Whether you’re a rock climber, an alpinist, or an ice climber, your climbing harness is one of the most important pieces of gear in your arsenal. It’s what catches you when you fall, thereby serving as a literal life-saving piece of equipment. Put plainly, it isn’t something you want to skimp on.
Depending on your preferred type of climbing, you might prioritize some harness characteristics over others. No matter if it’s comfort, weight, or ice clipper slots, we can help you pick out the best option suited for your favorite activity — whether it’s scaling big walls or ascending perfect water ice. Here are our picks for the best climbing harnesses currently available.
Arc’teryx FL-365 ($145)
If you’re looking for extreme versatility and unmatched comfort, the Arc’teryx FL-365 is a stand-out option. Designed to be fast and light, the FL-365 is ideal for use on rock, ice, or alpine routes. This harness boasts Warp Strength Technology, which separates the hip belt webbing in a way that eliminates pressure points, balances your weight, and provides comfort without adding too much bulk. Burly Double Weave fabric provides for four-way stretch that you’ll covet while hanging from a belay.
Arc’teryx completely elasticized the leg loops which fit snuggly no matter how many (or how few) layers you’re wearing. The FL-365 features a single self-locking waist buckle, drop-seat compatibility, four gear loops, and four ice clipper slots. The harness also weighs in at 12.9 ounces which further cements the FL-365 as our favorite on the market.
Petzl Sitta ($170)
This lightweight harness took the alpine world by storm recently — and for good reason. Petzl integrated flat-lying Spectra (similar to Dyneema) strands and constructed a comfortable harness without bulky foam padding. Wireframe Technology allows for adequate load distribution and a thin waist belt while elasticized leg loops provide for freedom of movement and a snug fit. This harness features a self-locking waist buckle, four gear loops, and two Caritool ice clipper slots.
Its well-designed gear loops are rigid, allowing for quick removal of gear from the harness — which is perhaps its most unique characteristic. In addition, the front gear loops boast a removable separator for sorting trad gear. The only downside might be that it’s easy to get the leg loops twisted up but once you’ve put the harness on, the Petzl Sitta is incomparable when moving fast — and its light weight is key. At just 9.5 ounces, this harness is the lightest pick on our list and one of the lightest climbing harnesses ever made.
Black Diamond Solution ($70)
Leading climbing gear manufacturer Black Diamond crafted its Solution harness with sport-specific climbing in mind — and it shows. Fusion Comfort Technology provides for adequately separated strands of webbing in the leg loops and the waist for excellent load distribution and elimination of pressure points. The Solution is designed to provide for maximum freedom of movement and contoured comfort for projecting on hard sport routes or belaying for extended periods of time.
Its four gear loops are pressure molded, naturally protruding away from the harness and making for easy removal and placement of quickdraws. Weighing in at just 11 ounces, this harness is ideal for sport climbers, boasting top-of-the-line features for this type of climbing and foregoing the unnecessary bells and whistles required for other disciplines.
Misty Mountain Cadillac ($135)
The Misty Mountain Cadillac is the ideal trad climbing harness due mainly to its six big gear loops which allow you to organize your entire rack on your harness. Additionally, its foam padding provides for unprecedented comfort on multi-pitch climbs where you might spend extensive time at hanging belays. Cordura reinforces the harness, making it extremely durable and ideal for offwidths and chimneys while the waist belt boasts a double buckle that’s highly adjustable — even its wide leg loops are adjustable, as well.
Misty Mountain included handy ice clipper loops on both sides of the waist belt in the event you want to take this harness on a colder weather adventure. The extra gear loops and excellent abrasion resistance make for an ideal trad climbing harness that really shines on multi-pitch routes.
Black Diamond Aspect ($65)
Designed as a four-season harness, Black Diamond’s Aspect stands out as the perfect ice climbing companion. In addition to its four ice clipper slots, four gear loops, and rear haul loop, the fact it weighs just 14.5 ounces gives it a massive leg up on the competition. Dual Core XP Construction keeps the weight down and the comfort high while the OpenAir waist belt and supportive inserts separate strands of webbing, providing for optimum weight distribution and the elimination of pressure points.
The Speed Adjust waist belt and leg loops are ideal because they can be adjusted while wearing gloves. Ice clipper slots separate the gear loops on either side, which might make this harness less than ideal for disciplines other than ice climbing.
Mammut Ophir 3 Slide ($45)
The Mammut Ophir 3 Slide is ideal for beginning climbers due to its solid, all-around design and comfort. Two-part webbing construction provides for maximum comfort and breathability while its waist and leg loops feature Mammut Slide Bloc buckles for easy adjustment. At $45, this harness packs a lot of bang for its little buck, offering the necessary features required to climb both in the gym and outside at the crag.
Four gear loops serve to hold quickdraws and other gear, and Mammut also included a strong haul loop in the back. Droppable leg loops and a seat buckle even allow for easy bathroom breaks — something any climber would appreciate. This is an ideal all-around choice that serves well as a beginner’s first harness or anyone looking for a solid, versatile option on a budget.
Anatomy of a climbing harness
In order to prioritize different features when picking out a climbing harness, you first need to understand its basic parts. Each part serves its own unique function, with a few benefiting some climbing disciplines over others. Here’s a quick primer on each section of the harness and its intended benefit.
The waistbelt serves to provide for comfort, utilizing a combination of both padding and webbing — in essence, it’s the primary shock absorption mechanism. Look for harnesses that boast weight distribution technologies and be aware that the foam often incorporated into waistbelts breaks down over time, meaning you may develop sensitive spots as your harness ages. One or two buckles help to adjust the waistbelt.
Most leg loops integrate waistband technology and the primary distinction between each type is whether they feature adjustable loops or elasticity. They’re also padded for comfort and usually kept upright by an elastic strap on the back of each leg loop connecting to the harness. Leg loops should fit comfortably and not restrict circulation.
These are the small plastic or webbed rings located along the waist belt designed to carry equipment, such as quickdraws and cams. While most harnesses have four gear loops, there are some more specific to trad climbing which features more than four — such as the Misty Mountain Cadillac. Two gear loops are sufficient for gym and sport climbing.
This is the only load-tested portion and the strongest point on your harness. Belay loops are made of nylon webbing and its tie-in points which are connected to the belay loop are also quite strong, serving as the location where you’ll tie into to your rope.
Types of climbing harnesses
Sport or gym climbing
These are the most basic but for projecting on hard sport routes, most climbers prefer lighter products. For gym and sport climbing, you’ll want something soft, forgiving, and comfortable for when you fall. Two gear loops should suffice as you won’t be hauling that much gear, either and . minimalist models that emphasize comfort are ideal. A thin belay loop saves on weight and these harnesses don’t require much leg adjustability.
Trad climbing requires a more substantial harness than what’s used in gym or sport climbing, due in large part to the fact you may find yourself ascending gnarly offwidths and chimneys. Abrasion resistance is important, as is comfort, for you’ll likely be hanging for periods of time at belays. Most trad harnesses also sport adjustable leg buckles, durable padding, and extra lumbar padding.
These harnesses tend to weigh a bit more than standard sport and gym harnesses but you’ll want one that’s light enough for transport in a backpack to the cliff. Trad climbing requires more gear and therefore, more gear loops are essential, with four or more being ideal.
Ice climbing harnesses are specific to their activity, designed to handle icy, winter conditions. Four or more gear loops is ideal in addition to ice clipper slots — which are unique to the sport. These harnesses typically sport adjustable leg loops with buckles and extra lumbar padding for support and stabilization. In addition, you’ll need a haul loop for carrying up an additional rope.
When it comes to the ideal alpine or mountaineering harness, the key components are comfort, packability, and minimal weight. Most harnesses for this discipline integrate many features of trad climbing and ice climbing harnesses. Fully adjustable leg loops and a waist belt are ideal and four or fewer gear loops are enough for light and fast expeditions where you won’t be carrying much gear — though, for traversing mixed terrain, you’ll want ice clipper slots.
Thin material is ideal so you can pair your harness with a comfortable backpack and a haul loop is essential for carrying an extra rope. Your mountaineering harness spends a lot of time in your backpack so it’s important to find one that’s compact and lightweight.
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