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Choosing The Right Climbing Harness
Body, Fit, and Style
A harness is the vital link between you, your rope, and your protection while participating in vertical adventure sports such as rock climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering. Since your harness is the key component in your security while doing these sports, it is important to choose that fits your body type and climbing style.
Even the most carefully designed and padded harness will not be comfortable or safe if it is incorrectly sized. If a harness is too tight, it will restrict movement and potentially constrict blood flow. If a harness is too loose, it is unsafe, bunches up, and could potentially fall off your body.
When fitting a harness, be sure to take into account the types of clothes you will be wearing for your activity. Be sure that any pack you plan to carry can be used comfortably while wearing the harness. A harness should always fit securely, yet comfortably.
The waist belt should be snug, but not uncomfortable and should sit just above your hipbones. When tugging downward on the gear loops, make sure the harness cannot be pulled over your hips. If you can pull it over your hips, you should tighten the harness further or consider investing in a full body harness. At a minimum, there should be at least four inches of the waist belt extending from the buckle once it has been secured and doubled back. As a rule of thumb, the width of your hand serves as a reference for the minimum length of tail. If your harness does not require you to manually double back the waist, you should still try to shoot for the four inches of tail.
Leg loops should also be snug but not comfortable. You should be able to fit a couple of fingers between the leg loop and your thigh. If your leg loops are adjustable, there should be at least three inches of webbing left after doubling back through the buckle.
Always replace your harness when it shows any signs of wear or damage. A typical harness used every other weekend and stored out of direct sunlight should last you several years.
Harnesses generally weigh from two-thirds of a pound to two pounds, depending on style and features. The different styles of harness coincide with the different vertical adventure sports and range from small lightweight sport climbing harnesses to wide multi-pitch redundant big wall and caving harnesses.
Multi-purpose harnesses also known as sport or crag harnesses are particularly well suited for beginners. This is because they can be used easily for top roping, sport climbing, and indoor wall climbing.
Alpine harnesses feature minimal padding and are intended for glacial travel and alpine climbing. They have an adjustable waist belt, and leg loops to accommodate various clothing thicknesses.
Big wall harnesses are designed for multi-day, multi-pitch climbs, and feature heavily padded waist belts and leg loops., multiple gear loops, and a haul loop in the back for towing rope and/or gear.
Sport harnesses are the most streamlined of all to allow for a full range of motion. They are used primarily in sport climbing, and have narrow webbing and very little padding.
Choosing The Right Design
The style of climbing you will be doing will greatly influence the style of harness you choose. Here is a guide to help you get started.
The leg loop/waist belt harness is one of the most popular styles. It has a padded waist belt, known in the past as a "swami" belt, and a pair of leg loops joined together in the front with a belay loop. The waist belt buckles in front or just off-center, and the leg loops may be fixed or adjustable. Some manufacturers used to sell swami belts and leg loops separately, but you are less likely to find this to be the case anymore.
The diaper design harness features minimal padding and is designed for glacier and/or alpine climbing. One advantage to this type of harness is it has an adjustable waist belt and leg loop to accommodate various clothing thicknesses. Another advantage is the ease which you can take this harness on and off.
The full body harnesses are designed primarily for people with narrow waists and hips, and also for children. Because the harness holds both shoulders and legs, it will keep the wearer from slipping out in the event of an upside down fall.
A chest harness is usually worn only on climbs where is a danger of turning upside down - such as during a glacier climb, or when loaded down with a heavy pack such as during canyoneering. A chest harness is a component and must be worn with a traditional seat harness.
A women's harness is designed specifically to accommodate women. They typically feature smaller waists and larger leg loops and the distance between the waist belt and leg loops (or rise) is also longer than that of a unisex harness.
Each harness manufacturer has its own buckle with its own instructions for its use. Follow the instructions printed on the harness, always double check the harness and have a buddy double check you before each use.