Climbing gear Reviews

Credit: Jeremy Bauman">

This harness from Mammut has great mobility and worked well for all-around use. This tester didn't find it very comfortable, but liked the adjustable leg loops and reinforced tie-in point.

Selecting the Right Product

Let us be clear right off the bat, all of the climbing harnesses in this review are equally safe when used in normal climbing situations in accordance with the manufacturers' recommendations. Testing the breaking strength of any harness components is beyond the scope of this review.

Buying a climbing harness that fits you well and is comfortable will significantly improve the quality of long belay sessions and hanging belays. You're going to spend a long time in your harness, so buying one that is comfortable and fits well is paramount. A good harness is a fantastic investment in your climbing future because it will most likely outlast your rope and shoes. If you find a harness that you love but are turned off by the cost, just remember that you'll likely wear out several pairs of shoes and multiple ropes before you need to replace your harness. If you're trying to get into climbing on a budget but have a couple extra bucks to spend on one thing, spending that money on a harness. Buying a harness that matches your needs perfectly is a more efficient use of your hard earned dollars than buying expensive shoes that will need to be replaced much sooner. Do yourself a favor and buy the right harness the first time and never look back. Check out our Buying Advice article for more help on how to choose climbing harnesses.

Men's vs. Women's vs. Unisex

Newsflash: men's and women's bodies are different. This is clearly obvious, but it's also important because men tend to wear harnesses on their hips while women often wear them on their waists. Because of this, the rise on men's harnesses is usually shorter than that on women's harnesses. Also, women usually have wider hips relative to their waists than men. The ratio of the waist and leg loop adjustability is also a bit different between men's and women's harnesses. In comparison to a men's climbing harness, a women's specific design often has slightly larger leg loops relative to the waistbelt length. While most male climbers will find the best fit in a men's specific harness, some of us might get a better fit in a women's harness. If your thighs are the size of trees, and you find the leg loops on most male harnesses constricting, don't be scared to try on a women's version.

The "rise" of the harness refers to the distance between the leg loops and the waist belt.

Some harnesses like the Metolius Safe Tech All-Around and even the Petzl Corax are so adjustable that they can usually provide an excellent fit for men and women alike. The Metolius harness is especially suited for a wide variety of body types because the rise can be adjusted.

The new all-around models from Arc'teryx in the women's (AR-385a, left) and men's (AR-395a, right) versions. Note how the women's version has a longer rise to sit on the waist, and larger leg loops relative to waist size.

Harnesses for Specific Disciplines

Rock climbing has exploded in popularity over the last twenty years. Thanks to the influx of climbers, manufacturers not only produce all-around models, but also offer harnesses with special features for every discipline of the vertical world. Everyone these days can buy a climbing harness that fits well and is perfect for their exact needs. That said, remember that the most important part of a harness is the fact that it will keep you safe, and every harness in this review will do just that if fitted and used properly. You could use any of the products we tested for sport, trad, alpine, or ice climbing and they will all hold you securely.

Gym Climbing & Top Roping
The typical one-size-fits-all gym rental harnesses are often so uncomfortable that it's a wonder people ever decide to pursue climbing in the first place. These harnesses are great for rentals because they offer unparalleled adjustability but they don't have any of the features you'll want if you get into climbing. More importantly, they're quite uncomfortable when compared with a properly sized and padded climbing harness. If you're just getting into climbing, you're probably reading this review to escape the uncomfortable misery of rental harnesses. If this sounds like you, awesome! Welcome to the climbing community.

You don't need a tricked out big wall harness if you're just taking laps at the gym. You probably just need something that's simple, cheap, and relatively comfortable. The Black Diamond Momentum fits the bill at $55 and is a great harness that won't break the bank if you're just trying to save money by owning rather than renting every week. If you're not sure that you'll take your craft outdoors but like the idea of that possibility, be assured that this harness has everything you'll need for even long and complex multi-pitch routes. You won't need to upgrade your harness as you progress in the sport.

The Corax is a great harness no matter what kind of "rock" you're slaying and won't completely break the bank. If you loan your harness to friends often, there's a good chance this harness will fit them too thanks to its great adjustability.

Sport Climbing
If you can't seem to dial in the moves on your project recently, maybe it's because your current harness is a couple ounces too heavy or not quite mobile enough. Pick up a lighter weight mobile harness like the Petzl Hirundos or Black Diamond Ozone. You probably won't notice the difference in your climbing performance due to the weight, but sometimes the psychological boost of believing that you're lighter is all it takes. To put a spin on a classic Yogi Berra quote: Ninety percent of climbing is half mental.

Lighter weight harnesses tend to skimp on padding and are much less comfortable than all around harnesses. This might be OK if you're crushing moves, but when it comes time for you or your partner to hangdog for an hour, you'll be much happier and more patient with a more padded all-around harness.

This Arc'teryx harness was one of our favorites for hard sport climbing. It was comfortable enough at the belay, but is still very mobile and has excellent gear loops while climbing.

Traditional Climbing
Good harnesses for trad climbing should be comfortable and have enough space on the gear loops for all your cams. Hanging belays aren't that fun in lightweight sport climbing harnesses - instead look for a harness with a little extra leg loop padding. For long routes, it can also be nice to have a haul loop to trail a rope or tag line. When we go trad climbing, we usually end up doing a little more chimneying and general groveling (whether it's a horrible offwidth in Vedavoo or the Narrows on the Steck-Salathe). To help combat all this wear and tear, we look for extra durability in a trad climbing harness. The Black Diamond Chaos is an excellent trad harness with patches that increase abrasion resistance and gear loops that are placed slightly forward for easy access to your gear. It's also comfortable enough to hang out in while your partner tries to retrieve that stuck C4 you overcammed.

Ice Climbing
Because you'll be wearing extra layers, padding isn't as important for ice climbing as it is for other disciplines. However, there are other features that are desirable for the frequent slayer-of-ice: adjustable and/or detachable leg loops are really nice so you can put your harness on over crampons. Ice clipper slots are also great so you can keep your screws organized. While there are ice climbing specific harnesses, we didn't include any in this review. That said, the Arc'teryx AR-395a is the best harness in this review for ice climbing with its four ice clipper slots, adjustable legs, and streamlined design. The Petzl Sama and Petzl Corax also have two ice clipper slots each. If you climb year round, one of these harnesses will probably suit you well enough for any ice climbing you want to do.

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