you need to be sure your gear will keep you safe, so pack one of these harnesses for your next adventure and leave any worries at home. They come in enough size and weight capacity options to fit anyone, and are suitable for many styles of climbing. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best climbing harness on Amazon.
The History Of Climbing Harnesses
Today, harnesses can come in as many shapes and styles as there are iterations of the sport.
Finding the right one, therefore, is important, whether you're a beginner or a hardcore practitioner.
If you're a climbing enthusiast, you know that having a good harness is as important to you and your sport as comfortable shoes are to a runner, or a good pair of skates to a hockey player. Not only can your technique and enjoyment hinge heavily on what kind of harness you wear — anyone who's spent 20 minutes dangling from a rock face in too tight or too loose a harness can attest to this — but your personal safety depends on it, too. Finding the right one, therefore, is important, whether you're a beginner or a hardcore practitioner.
Climbing harnesses have been around in some form or another for as long as people have been hitching themselves to rope in order to scale obstacles or traverse difficult terrain. In its most basic form, a harness can simply be a piece of rope or a strap tied around the waist and thighs to support one's body weight. This can be a useful safety tool, and is indeed used today as a safety tool in a number of different situations, including by first responders in emergencies and construction workers on building sites. But it's in the sport of rock climbing where the harness has perhaps made the largest impact.
The first harness invented specifically for climbing purposes dates back to the early 19th century, and is usually attributed to Jeanne Immink, a Dutch mountaineer who is also credited as being a pioneer in women's climbing. It wasn't until the next century, however, after British climber Don Whillans wore a specially designed harness during an expedition up Annapurna's South Face in 1970, that the piece of equipment became more widely adopted.
Today, harnesses can come in as many shapes and styles as there are iterations of the sport. Gym and sport climbing calls for speed and flexibility, and harnesses designed for that activity tend to be thinner, lighter, and more stripped down than other kinds. Trad climbing requires the hauling of lots of equipment, and its harnesses incorporate larger and more numerous gear loops, sturdier reinforcements, and thicker padding. In alpine climbing and mountaineering, you may not wear a harness the whole time, so these tend to be loose and easily adjustable, allowing you to put them on and take them off in a hurry.
There are also specialty harnesses, as well as harnesses that combine different aspects of the aforementioned, such as those for ice climbing, which are well-padded, but also light and flexible.
Examining The Anatomy Of Climbing Harnesses
Harnesses may vary slightly depending on their application, but most do share a general anatomy. Understanding the different parts of a harness is an essential step in choosing the right one, not to mention in using it correctly once you get it outside.
It's important not to confuse the two, as the former, though tough, is not designed to attach to your main rope.
The average harness consists of a waist belt, sometimes called a swami belt, connected to two leg loops by thin nylon webbing or elastic at the back and front. Depending on the type of harness, these can incorporate different degrees of padding, or, in the most basic models, none at all. The waist belt should have one or two strong metal buckles at the front for fastening the harness securely to the body, while each leg loop may or may not have adjustment mechanisms.
Many harnesses will also have gear loops, though the number, size, and nature of these will vary. As previously mentioned, trad climbing harness should have large, possibly metal loops for holding carabiners and quickdraws, while on sport climbing harness these loops may be made of nylon or some other soft material. The haul loop is positioned at the back of the waist and is used to attach a second rope, though not all harnesses will have this.
Two of the most important parts of the harness, at least in terms of safety, are the belay loop and tie-in points, which together connect the two leg loops to the waist belt at the front. The belay loop is usually the strongest part of the harness and the only piece that is load-tested, while the tie-in points are separated to help distribute weight. It's important not to confuse the two, as the former, though tough, is not designed to attach to your main rope.
Taking The Proper Safety Precautions
As in all sports, safety is a chief concern — though that may be even more true when it comes to rock climbing. Not every hobby has its participants scaling thousand-foot rock faces using little more than their hands and some rope.
There's really no better way to figure out how to use your equipment safely and effectively than being taught by someone who does.
Before buying a new harness, make sure its meets industry safety standards. Most reputable commercial climbing harnesses should be approved by either the International Mountaineering And Climbing Federation or the European Committee Standardization, both of which have developed strict guidelines manufacturers must follow to ensure the reliability and durability of their products.
Considering their purpose, climbing harnesses are an area where you should let yourself splurge a little — it's better to spend a little more and get a good-quality harness than hold back and have to worry later whether your equipment is going to fail.
If you're a climbing beginner, learn the ropes — literally. Most rock gyms and parks should offer resources to novices just getting into the sport, including lessons on how to properly fit your harness, tie the appropriate knots, and belay your partner. There's really no better way to figure out how to use your equipment safely and effectively than being taught by someone who does.
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