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Gear Guy

I’m Having Difficulty Finding a Harness that Fits

I'm having difficulty finding a harness that fits. I can size the leg loops and belt right, and this is fine when I am climbing, but when I hang or rappel, the belt slides up and presses on my lower ribs. I can still breathe, but it is uncomfortable. I have tried different harness models and makes, with no luck. I’ve been climbing for 20 years, so this isn’t my first rodeo. It is, however, the first time I’ve noticed this problem. What gives?

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I’m having difficulty finding a harness that fits. I can size the leg loops and belt right, and this is fine when I am climbing, but when I hang or rappel, the belt slides up and presses on my lower ribs. I can still breathe, but it is uncomfortable. I have tried different harness models and makes, with no luck. I’ve been climbing for 20 years, so this isn’t my first rodeo. It is, however, the first time I’ve noticed this problem. What gives?

—Jimbo via rockandice.com

You are having a problem with the “rise,” the distance between the harness belt and the leg loops, or the distance from your belly button to the danglies.

The rise determines how your weight is distributed between the leg loops and waist belt. When the rise is too long, as in your case, the belt rides up
and pushes on your belly as surely as if you had eaten a skillet of frijoles. A rise that is too short puts too much weight on the leg loops, making
it easier for you to flip upside down and bang your noggin. There are over 200 harness options, so it should be easy to find one that fits your legs
and waist—all waist belts adjust several inches. The rise, however, can still be as ill fitting as a mascot suit. In the past year I tested four
different harnesses and none of them had a rise that fit me perfectly.

I’m not entirely sure why, either.

I suspect that as the climbing population has become more mainstream, harness makers have had to design harnesses to fit lawyers and bankers. To accommodate
this variety of body types, harnesses have become mesomorphs with more adjustability in their sizes. For instance, leg loops now almost exclusively
have a “Y” construction that let out several inches and use a bit of elastic to keep the loops snug.

This means that the leg loops might feel good when they aren’t weighted, but the loops can actually be too large, and when you hang, the elastic snuggie
stretches, letting the leg loop lengthen and ride up, creating slack that lengthens the rise. In the old days, which was last week, most leg loops
had an “O” construction that you could fit more precisely, but required retailers to stock a lot of sizes since you bought the belt and leg loops separately.
In our new era of simplification and instant gratification it would be easier to sell carrot noses to snowmen than to hawk mix-and-match belts and
leg loops. So, basically, this is your fault.

Either my theory is correct or, as you have aged you have become shrunken and bitter, and no longer enjoy a bit of pressure down there.

Lately, I’ve moved to adjustable leg loops. These have “I can’t climb” written all over them, but adjustable leg loops let you snug up the fit and
keep the rise in check, at least to some degree. Another option is a harness with an adjustable rise. Metolius offers their 3-D system, a clever
twist that lets you adjust both the girth of the leg loops and the length of the rise, guaranteeing a fit as perfect and natural as body paint.
Problem solved. Gear Guy has spoken!

This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 217 (April 2014).