How to Make Sure a Climbing Harness Is a Proper Fit

Posted 15-03-2023 by Sally Guillaume

With so many different makes and models available, finding a climbing harness that fits just right can be challenging. How do you choose the best climbing harness for your personal needs and interests? In this guide, you’ll explore all the different parts, sizes and types of climbing harnesses to make an informed decision.

Parts of a Climbing Harness

If you want to find a climbing harness that properly fits your body, you need to know the anatomy of one. Every harness consists of eight major components:

  1. Waist belt: The harness’s main belt that wraps around your midsection. It should be tight, but not so tight that it restricts your movement or breathing.
  2. Buckles: The small metal buckles enable you to double-back, or feed the belt back through the buckles one more time to make the harness more secure. 
  3. Elastic straps: Adjustable straps that allow you to alter your harness’s shape and comfort. Most climbing harnesses have permanent straps, but some models have removable straps that allow the user to take off their leg loops and create “drop-seat” harnesses. This method is only recommended for advanced climbers. 
  4. Leg loops: Padded, adjustable loops that you insert your legs through when wearing the harness. They don’t have to be tight, but they shouldn’t be so loose that they slide down your legs.
  5. Gear loops: These plastic loops carry your accessory equipment, such as cameras and quickdraws. Most harnesses have four gear loops, but some allow you to add or remove as many gear loops as you want, as long as the equipment doesn’t weigh you down. 
  6. Haul loop: A stitched webbing loop on the back of the harness that attaches to the haul line. It might be one of the strongest loops, but you shouldn’t use it as a load-bearing device.
  7. Belay loop: The strongest and most important loop on the harness that bears the bulk of your weight when belaying or rappelling. The nylon webbing is strong and flexible, but it will wear down and become weaker if you tie other climbing accessories around it.
  8. Tie-in points: The two loops that distribute your weight and lighten the load on the belay loop. Any additional rope or cord you use should go through the two tie-in points. However, you shouldn’t attach your carabiner to the tie-in points when rappelling. The belay loop is the best device for rappelling.

Being familiar with your climbing harness’s parts will help you make the necessary adjustments to improve its fit. It will also make your climbing experience safer and more enjoyable. Handling your harness is a crucial technical skill in climbing that every beginner must know to take their abilities to the next level.

How to Size a Climbing Harness

Most harnesses are available in sizes ranging from extra small (XS) to extra large (XL), with youth sizes and plus sizes varying from brand to brand. You should have a good idea of which size you fall under before you start shopping. Measurements also differ between both men and women’s sizes and the brand of the harness, so always make sure to double-check any sizing.

  • Waist Circumference for Men: Starts at around 27 in. (66 cm.) for an XS and ranges up to about 42 in. (107 cm.) for an XL.
  • Leg Circumference for Men: Starts at around 19 in. (48 cm.) for an XS and ranges up to about 28 in. (71 cm.) for an XL.
  • Waist Circumference for Women: Starts at around 25 in. (62 cm.) for an XS and ranges up to about 39 in. (99 cm.) for an XL.
  • Leg Circumference for Women: Starts at around 18 in. (46 cm.) for an XS and ranges up to about 28 in. (71 cm.) for an XL.

Although these size ranges are helpful, they don’t account for different body shapes. You also need to know your body type to size your climbing harness properly. There are five main body shapes that are important for sizing harnesses and other articles of clothing:

  1. Triangle: Narrow shoulders and chest, wider stomach and hips.
  2. Inverted triangle: Wide shoulders and chest, narrow stomach and hips.
  3. Rectangle: Identical or similar measurements between the shoulders, waist and hips.
  4. Oval: The center of the torso is wider than the hips and shoulders.
  5. Trapezoid: Broad shoulders and chest, narrow waist.

Once you identify your overall body shape, it will be easier to follow the main rules for sizing a climbing harness:

  1. The harness should fit snugly above your hips, but not so tight that it restricts your movement.
  2. You should not be able to pull the harness down over your hips. It needs to stay in the same place.
  3. The leg loops should also be snug, but loose enough for you to slide your hand between your leg and the loop. You don’t want to cut off circulation to your lower extremities.
  4. Once you buckle into the harness, there should be at least five finger-widths of tail left on the straps. This precautionary measure ensures that the harness will remain snug as the buckles loosen throughout the climb.

If your harness checks these boxes, you can be confident that it’s a good fit. However, if you want 100% assurance, you can always perform the hang test.

The Hang Test

The hang test is the final rite of passage that every climbing harness goes through before purchase. Once you find a harness that fits your body shape and experience level, test it out by putting all of your weight on it for several minutes. Most climbing apparel stores have a hang test area for this exact purpose.

Once you complete the hang test, inspect your harness for damage such as fraying or tears in the elastic straps. If the harness got noticeably looser after just a few minutes, move down a size. If the harness started to feel too tight, move up a size. 

Types of Climbing Harnesses

You should also choose a harness based on your preferred climbing style. These are the main climbing harness varieties for recreational purposes:

  • Sport harness: The sport harness is the most common type because it’s useful for both indoor and outdoor recreational climbing. It often includes adjustable leg loops and a double-back waist belt option.
  • Canyoning harness: This special harness is made for canyoning, a unique activity that involves navigating a canyon with different techniques, including climbing and swimming. It has extra seat protection and is made of waterproof materials.
  • Competition harness: This harness has no gear loops and is ultra-lightweight because it’s exclusively used for climbing competitions. 
  • Big wall harness: This harness is for long-distance climbs with hours of hang time. It has extra padding, two belay loops and as many as ten gear loops for all of your essential equipment.

If you’re interested in a specific climbing niche, make sure you take these types into consideration while sizing your harness. Beginners should stick with sport harnesses, but avid outdoor enthusiasts might be better off with a canyoning harness due to its durability and waterproof materials.

Find Your Ideal Climbing Harness

Making sure your climbing harness is the right fit requires several steps. Once you get familiar with the parts of your harness and the style you’re looking for, you’ll find your ideal climbing harness in no time!

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is a freelance writer and adventurer. You can find descriptions of his experiences on his main site, but he has also written for Sports Medicine Weekly, Crow Survival, Better Triathlete and more.


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