How To Find The Best Climbing Harness

How To Find The Best Climbing Harness

Rock climbing is the ultimate full-body workout for some, and an exhilarating challenge for others. Some have been climbing since they were old enough to walk, and others adopted the sport later in life.

Regardless of your experience level or where in the world you're climbing, you can agree on one thing; life wouldn't be enjoyable if you couldn't climb.

Woman standing with climbing equipment and helmet outdoor, front view.

There are many different types of climbers:

  • Sport climbers- They will climb anything, anywhere. They live for competition.
  • Boulder climbers- If there is a large, round, hard-to-hold-onto rock, you’re sure to find a climber bouldering it.
  • Cliff scalers- These guys want a crazy adrenaline rush, and have absolutely no fear of heights.
  • Alpinists- Ever had a burning desire to climb Mount Everest? You might be an alpine climber.

The one thing that all forms of climbing have in common is the need for quality gear. By this point, you've probably got yourself some good shoes, some ropes, gloves, a bunch of carabiners, and now you need arguably the most critical piece- your climbing harness.

Below, we've put together a comprehensive guide with some time-tested product recommendations that are guaranteed to give any climber the itch to get out there and do what they do best

Benefits Of Wearing A Harness

Safety

The main benefit of wearing a harness is the safety that it provides. You will meet a lot of climbers who are inherently daredevils and don’t use them, but when considering the consequences of what could happen without a harness, we hope that you will make the safe choice.

Building Strength

Besides just the obvious safety concerns, however, harnesses can be great tools to help the beginning climber build confidence and strength. Climbing requires a lot of hand and upper body strength that most beginners take years to develop fully.

All harnesses can be outfitted with a braking system that allows the rope to be held in place, thus supporting a lot of the climber's weight. It's similar to training with assisted pull-ups.

Confidence

Confidence is all in the mind, and is built through steady practice, and overcoming obstacles multiple times within a practice environment.

Some people choose not to practice with a harness, but in doing this, they are handicapping themselves, because when they have to don the harness for an actual rock climb, they are carrying an unfamiliar weight, and thus cannot perform to the same standard they did in practice.

Woman climbing.

Why You Should Choose Your Climbing Harness Carefully

You want to find the best climbing harness you can get your hands on. This isn’t a piece of gear you want to find a bargain on or get second-hand from your drunk climbing buddy. Your harness quite literally holds your life in it.

If one strap fails, you could find yourself tumbling down a mountain side with no hope of ever climbing again.

A good climbing harness is a piece of equipment that if well-invested in, and well cared for can last up to ten years. You don’t want to have to purchase a new harness every season because you see threads coming loose, or because cheap straps have sustained UV damage.

What To Pay Attention To When Choosing Your Harness

Every harness claims to be the greatest, but only you can decide for yourself. Part of making an educated decision is to understand what features to look out for. There is a perfect harness out there for everybody you just have to find it.

Adjustability

Adjustability is important for multiple reasons. You want to find a harness that fits you properly. Too tight of a harness can make you very uncomfortable and cut off your circulation while climbing.

As you can imagine, this is not only painful but very dangerous when you're hanging from a cliff face. Too loose of a harness can cause you to slip out or cause serious whiplash during a fall.

Another reason why adjustability is important is that you will often be climbing in different climates. Sometimes you will be in a hot environment wearing nothing more than shorts or light pants.

You will need the leg straps to securely hold you. Other times you will be climbing in a cold climate and have on multiple thick layers. You will want your harness to have the flexibility to be able to slide over these layers.

Material

Three main types of fabric are used in making harnesses; breathable mesh, extra padded, and rigid. Breathable mesh is the most expensive of these. It's a great feature because it prevents a lot of the extra back sweat which can cause chafing and discomfort.

The one drawback of this material is that it lacks the extra padding and be a little more painful when you fall or go swinging.

Harness.

The extra padded material is very comfortable and will provide plenty of cushion in the result of a fall. However, this material can be hot, and if you're going to be climbing in the heat, expect to sweat a lot.

Size

While some harnesses claim to be one size fits all, the reality is usually that one size fits most.

For those who are huskier, large or double large sizes can often be special ordered. For those who are on the skinnier side, extra small sizes can be special ordered.

Keep in mind that there are also harnesses specifically designed for both women and children

Support

The type of support you will need all depends upon the climbing that you will be doing. If you're just planning on climbing around a gym or doing some light climbing, having extra support doesn't matter quite as much.

If you plan on doing any heavy-duty climbing, however, you will need to choose a harness that adequately supports you.

For people who are planning on climbing vertical rock faces, you will need to find a harness that has wide, comfortable seat supports as you will be doing a lot of hanging in mid-air.

If you are going to be wearing shorts or light pants, you may consider getting a harness that has multiple leg supports. One leg strap digging into your bare skin all day can cause blistering and chaff.

Gear Loops

Some harnesses are lightweight and meant designed for climbers to nimbly maneuver across rocks; others come with multiple gear loops attached to haul your chuck bag or additional ropes up the rocks.

Make sure you take an inventory of how much equipment you’ll need to carry with you. Get a harness that can carry everything you need, but keep in mind that each additional loop adds extra weight and can get in the way of quick motion.

Different Types Of Harnesses

When you go searching for a new harness, it's easy to get confused among all the various options. Now that you know what features to look out for in a harness let's review the different types of harnesses.

Sifferent climbing harnesses on a pile on the ground.

Just as there are many different types of climbers, there are just as many different styles of harnesses, each with different features to make them the best tool for the job at hand. Below are some of the most common harnesses you will find when shopping:

Traditional Harness

These harnesses can handle a wide variety of climbing, and if you find yourself changing locales frequently, then this can be a great option for you. They typically feature:

  • At least four gear loops to hold plenty of extra equipment.
  • Thick leg padding. You might be in this harness for hours, and chafing is never fun.
  • Adjustable leg loops with solid buckles.
  • Lumbar support and padding to stabilize your core.
  • A large hauling loop to carry up an additional rope.

Sport Harness 

These are the most stripped-down harnesses that you can purchase and are mainly used for practicing in an indoor gym, or for light outdoor routes. They typically feature:

  • Only two gear loops as you won't need excessive extra equipment.
  • One size fits all leg loops. This reduces the weight of the harness and gives it a smaller profile.
  • Little to no additional lumbar support.
  • Small belay loops, as you will not usually be handling larger roops.

Alpine Harnesses 

Besides the traditional harness, these offer the most versatility. Anybody who’s climbed a mountain will tell you, the less weight you carry, the better. These harnesses are usually designed with lightweight materials and typically feature:

  • A large haul loop for carrying additional ropes.
  • Three or four small gear loops meant to carry some additional light weight.
  • Small belay loops to reduce weight.

Winter Harnesses 

These are designed for the long haul. They're typically made from heavy-duty, durable materials, and can hold a lot of extra weight. They typically feature:

  • Four to six gear loops to hold heavy gear like ice picks and ice screws.
  • Additional lumbar support. This helps to balance out all the extra weight you will be carrying.
  • Adjustable leg loops and versatile waist belt. Depending on where you’re climbing you might be wearing thick jackets and snow pants, so it helps to be able to adjust your harness accordingly.

Big Wall Harnesses 

These are similar to canyoneering harnesses and are meant for long vertical climbs. They typically feature:

  • Two belay loops to maximize safety and allow for various rigging configurations.
  • Extra wide padding to ensure comfort for many hours of hang time.
  • Six to ten gear loops for carrying all the extra tools needed to make vertical climbs.

Canyoneering Harnesses 

These are designed for scaling canyon walls and can take a lot of wear and tear. They typically feature:

  • Thick and beefy to accommodate frequent rubbing against rock.
  • A single tie point works as belay loop.
  • Extra seat protection

Competition Harnesses 

These are even more stripped-down than sports harnesses. They are designed to be incredibly lightweight and facilitate fast movement. They typically feature:

  • No gear loops, because you will typically not be hauling gear in a competition.
  • Small belay loop, which sometimes completely removed for weight reduction.

What Type Of Harness Should I Get?

In a perfect world, you would be able to purchase multiple harnesses, preferably one harness for every environment you ever wanted to hike.

However, since harnesses can be a hefty investment, most people can only afford to purchase one at a time. Thus it becomes important to make the right choice when you're shopping.

You will want to choose a harness that is versatile and can be used in multiple different environments. That way you can do the most amount of climbing, for the least amount of investment.

For those looking for versatility, the traditional and alpine harnesses are the best. Each has a fair amount of lumbar support, offers a durable design, has extra gear loops, and offers adjustable waist and leg straps.

Alpine harnesses.

If you just want something to work with indoors or do competitions with, the best choice would either be a sport or a competition harness. Both offer lightweight, stripped-down designs that won’t get you tangled up or added unnecessary weight. 

For those who plan on mainly doing a lot of vertical face climbing, using a big wall harness is the smartest idea for you.

Wall climbing requires a lot of tools, and you’ll be spending a lot of time hanging. You will need good seat support you will quickly find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Whatever style harness you end up going for, we decided to help you and put some harnesses to the test. Below we’ve outlined and reviewed our top all-around choices.

Winner - Petzl CORAX Harness

The Petzl CORAX harness is a traditional, versatile harness and is the best all-around harness you can get for the money. It offers comfort, support, and is very thoughtfully designed.

The Petzl is designed to be idiot-proof when you're slipping it on, as the leg straps are distinctly labeled. This makes a huge difference in the time spent donning a harness. Getting tangled up in a messy harness is as embarrassing as it is tedious.

Once you’ve slipped it on you can easily tighten the leg and waist straps so that it fits you snuggly. Speaking of the straps, another great feature of this harness is that it has a bunch of elastic strap holders. A lot of cheap harnesses will allow straps to hang free which is both dangerous and aggravating.

Petzl - CORAX, Versatile and Adjustable Harness

source: petzl.com

It has a great little loop right on the back of the waist strap for holding your chuck bag. This means you won't have to worry about your chuck bag endlessly knocking on the side of your leg everytime you move.

The best part is that it’s comfortable. The leg straps are soft and supportive, and the multiple adjustment points allow you make sure it has a perfect fit. All the straps are very well-ventilated which adds even more to the comfort.

If you’re looking for a great harness trusted by professionals and beginners alike, then this is the one for you. It’s versatile, relatively lightweight and has several loops for gear.


Runner Up - Black Diamond Vario Speed Harness

The Black Diamond harness is the ultimate training harness. It is incredibly easy to adjust and comes in one size fits all. For a gym harness, the comfort is unrivaled. It's elastic straps act as a cradle for any swing or falls you experience.

It is a very stripped-down harness and doesn’t have any of the extra gear loops that you’ll find on a traditional or winter harness. This gives it a very light weight and allows to hop from rock to rock almost unencumbered.

Black Diamond Vario Speed Harness

source: blackdiamondequipment.com

Perhaps the greatest feature of this harness is how easy and quick it is to put on. There are only three buckles (one on the waist and one on each leg) which can be adjusted with a simple pull of the strap. You can get in and out of this harness in less than ten seconds, and that’s no exaggeration.

Because of its comfort and usability ratings, this harness is often used by many other climbers, especially competitive climbers who need the extra edge.

A lot of people even use it for hunting so they can climb up to a tree strand or hard-to-reach perch up in the rocks.


Best Alternative - Oumers Thicken Wider Climbing Harness

This harness is burly and heavily constructed. It's made of very high-quality synthetic material, and you would be hard pressed to try and damage the fabric.

All of the connecting straps, besides being stitched in are also put together in a looping fashion, so you're not solely relying on the strength of the stitching to hold you up while you're suspended in mid-air.

Oumers Thicken Wider Climbing Harness

One unusual feature of this harness is that it doesn’t have a connection in the middle of your groin attached to the leg supports, but rather is designed so that you tie in from a large loop in on the waist band. This removes the strain from your legs and instead transfers it to your waist and lower back.

The greatest selling point for this harness is its lumbar support. It has a large back strap made of a polyester mesh that's one of the most comfortable on the market. When you put this harness on you, feel as if you could just swing for hours without becoming uncomfortable.


Best Women's Harness - Black Diamond Primrose Harness

From the outside, most climbing gear, and especially harnesses appear to be non-gender-specific. What makes women's harnesses different? In the case of many industries, the whole gender specific alternative is merely a clever marketing ploy, but when it comes to climbing harnesses, there is a few distinct differences.

Women are more apt to have smaller and higher waists than men, but with larger thighs and hips, not to mention, women's hips tend to sit at a different angle than most men's.

Black Diamond Primrose Women's Harness

source: blackdiamondequipment.com

As a result, women's harnesses have a bigger distance between the leg loops and the waistband than your average male harness. This allows them to sit more comfortably, spreading their weight to their hips and not just their waist. Aside from this, waist size is smaller, and leg straps are a bit smaller.

The Black Diamond Primrose harness features a lightweight design but offers plenty of loops and hooks should you need to carry additional equipment.

It has a very comfortable design with soft mesh leg supports and a breathable waist band. You can get it in Moroccan Blue or Smoke Grey colors. This is a fairly versatile harness as it offers the light construction of a training rig, but with the strength and durability found in most traditional harnesses.


Best Kids Harness - Petzl Macchu Harness

Anybody who has kids will tell you, that kids refuse to be left out of any activity, especially climbing. Chances are if the parents are avid rock climbers, the kids will be equally into the sport. That's why Petzl decided to make a harness specifically designed for kids.

Petzl Kids' Macchu Climbing Harness

source: petzl.com

It’s made with a trademarked Endoframe Tech that evenly distributes the child's weight across the whole harness. It’s made out of a comfortable and breathable mesh that will keep your child cool on even the hottest of summer days. It comes in fun Coral Orange or Raspberry colors that are guaranteed to make any kid excited.

The best design feature is that it was made with no friction zones or compression points. Children's skin is a lot softer than adults, and they can't take much abrasive or pinching damage before their day is ruined and they want to go home. Now they can stay out all day long with no complaints!


Conclusion

Rock climbing is a great sport for anybody to get into, men, women, and children included. It will keep you fit for life, and give you a passion for climbing and exploring that will remain unmatched by any other sports.

We’ve compiled a short list of some of the best harnesses on the market. These can be appreciated by beginners and veterans alike. Happy climbing!

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