How to use a harness for rock climbing

Rock climbing is a badass sport. However, it also carries a significant amount of risk. If you accidentally fall, you can be seriously injured. For this reason, you should invest in the best climbing harness you can find.

This will to make rock climbing a lot safer. But, with so many options available, it can be difficult to know which harness you should purchase. Let’s look at some of the most important factors to consider when making this decision. P

How to use a harness for rock climbingSource

Find The Right Type Of Harness

There are many different types of harnesses out there.

However, they might not all be suitable. You will want to consider the activity that you will be performing. This will dictate the type of harness that you need to buy.

For example, if you are looking for a competition harness, you will need to find something that is lightweight. Alternatively, if you want to take the harness when canyoneering, you would want plenty of seat protection and a strong belay loop. If you are just getting started in rock climbing, try talking to people more experienced.

They’ll be able to tell you the qualities that you should be looking for in a harness. This will stop you from getting swayed by stylish, yet impractical, designs. You can also look at online forums in your sport.

They will frequently discuss multiple types of harness and their pros and cons. You can combine these reviews with your experience when trying on the harness. This will give you plenty of information to make a reliable, informed decision about the type of harness you should buy.

Choose A Harness That Fits

One of the most important considerations when choosing a harness is how well it fits you.

Understanding the climbing harness sizing will ensure that it is comfortable to wear. The best way to find out how well the harness fits is to try it on. Most stores will allow you to do this. i

How to use a harness for rock climbingSource

There is a specific procedure to use when trying on a harness. This will ensure that you are safe when climbing. You should also use this procedure when testing a harness in-store.

First, loosen the harness, then step into it. When doing this, make sure that the straps aren’t twisted, you should also make sure that the belay faces towards the front of the harness.

Then, place the harness above the iliac crest, which is the most prominent bone in your hips, and tighten the waistband. You should make sure that you can’t fit more than two fingers in the harness loop.

Finally, you need to place the leg loops. This isn’t as important as the waistband placement. Generally, you want to make sure that your leg loops are secure and in a comfortable position.

Avoid areas that might pinch the skin. You should also consider the rise, which is the distance between the leg loops and the waist. This will determine which parts of your body get impacted hardest if you fall.

This is easiest to accomplish when you can adjust the leg loops.

Once you’ve got the harness on correctly, you can get an indication of how comfortable it is.

Depending on the store, there might be a climbing wall, where you can test putting weight onto the harness. Thankfully, there are many different types of climbing harnesses; this will make it easy for you to find one that is comfortable to wear.

Choosing A Safe Harness

If an accident happens while you are climbing, your harness will need to protect you from serious injury. For this reason, you should understand how the safety features of your harness work. Many modern climbing harnesses feature auto-locking technology.

This means that when you tighten the webbing on your harness, it automatically locks itself into place. This prevents the straps from loosening or coming undone in an accident. You should also consider the safety ranking of the harness.

How to use a harness for rock climbingSource

To make it easier for climbers to find the right harness, the government decided to start certifying equipment and giving it a safety ranking. This ranking tells you the amount of force that the equipment can withstand.

To have the safest equipment, you want to find a harness that fits and can support your weight comfortably. You should also remember that the belay loop and the tie in points are the only parts of the harness that get tested. This means that if you don’t use your harness correctly while climbing, you might still be at risk of injury, regardless of the safety ranking.

Features

Many harnesses will have some special features that make them unique. How important these features are will often depend on the type of climbing that you intend to do. For example, how many gear loops do you require?

Some harnesses will contain two while others will have five or six. You should also consider the material that the gear loops are made from, which will determine how flexible they are. In addition, consider the most convenient places for the gear loops to be located.

You might also want to find a harness that has wear indicators. These safety features help you keep track of how much wear has accrued on the harness. This can help you make a judgment about the right time to retire the harness.

Finally, you might want to consider the packed size of the harness. This might affect how difficult it will be to get through any tight squeezes that you might encounter on your route.

Conclusion

One of the most important parts of climbing is choosing the right harness. This essential piece of safety equipment can save your life during an accident. For this reason, you want to make sure that you choose the best climbing harness for your needs.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

Sophia is a Content Manager for Outdoorsly . She’s a writer at heart, a specialist in outdoor sports, and also a gear reviewer. Her main purpose is to extend people’s knowledge about outdoor activities, help them discover new ways of how to spend time with friends and family, maximizing their entertainment.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

A friend of mine was recently rappelling from a climb, meaning that she had the rope through a device that was connected to her belay loop on her harness. As she rappelled, she yelled that her harness broke, and the waistband of the harness slid nearly to her armpits. Fortunately, she remained calm and collected, and was still able to rappell safely, if awkwardly, to the ground. On the ground, her partner saw that her waistband with belay loop had become disconnected from her leg loops. The leg loops were intact, though a keeper-strap that helps the leg loops stay centered was no longer connected.

So, what happened?

First, for the non-climbers, a primer. A climbing harness is composed of three major parts, attached to each other in various ways depending on the manufacturer. The first part is the waistband, which is load-bearing, meaning that it is meant to take the weight of a climber.

The second part of the harness is the belay loop, a load-bearing stitched circle that connects the waistband and leg loops and is also used to hold a belay device, to hold the climber’s weight when rappelling, and for anchoring to the ground or a wall when needed.

The last part of the harness is the leg loops, which are also load-bearing in the parts that connect to the belay loop and around the legs themselves.

Figure 1 shows the general composition of climbing harnesses, with these three parts diagrammed in the Base Concept.

How to use a harness for rock climbing
Figure 1. Simplified diagrams of climbing harnesses.

On most harnesses, the leg loops are kept connected to the belay loop by a “keeper strap.” This is usually a weak connection not meant to bear weight, but only to keep the leg loops centered on the harness (shown in blue in figure 1). In the case study that prompted this blog post, the keeper strap was connected through the belay loop, rather than the full-strength leg loops (figure 2.) When loaded, it came apart, separating the leg loops from the waistbelt. My own tests found that the keeper strap can be very strong, when it is loaded on the strap itself. But if the leg loops move so that the keeper buckle is loaded by the belay loop, it comes apart easily.

How to use a harness for rock climbing
Figure 2. Harness assembled with keeper strap bearing weight via the belay loop.

There are two ways to mis-attach leg loops to the belay loop of a harness. The first way is by connecting the leg loops back to the harness, after they were removed, using the keeper strap. The video below demonstrates this possibility. Once connected, the harness fits well and gives little indication the leg loops are not actually connected to bear weight.

The second (and I think more likely) way is by having the leg loops disconnected from the back of the harness, usually for a bathroom break or to get in and out of the harness. The leg loops are still connected in the front of the harness, but if a leg loop passes through the belay loop, suddenly the keeper strap is load bearing when the leg loops flip around. However, the harness does not fit differently nor does it look particularly different unless carefully inspected. Video below.

The non-load bearing parts of the harness are what determine the possibility for this error. In figure 1, some harnesses either do not allow disconnection of the leg loops in back or only allow their disconnection in tandem. When the leg loops are connected in this way, the front of the leg loops cannot be passed through the belay loop. Video demonstration below.

Back to figure 1, some harnesses allow the disconnection of leg loops for each leg. If these are disconnected, a loop may be passed through the front belay loop, resulting in the error in figure 2.

In sum, this error can be examined for likelihood and severity. It is not likely that the error occurs, however if it does occur it is likely it will go undiscovered until the keeper strap comes apart. For severity, the error could be lethal, although that is not likely. The waistbelt will hold the climber’s weight and having leg loops and a waistbelt is a (comfortable) redundancy. However, the sudden shock of suddenly losing support from the leg loops could cause loss of control, either for an un-backed-up rappell or while belaying another climber.

What are the alternatives?

Climbing is exploding, particularly climbing in gyms. The “gym” harnesses, with fewer components and gear loops (Figure 1), are a good option for most climbers now. However, there is little guidance about what harness one should buy for the gym vs. outdoor versatility so few probably know this harness is a good option.

Some harnesses are designed to be load-bearing at all points (i.e., “SafeTech” below). It is impossible to make an error in leg loop attachment.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

Harnesses with permanently attached leg loops or loops that attach in the back with a single point are unlikely to result in the error.

Many climbers reading this are thinking “This would never happen to me” or “You’d have to be an idiot to put your harness together like that” or my usual favorite “If you wanted climbing to be perfectly safe, you shouldn’t even go.” Blaming the victim gives us a feeling of control over our own safety. However, there are other instances where gear was assembled or re-assembled incorrectly with tragic consequences. No one (or their child) deserves to pay with their life for a simple mistake that can be prevented through good design.

This article was co-authored by Erika Noble. Erika Noble graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Management Science & Engineering. After competing in collegiate rock climbing competitions as part of the Stanford Rock Climbing team, Erika worked as a Rock Climbing Instructor in Lake Tahoe. She continues to boulder and climb throughout California and the Southwest.

There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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A harness is one of the most basic pieces of climbing gear, but that also makes it one of the most important. Your harness is an attachment for your climbing rope and belay device. Before you can begin climbing, you have to fit the harness on your waist. Then you knot your climbing rope to it, along with a belay device if you’re climbing with a partner. Before heading out to the rocks, inspect your harness to ensure you have a safe climb.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

How to use a harness for rock climbing

How to use a harness for rock climbing

How to use a harness for rock climbing

PCIA Certified Rock Climbing Instructor

Rock climbing instructor, Erika Noble, adds: “To test if your harness is tight enough, pull down on the waist loop or gear loops. The harness should stay high on your hips and not slide down at all. If it does slide, it’s too loose and needs to be tightened!”

A chest harness can be readily improvised with a long loop of webbing (a long runner). One popular design depends on a carabiner to bring the ends of the harness together at your chest. Another uses a knot instead to attach the ends.

The carabiner chest harness: Start with a double-length runner. Give the runner a half twist to create two temporary loops, and push one arm all the way through each loop. Lift the runner over your head and let it drop against your back, then pull the two sides together and clip with a carabiner at your chest. Connect the chest and seat harnesses with a short piece of webbing or cord to keep the chest harness from riding up around your neck in a fall (fig. 6-32).

The final step is to link the chest harness to the climbing rope to prevent you from being flipped upside down during a fall. There are two ways to do this. You can simply run the climbing rope from your seat harness up through the chest carabiner. Or, you can tie a short prusik sling onto the rope in front of you and clip this into the chest harness. If you use the prusik, be sure it is carefully adjusted to help keep you upright, but still permit your weight to be borne by the seat harness (not by the prusik).

How to use a harness for rock climbingFig. 6-3 J. Full body harness

The baudrier chest harness: The harness known as the baudrier also is made from a runner, though it will take a somewhat longer runner than the carabiner harness. Put your arm through the runner and hang it over one shoulder. Pull the other end around your back, under the opposite arm, and across your torso. Wind it around a short loop from the other side of the runner, push it through the loop, and cinch the knot tight. Clip the tail of this chest harness directly into the locking carabiner on your seat harness (fig. 6-33).

This harness is linked to the climbing rope in the same way as the carabiner chest harness: either by running the climbing rope up through a carabiner clipped to the chest harness or by attaching a short prusik sling from the rope to the chest harness.

Regardless of the system used, remember that harnesses also deteriorate with use, abuse, and disuse. Replace them about as often as your climbing rope.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

Fig. 6-32. The carahiner chest harness

Fig. 6-32. The carahiner chest harness

How to use a harness for rock climbingFig. 6-33. The baudrier chest harness

Transcript

So before you can do any climbing, you’re going to need to know how to fit your climbing harness.

So the first step, when learning how to put on your climbing harness is learning how to orient it. In the front of the harness, you’re going to see this belay loop. In the back of the harness, they’ll be these elastic straps that kind of hold your leg loops up.

You want to hold your harness with the belay loop facing away from you and those elastic straps facing toward the back. You’re going to then step through the waist belt, putting one leg through each leg loop.

You want to make sure that while you’re pulling the harness up that you get your waist belt nice and high above your hips. That’s a really important part of properly fitting your climbing harness.

Once I have the harness in position, I’m going to start to cinch down that waist belt. I want to make sure that the waist belt is tight enough that it’s not going to pull back down over my hips. This way I know that I’m secure. I won’t fall out of the harness.

As far as the leg loops are concerned, this harness here doesn’t even have adjustable leg loops. One reason for that is that the leg loops are primarily there for comfort and to prevent you from flipping over.

So, the leg loops that do have adjustments on them should just be snugged down for comfort. They kind of help to disperse the weight as well so when you’re sitting in the harness all that weight isn’t pulling just on your waist. But, it’s kind of more like you’re sitting back in a chair. And it allows you to be a little bit more comfortable when you’re hanging.

So that would be how to fit your climbing harness.

When you arrive at a sporting goods store looking for a climbing harness, there are a few things you should understand before you decide to buy.

What does UIAA stand for?

The abbreviation (UIAA) comes from its French name Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme, which stands for International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. The international federation was founded to be in charge of researching and finding solutions to all problems related to climbing and mountaineering.

What is a UIAA Certified Harness?

It is imperative, when purchasing your climbing harness, that it has a certified UIAA Safety Label attached.

What kind of climbing harness should I get?

First and foremost, the type of harness you need will need to meet the requirements of the type of climbing you will be doing. First lets go over some general basics, then we will break down to more specifics.

There are two types of comfort; a harness that is comfortable while standing and another that is comfortable while hanging. If you are climbing mostly in a single pitch environment, then you should go for the harness that fits more comfortably while standing. If you are climbing mostly multi-pitch routes in which your body will be hanging, then is best to get a harness that serves that purpose. Now, each harness is designed to be comfortable for its purpose, so each sacrifices the alternative; a harness comfortable while standing may be uncomfortable while hanging and vise versa.

Finding the right size and best fit to your body can be a challenge. No matter how much or little padding you see on a harness, it will not be comfortable if it does not fit you well. Harnesses are designed and built by different distributors (brands), therefore made for different body types. Go to a local gear shop and try several brands on, this is not something you can eyeball on the internet and shop for.

Harnesses do have a wear indicator, threads or strips of nylon that are inside of the external layer of a harness. When this layer wears out, it shows the indicator thread or strip as a warning that the harness needs to be retired. Usually the lower tie-in point (attached to the leg loops) tens to wears out first, since it is the one that gets the most friction while walking. Regardless of if your harness is not showing these warnings, you should read the manufacturer’s recommendation on when the harness should be replaced; in other words, just because you climb three times a year and your harness is looking pretty good, does not mean it will be safe to use after 20 years. Read the manufacture details and keep track of when you first purchased your equipment, to give you a better idea of how long you’ve owned it and if needs to be retired.

How can I check if my harness is UIAA Certified?

Use the following link to verify that your equipment is certified by the UIAA.

Have safety concerns over recalls?

Use the following link to verify what recalls are currently in place. You can search equipment by brand, year, name or part number.

Transcript

So before you can do any climbing, you’re going to need to know how to fit your climbing harness.

So the first step, when learning how to put on your climbing harness is learning how to orient it. In the front of the harness, you’re going to see this belay loop. In the back of the harness, they’ll be these elastic straps that kind of hold your leg loops up.

You want to hold your harness with the belay loop facing away from you and those elastic straps facing toward the back. You’re going to then step through the waist belt, putting one leg through each leg loop.

You want to make sure that while you’re pulling the harness up that you get your waist belt nice and high above your hips. That’s a really important part of properly fitting your climbing harness.

Once I have the harness in position, I’m going to start to cinch down that waist belt. I want to make sure that the waist belt is tight enough that it’s not going to pull back down over my hips. This way I know that I’m secure. I won’t fall out of the harness.

As far as the leg loops are concerned, this harness here doesn’t even have adjustable leg loops. One reason for that is that the leg loops are primarily there for comfort and to prevent you from flipping over.

So, the leg loops that do have adjustments on them should just be snugged down for comfort. They kind of help to disperse the weight as well so when you’re sitting in the harness all that weight isn’t pulling just on your waist. But, it’s kind of more like you’re sitting back in a chair. And it allows you to be a little bit more comfortable when you’re hanging.

So that would be how to fit your climbing harness.

How to use a harness for rock climbing

Climbing is dangerous. You need to do everything you can to mitigate the effects of gravity and falling. Redundancy is key. Always back-up every important piece of gear with another piece of gear and use more than one anchor at a belay and rappel station. Your life depends on it. Beginner climbers are most vulnerable to accidents. Always use sound judgment; respect climbing dangers; don’t climb over your head; find an experienced mentor or take climbing lessons from an experienced guide to learn how to climb safely. Remember that most accidents happen because of climber error. Use the following 10 tips to keep safe when you’re out rock climbing.

Always Check Harnesses

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Adam Kubalica / Flickr

After you’ve geared up and tied into the rope at the base of a route, always check that both the climber’s and belayer’s harness buckles are doubled back. Make sure the leg loops are also snug; most harnesses have adjustable leg loops.

Always Check Knots

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Patrick Lane / Getty Images

Before you start climbing, always double check to make sure that the lead climber’s tie-in knot–usually a figure-8 follow-through–is tied correctly and finished with a backup knot. Also, check that the rope is threaded through both the waist loop and the leg loops on the harness.

Always Wear a Climbing Helmet

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Stewart M. Green

A climbing helmet is essential if you want to live long and prosper. Always wear one when climbing or belaying. Helmets protect your head from falling rocks and from the impact of falling. Remember that your head is soft and the rock is hard. Head injuries from falls and rockfall are serious life-changing events. A helmet keeps your head safe.

Always Check the Rope and Belay Device

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Stewart M. Green

Before you lead a route, always double-check to make sure that the rope is properly threaded through the belay device (especially if it is a GriGri). Also, always make sure that the rope and belay device are attached with a locking carabiner to the belay loop on the belayer’s harness.

Always Use a Long Rope

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Stewart M. Green

Make sure your climbing rope is long enough to reach the anchors and lower back down on a sports route or to reach a belay ledge on multi-pitch routes. When sports climbing, if you have any doubt that the rope is too short, always tie a stopper knot in the tail end to avoid being dropped to the ground.

Always Pay Attention

How to use a harness for rock climbing

When you’re belaying, always pay attention to the leader above. The leader is the one taking the risks of a fall and leading the route. It is smart to never visit with other climbers at the base, talk on a cell phone, or discipline your dog or kids while you are belaying. Never take the leader off belay unless you are absolutely certain that he is tied into the anchors and safe and he communicates clearly with climbing commands to you that he is safe and ready to lower or rappel.

Always Bring Enough Gear

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Georgijevic / Getty Images

Before you climb a route, always eyeball it from the ground and determine what you equipment you need to bring. You know best. Do not rely strictly on a guidebook to tell you what to bring. If it is a sports climbing route, verify visually how many bolts need quickdraws. If in doubt, always bring a couple more quickdraws than you think you need.

Always Climb With the Rope Over Your Leg

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Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

When you are leading a route, always make sure that the rope is over your leg rather than between them or behind one leg. If you fall with the rope in this position, you will flip upside down and hit your head. Wear a climbing helmet for protection.

Always Properly Clip the Rope

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skodonnell / Getty Images

Make sure you always clip your rope through carabiners on quickdraws correctly. Avoid back clipping, where the rope runs front to back rather than back to front in the carabiner. Make sure the carabiner gate faces opposite to your direction of travel, otherwise the rope can come unclipped. Always use locking carabiners on important placements.

Always Use Safe Anchors

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NickS / Getty Images

At the top of a pitch or route, always use at least two anchors. Three is better. Redundancy keeps you alive. On a sports route, always use locking carabiners if you are lowering down to top-rope climb off the anchors.