Tips for purchasing your first climbing harness.
Many years ago, your options for buying a climbing harness were very limited. A small group of manufacturers designing relatively similar designs with the only major difference being colour. Fast forward to today and you have a plethora of different harness designs, some are multi use and versatility is their selling point, others where the use is very limited to one style or type of climbing. So, if your choosing your first harness where do you start? My tips below will hopefully give you some ideas and pointers to consider before splashing your hard-earned cash.
I’ve spent plenty of time hanging in a harness to tell you that comfort is key. Go to your local climbing shop or outdoor store and try the harness on. Talk with them about other models and what model will suit your aspirations and body fit.
There are now several companies who have developed lightweight sport climbing harnesses designed for the higher end market. These Gucci style harnesses have their place, but they do sacrifice on comfort and durability which is worth considering when your purchasing your first harness.
The number of gear loops will depend on your future aspirations and what discipline you enter. Sport climbing harness will have a limited number of gear loops (4-5) as they are designed mainly for quickdraws and small amounts of gear. If you’re a mountaineer, trad or Ice climber you will want more loops (Personally I like 7) as you carry a lot more gear. Ice climbers will also want to look for an ice clipper loop which allows an ice screw clipper to be fixed allowing easy racking of ice screws.
Adjustable waist band.
For mountaineering I like a harness that has a floating waist band, this allows me to centralize the belay loop if I’m wearing more clothes or layers in the winter. If your using the harness for indoor or sport climbing, a fixed waist band is fine but ensure that you get the correct size and it fits well. We all have different shapes and some bodies fit certain harnesses better than others.
Alpine harnesses and Ski touring harness
Over the past 5 years or so a new range of harness has been developed for ski mountaineering and alpinism which are super light, offers no padding and can fit in the palm of your hand. Personally, I would only use these for scrambling in the mountains or the intended use.
Female participation in outdoor activities is on the rise and it’s great to see manufacturers finally designing some nicer fitting harnesses for women. Generally speaking, a woman’s harness will have a better fit around the waist, smaller waist sizes and leg loops that can adjust to a greater range than the men’s version. Again, as is the theme of this blog, do try and speak with your local outdoor store and ask to try some on before you buy.
Buying online from an authorized retailer
If your buying climbing gear I would always recommend visiting your local climbing store or outdoor retailer and buying from them. Online you won’t get to try before you buy, you won’t be able to check its comfortable and above all you wont get the expert advice that’s offered when you buy in-store. Supporting local business is essential to keeping these stores going and the advice they can give you will save hours of trawling through blogs trying to figure out which model or brand is right for you.
If you do decide to buy online then make sure they have a good reputation and are an authorised dealer for the brands they are selling. Buying from an online retailer that has high street stores can sometimes bring better service especially if they allow returns in store.
The Big No No.
If you value your life then don’t buy second hand or off an auction site. A climbing harness is the link in the chain that will keep you alive if you take a fall. Would you know if the harness has been damaged by chemicals, taken a large fall or not fit for purpose ? Do you know if the seller is reputable or just looking to make money from dodgy or counterfeit goods? I personally wouldn’t want to put my life at risk to save some money and whilst there may be some legit sellers on these sites you need to ask yourself is it worth the risk.
In recent years a number of counterfeit harnesses have been seized by British authority’s and described as death traps. These items were being sold on an online auction site (You know which one) and a number of them were sold to the public. The authorities seized over 100 models that would have reached the mass market if authorities hadn’t received a tip off from an eagle eyed purchaser. The bottom line is only purchase climbing gear from an authorized supplier, buying fake gear could kill you.
About the author.
Matt Cooper lives in North Wales and is a qualified Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (MCI), full member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) and Mountain Training Provider. Matt is also the owner of The Mountaineering Company, Montane Ambassador and has contributed to articles in Summit Magazine, the magazine of the British Mountaineering Council.
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