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What Are the Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Climbing Harness?

Climbing Harness

In the world of climbing, climbers are well-versed in their preferred footwear, and meticulous in their selection of climbing cams but very little thought on the equipment that guarantees their safety on the rope. When climbing into a rock, a climbing harness becomes an essential companion. Not only does it prioritize your safety, but it also offers convenient loops for attaching and accessing additional gear during your climbing endeavors. To aid you in finding the best climbing harness for beginners, the following explanation of its features, types, and fitting guidelines will assist you in making an informed choice.

Climbing Harness Components

Before choosing the right climbing harness, let’s get familiar with some of the essential parts of a climbing harness. 

  • Waist belt: Provides comfort with minimal weight, adjustable with one or two buckles.
  • Buckles: Metal pieces for manual double-back or automatic double-back, usually positioned off-center to avoid rope tie-in conflict. Waistbelt requires a buckle, leg loops may or may not have buckles.
  • Gear loops: Carry quickdraws and cams, most harnesses have four gear loops, and some specialized belts offer additional loops. Gear loops are typically plastic or webbing, with some harnesses featuring removable plastic gear loops.
  • Clipper Slots: Sewn fabric loops on the harness for attaching ice clippers. Essential for ice climbing, but can also be used for other types of climbing without significant added weight or space. Ensure the harness meets your other requirements as well
  • Haul loop: Located on the back of the harness, used to attach a second rope or haul line. Not load-bearing or suitable for protection or rappelling purposes.
  • Belay loop: Strongest point on the harness, load-tested, designed for attaching items like locking carabiners during belaying or rappelling. Should not be used for tying anything around it.
  • Leg loops: Padded for comfort, adjustable for clothing changes while remaining tied in, made from various materials.
  • Tie-in points: Connected to the belay loop, not strength-tested but proven strong. Cord, rope, or webbing should be attached through both tie-in points for wear distribution and redundancy. Belaying or rappelling with a carabiner attached to tie-in points weakens the carabiner; use the belay loop instead.
  • Elastic straps: Distance between leg loops and waistbelt, connected with thin webbing or elastic straps. Drop-seat harnesses allow leg loop removal without untying, while some harnesses have adjustable permanent straps affecting the harness shape and hanging feel.

Types of Climbing Harnesses

So, how to choose a climbing harness? Well, it depends on the kind of climbing you’re doing. With each type of climbing you require a specific type of climbing harness. 

Sports or Gym Harnesses

For new climbers starting at an indoor gym or exploring sport climbing, a suitable harness should have 2 to 4 gear loops and fixed leg loops. These harnesses are lighter, and thinner, and offer freedom of movement. In indoor climbing, minimal gear may be required, while outdoor sport climbing often demands more gear, especially for longer routes. For such scenarios, a harness with 4 gear loops is ideal to accommodate the additional equipment needed. Here’re some other features : 

  • Double-back waistbelt buckle: Provides quick and easy on/off functionality.

            2 gear loops: Designed for minimal gear requirements.

  • Thin belay loop: Reduces weight.
  • Minimal leg adjustability: Leg loops without adjustment buckles, using stretchable material for comfort and weight savings. The layering of clothing is usually not necessary in these activities.

Traditional Climbing

In trad climbing, a harness is essential for carrying a larger amount of gear while maintaining comfort and functionality. So, in terms of trad climbing, you need to consider few things while buying a climbing harness:

  • Adjustable leg loops with buckles are great as they allow for a customized fit and easy adjustments, either with automatic or manual double-back buckles.
  • Look for 4 or more gear loops as they provide ample space to accommodate a wide range of trad gear, ensuring easy access and organization during climbs.
  • For enhanced comfort during long periods of wear, your climbing harness needs to have thick and durable padding. And also extra lumbar padding, it provides additional support and stability for the lower back and waist, reducing fatigue during extended climbs.
  • Your harness needs a dedicated loop for conveniently carrying a second rope, allowing for efficient rope management during trad climbs.

Multi-pitch Climbing

For multi-pitch climbing, a harness with ample gear loops (4 or more) is essential for effectively organizing your protection. Additionally, a beefier harness offers increased comfort and support during long days on the route, including hanging belays. It should also provide sufficient carrying capacity for your full rack, extra gear, and essentials like shoes, water, and clothing for varying conditions. In summary, a comfortable harness with excellent carrying capacity is necessary for multi-pitch climbing, accommodating both gear and hanging comfort.

Ice and mixed harnesses

Ice climbing harnesses resemble rock climbing harnesses but include a crucial addition: ice clipper slots. These slots, typically found in pairs, allow for the attachment of ice clippers, specialized carabiners used to hold ice screws. When selecting an ice climbing harness, ensure it has a minimum of 2 ice clipper slots and adjustable leg loops to accommodate the added bulk of winter clothing.

Big Wall Climbing

For climbing big walls like those in Yosemite Valley or Zion National Park, specialized “big wall” harnesses are recommended. These ultra-padded harnesses feature thick waist belts and leg loops to accommodate extended periods of hanging. Ensure a snug fit initially, as the waist belt may need to be tightened during the climb. Climbers attempting free or single-day ascents of big walls may opt for regular harnesses instead. Refer to the recommendations for multi-pitch traditional climbs in such cases.


Canyoneering harnesses are designed specifically for the demands of navigating canyons. They typically feature extra seat protection with water-resistant materials to withstand the wet and rugged environment. The harnesses have a single tie-in point that also functions as a belay loop. Additionally, canyoneering harnesses are thick and robust to endure frequent rubbing against rocks and provide added durability.

Mountaineering Harnesses

If you’re wondering how do I choose a mountaineering harness? Well, this is it for you. Mountaineering harnesses are streamlined and lightweight, featuring minimal padding and a limited number of gear loops. They prioritize low weight while still providing the necessary protection. Some mountaineering harnesses offer fully adjustable leg loops, enabling users to put on the harness without removing crampons or skis.

How to Choose Climbing Harness Size?

Properly fitting a climbing harness is essential for both safety and comfort. So, how should a climbing harness fit? Whether you’re using an indoor climbing harness or an outdoor one, follow these steps to ensure a secure and comfortable fit:

  • Begin by loosening the adjustable leg loop straps and the waistbelt strap.
  • Step into the harness, ensuring that the leg loops are not crossed, the belay loop is untwisted, and the waistbelt is correctly oriented with the belay loop facing the front.
  • Position the waistbelt slightly above your iliac crest which is around belly-button level. This is to prevent accidental slipping in case of a fall. Once positioned, securely tighten the waistbelt.
  • Maintain a 2-finger gap between your waist and the harness, ensuring that the buckle is doubled back.
  • A well-fitted harness should have equal adjustability for both larger and smaller sizes, allowing for diameter adjustment. Note that a harness reaching its maximum adjustability is not unsafe but may limit ease of use and versatility.
  • Adjust the leg loops individually. Some harnesses feature non-adjustable leg loops with elastic for flexibility.
  • The precise placement of the leg loops is less critical than that of the waistbelt and should prioritize comfort. Ensure the loops allow mobility without causing discomfort or pinching. Placing the leg loops near the groin and maintaining a 2-finger gap between the loop and your leg often works well.
  • Tighter leg loops provide a snug and comfortable fit while hanging freely but may limit the range of movement. Looser leg loops offer increased mobility but may be less comfortable for hanging. Both options are safe, so choose based on personal comfort preference.
  • Finally, double back the buckles on each loop to securely fasten them. Your harness is now ready for testing.

Our Takeaway

Gear up for your climbing adventures with the perfect harness that suits your style and budget! Don’t miss out on this crucial piece of equipment. Discover the ideal harness by considering your preferred climbing type and budget. Narrow down your options and get ready to conquer new heights. 

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