Climbing has exploded in popularity over the last few years. More and more people are getting outdoors to enjoy this fun, fresh, exciting sport. But if you’re a beginner climber who’s just learning the ropes or someone looking for their first climbing harness, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you.
Even if you’re an advanced climber, new climbing harnesses are released every month, and it’s often hard to keep track of which new models of harnesses are best.
This article will help you learn all about climbing harnesses so that you can pick the best one for your needs!
What is a Climbing Harness?
Before we dive into more detail about the best climbing harnesses, let’s first look at what a climbing harness actually is.
A climbing harness is an equipment item worn to protect oneself while ascending or descending a steep slope with ropes or when one must otherwise trust their life to some line passing through an anchor point such as when rappelling.
Climbing harnesses are used by climbers, mountaineers, cavers and rappellers, as well as by people who work at great heights, such as construction workers or professional tree cutters (or arborists).
Using a climbing harness is one of the key elements to make sure your climb is a safe one. If you’re climbing up and not using a harness to strap yourself in, there’s a higher chance that you’ll fall off the slope or face another incident-related injury.
Parts of a Climbing Harness
A climbing harness is usually made up of the following parts:
A waist belt
The waist belt is the main part of your harness and goes around your hips. It allows you to distribute weight evenly across your torso during a fall so it’s not all taken by just one part of your body.
Two leg loops
These are worn around your thighs and attach to the waist belt so they can also distribute weight evenly.
It’s also important that the leg loops should be wide enough to accommodate a range of different thigh sizes. If they’re too tight, you can’t wear them properly; if they’re too loose, your harness will slip off and won’t offer any protection at all!
Harness buckles are added to a harness to allow for double-back the waist belt. Buckles are practically always on the waist belt, and sometimes you may find them on the leg loops as well.
Gear loops are added to harnesses to provide a way of carrying equipment while climbing, such as a chalk bag or water bottle. They are usually made out of webbing, plastic or metal.
On the back of the harness, you will find another loop made out of stitched webbing. This is used for hauling a second rope of haul line. The haul loop of a climbing harness is designed to take a heavy load and has high shock-absorbing abilities.
Now we are getting to one of the most important parts of your harness when it comes to safety: the belay loop. This is the part that will be loaded the most when climbing, and especially when falling! Belay loops are usually made out of nylon webbing and are used to connect a locking carabiner (used for attaching your rope when climbing) or belay device.
The two loops that are connected to the belay loop are known as tie-in points or tie-in loops. Although not strength-tested, they are quite strong. You should attach the rope through both lower and upper tie-in points for added redundancy.
The rise is the distance between the two leg loops. These are usually connected by either webbing or (elastic) straps. In some harnesses, these straps are removable (a so-called drop-seat harness) which makes it more convenient when one needs to go to the toilet, for example. This is usually the case for mountaineering and trad harnesses.
If your harness doesn’t have removable rise straps, they can still be adjusted for adjusting the harness shape and improving your comfort.
Below, you can find a visual overview of the different parts of a climbing harness:
Of course, some climbing harnesses may include additional features to make them more complex. The above parts, however, are the ones you will find in any decent climbing harness and should be paid attention to when deciding on which harness is best for you.
Types of Climbing Harnesses
There are quite a few different types of climbing harnesses, depending on the specific activity and environment they are used for/in. In this guide, we’ll focus on the 3 main types, which are:
Sport harnesses are the most widely used type of climbing harnesses for sport climbers and boulderers. In essence, they are quite simple and stripped down, which makes them light and convenient to use.
These types of harnesses usually only include a limited number of gear loops and a minimal amount of adjustability. This is because for (indoor )sport climbing, you usually don’t need to carry as much equipment or wear as many clothing layers.
The second part of climbing harnesses are the trad harnesses. These are designed for traditional climbing (usually outside) and include much more complex equipment-carrying features. They usually have a lot of gear loops, adjustable rise straps and other things as well to make them comfortable and safe in rougher environments.
Lastly, we have mountaineering harnesses. These are designed for mountaineering and usually offer the most features of all three types, with many loops to carry equipment. They also have a lot of padding in order to provide protection against falling debris while ice climbing for example. Mountaineering harnesses are designed for use in extreme environments, and as such should be chosen with care.
Besides the above, there also some more complex and specialized harnesses, such as canyoneering, rescue missions, tree climbing or competition climbing. These are outside the scope of this buying guide.
Things to Consider When Buying a Climbing Harness
Before we look at some of the best climbing harnesses, we’ll first take a look at some things to consider when buying your first/next climbing harness.
First of all, it’s important to understand the different types of climbing harnesses, as we just explained above. If you’re just starting out, we recommend going with the simplest type, the sports or gym harness, which features just the essentials you need to get started.
Next, keep in mind that climbing harnesses are a safety device and thus need to comply with certain standards. All climbing harnesses mentioned below are so-called Type C harnesses: they consist of at the very least a waistbelt and two leg loops. These should all be tested and approved by the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA 105) or the European Committee for Standardization (EN 1277).
When testing out a harness, you should pay attention to the way the harness fits and feels. The waist belt should not move excessively, and the harness should not feel like it’s digging into your skin.
Selecting the right harness for your needs is important. Keep in mind every person’s body is different and not every harness will fit perfectly, so be willing to try on a few different models before you make your selection.
The Best Climbing Harnesses in 2023
Below, we will look at some of the best climbing harness options, depending on the type of climber you are. For a more extensive overview of our top recommendations, we highly recommend reading the specific guides mentioned below the products.
Climbing Harnesses for Beginners
Let’s first look at some of our top picks for the best climbing harnesses for beginners. When first starting out, we recommend going with a basic sport/gym harness. Below are some great options for beginners in 2023.
For more about the best climbing harnesses for beginners, we highly recommend checking out our dedicated guide:
In this more dedicated guide, we will look specifically at the best climbing harnesses for beginners.
Climbing Harnesses for Children
Next, we’ll take a look at the best climbing harnesses for children. Kids’ harnesses are usually simpler and are designed for lower weights. They often come in different colors and have fun patterns, which makes them popular with kids!
For more about the best climbing harnesses for children, we highly recommend checking out our dedicated guide:
In this more dedicated guide, we will look specifically at the best climbing harnesses for children.
Climbing Harnesses for Men
Next, let’s take a look at some of the best climbing harnesses for men.
For more about the best climbing harnesses for men, we highly recommend checking out our dedicated guide:
In this more dedicated guide, we will look specifically at the best climbing harnesses for men.
Climbing Harnesses for Women
Climbing harnesses for women are often designed specifically to accommodate a woman’s body. This usually means a narrower or differently-shaped waistbelt and leg loops, which make the harness more comfortable. These harnesses also often have an increased rise and a reduction in the leg-to-waist ratio.
For more about the best climbing harnesses for women, we highly recommend checking out our dedicated guide:
In this more dedicated guide, we will look specifically at the best climbing harnesses for women.
Climbing harnesses are designed to help you stay safe while climbing and reduce the load on your body. There are three main types of harnesses: full-body, chest/seat belt with leg loops, and waist belt only. You should look for a nice balance between features (e.g., comfort) and cost when purchasing your first or next climbing harness in 2023.
If you’re a more advanced climber, the PETZL Pandion Harness is another great option that includes a few more features and can be more easily adjusted to fit multiple missions.
We hope this article has provided you the info and value you were looking for. Good luck, and climb safe!