As the school year begins and we all start to filter back to sunny Colorado, many of us begin to stretch our rusty forearm muscles, dust off our climbing shoes after a summer of internships and desk jobs, load our Subarus, and venture into the mountains. Whether you’re just getting into climbing or are a seasoned veteran, the beginning of the school year is a good time to consider getting a new harness.
In this day and age, there are hundreds and hundreds of harnesses to choose from, so here are some tips and considerations to purchasing. First of all, most harnesses are created equal. All harnesses have a waist belt, leg loops, gear loops and a belay loop—it’s the smaller details that one must consider before buying a harness.
I’ll stick to discussing harnesses for sport climbing, trad climbing, and ice climbing—not alpine or mountaineering. Some considerations:
1) The number of gear loops: Gear loops are the non-load-bearing, usually plastic-y loops that ring the waist belt of a harness that one can clip gear to. The amount of gear loops you need is dependent on the kind of climbing you think you’ll be doing. Harnesses with two gear loops are usually better for sport climbing, gym climbing, and top roping. However, if you’re more into trad climbing, multi-pitch climbing, aid climbing, or ice climbing, you might want to look at harnesses with at least four gear loops because those forms of climbing require more gear.
2) Ice clipper slots: If you’re an ice climber, you might want to look at harnesses that have ice clipper slots. Ice clippers are little plastic carabiners made for racking ice screws that can be slipped through your harness’ ice clipper slots and can be very useful when leading ice.
3) Leg loops: Whether or not the harness has adjustable leg loops is another consideration. If you’re planning on ice climbing, mountaineering, and rock climbing with the same harness, you might want to be able to adjust your leg loops according to the layers you’re wearing.
4) Harness construction: Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but more expensive harnesses tend to have better ventilation, lighter padding, and overall tend to be a little more comfortable. However, especially if you shop the sales, you can find great harnesses for between $30 and $40 (look out for future harness reviews).
5) Waist belt buckle: Finally, there are two kinds of buckles out there. One is the standard, manual double backing buckle where you must rethread the webbing on the waist belt back through the buckle; the other is auto-double backing, where the webbing is pre-threaded and is “locked” automatically. Auto-double backing buckles are nice because they are fast and easy to get on and off; however, they are difficult to unthread all the way if you want to unbuckle your waist belt completely and can lead to complacency in safety checks when one just assumes their buckle is done correctly as opposed to manual double backing harnesses.
Happy autumn sending!