How Should A Climbing Harness Fit?

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on May 2, 2024

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The climbing harness is a pivotal piece of gear that serves as the literal connection between you and the rock. Or the gym climbing walls, if that’s more your style. Regardless of where you’re climbing, a well-fitting harness is essential not just for comfort, but also for safety. Too loose, and you risk slipping out; too tight, and you could compromise your circulation and mobility.

So, how should your climbing harness fit? Well, buckle up (pun intended), because that’s exactly what we’re going to explore in this article. From waistbands to leg loops, I’ll break down what you should look for to ensure your harness isn’t just a piece of gear, but an extension of your climbing self.

Generally…How Should A Climbing Harness Fit?

Generally, your climbing harness should fit snugly around your waist and hips without pinching or causing discomfort. The waist belt should sit above your hips but below your ribcage, creating a secure fit that won’t slide down or shift while you’re climbing. Leg loops should offer a close fit, but not so tight that they restrict movement or circulation. When fully tightened, you should be able to slip no more than a finger or two between the loops and your legs. If your harness has adjustable leg loops, make use of them to find the right balance between snugness and flexibility.

Remember, a well-fitted harness will distribute your weight evenly and keep your body upright, whether you’re hanging in a belay or taking a whipper. The key here is to aim for a fit that’s secure but not restrictive, allowing you full range of motion while keeping you safely tethered to your rope. Make sure to try on several harnesses and move around in them to get a feel for how they’ll perform when you’re actually climbing.

Types of Climbing Harnesses

Just like there are different styles of climbing, there are various types of harnesses designed to meet the specific needs of each. Let’s dive into some of the most common types, so you can decide which is the best fit—literally—for your climbing adventures.

Beginner Harness

If you’re new to the world of climbing, a beginner harness might be your best bet. These harnesses are usually built with simplicity and comfort in mind, often featuring fewer gear loops and a more cushioned waist belt. The focus is on ease of use and safety, so you can concentrate on getting those fundamentals down.

Sport Climbing Harness

Sport climbing harnesses are designed for—you guessed it—sport climbing, where quick movements and high-flying whippers are all part of the game. These harnesses are generally lighter and less bulky, prioritizing freedom of movement. They usually feature four gear loops for quickdraws and a chalk bag, but might skimp a bit on harness padding to save weight.

Trad Climbing Harness

Traditional (Trad) climbing harnesses come equipped with more gear loops and often have a more robust construction. Since trad climbing involves placing your own protection like cams and nuts, you’ll need the extra storage. These harnesses often also feature a haul loop at the back, which can be essential for multi-pitch climbs.

Canyoning Harness

Canyoning or canyoneering harnesses are built for the unique demands of descending through narrow, water-filled canyons. They’re typically made from materials that resist water damage and feature a seat protector for those inevitable moments when you’ll be sliding down rocks.

Competition Harness

When it comes to competition climbing, every ounce matters. These harnesses are the Ferraris of the climbing world: lightweight, high-performance, and stripped-down to the bare essentials. Often featuring minimalist design, competition harnesses are geared towards elite climbers who are comfortable sacrificing a bit of comfort for a performance edge.

Alpine and Ice Climbing Harnesses

Alpine and ice climbing harnesses need to perform in the harshest conditions. They’re generally lightweight, like sport climbing harnesses, but also offer features like ice clipper slots to hold screws. These harnesses often have full-strength haul loops and adjustable leg loops to accommodate bulky winter clothing.

Full Body Harness

Primarily used for children and rescue operations, a full body harness distributes weight across the chest and waist. This design minimizes the risk of falling out of the harness, making it ideal for younger climbers and specific rescue scenarios.

Men’s Vs. Women’s Harnesses

When it comes to men’s and women’s harnesses, the primary difference usually lies in the fit. Women’s harnesses are generally designed with a slightly different waist-to-leg loop ratio to accommodate a typically wider hip area. They may also offer a more tapered fit around the waist and additional padding in targeted areas for comfort. However, it’s essential to remember that everyone’s body is different. Many climbers find that a harness designed for the opposite gender fits them better, so don’t limit yourself based solely on gender categories. The most important factor is how the harness fits your specific body shape and suits your climbing needs.

Harness Features

One of the key features to look for in a climbing harness is padding. Harness padding enhances comfort, particularly for longer climbs where you’ll be hanging in your harness for extended periods. But be wary—more padding doesn’t always mean a better fit or more comfort. Excess padding can add unnecessary weight and bulk, possibly compromising your freedom of movement.

Besides padding, other features worth considering include the number and placement of gear loops, whether the leg loops are adjustable, and if the harness has extras like ice clipper slots or a haul loop. Some harnesses even come with special slots for attaching a chalk bag or features that make it easier to rack trad gear. Tailor your choice based on the specific type of climbing you’ll be doing most.

Parts of a Climbing Harness

Understanding the different parts of a climbing harness can help you make a more informed decision when purchasing and also help you use your harness more effectively. Here’s a breakdown of the essential components:

  • Waist belt: The waist belt is the primary band that wraps around your waist. It should sit above your hips but below your ribcage and should fit snugly to prevent slippage. Look for a waist belt that offers the right balance between padding for comfort and lightweight material for mobility.
  • Leg Loops: These are the loops that go around each of your legs. They help distribute weight and keep you upright when you’re hanging or falling. Like the waist belt, each leg loop tightness can be adjusted and can be padded for extra comfort, although some harnesses do have fixed leg loops.
  • Buckles: Most harnesses come with one or two buckles on the waist belt and sometimes on the leg loop. These are used for adjusting the size and fit of the harness. Double-back buckles, which require you to thread the webbing back through the buckle, are often considered more secure.
  • Gear Loops: These are the gear loops attached to the waist belt where you’ll attach all your climbing gear. The number and style of gear loops can vary depending on the type of climbing the harness is designed for.
  • Belay Loop: Belay loops are the strongest loop on your harness, connecting the belt and the leg loop. The belay loop is made of nylon webbing and is what you’ll use for belaying, rappelling, and attaching your climbing rope via a carabiner. Never tie directly into the belay loop for climbing.
  • Haul Loop: This is a loop located at the back of the belt, generally used for hauling a second rope on multi-pitch climbs. Not all harnesses come with a haul loop, and it’s not intended to be load-bearing like the belay loop.
  • Tie-In Points: These are the points where you’ll tie your climbing rope into the harness. Typically, you tie in through both the belt and the leg loops, not the belay loop.
  • Elastic Rise Strap: These are adjustable elastic straps that connect the leg loop to the back of the belt. They help keep the leg loop in place but aren’t designed to bear weight. Some rise straps are fixed rise straps (not adjustable) and some are not fixed.

How to Size a Climbing Harness

Knowing how to properly size a climbing harness is crucial for both your safety and comfort. Here’s what you need to know:

Sizing & Measurements

Knowing your measurements is the first step to finding a harness that fits like a glove. Accurate measurements ensure that you start with the right harness size, making further adjustments easier and more effective.

Measuring Your Waist Circumference

For the waist circumference measurement, you’ll want to measure around the narrowest part of your torso, which is usually just above your hip bones and below your ribcage. Use a flexible measuring tape and ensure it lies flat against your skin, without any twists. While measuring, stand naturally—don’t suck in your stomach or push it out. Your waist measurement will be a good starting point to check against size charts that most climbing harness manufacturers provide.

Measuring Your Legs

When it comes to measuring your leg loops, you’ll want to measure around the thickest part of your upper thigh, or your leg circumference. Again, use a flexible tape measure and make sure it lies flat against your skin. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart while measuring to get the most accurate read. Note that while some harnesses have fully adjustable leg loops, some have fixed leg loops, so this measurement can be crucial for those styles.

Before you head out to buy your climbing harness, jot down these measurements. Take them with you when shopping, either online or in a physical store, to quickly narrow down your options. Remember, these measurements are just a starting point. Individual fit can vary based on body shapes and personal preference, which is why trying on multiple sizes and styles and doing a hang test is so important.

Fitting the Waist of a Harness

The waistbelt should sit snugly above your hips but below your ribcage. Many brands provide a size chart that you can reference to find the right fit for your waist size. When you’re trying on a harness, tighten the waistbelt and make sure it feels secure without pinching. You should be able to slide a couple of fingers between the waistbelt and your body, but not much more. Also, pay attention to the positioning of the gear loops; they should be within easy reach and not situated too far back, as that could make it tricky to access your equipment when climbing.

Fitting the Legs of a Harness

Leg loops are equally important to get right when sizing a climbing harness. Ideally, these should offer a snug but comfortable fit, just like the waistbelt. Some harnesses come with adjustable leg loops, which can be a boon for climbers who find it challenging to get the right fit or who plan on climbing in different conditions (like bulky winter clothes for ice climbing). When fully tightened, you should be able to slip a finger or two between the leg loops and your legs but no more. Too loose, and the harness could ride up uncomfortably while climbing; too tight, and you risk restricted movement and circulation, as well as uncomfortable pressure points and hot spots.

The Hang Test

Once you’ve dialed in the fit based on waist and leg measurements, and adjusted any rise elastic straps or other features, it’s time for the hang test. This is where you actually hang in the harness, simulating the feeling of being on a climb. Most reputable climbing shops have an area where you can do this, and it’s a crucial step in determining if a harness is right for you.

When you’re hanging, pay attention to how the weight is distributed across the harness. Are there any pressure points or areas of discomfort? The harness should evenly distribute your weight across the leg loops and waistbelt. Your lower back should feel supported, and there shouldn’t be any pinching around the thighs or waist. Take note of how easy it is to reach the gear loops and other features while you’re hanging.

The hang test offers insights that just can’t be achieved while standing on two feet. A harness might feel great when you’re walking around the shop but reveal its flaws only when you’re suspended. This is your chance to feel how the harness performs under climbing conditions, so make the most of it. And don’t rush—hang for a bit, move around, and really get a feel for it. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time in this piece of gear, and it’s essential that it’s both comfortable and functional.

Harness Sizing for Different Brands

To help you visualize the differences in sizing, here’s a chart below of some of the most popular climbing harnesses. You’ll notice it includes the brand and model of the climbing harness, as well as the men’s and women’s waist and loop measurements.

Generally, the women’s harness waist measurements match one size small in the men’s version. For example, the Black Diamond Momentum women’s harness in size medium is a similar measurement to the men’s small.

The leg loop sizes are much larger on the women’s harnesses even though they’re the same size (S, M, L) as the men’s. Even if you size up in a men’s harness, the leg loops aren’t as large as a women’s harness.

Even within brands there variance. The Black Diamond Momentum and Solution are both listed below, and their size charts were different even though they’re from the same brand.

Climbing HarnessMen’s Waist
Measurements (S)
Women’s Waist
Measurements (S)
Men’s Leg Loop
Size (S)
Women’s Leg Loop
Size (S)
Petzl Corax LT Men’s & Women’s30.3-33 inches28-30.3 inches16.9-20.920.5-22.5
Black Diamond Momentum Men’s & Women’s27-30 inches27-30 inches17-21 inches19-23 inches
Arc’teryx AR-385a Men’s & Women’s28-31 inches27-29 inches20-22 inches23-24.5 inches
Wild Country Session Men’s & Women’s28-31.1 inches26.4-29.5 inches16.5-21.3 inches18.1-21.3 inches
Black Diamond Solution Men’s & Women’s27-30 inches28.31 inches19-21 inches20-22 inches
A table comparing the top rock climbing harnesses and their measurements for both men’s and women’s waist and leg loop sizes.

Conclusion

Finding the perfect climbing harness is a mix of art and science, combining technical measurements with personal comfort and style. Understanding the different parts of a harness, how to measure yourself accurately, and what to look for during the hang test can go a long way in ensuring you make a well-informed choice. Remember, the right harness isn’t just about fit; it’s about how it supports you during various types of climbs and conditions.

If you’re still skeptical about your choice or worried you might overlook something, consider seeking advice from experienced climbers or staff at specialized climbing stores.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose the right size of climbing harness?

When selecting a climbing harness, measure your waist circumference and leg circumference. Check the size range provided by the manufacturer and choose a harness that falls within your measurements.

Should I opt for adjustable leg loops on my climbing harness?

Adjustable leg loops offer flexibility in fitting different sizes. They allow you to customize the fit according to your comfort and requirements.

How tight should my climbing harness be?

A climbing harness should fit snugly around your waist without causing discomfort or restricting movement. It should feel secure but not overly tight, allowing you to breathe and move freely.

What should be the fit of a climbing harness for a beginner?

For beginners, it is important to have a harness that fits properly to ensure safety while climbing. It should be snug but not overly tight, providing enough support and stability throughout your climbing journey.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

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