How Climbing Gear Works

Climbing Harnesses

A harness secures the climber to the rope.
A harness secures the climber to the rope.
Steve McAlister/Getty Images

Like climbing ropes and shoes, climbing harnesses are made for different types of climbing. Whether you enjoy sport, gym, alpine, wall, ice or general climbing, there's a harness that's right for your climb. The harness is used to secure the climber to a rope or from an anchor point.

When choosing a harness, consider your climbing plans and the features that are important to you. Are you a beginner, planning on occasional outdoor climbs? Do you want a lightweight harness or one that's more comfortable? Once you have your goals in mind, consider the different styles of harnesses. Prices range from $50 to $200.

  • Gym and competition harnesses feature a slim design, narrow webbing, little padding and few extras or loops for gear. Use for sport routes, gym and competition climbing.
  • All around or multi-purpose harnesses are good for all kinds of climbing and all kinds of body types and budgets. They feature padded leg loops and waist belt, detachable leg loops and gear loops for hooking your gear on the waist belt and a dedicated belay/rappel loop on the front so you can belay or rappel from it.
  • Big wall harnesses are intended for climbing on long routes that might take several days to traverse. Comfort on these long hauls is important, so they have thick waist and leg padding, as well as multiple gear loops.
  • Alpine harnesses are designed for mountaineering. They're lightweight, and they're easily adjustable to fit over many layers of clothes and made of water-repellent nylon to stand up to wet and snowy mountain conditions. Lightweight, inexpensive and adjustable to different body types, this harness makes a great extra to keep in your pack for a friend.
  • Chest harnesses are used with a seat harness, and they are good to use on routes where there's a chance of flipping upside down or falling into a crevasse on a glacier.
  • Body harnesses are made for children and adults with narrow waists and hips to prevent the climber from flipping upside down during a fall.

Be sure to try on several harnesses to see which one fits best. And if possible, put it to a real-life test: Hang in the harness to make sure you're comfortable with its fit and feel.