There are a number of factors to consider when buying a climbing harness. What kind of climbing are you going to use it for? How light or heavy do you want it to be? Adjustable or fixed-size leg loops? How many gear loops? Here’s a quick and dirty guide to figuring out what you need in a climbing harness.
Climbing Harness Design
Sport Climbing Harnesses
Sport harnesses are usually lighter—some significantly so—and more streamlined, than trad harnesses, which may have four or more gear loops and heavier, thicker padding. Gear loops have classically been made of plastic or nylon tubing, but now many are made of easier to clip molded or foam-core. Below are some of the leading sport harnesses out there.
The AirNET Harness is Black Diamond’s lightest and highest end sport climbing and competition harness. Check out our discussion with BD Climbing Category Director Kolin Powick about the airNET.
Not all sport climbing harnesses have to be cutting edge and feather light like the AirNET though. The Black Diamond Solution is a popular model and does everything you need it to do.
The Petzl Sama is also a great all around harness—for the gym, sport climbing, trad, etc.
Trad Climbing Harnesses
Trad harnesses are all-arounders, designed for traditional cragging but also working for sport or gym climbing. These will have padded waist belts and leg loops for hanging in. On the sides are gear loops (usually four) on which to hang quickdraws and other protection. Trad harnesses have become lighter and lighter over the years: many are now nearly as light as sport types.
A new trad version of Black Diamond’s classic Solution harness, the Solution Guide is light and durable, but still comfortable. Read our full review of the Black Diamond Solution Guide.
The Edelrid Sendero does it all: sport, trad or ice climbing.
Ice/Alpine harnesses are for long days in the mountains. Intended for speed and efficiency, they contain little padding, both to trim weight and to reduce moisture absorption. Waist and legs are adjustable for various changes in layers according to weather and temps.
For technical ice climbing, you don’t want to go too minimal. The CAMP Air CR Evo Harness is an ice climbing harness that works for rock, too.
The Blue Ice Choucas Light is super minimal and one of the lightest harnesses out there. Read our full review of the Blue Ice Choucas Light.
The CAMP Alpine Flash is a lightwight climbing harness for alpinism and mountaineering.
Big Wall Harnesses
Big Wall harnesses are for multi-pitch, multi-day climbs such as those in the Wind Rivers, Zion or Yosemite. They feature copious padding to ease pressure during hanging belays or long aid pitches, beefier gear loops to hold loads of gear, and a full-strength loop in back for attaching a haul line.
Black Diamond’s Big Gun Harness is one of the beefiest harnesses out there for those looking to siege big walls.
Other Things To Consider in a Climbing Harness
In general, the heavier a harness, the more padding it has and the burlier the gear loops and other features. Padding can provide comfort when you really need it, especially in summer when you wear thin clothing. Most harnesses now contain closed-cell padding, which is lighter and trimmer than fleece, and winter harnesses must use it to prevent freezing. A heavier harness is usually fine and comfortable for local cragging, but some climbers, such as alpinists and sport climbers, pare every ounce.
Women’s harnesses are made with larger leg loops and smaller waists. Many have a longer rise (distance between crotch and waist) to suit women’s higher waists. Many of the harnesses above come in women’s-specific versions.
The Singing Rock Pearl is an example of a women’s climbing harness. Read our full review of the Singing Rock Pearl.
Some women, especially if relatively short-waisted, may fit best in a unisex men’s climbing harness.
Adjustable Leg Loops
If you generally do the same type of climbing in similar climates, non-adjustable leg loops work well. Adjustable leg loops, however, will work either in heat or cold, over more or less clothing. Winter or alpine harnesses may have detachable leg loops for putting on crampons or answering calls of nature while staying roped.
The greatest advantage to adjustable leg loops, though, is the custom fit. Leg loops that don’t adjust are like wearing someone else’s pants … pants that don’t quite fit. With buckles, you can snug down the leg loops for the perfect fit, making them much more comfortable for extended hang time.
Adjustable leg loops have “gumby” written all over them for snobby elite climbers, but they actually don’t have a disadvantage and are better in all ways.
Mammut’s Ophir Slide 3 is an all-arounder with adjustable leg loops. Read our full review of the Ophir Slide 3’s relative, the Mammut Ophir Speedfit.
The Trango Liberty Harness is as adjustable as harnesses come, with adjustable leg loops and dual waist-belt buckles
Some harnesses are available with an adjustable rise. Let fit be your guide as to whether you’d be better off with one. On a harness with a too-short rise, the belay loop pulls down on the waist belt. With a rise that is too long, disproportionate weight lands on the leg loops and the waist belt jams up against your lower ribs and can make breathing difficult.
Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the rise to fit you just right.
Most harnesses have full padding, a boon for dogging, hanging at belays and carrying around full racks. Padded leg loops are best for most uses, but sport-climbing designs traditionally save weight and bulk by using little padding and narrow webbing. Winter and alpine harnesses have classically had no padding in the leg loops and only scant padding in the waist, as you tend to hang less in winter and to be cushioned by warm clothing. However, as closed-cell foam padding, which is light and trim, has replaced fleece, some alpine models have padded leg loops.
Mammut Comfort Knit Adjust is a harness with lots of comfy padding and big gear loops. Read our full review of the Mammut Comfort Knit Fast Adjust.
Sport climbing harnesses and many others have a sewn belay loop, which connects waist and leg loops, in front. It is not intended as a tie-in—always thread through your waist and leg loops—but facilitates easy belaying and easy clipping on sport-route anchors. Look for a good, strong loop, but not one that juts out too much. An overlarge, stiff loop could irk you on scrunch moves or even catch on the rock as you move closely over it.
The Metolius Safe Tech All-Around harness is rather unusual in having two belay loops.
Most climbing harnesses contain four, although some offer as few as two or as many as eight or nine gear loops. Some people want all gear at their waists, in which case get at least four loops. Some people prefer to use a bandolier, or shoulder sling, instead, for their pro, in which case two or three loops should suffice even with a trad rack. Too many loops can actually make it harder to grab gear fast, but many climbers like a few extra loops for clipping in a water bottle or extra piece of clothing.
A loop of webbing at the back of the waist belt, usually used in big-wall climbing, but also handy for extras, even approach shoes, as well as trail ropes. Most are full strength but some are not. Find out.