At first glance, all harnesses appear to be the same. Yes, they all serve the same purpose as far as keeping us safe and right-side up. However, there are some subtle, key differences that affect how a harness performs in terms of comfort, safety and even your preferred discipline.
Here are some important factors to take into consideration when buying your new old faithful:
What’s Your Style?
The first thing you should consider is the discipline for which you will be primarily using the harness, along with the way you will be climbing. There are often trade-offs between different harness types within the same discipline. For example, if you are a sport climber, think about whether you’ll be focusing on onsights and sends, or if you are going to be sitting in your harness for hours to work on your project or summit a long multipitch. If you prefer the former, you may want to look for something lightweight and streamlined; whereas you’ll appreciate some extra padding on the epics.
Features to Consider:
Padding corresponds almost directly to the comfort of the harness, but extra squish does mean extra weight on the wall. Webbing construction concerns the band/s within the padding that provide additional surface area support. Most heavily padded harnesses have one wide band, while your lighter models may have up to three parallel bands. Manufactures use this technology to reduce the amount of padding and save on weight, while still offering you the support you need. Some harnesses (usually the single-band variety) offer a sliding strip of padding, which allows the climber to adjust the alignments and ensure that the harness is always centred correctly.
Modern-day harnesses have autolocking buckles that help to eliminate user error. Besides offering obvious safety features, buckles play a crucial role in the functionality of the harness. A single-buckle harness is easier to slip on, but if the sizing is incorrect then it could offset your gear loops and make it difficult to reach gear in a tight spot. This is where the double buckle comes into play. Having a buckle on each side allows you to align your gear loops in the optimal position for easy access. The downside is that more buckles mean more webbing hanging around, which could interfere with or snag gear.
It’s important to consider is how many gear loops you will be needing. For sport climbers, four will suffice, but traddies may need an extra loop or two for extra gear. You should also think about the shape of the loops; a U-shaped design will cause your gear to shift towards the centre, while a D-shaped loop allows the gear to slide forward into a more optimal and comfortable reaching position. Lastly, consider the stiffness of the loops; stiffer loops will keep gear more stable and help to prevent unnecessary swinging which consequently allows for more precise gear-grabbing and minimises swing effect on the climber.
The majority of harnesses are constructed from nylon or Dyneema; regardless of which material is used, it should always be UIAA-rated. Some harnesses, such as the Ocún WeBee, have padding made of perforated 3D PE EVA for decreased water absorption in wet and sweaty conditions. You can also choose a harness with special features, such as the Black Diamond Solution Guide which has a patented Super Fabric coating on the padding for additional abrasion resistance.
While many people may base their purchase decisions on aesthetics, the colour of a harness is not usually a factor you need to consider. The exception is climber who are embarking on alpine mission in remote locations where high visibility may be necessary for emergencies.
With so many options out there, choosing a harness can still be tough even after doing all the required homework. So, once you have identified your climbing needs, the best course of action is to pay a visit to your local gear shop and try out the options for yourself! If possible, try actually hanging in different harnesses before purchasing so that you can see what fits and feels best when loaded with your weight.
You don’t need anything particularly light for this, and you will probably want to prioritise comfort over performance. Harnesses to check out include the Ocun Twist, Mammut Ophir 3 Slide and Wild Country Flow.
If in doubt, pop a mail to email@example.com or visit us at your local CityROCK branch to get our personalised recommendation.