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The GO Outdoors Guide To Climbing Harnesses

Harnesses are attached to the rope and allow you to climb safely up a rock face. They should be comfortable without being restrictive, but also fitted to stop you from falling out when on a route. 

Harnesses are essential for supporting you on a climb and should be looked at as an investment purchase. Able to sustain your body weight as you climb, a harness should be unrestrictive yet snug, allowing you flexibility without risk.

Harnesses sold in the UK have to meet security standards. EN 813 is the mandatory standard for harnesses, with EN361 being specifically for Full Body Harnesses. 

 The testing for harnesses is rigourous, covering the load holding capabilities of a harness by using a 15kN load. Harnesses should never be bought second hand, and harnesses should have passed the mandatory EN testing to be safe to wear.

Types of Harness

Harnesses are typically designed to fit stereotypical gender shapes: 

  •  Men: Smaller leg loops and a bigger waistbelt 
  •  Women: Larger leg loops and a smaller waistbelt. 

However the fit of a harness should be personal, so ignore the ‘gender’ of a harness and choose the right fit for you.

Harness choices vary from your sex, age and confidence as a climber.

The sit harness is the most flexible and the most common type. 
This allows you, as the name suggests to sit in the harness and hang. The gravitational pull means you sit in a comfortable position. The spine is unloaded, and you have plenty of freedom on the legs for movement. You tie in to the front for comfort. 

A chest harness is another common harness with children and those with smaller hips. This stops any scary ‘slipping’ out of the loops and keeps your body in an upright position so you won’t wobble or tip over. You should combine a chest with a sit harness. 

A full body harness is a type of harness which is used in rope courses and Via ferrata routes.  
Where you need more control in a fall. These are more protective with a high tie-in point, making it less comfortable for general use. 


Non Adjustable Harnesses: Ideal for Rock Climbing and Cragging, Spanish Climbs and Competitions

These harnesses need to be light, easy to put on when wearing big boots / crampons, have a wide range of adjustment to go over a multitude of clothing systems and have drop away legs for calls of nature.

 Ideally I prefer these harnesses to have 4 or more gear loops, although a lot of people use bandoliers in the mountains. Non adjustavel harnesses for rock climbing need to be worn over layers of clothing, and usually come reduced inw eight compared to an adjustable harness.  

A harness for rock climbing needs to be sligjhtly padded, a balance between having a low overall weight, and enough comfort for all day wearing. Harnesses for cragging and rock climbing usually come with non adjuatable leg loops in order to offer critical support. 

 Harnesses for cragging usually incorporate up to 7 gear loops, depending on how large your gear rack is and your destination. They should be set apart enough so the gear doesn’t bunch together, but should allow you to reach your gear when you need it. Competitive climbing harnesses are not suitable for general climbs as they are not as extensively padded, meaning they lack the comfort needed for long climbs. The lack of padding reduces weight, but also decreases comfort


Adjustable Harnesses: Ideal for UK an Indoor Climbs

Suitable for a variety of climbs, this harness comes with more adjustability than a specific cragging or rock climbing harness. The adjustable leg buckles allow you to fit your harness over both thin and thick layers of clothing and boots. 

Waistbelts are usually well padded to provide all day comfort. Gear racking will be included in an adjustable harness so you can keep your gear close by, wherever you climb. 

Full Body Harnesses: For children/Narrow hipped adults Full-body harnesses are designed for children and can also be used for narrow hipped adults. These are extremely supportive. A full body harness straps you in not only at the legs but at the shoulders. Less comfortable than separate seat and chest harnesses, full body harnesses are more restrictive, a positive feature for anyone less secure or confident on the ropes.


Double Back Buckle/Threadback Buckles

The buckle allows you to thread in a belt and tighten up to suit your own shape. Some may have an easy glide buckle that needs no threading. 

The classic is called a thread-back-buckle: and this is threaded through the webbing at the beginning of your climb. These classic buckles can be hard to adjust on the move.  These double back on themselves to secure you. Most harnesses use one or two double back buckles, located on the wasitbelt. Two buckles allow you to centralize the harness for the best fit. 

 This essential fastening ensures that your harness will not open, After winding the tail of the fabric through a double back buckle, you should be left with 10 cm at end. This extra length leaves more room for clothing, which can vary according to how you layer and where you climb.


Ziplock buckles

Ziplock buckles are used to make sure you have full adjustability in your harnesses leg area. Easy to use, these prevent your harness from opening at any time. Some climbers feel that the more traditional double backed buckles are more secure, but it is a matter of personal preference.

A clip-in-buckle is a buckle that locks off when you pull the webbing 
Tight. It is designed so that one half clamps down on the webbing, whilst it can be completely opened with a twist.

Fitting Your Harness


All harnesses incorporate a waistbelt that is adjustable to alter it depending on your size. They are padded and very comfortable to encourage all day wearing.

The waistbelts have gear loops connected to them for storing your quick draws, karabiners, chalk bag and other equipment. They are attached with a strap that needs to be ‘double backed’ to be secure and to make sure it doesn’t come undone. 

The waistbelt should settle just above your hipbones and should not be able to be pulled down over your hips. If you have narrow hips, a full body harness is better. Make sure your waistband isn’t restricting your breathing. 

Once your waistbelt is attached, check that there is around 3 inches of webbing left from the waistbelt buckle. This ensures you have the correct fit.


Leg Loops:

Leg loops can come in two different formats – both adjustable and non-adjustable. Adjustable leg loops are most often found in general climbing harnesses. Non-adjustable harnesses are better suited to sport climbing and alpine routes where every gram counts. Check that your leg loops are secure, but not overly restrictive so you can release your legs if necessary.

 The loops should compromise between not being able to slide around, without hindering your movement. Gear Loops Gear loops are essential for trad. Climbing and are there to clip your karabiners or protection equipment to on a route. 2 or more loops are ideal for multiple climbing tools and big wall climbs.

You can hand wash your harness in mild soapy water to keep sweat away. Make sure you replace your harness once a year, or before if it shows any severe wear and tear. 

Keep your harness away from direct sunlight or damp when in storage so it retains it’s strength. Look for closed cell foam styles- which can get wet, making them far more durable for use during winter climbs.


Harnesses- Technical Features

  • Adjustable Harness: A harness with adjustable straps that allows you to put it on over various layers. 
  •  Caritools Loops: Front based loops that you can slot your equipment onto for easy use. 
  • Trail Line Loop: Rear based loops that stay out of the way for less used equipment. 
  • Closed Cell Foam: A fabric style used to pad harnesses for increased breathability.
  • Pre Threaded Buckles: Pre tied buckles that can adjust with a single pull. 
  • Wear Indicator: Seen in some harnesses, a visual reminder that your harness may be in need of replacing. 
  • Ice Clipper Lots: An area to hang your ice tools, perfect for Alpine routes. 
  • Polyester Mesh: Usually used within the harness to wick away moisture. 
  •  Waist Belt: The wider, the greater the weight distribution of your gear. 
  • Bi Coloured Webbing: Coloured straps with distinct blocks of colour that make harnesses easy to put on, particularly for kids.