Not all climbing harnesses are the same - depending on the terrain you want to climb, the requirements differ greatly. We have described in the first part of this article what you need to know about harnesses for mountaineering, ice climbing, alpine climbing, and via ferratas. But what do I have to take into consideration for a harness for sport climbing in toprope, lead climbing or competition? And how do I find out what size I need? We answer these questions here in the second part.
Daniel first discovered climbing at a friend's birthday party at a climbing wall. He and his mates enjoyed it so much that they have been climbing regularly ever since. In the meantime, they are now starting to move from top roping to leading. They say that they want a lightweight harness that gives them full freedom of movement and allows them to hang comfortably when trying out new routes. As they are not leading much yet, gear loops are mainly used to secure belay devices when they are climbing. And seeing as they climb indoors and wear more or less the same type of clothes all year round, their harnesses don't need adjustable leg loops.
Daniel chose a harness with padded webbing, one buckle and two gear loops.
Chris is an ambitious sport climber and lives for his climbing. When he was younger he trained with the German Alpine Club (DAV) youth teams. He enjoys pushing his limits. Onsight ascents or redpoints are his main objective. To afford him every possible advantage, he prefers to use lightweight, minimalist harnesses. Good fit and maximum freedom of movement are important – he wants a harness that allows him to master the hardest, most acrobatic moves. Chris says that his own arness fits so well, he "can hardly feel it". As Chris carries quickdraws only and no other equipment, he only needs a limited number of gear loops. This also allows a few more grams to be saved.
His harness of choice has a load-bearing edge binding construction, no buckles and just two gear loops, one at either side – it's also particularly lightweight.
Snug or baggy? Secure or restrictive? We've looked at how harnesses are made and the requirements for different types of climbing. However, finding a harness that fits well is probably the most important factor. Not only will it hold you securely in a fall, it will also provide day-long comfort. Most harnesses come in a range of sizes. To get the right fit, it's worth taking a note of your measurements:
and for full-body harnesses,
See below an example of measurments of a climbing harness:
Knowing these measurements will mean that you start from the right point when choosing a harness in an outdoor shop. Please note: There are also differences in sizes from different manufacturers. The same as with clothes or footwear, the design or cut of a harness makes a big difference to the fit.
A perfect fitting harness should fit snugly at the waist so that it can't slide down over your hips. Make sure that the gear loops are pointing down to the ground and that the tie-in loop and leg loops are not twisted. Please see the illustrations below for how to put on a harness correctly.
Although most harnesses are designed to be used by both male and female climbers, this often involves a compromise. This is why we make some of our harnesses with a men's specific or a women's specific fit. Our women's harnesses have a more curved waist belt as the angle that the hip bones sit at is different to that of men. In addition, women's legs are slightly larger relative to their waists compared to men, so women's harnesses require different waist-to-leg ratios. Also, the rise – the distance between the legs and waist – of women's waists tends to be longer, so there is more distance between where the leg loops sit and where the waist belt fits, i.e. the tie-in loop is longer.
For maximum comfort while hanging the leg loops and the waist belt should neither be too narrow nor too wide. This is why, if you plan to buy a harness without adjustable legs loops, you should make sure it fits perfectly. Once the leg loops are tight, it should be possible to fit a flat hand between them and your body. The same applies to the waist belt. If it is too slack it will make sitting in the harness and taking or holding a fall uncomfortable.
A good vendor will have somewhere for you to test out harnesses in practice, by sitting and hanging in them. This is the best way to check that a harness fits properly before you buy it and start climbing in it.