Best Ice climbing Harness
Garrett should size up. In the left photo, notice how far back the front left gear loop is! The right photo shoes where it should be.
LegsLeg loops don't need to be quite as tight as the waist belt, but they should still be snug. In the past, most leg loops were adjustable just like the waist, but new harnesses with fixed leg loops have become popular, in part to save weight. While they are "fixed" in the sense that they lack any buckles, these usually have a small elastic piece that gives you up to a couple inches of adjustability. Leg loop sizes relative to the waist vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. For instance, while a Black Diamond climbing harness with fixed leg loops might fit you perfectly, one from Petzl may have a perfect leg fit but the waist may be too big. If you have the chance, try on a harness before you buy.
RiseOne key factor that contributes to a great fitting harness is the issue of harness rise. "Rise" refers to the distance between your leg loops and the waist belt. If the rise is too short (i.e. your leg loops sit too high) you will be thrown back when hanging. If the rise is too long (i.e. the leg loops sit too low) a fall will be absorbed too much by your hips and can be painful. When a harness fits well, it will keep you upright and balanced when you fall or you're hanging. You can tell that a harness rise is wrong if it feels like you have to fight to stay upright.
Thankfully for us guys, our hip-to-waist ratio is less variable than it is for women. This makes it easier to design harnesses that consistently fit us well. None of our male testers complained about a poor fitting harness in relation to its rise during our tests; however, this was a fairly big issue in the Women's Climbing Harness review. If you have hips that are much wider than your waist and need to wear the harness high, the Metolius Safe Tech All-Around lets you adjust the rise. Alternatively, you might get a much better fit out of a women's harness since they typically have a longer rise than men's climbing harnesses. As outdoor styles are migrating to brighter and brighter colors, men's and women's harnesses often look quite similar. Don't be embarrassed to try on a women's harness!
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.
ComfortAfter fit, you're going to want to think about comfort. We have distinguished two types of comfort in climbing harnesses. Comfort wile standing and comfort while hanging. Have you ever worn a 60+ liter backpack with a wide hip belt and generously padded shoulder straps? Packs like this are supremely comfortable when carrying beastly loads. But once empty, the trade-off is that they are sweaty and stifling compared with a lightweight day pack. It's pretty much the same story for climbing harnesses - there's always a trade-off. The qualities that make harnesses comfortable for hanging often make them less comfortable for standing.
Comfort While StandingLet's face the facts; you are probably going to spend a lot more time standing in your harness than you will hanging or climbing. Choosing one that is comfortable for standing is important especially if you mostly climb in single pitch settings. The more comfortable harnesses for standing are usually light and breathable while the lesser comfortable ones have bulkier padding.
Many of the harnesses we've seen have a breathable mesh construction that is much less sweaty than those with bulky padding. We typically found this design the most comfortable while standing. Translating the marketing speak, Black Diamond calls it "Dual Core, " Mammut calls it "two-part webbing, " and Petzl refers it to it as "Endoframe" or "Frame." There are subtle differences between these designs, but basically they're all the same: two pieces of webbing with foam and/or mesh in between. This allows for harnesses that are significantly more breathable than traditional designs that just add foam padding to a 3/4 inch piece of webbing.
With gear loops that lay flat, this Arc'teryx harness didn't get in the way during our early season ski of Quandary peak in Colorado. It is quite comfortable for standing or walking.
Comfort While HangingIn general, the most comfortable climbing harnesses for hanging have the most padding and the widest waist belts. Some of the products in this review do use fancy technologies that distribute force more evenly throughout the body of the harness like Arc'teryx's Warp Strength Technology or Black Diamond's Kinetic Core. While these designs achieve a high level of comfort for the weight, they aren't as comfy as harnesses that go all out in the padding department like the Metolius Safe Tech All Around.
With gear loops that are far forward, the AR-395a keeps your gear within reach. It was also surprisingly comfy.
Leg Loops & AdjustabilityRecently, there has been a trend for harnesses to abandon adjustable leg loops in favor of ones that aren't adjustable. Non-adjustable leg loops give you two less buckles to deal with and are slightly lighter. However, they are much more difficult to put on over crampons and mountaineering boots and sometimes they are impossible to slide over ski boots. For general rock climbing, however, fixed leg loops are nice as long as they fit well - "fit" being the operative word. Finding a fixed leg loop harness that fits perfectly is often a challenge. Assuming they fit well, you may need to think about how they'd fit while wearing several additional layers of clothing. This is especially key if you plan on climbing in the cold. Harnesses that fit great over lightweight shorts for the gym are often constricting when used over softshell pants and a base layer.
The adjustable auto lock buckles on the legs and waist make our Editors' Choice winner a cinch to put on.
Additionally, if you buy your climbing harness at the end of an active summer then throw it in the closet until spring, you might appreciate a harness with good adjustability to accommodate that winter weight you put on (or the extra leg muscle from shredding the slopes all season). Super adjustable harnesses also have the added advantage of being easier to lend to friends. Models like the Petzl Corax that have two waist buckles are much more adjustable than others. We prefer auto locking buckles to the old double back versions. Auto locking buckles are much quicker to tighten and loosen and are pretty much impossible to forget to "double back." The most adjustable harnesses are those designed for rental use at climbing gyms and challenge courses, but these aren't comfortable and are the reason many beginner climbers buy their own harnesses in the first place.
The "old-school" buckle system on the Metolius Safe Tech. After passing the webbing through the buckle one time, it is doubled-back on itself, create a secure lock. Metolius puts a "DANGER" warning on the metal - if you can see that word, the buckle is not properly secured.
Gear LoopsThe vast majority of climbing harnesses have four gear loops, but some have two and some have five or six. Gear loops that are further forward are easier to access, but too far forward and your gear will hit your thigh and get in the way. Perhaps a bigger issue is how far back your gear loops are. The rear gear loops on the Petzl Sama are all the way on your back making them much more difficult to get to than the more forward gear loops on the Black Diamond Chaos. The construction of gear loops also has a part to play. Most of our testers were indifferent as to the rigidity of the gear loops, but some preferred the plastic loops on the Black Diamond harnesses while others liked the more flexible loops on the Petzl harnesses. Rigid gear loops are often easier to clip, but can be uncomfortable when used with a backpack or when scraping your way through a squeeze chimney.
The gear loops on this Metolius harness can accommodate a host of draws, but the design causes them to always squeeze the biners in the middle. Some of our testers didn't like these loops as much as ones that have a flat section for draws.
Elastic RisersMost of the time, the risers on the back of harnesses go unnoticed, but every now and again nature calls at the wrong time and you just can't let the call go to voicemail. In situations like this, it's really nice to have risers that can be dropped with haste. Plastic buckles like the ones on the Petzl Sama are nice and quick but they are quite bulky compared with the hook system used on most of the other harnesses. The Arc'teryx AR-395a uses one hook that is easy to use while the BD Chaos uses two hooks. We would never choose a climbing harness based on the elastic risers, but if you can't decide between two and nature calls you a lot, make your life easier with a harness that has one riser attachment rather than two. The risers on the Metolius Safe Tech All Around connect via a double-backed buckle making them super difficult to undo.
The rear haul loop on the Chaos is a good place to keep extra stuff that you don't want taking up space on your gear loops. Notice that the elastic risers attach separately. This was more cumbersome to undo than the singular attachment points on other harnesses.
Ice Clipper SlotsIf you are a jack-of-all-trades climber and you're looking for a harness as versatile as you are, you'll definitely need one with two to four ice clipper slots. Many harnesses have clipper slots that are too far back pair this with a poor fitting jacket that bunches around your harness and restricts your view and you'll have a serious issue when reaching for your ice screws. Having slots that are toward the front helps alleviate this problem and keeps your screws where you can see them. The Arc'teryx AR-395a has the most forward slots we've seen and has four slots total.
The ice clipper loops are nice, but they're pretty far back. If we were buying this as an ice climbing specific harness, we'd prefer if they were a bit further forward.
WeightWe've talked with a bunch of climbers who climb sport routes exclusively and they agree that the weight of a harness is a non-issue compared with its comfort and other features. Weight makes a negligible difference at the crag. Unless you're climbing with the mental intensity of a professional climber, saving an extra six ounces on your harness is like shooting pees at a battleship. That extra 6 oz is about 0.24% of the weight of a 155 pound climber. If you have the mental fortitude to push yourself enough that 0.24% makes a measurable difference in your climbing performance, props to you! You are truly a wold class athlete. For the rest of us, weight should be secondary to comfort, mobility, adjustability, and features.
If you're an alpine climber, weight can and does play a larger role as you're going to spend substantially more energy carrying that extra 0.24% a much further distance than the sport climber who only climbs 30 meters or so. Packed size is also an important consideration as you might need to cram the harness into a small alpine pack on the approach. For this style of climbing, weight and mobility are probably more important than comfort as you're probably not going to spend much time hanging in your harness.
With forward gear loops and great mobility, the Chaos is an excellent harness for trad and sport climbing.
Other FeaturesSome manufactures throw in some other features to differentiate themselves from competitors. This section is devoted to a few "nice to haves" that are worth noting, but probably wouldn't play a huge part in our harness buying decisions.
Haul LoopsIf you trad climb, a haul loop is a worthwhile feature. Whether you use it for tagging a second line, toting your shoes, or carrying your belay/rappel device, it's extremely useful. Haul loops are either "rated" to hold body weight, or they are not. Haul loops that are rated to 9 kN or more, are strong enough to hang from, but we don't recommend this since the haul loop does not distribute the weight through the leg loops like the front tie-in points do. If loaded, the haul loop doesn't distribute any force to the leg loops, so all the force of a fall will be transmitted onto a climbers waist or hips. This is neither comfortable or safe. For example, using the haul loop to tie into an anchor on the ground (to keep a slender belayer from being pulled up by a larger climber) should be avoided because doing so will cause the harness to squeeze the belayers hips. This is uncomfortable at best and can lead to bruising and injury at worst. Also escaping the belay will be difficult to impossible based on your proficient at self rescue techniques.
One potential benefit of a rated haul loop is the worst-case scenario in which your lead line gets cut and the haul line or tag line arrests your fall (assuming you're using one and it is attached to the lower belay). Although this may keep you from hitting the ground, the force of this type of fall would still likely cause significant injury. Unless your haul loop says that it's rated, you should assume that it is not rated. The Arc'teryx AR-395a has a prominent 0KN mark for its haul loop to prevent people from ever getting the idea that it's a good idea to hang from. Finally, a rated haul loop is very handy in situations where you are climbing a chimney and need to tote a small backpack several feet below you. While the belay loop can be used for this purpose, hanging your pack with a short sling off the haul loop keeps it out of the way. If your pack gets caught on something while you're climbing, you can be sure that you won't rip the 9 kN haul loop no matter how hard you yard on it while freeing your pack.
While the Safe Tech has a haul loop rated at 9 kn, you should never trust a life to this attachment point.