A harness is an essential item of climbing equipment. It is the vital link between your body, the rope, the quickdraws and the cliff.
While on belay, you will spend quite a lot of time hanging in your harness, so its comfort is paramount. It is important to choose it carefully and ensure it complies with technical standard number: EN 12277.
There are three kinds of harness:
This is a harness specially designed for children for multi-purpose use (rock climbing, via ferrata). There are two kinds of children’s harness:
1) Full-body harness: the straps cover the whole of the child’s body (hips and chest). This kind of harness is recommended for children weighing under 40kg, as they have a higher centre of gravity than adults and the tie-in point needs to be higher to prevent inversion.
2) Classic harness: these harnesses are recommended for more experienced young climbers only, as there remains a higher risk of inversion than with a full-body harness.
This is an adjustable harness that can be used year-round and with all types of clothing. They are slightly heavier owing to the larger number of buckles. This is a good harness for a climber looking for an all-purpose harness for a range of activities.
Multi-purpose harnesses specifically designed for women’s body shapes are also available.
Sport climbing harness
The thigh loops on these harnesses cannot be adjusted and they should be chosen carefully to ensure you get the right size. It is extremely important to try these harnesses in the hanging position to assess their comfort.
They are lighter than standard harnesses owing to, among other things, having fewer buckles. Their padding is optimised for freedom of movement and minimal weight.
These harnesses are designed for climbers for whom every gram counts.
Other things to consider...
This is the first criterion to consider. It is impossible to determine the comfort of a harness without trying it on. Hence before purchasing it, ask to try it in the hanging position. The comfort of a harness matters little when you’re standing on your feet, but hanging on belay on a rock face with a slow second climber, you will appreciate having a comfortable harness.
While in the hanging position, identify any pressure points, particularly at waist level. Check if gear loops are easily accessible, note the thickness and density of the padding as well as the width of the waistband.
It is extremely important to choose the right size harness for comfort around your waist and your thighs.
The leg loops on adjustable ‘all-round’ harnesses are easy to adjust, to accommodate different thicknesses of clothes (in winter or summer, for example). The elasticated thigh straps on ‘sport climbing’ harnesses, on the other hand, give minimal adjustability (again winter versus summer clothing).
Something to note:
There are specific harnesses for caving and canyoning. Caving harnesses are much more resistant to abrasion than climbing harnesses and their belt is secured by a quick link (delta or semi-circular maillon). Canyoning harnesses are often lined with a protective girdle to protect the harness and the canyoner during descents.