Here’s Exactly How a Climbing Harness Should Fit


When rock climbing, the fit of your harness can be a matter of life and death, which is why you must make sure that the harness will fit you properly.

How do you know that your climbing harness fits properly? Ideally, you should get a climbing harness that sits on your body comfortably and snuggly without being too loose or too tight. The purpose of this tool is to support your body during your climb and it will be taking a lot of your weight. This means that the loops for the waist and legs should be of the right circumference.

Aside from the discomfort that wearing the wrong climbing harness could entail, you would also be risking your life if the fit is wrong, so be sure to make the right choice beforehand.

Essential Climbing Harness Features

In order for you to understand how your climbing harness should fit when you use it, it might help you to understand what the features of a climbing harness should be. From there, we can talk about what it will be used for so that you can have context when talking about the fit. For now, though, you should know that your harness is meant to:

·         Help you ascend or descend

·         Help distribute your bodyweight

·         Keep you still when dangling is necessary

·         Allow you to swing more easily if needed

·         Secure your body from falling

With that being the case, the harness will need to possess the right features and characteristics in order to be useful. You can make use of the details in the table below to see what kinds of features a harness would need to have so that you can be sure that it is worth the money:

FeatureDescription
MaterialHarnesses made by different brands might use different materials
CraftsmanshipHarnesses should be created with quality and precision
ThicknessHarnesses should be the right thickness for durability and comfort
DiameterThe diameter of the leg loops and the waist loop should be considered
AdjustabilityLeg loops can be adjustable or fixed
GenderHarnesses for different genders have different designs
TypeHarnesses can fit multiple categories such as sport, multi-pitch, ice climbing, and mountain climbing

Depending on these factors, you could end up with a harness that is perfectly suitable for you or one that will not serve you well, at all. This is why it is always important for you to check on these aspects when you are making your purchase for the harness.

It might be something of a pain for you to be so careful with your choice of climbing harness, but you don’t want to end up going to the mountains only to be told that you have the wrong one, do you? Even worse is when you find this out when you are already climbing and some features don’t even match your needs.

Material – Different companies inevitably use different materials to make their climbing harnesses and as far as discrepancies went, the gap doesn’t usually show unless in extreme cases. Even so, you will still want to make sure that you are using harnesses that are made of materials that you are comfortable with.

This is to ensure that you will be able to wear them for long periods of time as you are making your climbs. After all, if the materials feel uncomfortable against your skin, you won’t be able to put up with them for long.  You need to take this into account even if you are going to be wearing pants or shorts along with the harness.

More than that, you also need to make sure that the materials themselves are durable so that you can rely on the harnesses to do their job. Some materials even shrink if they are exposed to certain conditions. This will not likely happen if you got your harness from a reputable manufacturer, but you can never be too careful in this regard.

This goes doubly true for harnesses that you got from someone else. You could have inherited the harnesses from a relative or just someone who decided that they didn’t need it anymore. Just because it was given to you, this doesn’t mean that you have to use it. It would still be far better for you to use a harness that you chose for yourself.

Craftsmanship – The matter of craftsmanship is an incredibly important point of consideration. You always want to make sure that you are using a harness that was made very well and by a company that actually knows what it is doing. There are too many substandard harnesses in the market that are produced by manufacturers that are only in it for the money.

This is why a lot of climbers still prefer to stick to the brands that they are already familiar with or have already earned a positive reputation in the climbing community. After all, if the feedback to the product is good from a lot of climbers, you can use that as a means of measuring the worth of a product. This is important since you will be entrusting your life to it.

More to the point, you need to check that the harness was actually made in a way that is suitable to your needs. This is because of the proliferation of harnesses that seem to be made with the matter of looking like they can be used for climbing in mind. Just to be safe, you should try to avoid harnesses that don’t have tags or brand names that you know.

This is to make sure that you will be able to rely on them when the time comes and to get used to the feel of a harness that actually does its job. The difference between a good quality harness and a bad one can be night and day, after all.

Thickness – With regards to thickness, you need to be a bit careful about this particular issue. Just because the loops of a harness are thicker, this does not mean that it is automatically the better choice. It could just mean that it is made of inferior materials and is trying to compensate for this with the size. To that end, you should not immediately go with the thickest harness you can find.

On that note, harnesses do need to have a certain amount of thickness for a few reasons, one of which is its strength. You can feel a lot more confident about the climbing harness you are wearing if it looks like it can take your weight and will be able to cope with rigorous use. If the harness is too thin, you might not feel as secure as you would have, which might give way to paranoia.

Then there is the matter of comfort, which is important when you are wearing a harness. After all, this is something that will be pressing against your skin to some degree. If the loops are made too thin, they might actually start digging into your legs, which will hurt.

Regardless of how your attention might be diverted to the task at hand, some parts of your brain will be distracted by that kind of discomfort. This might even lead you to lose focus, at some point, which is a dangerous thing to happen when you are climbing.

Diameter – Then we have the diameter, which is basically how big the hole of the loops is, where you will pass your legs and your body through. These need to be big enough to actually accommodate your limbs and your waist, which presents quite a few issues. To start with, if you are relatively fit and the holes of the loops that you are using are too narrow, it might be the wrong size.

You need to make sure that the harness you are using is the right size so that it will actually fit snuggly into your body. There is also the possibility that you got a harness that is meant for women, which is a common enough mistake to make. This goes doubly true when you purchase your climbing harness online, which is something that you need to be careful when doing.

This is an important point that needs to be hammered home if you are trying to purchase a climbing harness. You cannot afford to get one where the diameter of the loops is too big or too small. If the loop is to narrow, it could restrict blood flow and result in a very uncomfortable climbing experience. On the other hand, if it is too wide, it could loosen and you might end up in a compromised position.

You need to pay special attention to this aspect and try the harness on before you buy it to make sure that you have the right one. You cannot afford to make a mistake here, especially if you are a few dozen meters off the ground.

Adjustability – Now, there are climbing harnesses that can actually be adjusted depending on the circumstances. The most obvious of this is the diameter of the loops, which just makes sense. However, how the manufacturer went about doing so is an important point of contention. Some designs just don’t make sense from a performance standpoint, with the adjusting feature being unreachable.

There are also loops that are fixed, which does not automatically mean that they are bad. In fact, there are many climbers who prefer that the loops remain fixed since it allows them to have a degree of confidence with regards to consistency. After all, there is always the chance that the loops could loosen unintentionally, which would then cause them to slip out.

On that note, the way that you can decide on which one you prefer has to do with what kinds of activities you are planning on doing. More rigorous climbs will be served better by the fixed loops since you can then move as you please and you won’t have to worry about your harness slipping.

On the other hand, if you are still new to climbing and would like a little wiggle room to find your bearings, then there is nothing wrong with going with the adjustable loops. At the end of the day, this can basically fall to your preference and how you would like your climbing experience to be.

Gender – Then we come to the issue of gender, which is an important point that needs to be considered when choosing a climbing harness. After all, the designers would have taken the differences in physiology into account. So even if you chose size small, you will still be getting different sizes if you were comparing a harness meant for women and those meant for men.

Naturally, there are also climbing harnesses that are designed to be unisex and these would be great if you are thinking about sharing the harness with someone else who is of the opposite gender. However, if you are only getting the item for yourself, then you should certainly prioritize getting one that will suit your particular needs as closely as possible.

You could actually have a climbing harness customized to your specifications, but you don’t need to go that far. You just need to make sure that you are getting a harness for your size and for your gender. This will help make sure that the harness will wrap around your limps and hips in a comfortable and secure manner.

Technically speaking, you actually can make use of a harness that is meant for a different gender if you wanted to, especially if the size of the loop fits you just fine. However, it will never feel as secure or as reliable as when it is made to fit your gender. This goes for both men and women

Type – Finally, there is the matter of type, which can actually be a much bigger deal than you would think. Simply put, you have several types of climbing harnesses to choose from, each will have certain differences that might seem small but can actually have a huge impact on the results as such, you definitely want to watch out for them.

To start with, the main types of climbing harnesses are:

·         Gym/Sport

·         Trad & Multi-Pinch

·         Ice Climbing

·         Mountaineering

Gym or sport climbing harnesses are basically what you get when you are wall climbing in an indoor setting or when you are rock climbing outdoors via a cliff face. These are your standard harnesses and they basically come with minimal features for hanging tools with. Simply put, these are the very basic types, which is not actually a cause for you to go looking elsewhere.

You can make use of this type of harness easily enough when you are doing basic rock climbing and they usually come with fixed loops. Of course, you can also find some adjustable ones, but sport climbers typically prefer the ones that they don’t need to fiddle with. If you have that kind of concern, then this is the harness that you are looking for.

Then we have the trad and multi-pinch type of climbing harness, which basically allows you to carry more gear while you are climbing. These include slings, ropes, carabiners, and anchors, which are all necessary for rock climbing trips that require more work than usual. More to the point, these are the kinds of harnesses that lead climbers would wear.

Lead climbers are basically the folks that go ahead of the others in order to attach anchors and the like. This will basically allow the other climbers to simply follow in his path, but this is not the only point to this type of harness. As far as differentiating factor goes, this kind of harness typically needs to be a bit bigger and thicker than your typical setup.

Next to that is the ice climbing harness, which is similar to the sport type in that it comes with slots that are intended for ice clippers. As you might expect, this kind of harness is for when you are scaling ice walls where you will need to attach ice screws and the clippers will be attached to those screws. For more context, these are basically like carabiners.

Finally, we have mountaineering harnesses, which are built for strength and reduced weight more than anything else. Since you will be going for a long time while fighting gravity along the way, then you will need to make sure that your gear is as light as possible without compromising the quality. This is where the materials will need to up their game.

The harness might need to be light but this does not mean that the equipment attached to it will be feathers. In fact, you are likely to be lugging around some heavy gear via the harness, so durability is definitely a must.

Is Your Climbing Harness Too Small?

While it can be quite convenient for companies to label their harnesses to significant their various sizes, there are a lot of factors that can affect just how well these harnesses will actually fit you. For example, there are plenty of times where discrepancies with regards to measurements can categorize a product as large rather than small or vice versa.

This is a problem since you need to make sure that you are using the right harness for your needs. If your harness is too small, it can have a significant impact on many aspects of your climbing activities. To start with, climbing harnesses that are too small might signify issues with regards to the durability. After all, smaller harnesses mean fewer materials to actually hold your weight.

Even if you say that the loops can accommodate your body, you might still feel a bit insecure about just how well it is going to hold up. This is an important point to consider, especially if you are planning on a particularly vigorous climb. If you don’t believe that your climbing harness can handle it, you might be forced to limit the kinds of activities that you can do.

So it would be best to make sure that you go the right size before you make your purchase. If at all possible, you should try it on for yourself to get a good feel for the harness. If you are unable to touch it before buying it, you are risking making a mistake that might haunt you later on.

Is Your Climbing Harness Too Tight?

Just as it is with the question of size, there is also the question of tightness. Now, there are three ways to go about this particular issue, namely: adjustability, size, and gender. Starting with the adjustability, there is the question of whether you are using a fixed loop or an adjustable one. You can probably already see where this is going.

In the matter of the fixed type, you would have to make sure to get the right size right away because it can’t be changed. The loop itself might be elastic and will stretch a bit to accommodate your body, but it will not do so too far. In contrast, an adjustable loop can be loosened or tightened as you pleased. However, even this would have its limits, which is where the matter of the size comes in.

If you got the wrong size for the harness, then the issue is obvious enough to resolve. However, there are times when even getting the right size in accordance to the label will still lead to unreliable results. Depending on the design, the material, the thickness, or just the measurement, even a harness that should have fit your size might be too tight.

Finally, there is the issue of gender, which is a rather simple point of contention. If you got a harness for the wrong gender in the size that you thought would have fit you, it’s only natural that it would be too tight.

Related Questions

Should the Climbing Harness Be Tight?

A climbing harness should fit snuggly into your body so that it can be secure when you are doing your climbing activities. However, it should not be so tight that it causes discomfort and it should certainly not cut into your flesh, thus cutting off blood circulation.

How Long Should a Climbing Harness Last?

A climbing harness can last for years if you take care of it and don’t really use it all that often. However, if you are an avid climber who goes multiple times a month and really goes at it hard, you can wear out your harness in a year. Sometimes, harnesses would only last a few months.

Shopping for Climbing Harnesses

If you are going to shop for some climbing harnesses, it would be best for you to do so in person. That is to say, despite the convenience that the internet can provide you with, you will want to buy your first harness from an actual store where you can physically check the items. This is done for a few key reasons.

One is the matter of tactile senses, which is basically where you get information from touch. You will know the quality of the item that you are going to buy the moment you hold it in your hands. You simply can’t do this when you are shopping online, which puts you at the mercy of the seller or the company that made the harness.

Another point is that you will be able to try it out for yourself. That is to say, you will be able to wear it, move around in it, and get a general feel for how it works with you. If you don’t feel comfortable or you don’t think that you can entrust the harness while you are on level ground, you won’t be able to trust it when you are hanging dozens of feet up.

Consequences of Bad Harness Fit

So, you now know that you should choose your climbing harness carefully so that it will have a good fit for your particular body. However, what exactly will happen if you choose a harness that has a bad fit or if you tried using a harness that might not be that suitable for your shape? To start with, you will not be as secure when you are making your climb.

This is often a good enough reason not to go on a climb, to begin with. However, if you still choose to do so, you are likely to either feel pain from the harness being too tight and feel like you are about to fall off because it is too loose.

Feeling the loops cutting into your flesh is not a fun feeling and it can even cause you to lose focus. If this happens while you are trying to make a particularly difficult climb, you can slip and bang your head against the wall. If you are wearing a helmet, you might not sustain serious injuries, but it would be best to avoid this kind of thing happening at all. 

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