Whether you’re top roping in the gym, projecting 5.14, or climbing Cerro Torre in Patagonia, you’ll want the right harness for the job. In addition to being a vital part of every climber’s safety, harnesses offer varying levels of comfort, adjustment, organization, and weight. Our picks for the best climbing harnesses of 2020 below highlight a diverse selection of leading models for all disciplines including sport, trad, big wall, alpine, and the gym. For more background information, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And to complete your climbing kit, see our articles on the best rock climbing shoes and the best climbing helmets.
Weight: 12.9 oz.
Best uses: Sport, trad, alpine
Construction: Split webbing
What we like: Super comfortable and slim; premium construction.
What we don’t: Expensive.
The sleek Arc’teryx FL-365 is the gold standard among climbing harnesses. It’s lightweight, comfortable, moves with your body well, and packs down small. Yes, it’s $145, and for that price you could buy multiple Black Diamond Momentum harnesses and they will keep you just as safe. But like many Arc’teryx products, the extra cost is worth it for those who get out climbing a lot, value comfort and build quality, and really put their gear to the test.
What differentiates the Arc’teryx FL-365 from the harnesses below? The “Warp Strength Technology”—essentially a piece of webbing teased apart vertically across the lower back—spreads the load out across the entire waist belt and provides a great amount of comfort without bulky padding. We think Arc’teryx does this better, and with less material, than any other company. And just about everything else on the FL-365 is picture perfect: the gear loops are big but not obtrusive, the leg loops are comfortable and stretchy enough to fit an assortment of bodies, the rear elastic releases with a hook for quick bathroom breaks, and the haul loop and ice clipper slots allow for versatility. For serious climbers who spend a ton of time in their harness, we think the high performance FL-365 is well worth it.
See the Men's Arc'teryx FL-365 See the Women's Arc'teryx FL-355
Best Budget Climbing Harness
Weight: 11 oz.
Best uses: Gym, sport
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: Streamlined, comfortable, and affordable.
What we don’t: Small gear loops; lacking in durability.
The Black Diamond Solution made its debut a few years ago, and we’ve been seeing it all over the crags ever since. The harness features a layer of foam and three separate strands of low-profile webbing—termed Fusion Comfort Construction—for a design that moves with your body while providing load distribution and comfort. And it’s been getting rave reviews—the Solution is the closest any harness has come to emulating the aesthetic and functionality of Arc’teryx’s FL-365 above, but at a much lower price point.
What are the downsides of this harness? The Solution is rather cragging-specific—it doesn’t have a rated haul loop or adjustable leg loops, nor does it have ice clipper attachment points (if you’re looking for these features, see the Technician below). The gear loops aren’t particularly large either, but both the leg loops and waist belt are wide for support and comfort, plus the material is quick-drying and breathable. Despite the shortcomings, the Solution is one of our top overall picks for hard sport climbing, and at an affordable $70, is a great entry-level and gym harness as well. And Black Diamond also makes the Solution Guide listed below, a more durable, trad-specific version of the harness.
See the Men's Black Diamond Solution See the Women's Black Diamond Solution
Best Ultralight Climbing Harness
Weight: 9.5 oz.
Best uses: Sport, alpine
Construction: Split webbing
What we like: Lightweight but with a premium Petzl build.
What we don’t: More expensive than the Arc’teryx FL-365 above but not as versatile.
The Sitta initially was intended to be a superlight alpine climbing and mountaineering harness, but quickly was adopted by high-end sport climbers looking for something light and sleek for sending tough climbs. Upon first glance, you’ll probably question how such a dramatically light harness can provide ample support and comfort. The answer: “Wireframe technology,” a Petzl innovation that uses parallel strands of strong and ultralight Spectra to distribute the load over the waist belt and leg loops. Unlike the BD Solution above, the Sitta offers durability and comfort without the weight or bulk of foam padding.
Keep in mind that the Sitta isn’t quite as versatile as some of the other harnesses on this list, with its non-adjustable leg loops and minimalist gear loops. That said, for alpine rock and sport climbing, it’s one of the best harnesses money can buy. It’s shockingly light at just 9.5 ounces (almost 3.5 ounces less than the FL-365 above), surprisingly comfortable, and features practical details like separated gear loops and a leg-loop height adjuster. On the flip side, the Sitta is very pricey at $200 and not the best choice comfort-wise for hanging belays.
See the Petzl Sitta
Best Harness for Big Wall Climbing
Weight: 23 oz.
Best uses: Big wall
What we like: Loaded with features.
What we don’t: The heaviest harness on this list.
Like the Misty Mountain Cadillac and Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe below, the Black Diamond Big Gun offers a wider and more padded waist belt and leg loops than your standard climbing harness. It’s the most fully featured of the trio: seven customizable gear loops allow for multiple racks of cams, aiders, draws, carabiners, shoes, water bottles, and more. Two belay loops accommodate multiple daisies and a fifi hook, and removable leg loops allow you to sleep comfortably with your harness on. And even the haul loop is rated, so you don’t have to worry about your tag line falling off your harness.
Despite its bulk, the Big Gun hugs the body, breathes well, and offers freedom of movement. It’s slightly less supple than the Misty Mountain Cadillac, but still is a top choice for climbers projecting on big walls or those alternating between aiding and freeing, such as while speed climbing El Cap. That said, we certainly don’t recommend it for sport climbing or days when you’re trying to go fast and light in the alpine. And if you need a harness for pure aid climbing, there certainly are beefier models available, though you wouldn’t want to be caught free climbing in them.
See the Black Diamond Big Gun
Best of the Rest
Weight: 18.7 oz.
Best uses: Trad, big wall
What we like: Impressively built, comfortable, and hand-made in the U.S.
What we don’t: Archaic features and weight.
If Black Diamond represents the elite alpine culture of its hometown of Salt Lake City, Misty Mountain is as Western North Carolina as it gets: unflashy, down-home, and totally legit. This small company has been hand crafting harnesses and sewn climbing gear for over 30 years—if you’re into supporting local business and craftspeople, Misty Mountain is your jam (check out our in-depth look at the company). The Cadillac is their most popular harness, and right away you’ll notice that it’s not lightweight or packable, the buckles are heavy, and it doesn’t come in flashy colors. That said, it’s as comfortable as any on our list, is built extremely well, and offers all the features we look for in a trad or aid climbing harness.
The Cadillac was made for all-day missions on North Carolina’s slabby granite domes: its six gear loops make it a perfect multi-pitch harness, and the padding offers a high amount of comfort for hanging at belays and projecting routes. The harness is surprisingly supple and allows for freedom of movement better than some of the more padded harnesses on our list (the Big Gun above, for example). However, the Cadillac is heavier and bulkier than most sport or alpine climbing-specific models, and we wouldn’t recommend it for steep bolt-clipping or carrying deep into the mountains. It’s also worth noting that Misty Mountain customizes harnesses, adding belay loops or extra gear loops, ice clipper slots, and adjusting leg and waist sizes. Whatever idea you come up with, they’ll listen.
See the Men's Misty Mountain Cadillac See the Women's Misty Mountain Cadillac
Weight: 14.5 oz.
Best uses: Gym, sport, trad
What we like: Well-constructed and highly adjustable.
What we don’t: Not lightweight or packable.
If you’re looking for a quality harness with a customizable fit that won’t break the bank, the Jay III is a nice option. The Jay—or the female version called the Jayne—is Edelrid’s top all-around workhorse harness, and it's great for everything from gym and sport climbing to trad and ice. It's one of the best-fitting harnesses on our list: one of our favorite features is the ability to cinch it tight and then adjust it so that the belay loop always is down the center of your body. Additionally, the Jay comes with adjustable leg loops, a feature that many will find necessary. Last but not least, the men’s version comes in three sizes and the women’s in four, meaning that no matter your body type, this harness should fit you well.
Unlike our top picks above, the Jay III isn’t a lightweight, compact harness, nor is it trying to be. While it would never be our first choice to take to the alpine, we think it makes an honorable cragging rig. We recently spotted a crew of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) students at Smith Rock all sporting the Jay—further proof that this is a long-lasting, durable, versatile choice for many climbing disciplines. And in their most recent update, Edelrid chose to build the harness fully from bluesign-certified materials, so you get the added benefit of purchasing a sustainably made product.
See the Men's Edelrid Jay III See the Women's Edelrid Jayne III
Weight: 14.6 oz.
Best uses: Gym, sport
What we like: Great comfort and high-quality construction.
What we don’t: Heavier than the Solution above.
The Sama (and women’s Selena) is a well-padded and durable mid-range harness, built with Petzl’s reliable craftsmanship and high-quality materials. Like the Solution above, it utilizes a combination of foam and split webbing, with fixed leg loops and a streamlined build that’s ideal for cragging or the gym. You don’t get the crazy weight savings of a harness like the Sitta, but you probably don’t need it either. For a comfortable, well-made harness at a low cost, the Sama is a great pick.
The Sama is a bulkier (and heavier) harness than the Black Diamond Solution, which ultimately comes down to a matter of preference for most gym and sport climbers. But keep in mind that with this extra heft do come greater durability and comfort, making the Sama a great day-in, day-out workhorse. And for trad climbers or those requiring a closer fit, the Petzl Adjama (and women’s Luna) offers a similar design but adds adjustable leg loops and a fifth gear loop for $10 more.
See the Men's Petzl Sama See the Women's Petzl Selena
Weight: 10.7 oz.
Best uses: Gym, sport, trad
What we like: One of the least expensive harnesses on the market.
What we don’t: Quality and comfort are sacrificed for price.
Black Diamond’s freshly updated Momentum isn’t the most comfortable, high-quality, or innovative harness on this list, but it does have one main thing going for it: price. For just $60, you get a well-made and reasonably durable harness from a top brand. With TrakFit leg adjustments for easy customization and a rear haul loop, the Momentum is versatile enough to be used indoors or outdoors, for sport or trad. Plus, the newest version shaves more than an ounce off the previous weight, making it lighter than all but two harnesses here. All told, there’s good reason why the Momentum is a long-time favorite of beginner climbers of all disciplines.
If you’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars, we think the Edelrid Jay/Jayne above is a slightly higher-quality and better-fitting harness. Further, for those who don’t plan to spend much time hanging, Black Diamond’s Solution offers a much more streamlined fit that improves freedom of movement for aspiring sport climbers. As with all foam harnesses, you can expect the padding of the Momentum to deteriorate over time, and we’ve noticed that the fabric is more likely to show wear than most (off-width and chimney climbers beware). But for the price and features, it’s a time-tested and reliable option at a great price.
See the Men's Black Diamond Momentum See the Women's Black Diamond Momentum
Weight: 20 oz.
Best uses: Trad, big wall
What we like: Literally bombproof. Clip or tie into anything and it should hold you.
What we don’t: Bulky, heavy, and cumbersome.
The Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe diverges significantly from our top choices on this list by going heavy. That said, if there was ever such thing as a foolproof harness, this is it. Just about everything on the Safe Tech is rated to catch a fall of at least 10 kN, even the rope locator strap on the lower tie-in point. No other harness on this list comes anywhere near this level of safety (usually only the tie-in points, belay loop, and maybe the haul loop are rated). The end result is maximum security whether you're sketching out or simply bungling the tie-in job (something beginners and expert climbers do alike). Metolius is the only company that makes such a harness, so we think it’s worth giving the Safe Tech a look.
Although not as light or low-profile as the other models on this list, the Metolius Safe Tech should deliver tons of comfort over its lifespan. It may add bulk and weight to your climbing pack, but the benefits are palpable. Its beefy padding provides significant support through hanging belays and route projecting, making it a solid choice for both beginners and climbers of higher skill levels. It’s not an alpine harness, nor is it the best choice for sending your 5.13 sport projects, but the Safe Tech Deluxe is a dependable choice for a long-lasting, everyday harness.
See the Men's Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe See the Women's Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Best uses: Trad
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: The popular Solution harness, now more durable for trad climbing.
What we don’t: We’d prefer adjustable leg loops on a trad harness.
Black Diamond’s Solution harness was an instant hit among sport and trad climbers alike, lauded for its simplicity, comfort, and good looks. But make no mistake, it’s a sport climbing harness, and the soft and thin face fabric is no match for the more physical climbing found on traditional routes. Enter the Solution Guide, the trad climber’s version of the Solution and Black Diamond’s replacement for their beloved Chaos harness. Made with BD’s ultra-durable Super Fabric, the Guide version maintains the streamlined look and impressive comfort of the Solution but is made to take a beating, whether you’re scraping up chimneys or lounging on a ledge high on El Cap.
The Guide version stays true to the simplicity of the original Solution, forgoing adjustable leg loops and ice clipper spots (for these features, check out the Black Diamond Technician below). In fact, the only notable differences between this harness and its sport-specific sibling are a fifth gear loop in the back and the increased durability, which add over two ounces to the build. Overall, for climbing in Yosemite or scraping up sandstone towers, the Solution Guide is one of the most durable harnesses on this list, on par with the rugged Misty Mountain Cadillac above. But for those who venture to alpine rock, we can’t help but wish that Black Diamond merged the build and fabric of the Solution Guide with the versatility of the Technician for a true do-all trad harness.
See the Men's BD Solution Guide See the Women's BD Solution Guide
Weight: 13 oz.
Best uses: Gym, trad, alpine
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: Breathability and comfort at a low price.
What we don’t: Foam has a shelf life.
The Ophir is a solid all-around harness, offering a few more features and better construction than other sub-$70 options on our list. With a drop-seat buckle, four-kilonewton haul loop, and adjustable leg loops, it’s ready for a variety of climbing adventures, both sport and trad. Meanwhile, it's decently light at just 13 ounces and packs up small enough to be a trusty choice for crags with longer approaches. Last but not least, Mammut included abrasion indicators so you know when it’s time to retire your harness, which we think is a nice addition.
In comparison to other budget harnesses like the Momentum and the Jay above, the Ophir’s design is noticeably thin on foam. While this means more freedom of movement and breathability, it also means less hanging comfort. Further, when racked with trad gear, the supple waistbelt tends to buckle a bit under the load. All that said, sport climbers and those headed to the alpine with a light rack will appreciate the streamlined nature, especially when climbing in hot weather. All in all, for its entry-level price, the Ophir is a high-performance option for aspiring light-and-fast climbers.
See the Men's Mammut Ophir 3 Slide See the Women's Mammut Ophir 3 Slide
Weight: 14.1 oz.
Best uses: Sport
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: Comfortable and breezy.
What we don’t: Exposed webbing makes this harness less durable over time.
The Orion is one of Edelrid’s highest-quality harnesses. Similar to Petzl’s Wireframe technology, it distributes the load of falls or hangs efficiently over a grid of structural webbing strands that Edelrid calls 3D-Vent Technology. The Orion, however, ups the comfort level by adding super-well-ventilated foam that is ideal for warm-weather climbing.
One glaring problem with the Orion is that the structural component of the webbing is exposed externally to abrasion (almost all other harnesses cover their structural components with thin fabric to protect against wear and tear). We’re not sure why Edelrid didn’t follow suit, but at first glance, it seems somewhat problematic—like a rope without a sheath. This construction shouldn’t pose a problem for sport climbers, but we have a hard time recommending the Orion for trad climbers dragging their harnesses up off-widths and chimneys. Additionally, some climbers report that the waist belt padding doesn’t meet at the front, causing the buckle to dig in at the stomach. The Orion looks and feels like a top-notch harness in most other ways, but these gripes make us hesitant to rank it higher.
See the Men's Edelrid Orion See the Women's Edelrid Solaris
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Best uses: Sport, alpine
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: Affordable for such a lightweight harness.
What we don’t: Limited feature set; the webbing on the hip belt might dig into your waist.
So as not to get left behind, Beal joined the party of split webbing technology with the Rebel. Web Core, as Beal calls it, attaches two smaller pieces of webbing (the straps you pull to adjust) to each end of the wider mesh-lined piece of webbing that wraps around your waist. Their design includes two buckles instead of one, so that the harness stays centered and the gear loops rest squarely on either side. Parts of the Rebel feel as streamlined as the Arc’teryx FL-365 above, and it is indeed competitively light with the harnesses toward the top of our list.
The Beal Rebel, however, has a few notable omissions that keep us from recommending it more highly. First, the mesh-lined webbing does not extend under the belay loop, and we found that the harness dug into our waist uncomfortably. Additionally, the leg adjustment buckle can slip, causing the leg loops to loosen over time. Finally, the Rebel is limited in its versatility without a haul loop, ice clipper attachment points, or large gear loops. But when worn over layers of clothing, the Rebel is comfortable, and we love that it’s priced considerably lower than the lightweight competition.
See the Men's Beal Rebel Soft See the Women's Beal Venus Soft
Weight: 13.3 oz.
Best uses: Trad, alpine
Construction: Foam and split webbing
What we like: Four-season versatility at a low price point.
What we don’t: Not as durable or comfortable as the Solution Guide above.
The Technician harness is Black Diamond’s modern offering for weight-conscious alpinists who want to transition between seasons. It uses the same foam and split webbing construction as the Solution above, but adds ice clipper slots and adjustable leg loops for extra versatility. And while the Technician is only a half-ounce heavier than the class-leading Arc’teryx FL-365 above (another great four-season harness), it’s available for a notable $60 less.
We do find room for improvement with the relatively new Technician, however. Most glaringly, the leg loops are too streamlined, resulting in a huge loss of comfort while hanging. Furthermore, the Technician’s fabric doesn’t measure up to the extremely tough Super Fabric of Black Diamond's Solution Guide. On paper, for cragging and scraping up off-widths and chimneys at the crag (Indian Creek being the perfect example), the Solution Guide is the clear winner. But for the all-around climber who picks their way up ice from time to time, the Technician offers tremendous versatility for only $85.
See the Men's Black Diamond Technician See the Women's Black Diamond Technician
Weight: 8.5 oz.
Best uses: Mountaineering
What we like: Light and compact.
What we don’t: It may be safe to hang in, but that doesn’t mean you actually want to try.
The CAMP USA Air CR EVO sure is a mouthful to say, but otherwise this harness is beautifully simplistic. At just 8.5 ounces, the Air as we'll call it is the lightest harness on our list. It’s not built for most styles of climbing, but we wanted to include it here for the alpine climbers and mountaineers among us—specifically for those times when you need a harness but don’t plan on hanging in it much (or at all).
Without a doubt, the elements we like most about the Air are its weight and compactness. However, this minimalistic harness does include some key features we always look for: gear loops, an auto-locking buckle, haul loop, adjustable leg loops, and even attachment slots for ice clippers. In addition, CAMP has upgraded the padding on the Air for comfort and durability. This certainly isn’t your everyday cragging harness, but if you’re taking long trips into the mountains and trying to shave ounces, it’s definitely worth considering. In this category, we’d also recommend checking out the Petzl Altitude and Black Diamond Couloir.
See the CAMP USA Air CR EVO
|Arc’teryx FL-365||$145||12.9 oz.||Sport, trad, alpine||Split webbing||No|
|Black Diamond Solution||$70||11 oz.||Gym, sport||Foam, split webbing||No|
|Petzl Sitta||$200||9.5 oz.||Sport, alpine||Split webbing||No|
|Black Diamond Big Gun||$120||23 oz.||Big wall||Foam||Yes|
|Misty Mountain Cadillac||$145||18.7 oz.||Trad, big wall||Foam||Yes|
|Edelrid Jay III||$60||14.5 oz.||Gym, sport, trad||Foam||Yes|
|Petzl Sama||$70||14.6 oz.||Gym, sport||Foam, split webbing||No|
|Black Diamond Momentum||$60||10.7 oz.||Gym, sport, trad||Foam||Yes|
|Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe||$130||20 oz.||Trad, big wall||Foam||Yes|
|Black Diamond Solution Guide||$100||13.9 oz.||Trad||Foam, split webbing||No|
|Mammut Ophir 3 Slide||$65||13 oz.||Gym, trad, alpine||Foam, split webbing||Yes|
|Edelrid Orion||$120||14.1 oz.||Sport||Foam, split webbing||Yes|
|Beal Rebel Soft||$80||11.5 oz.||Sport, alpine||Foam, split webbing||Yes|
|Black Diamond Technician||$85||13.3 oz.||Trad, alpine||Foam, split webbing||Yes|
|CAMP USA Air CR EVO||$90||8.5 oz.||Mountaineering||Foam||Yes|
- Types of Climbing Harnesses
- Loops: Gear, Haul, Belay
- Safety and Ratings
- Sizing and Adjustability
- Men's and Women's Climbing Harnesses
- Durability and Retiring Your Harness
The first thing to consider when choosing a harness is the type of climbing you do most. Sure, any harness from a reputable company should keep you safe, but whether or not it will be comfortable or well-suited to the job is another story. Do you need large loops for trad gear? Slots for ice clippers? Adjustable leg loops to accommodate layers? While there is often some crossover (gym and sport, sport and trad, trad and alpine, for example), you'll find that most harnesses are manufactured with a particular climbing discipline in mind. Here's what to look for in a harness for each style of climbing.
A gym-climbing harness should be three things: comfortable, inexpensive, and durable. Don’t worry about fancy gear loops, crazy weight-shaving technology, packability, or features like haul loops and ice clipper slots. The one thing you don’t want to skimp on is padding —you’ll probably be falling and hanging more often as it’s a lot easier to consistently push yourself indoors than outside. What you're really looking for in a gym harness is the baseline model from most companies. Save the frills and steeper purchases for the gear you take outside.
Recommended: Edelrid Jay III/Jayne III, Black Diamond Momentum
If you’re predominantly a sport climber, you’ll want to focus on finding a lightweight harness that gives soft catches and moves with your body. Look for minimalistic models that put the emphasis on climbing comfort rather than hanging comfort. You can get away with smaller gear loops on a sport harness, too, since you'll only be carrying quickdraws and slings. Expect a good sport harness to be a step up in price from a gym harness.
Recommended: Petzl Sitta, Black Diamond Solution
Trad climbing often implies multi-pitching, so for simplicity’s sake we’re lumping the two together here. But whether you’re cragging or questing high off the ground, a trad climbing harness will be a bit more fully-featured than a sport harness. For one, it should be made of more durable material—you’re more likely to grunt your way through some heinous off-widths and gnarly chimneys. Second, it needs to be extra comfortable for hanging or semi-hanging belays. This means a wide waist belt and leg loops, and either foam padding or a well-made split-webbing construction (the latter of which will take you up a notch in price). Finally, make sure your trad climbing harness has at least four large gear loops and a rear haul loop—you'll need all of them.
Recommended: Arc’teryx FL-365, Black Diamond Solution Guide, Black Diamond Technician
Big Wall Climbing
So, you want to climb El Cap. Unless you're planning to go for the Nose In a Day (NIAD), you’ll want a harness you can spend significant time in. Big wall harnesses are over-the-top in every way you can imagine: they’re ultra-padded and comfy for long hanging belays and nail-biting aid pitches, feature a myriad of gear loops for efficient racking of all your protection, come with a load-bearing haul loop, and often feature double belay loops. If you're going to spend all day hanging in your harness, nothing else will do. They're not fast and light, but neither is big wall climbing. Expect to pay a bit more for these.
Recommended: Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe, Misty Mountain Cadillac, Black Diamond Big Gun
Alpine Rock Climbing
Think trad climbing but ultralight. Fast and light is the name of the game in alpine climbing, and your harness should be no exception. You’ll want all the features of a trad harness—durability, large gear loops, a haul loop—but in a lightweight and packable model. If you tend to layer up in the mountains, you’re also looking for a model with adjustable leg loops. And alpine climbing sometimes means ice or mixed climbing, so most of these harnesses will come with ice clipper slots for convenient carrying of your screws.
Recommended: Petzl Sitta, Edelrid Orion, Black Diamond Technician
There are two things you really don't want to do much of in mountaineering: hanging and falling. If you find yourself doing either, you probably have bigger things to worry about than the comfort of your harness. Your mountaineering harness should be more comfortable for walking than climbing and easy to take off and put on (especially over boots and crampons). And since mountaineering is such a grueling sport where every ounce counts, you'll want your harness to be as light as possible. Mountaineering harnesses are pretty minimalistic, so expect a lower price than other types of harnesses.
Recommended: CAMP USA Air CR EVO
As climbing has evolved, so have harnesses. Half a century ago, when climbers rarely pushed themselves to the point of falling, harnesses were a “just in case” piece of gear. These swami belts or bare-bones nylon affairs certainly were not designed with comfort in mind. But as sport climbing grew in popularity and multi-pitch routes began to ascend steeper and steeper features, climbers started to demand more from their harnesses and the need for added comfort became paramount. Foam padding was introduced, as well as wider waist belts and leg loops. And in 2020, the evolution continues: new technology over the past few years has led to harnesses that are able to provide excellent comfort and load distribution without the bulk of padding. Today’s top picks still include a mix of both padded and non-padded designs, and we delineate these through the materials used to spread the load: foam and split webbing.
Many modern harnesses are constructed with a single piece of one-inch webbing layered between soft foam. This construction provides structure and a soft catch, and spreads out the load when hanging. Foam is cushy and padded—certainly effective—but it does have a few downsides.
First, foam is bulky and heavy, which isn't great for those who like to go light, and it's far from the most breathable material. That said, manufacturers have found a few workarounds here: Edelrid, for example, incorporates mesh into their foam for added ventilation, and Beal actually perforates the foam on their harnesses. Breathability aside, foam also wears out over time, and if you climb a lot, your harness will lose its padding before it needs to be retired for safety reasons.
These downsides make standard foam harnesses a fine choice for entry-level climbers or as an inexpensive gym set-up, but we don’t recommend them for much else. Nowadays, many foam harnesses incorporate split-webbing technology in the place of the single piece of webbing, which we detail below. If you’re set on the cushioned padding of foam, we recommend sticking with this combination.
Arc’teryx was the first company to think up a comfortable and streamlined alternative to foam, spearheading a recent revolution in light and packable harnesses. They took the single piece of webbing that we know from traditional foam harnesses and split it width-wise, spreading the strands up and down the waist belt and leg loops to distribute the load more evenly. This technique—coined Warp Strength Technology by Arc'teryx—eliminates pressure points altogether and provides hanging comfort without the weight and bulk of foam. Other brands have followed suit—Petzl with its Wireframe technology, Black Diamond with Fusion Comfort Construction, and Mammut with the aptly named Split Webbing Technology—using a variety of high-strength materials including Spectra, Vectran, and nylon.
Split-webbing designs like our top-ranked Arc’teryx FL-365 and Petzl Sitta are lighter, more streamlined and breathable, longer-lasting, and arguably much more comfortable than the alternatives. In general, they also come with a higher price tag. But this is the direction that harnesses are headed and we’d recommend jumping on the bandwagon. And as mentioned above, split webbing and foam are not mutually exclusive—many technologies (Black Diamond’s Fusion Comfort, for example) combine split webbing and a thin layer of foam for an affordable harness that is still lightweight and durable.
The gear loops on a harness are the small plastic rings that run along the waist belt. These are where you'll hang your gear: quickdraws for sport climbing, cams for trad climbing, belay device, jacket, etc. Generally, the more technical the climbing, the more gear loops you’ll need. If you are primarily gym and sport climbing, you can get away with just two gear loops for the necessities like slings and quickdraws. If you are trad or alpine climbing, four should be sufficient, although you’ll love having a haul loop or fifth gear loop for your shoes or tag line. If you’re big wall climbing, look for at least four gear loops and a rated haul loop on the back of the harness.
Not every harness has or needs a haul loop, but many will find it an extremely useful feature. The haul loop is positioned on the back of the harness in between the two rear gear loops. This is where you’ll attach a haul line, second rope, or your shoes during a multi-pitch climb. If you’re not multi-pitch climbing, we can’t think of much use for a haul loop. Most haul loops are not rated to take a fall, so this is not an appropriate loop to use to attach yourself to the rope or anchor—or to hang anything particularly heavy, for that matter. Haul loops on big-wall harnesses, however, often are rated, such as the 12-kilonewton loop on the Black Diamond Big Gun (for more on kilonewtons, see our "Safety and Ratings" section below).
The belay loop is fairly straightforward: it's a super-strong ring of webbing that connects the waist loop and leg loops. It’s also the point from which you hang your belay device for belaying or rappelling. If you’re looking for a lightweight sport, alpine, or ice harness, look for a skinny belay loop. For trad or big-walling, look for a fatter belay loop or double belay loops. And most importantly, make sure to inspect your belay loop often for wear and tear.
All climbing gear that is part of your safety system (i.e. climbing rope, harness, carabiners, cams, quickdraws, etc.) is certified to hold a certain force, represented by a kilonewton (kN) rating. Without getting too deep into the details, a 1 kN-rating means a piece of gear can handle about 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) of static weight. The amount of weight a kN represents decreases as the force of the fall increases—a lead fall, for example, will exert far more force on your gear than a static top-rope fall. Climbing gear, including harnesses, is usually rated in the range of about 14-25 kN.
Climbing harnesses are so strong that the number doesn’t matter so much as knowing which parts of your harness are engineered to handle force, and which are not. You can count on a harness’ tie-in points and belay loop to always be fully-rated, as this is where you’ll attach the rope and belay device. Aside from these main connection points, it’s good practice not to rely on any other part of your harness (a gear loop or leg loop, for example) for safety. The rare harness has a rated haul loop, which is essential for when you're attaching it to a line with a loaded haul bag. And then there’s the Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe: more fool-proof than any other harness on the market, all loops on this harness—including leg risers—are engineered to withstand at least 10kN of force.
Sizing your harness appropriately is as important as getting the right harness for your preferred type of climbing. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as walking into the store and choosing a medium-sized harness since that’s what you normally wear in pants. Sizing involves considering everything from the length of the belay loop (shorter ones force the leg loops higher into the crotch—uncomfortable for people with high hips), to the physical shape of the waist belt, to the amount of adjustability offered in the waist and leg buckles. It’s also important to note that not all harnesses have leg buckles, but we do recommend them for those with larger legs or winter climbers who need the ability to add or subtract layers.
As with anything you wear, it’s a good idea to try a harness on before you buy it. Go into the store, put it on, adjust it properly (the waist belt should sit higher than you wear your pants—right above your hips), and actually hang in it (most climbing shops and gyms have an area for you to do so). If you have the option, take some falls in the harness and see how it feels. Keep in mind that a harness doesn’t need to be ultra-tight to be safe—you should be able to fit two fingers between your body and the waistbelt or leg loops. All harnesses will have elastic risers to help keep the leg loops riding near the apex of your thighs. Some are releasable with small buckles for easy bathroom breaks, while others are not. These should be cinched tight enough that your leg loops stay in place, but not so tight that they restrict your movement.
Speaking of sizing, most harnesses are now made in both men’s and women’s fits. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s certainly not unheard of for a male climber to wear a “women’s” harness, or vice versa. If it feels good, go for it. But take note that the waters can be a bit muddy around the naming of these different versions. For example, our #3 harness is named the Jay (for men) and the Jayne (for women)—even more confusing is the Petzl Adjama and Luna (same harness, two fits). Thankfully, Black Diamond is leading the charge in streamlining these naming schemes: their entry-level harness comes in a men’s version and a women’s version, both called the Momentum (the women’s model used to be called the Primrose). And to help, we’ve linked to both options in all our product descriptions above.
Climbing harnesses run the gamut from 8.5 ounces for the minimalist CAMP USA Air to a whopping 23 ounces for Black Diamond’s big wall specialist, the Big Gun. Because lightweight gear often implies increased performance, weight is a huge concern for many climbers. Sport climbers pushing the grade will want to look not only for a lightweight set-up, but also a low-profile one (the last thing you want is to have your movement restricted by your harness). The same goes for alpine climbers and mountaineers, with a bigger emphasis on weight-saving and packability. As a general rule, the more you’re walking in or carrying your harness, the lighter you want it to be. But weight doesn’t matter for everyone: If you’re climbing in the gym or casually at the crag, you can pretty much ignore the weight spec entirely—you’ll notice an increase in comfort far more than a few extra ounces around your waist.
There are very few things in climbing that we rely on just one of. Most things are redundant, meaning they have a backup. Anchors always are made using at least two bolts or pieces of gear. We clip our rope to multiple pieces of protection when leading. Many of us secure ourselves using two separate clove hitches or personal anchors. But we rely on just one rope for safety and just one harness, too. Because of this—and we really can’t stress this enough—it's immensely important to make sure your harness is in working order. Inspect it often for fuzziness or fraying, giving special attention to the belay loop. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for care, maintenance, and storage. And retire your harness when wear suggests it’s done, or once it hits the suggested lifespan—whichever comes first.
When we talk about durability and climbing harnesses, much of what we’re addressing pertains more to superficial materials and features than outright safety. The longevity of a harness is dependent on the type and thickness of the materials used, as well as the quality of construction and style of climbing you prefer. Sport climbers will worry less about durability than trad, alpine, and big wall climbers, just due to the nature of the contact with the rock (think delicate crimping vs. scraping up chimneys, glissading, or all-day hanging). Fortunately, most trad or big wall harnesses take this into account, using more robust fabrics, thicker belay loops, and more stitching. The Black Diamond Solution Guide, for example, is made with a much more abrasion-resistant external fabric than the Solution, and a harness like the Misty Mountain Cadillac incorporates oversized buckles and webbing.
Many features contribute to comfort in a harness. These include wide waist belts and leg loops, generous padding or split-webbing technology, breathable materials, and a good fit. In general, there’s a correlation between comfort and weight: the heavier a harness, the beefier and more cushioned it will be for hanging without developing pressure points. As weight drops, padding is removed, waist belts and leg loops get thinner, and comfort suffers. But there is an exception to this rule: harnesses made with split-webbing technology are the best of both worlds. They’re light and packable, but also incredibly adept at distributing the load evenly. For everything but aid climbing, these are our top picks.
All that said, comfort while hanging is not the only detail to consider. Harnesses that are smaller, lighter, and lower-profile might not be ideal for long belays or hangdogging (hanging from the rope while working through the moves on a route), but they are more comfortable to climb in. Again, we think split-webbing harnesses prevail here too. In general, it might help to consider whether you spend more time whipping and hanging versus climbing and walking. If it’s the former, you’ll want a beefier harness like the Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe, or a high-quality split-webbing harness like the Arc’teryx FL-365. If it’s the latter, consider something like the Petzl Sitta or even the Camp USA Air CR EVO.
Rather than focusing on style, type of climbing, or materials used, it’s sometimes helpful to think of harnesses grouped according to price. Between around $50-$80, think entry-level gym models and mountaineering harnesses (as well as sale items from past-year models). Inching closer to $100 are your typical mid-range harnesses, where you can find excellent sport climbing harnesses as well as some decent trad harnesses. Big wall options tend to hover right around $100, as well, give or take 20 bucks. Finally, in the $100+ category are top-of-the-line harnesses for serious climbers. If you’re shopping here, you’re probably planning to spend a lot of time in your harness and take it to some pretty extreme places. Be wary of anything above $160, as most of the top harnesses we can think of are just below that number (one exception is the Petzl Sitta). Regardless, unless you’re spending tons of time in your harness, you can most likely get away with a cheaper model.
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