The importance of choosing the correct climbing harness can become quite clear when you are on a rock or ice face. Your type of climbing will determine of right harness for you.
Our video walks you through the basic considerations:
If you’re new to climbing, your first step is to understand the parts of a harness.
Harnesses are designed for specific climbing styles, including:
Sport or gym harnesses: Stripped down for fast, ultralight travel, whether indoors in the gym or on outdoor sport routes. Typical features:
Traditional (trad) harnesses: Trad climbing usually requires much more gear than sport climbing, so a trad harness maximizes space while being relatively light and comfortable. Typical features:
Ice and mixed harnesses: Similar to trad harnesses but designed to cope with winter conditions. Typical features:
Alpine/mountaineering harnesses: These offer all–season versatility. Lightweight, adjustable leg loops for easy on and off. Typical features:
Specialized harnesses: Harnesses are designed for other climbing niches, too. While REI doesn’t usually carry these, they’re worth a mention.
Shop REI's selection of climbing harnesses.
A number of styles are specifically designed for a women’s physique, with unique fit and comfort characteristics built in. Be aware that a men’s version of a harness will not fit the same as a women’s version. Women–specific aspects include:
Shop REI's selection of women’s harnesses.
These share many features with adult harnesses but are designed to accommodate a child’s physique.
Very young children have a relatively high center of gravity (due to a larger head–to–torso ratio) and should be outfitted with a full–body harness. A child’s full–body harness is considered a type B harness and is designed for weights no greater than 40Kg (88 lbs.). Full–body harnesses usually work best for children 5 and under.
As your child’s center of gravity lowers (due to a lowering of the head–to–torso ratio), a sit harness becomes the better choice. A sit harness teaches children basic harness safety at a young age, since a child’s sit harness and an adult’s sit harness are built in the same fashion and must pass the same tests. The lack of an upper restraining system also allows for the tie–in point to be lower. This helps keep the knot out of a child’s face when top–roping.
Shop REI's selection of kids’ harnesses.
The text below provides some general information that applies to many harnesses. However, it’s important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific harness model.
Harnesses, like most climbing gear, are engineered for safety. The forces required to break the harness would far exceed the force required to do internal bodily harm. This may not be important to you when choosing a harness, but it’s information that every astute climber should be aware of.
All harnesses must be submitted for stringent testing to satisfy the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA 105) or the European Committee for Standardization (EN 1277). Both of these are independent testing groups that help ensure quality standards among a variety of products.
Harnesses are categorized and defined by their shape and use. All climbing harnesses mentioned in this article that consist of a waistbelt and 2 leg loops are classified as a Type C sit harness. On a Type C sit harness, the belay loop is tested to 15kN (3,372 lbs.). A full–body harness that is child–specific is considered a Type B small–body harness and is designed for weights ≤ 40 Kg (≤ 88 lbs.). A Type B small–body harness’ tie–in points must be rated to a minimum of 10kN (2,240 lbs.).
For harness care instructions, see the REI Expert Advice Caring for Your Climbing Harness article.
For general climbing information and video instruction, see the REI Expert Advice Getting Started Rock Climbing article.
By Dan Dalton
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Last updated: 02/18/2014
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