A harness consists of a waist belt, leg loops, a buckle, and, generally, a belay loop. There are three basic styles: alpine, fixed leg loops, and adjustable. Harnesses of all types come with gear loops attached to the waist belt.
- Alpine or diaper-style harnesses do not have any leg loops to step through, so they can be put on While you are wearing skis or crampons. The leg loops are formed after the waist belt has been secured by pulling straps up and around the thighs. They are great for longer climbs on which the ability to drop the leg loops may be important. They also fit over a wide variety of clothing, so are great for summer rock climbing as well as winter climbing.
- Harnesses with fixed leg loops are the most popular for rock climbing. They fit precisely over the clothes worn for rock climbing, usually have padded waist belts, and are the lightest and most comfortable harnesses. They do not adjust, however, so they will probably not fit over all the clothing needed for winter climbing.
- Adjustable harnesses have buckles on the leg loops as well as the waist belt, so they will fit over just about anything. They are a little heavier than harnesses with fixed leg loops and usually not as comfortable, but the advantage of adjustability often outweighs these disadvantages.
Once the style of harness has been selected, work to get the right fit. Choose a harness primarily on fit. The thigh diameter, waist size, and rise (the vertical dimension between the leg loops and waist) all must combine to fit your individual requirements.
On alpine and adjustable harnesses, the only decision is to buy one with the proper size of waist belt. When the harness is properly sized, there is still some room on either side of the buckle to either tighten or loosen it.
If you choose an adjustable harness that is too small, it may not buckle safely over winter clothing; if it is too large, it may not cinch down enough over a pair of shorts. On harnesses with fixed leg loops, be certain to fit the harness over the clothing you will be wearing when you climb.
The waist belt should tighten in the middle of its adjustment range, and the leg loops should be snug around the upper thighs without restricting movement.
The waist belt on any style of harness should be tightened enough so that it cannot be pulled down over the climber’s hips.
When you try a harness on, hang in it off a rope, just as you will really be using it.
Whatever the choice in harness, use it according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pay close attention, especially to the proper use of the buckling systems and tie-in locations.
Harness Safety Dynamics
- Construction: Harnesses are made of nylon webbing of various widths, and may be padded or not.
- Strength Characteristics: Harnesses are designed to hold the force of the most severe fall with case. However, they are only strong enough when they are sized correctly and their buckles are threaded according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Harnesses do not fail because they are not strong enough, but because they are not used properly.
- Care: Check harnesses regularly for wear or damage. With proper care, most harnesses will last several years – check the manufacturer’s recommendations.