How to Choose Climbing Harnesses
So you're fresh off your first climb...scraped knees, wind burn, natural high...you've been bitten! Time to get some basic rock climbng gear, but where to start? At the EMS Climbing School, guide Joe Campolatano would have started the day by fitting you with a harness. Read on for Joe's advice on how to buy the right climbing harness for you.
Begin by asking yourself a few questions
What type of climbing seams to peek your interests? Where, and when will that climbing take place? Also, if your skills improve, what might you think you may want to try?
If you're choosing your first harness, you'll want to look for a multi-purpose, all-around harness. You can use them out on the rock top-roping as well as sport and gym climbing.
Other harnesses tend to specialize in a specific type of climbing, and will mention "big wall," long alpine mountain trips, or climbing competitions. These harnesses have special features, like minimal padding to save weight or extra padding for hauling gear.
Padding means comfort
Padding is all but standard on your all-around harness these days. It is in your better interest to have padding. Simple as that. Even the least active climber ends up hanging out in his or her harness every now and again.
Cost of climbing harnesses
It has been my experience that the differences between a $40 harness and an $80 harness may be difficult to see. You do not need to break the bank to get a safe harness. However, harnesses are tough and should last a while, so durability is often the difference between expensive and moderately-priced harnesses. Consider that you may be climbing in this thing for a few years before jumping at that small price tag.
Harness gear loops
By now you might have noticed loops of plastic or nylon hanging off the waist belt of the harnesses. These play a vital role in storing the equipment necessary climb. Storing your gear around your waist distributes the weight of bulky climbing equipment around the entire belt of the harness. This eliminates pressure points and adds to the organization of your gear. Most climbers find 4 gear loops to be sufficient.
Harness buckle performance
There are many things that divide modern harnesses. Buckles are a big separating characteristic. Standard buckles require the user to thread the waist belt through the buckle and double it back through itself. This is very important; many climbers have been severely injured by forgetting to double back their buckles.
Enter the speed buckle. These ingenious buckles are pre-double backed and only require the user to loosen and tighten the straps of the harness. If speed buckles are not threaded properly they will not stay up around the users hips. This is a comforting feeling when approaching your limits on a climb.
When you want adjustability
Are you the type of person that takes off 100% into any climb, and can't stand not trying a new aspect of it? If so, go for "adjustable" leg loops that you can climb well into the fall in. Try to be in the middle of the adjustment range of your harness. That way you can try climbing ice in the winter, and still synch the harness down after a summer of sweating pounds off. For the waistbelt, secure and double back your buckle for a snug fit; the right size belt will have a few inches of webbing coming out of the buckle.
Types of climbing harnesses
Most harnesses fall into two basic categories: Seat harnesses and full-body harnesses. For an adult engaging in conventional rock and ice climbing; however, we are only concerned with the former. Seat harnesses have come a long way since the days that they were tied out of nylon webbing. The popular seat harness usually features a padded foam waist belt, threaded buckles, and leg loops joined together in front with a belay loop.
Eastern Mountain Sports also carries women's and kids' harnesses (a better fit means a more comfortable, safer climb). You'll also note the "chest" harness; this is designed for climbs on glaciers or rocks when you're turned upside down.
Selecting the right size
Most climbers first experience the mountains in the muggy confines of the summer, and often fall into the trap of sizing their new harness to small. Even though it fit over your faded cut-off jean shorts perfectly, making you look like the climbing hero you are, you forgot about how it will fit over more clothes when the weather turns cool.
Try on the most clothing you expect to wear climbing, and fit to the middle of the waist and leg loop size range. When you try on a harness, be sure it's not too small, or you won't be able to move. It needs to be snug enough, however, that it doesn't slide over your hips or up your ribcage. Snug, but not uncomfortable, is the rule.
Know you're safe
Harnesses, just like any other piece of climbing equipment, must pass rigorous testing before being let out into the market place. The two certifying agencies are the UIAA and CE. It is VERY important that your harness is tested by one of these agencies. Eastern Mountain Sports does not sell ANY harnesses that are not certified by one, or more often, both of these organizations. Bottom line, it's not hard to find a harness at EMS that will be safe.
What else to consider
As well as a harness, you'll need to own your own climbing shoes. Other starter gear will include a belay device, locking carabiner, and perhaps a chalk bag and a helmet.
But a harness is a huge start. Slip your new baby over your scraped knees, and prepare for the vertical world ahead. Your new harness is an extension of your body. I personally like to bathe in mine. You know just for that extra symbiosis that exists between a climber and his (or her) harness. Be safe!
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