While your rental harness is tugging on your thighs and pinching your torso, you’re less than happy to be belaying your buddy on his mega proj. While he’s hopelessly hangdogging way up there and “trying to find the right micro-beta,” familiar pins and needles work their way up your legs that are loosing blood pressure by the minute.
This is the last time, you think to yourself. Time to put the kabash on the days of the rental-diaper harness and to finally purchase a non-booger crusted, wedgy-generating belt.
The first thing buyers need to understand is that more expensive or thicker does not mean safer. As long as your climbing harness is bought from a reputable source (is UIAA and/or CE certified), it will be plenty strong and durable.
The first question is what type of climber are you? In order of least amount of padding and gear loops to most, types of harnesses include: mountaineering harness, competition harness, sport/gym harness, trad/multi-pitch harness and ice/mixed harness. The type of climbing that you most often do will determine the harness that’s right for you.
Here’s the main differences between each type of harness, along with a few top hitters per category:
Mountaineering harnesses are typically for going light and fast in the alpine. The most technical ones are often thin, strappy thongs used primarily for glacial travel, ski mo, etc., and not hangdogging. These harnesses range from $80 to $200.
Top Hit: Blue Ice CHOUCAS LIGHT Harness ($79.95)
A comp harness won’t have more than four gear loops, and the back gear loops will likely be non-molded to save weight. Often like a mountaineering harness, a comp harness will be thin and strappy and paired down. They’ll be comfy enough for whips, but not ideal for big days or for carrying a double set of cams. These tend to range from $80 to $200.
Top Hit: Beal Ghost Harness ($109.99, currently $82.49 on Backcountry)
Sport or Gym Harness:
If sport climbing or top-roping is your jive, look for a harness with four or more gear loops and is cheap and comfy. You don’t really need tons of padding, like you’d see in a trad harness, nor do you need the extra gear loops. Simpler is better. A harness in the $60 to $80 range will likely be your sweet spot, although these harnesses can go up to $200.
Top Hit: Black Diamond Momentum Harness ($69.95)
Trad harnesses are usually thick with all the works—burly gear loops, adjustable leg loops and a haul bag loop. Comfort and durability is king with these harnesses. Climbers should plan on wearing them all day, or longer. Prices range from $80 to $160.
Top Hit: Petzl ADJAMA ($79.95)
Ice or Mixed Harness:
Most ice harnesses will be similar to the trad harness. The main difference is that ice harnesses will have sewn-in slots for ice clippers. Some brands, however, sell ice clippers that will attach to harnesses without the sewn-slots. Look for a harness with adjustable leg loops to fit over thick winter clothing. Expect these harnesses to range from $80 to $200.
Top Hit: Mammut Ophir 3 Slide ($64.95, or $48.71 on Backcountry)
Most harnesses are available as Men’s or women’s. A women’s harness is not a case of the classic shrink it and pink it. Instead, they’re often built with shaped waist belts, higher rises and larger leg loops. These differences allow the harness to cinch comfortably around a woman’s waist and be thigh-size appropriate. Everyone’s body type is different and not all women will necessarily want a women’s harness, but the option is there.
So what is the difference between a $60 harness and a $200 harness?
Like with Walmart versus Armani jeans, there are differences in the quality of yarns and construction used to make your harness. The main things to look for are type of core and foam construction. Other factors that make a harness more or less expensive include research and development, amount of materials, assembly and yes, even brand recognition. Here are the main need-to-knows.
Most harnesses are constructed with either a single piece of webbing or split webbing. The more traditional single webbing construction is being phased out since it creates uncomfortable pressure points. Split webbing, on the other hand, is a piece of webbing that has been split width-wise (so that two or more bands of webbing share the load), which reduce uncomfortable pressure points without heavy foam additions.
Generally speaking, the more load sharing between bands, the more expensive the harness. Black Diamond’s Momentum harness, for example, has a dual core construction and retails for $54.95, while Black Diamond’s Solution and Zone harnesses use a triple weave webbing and range from $69.95 to $99.95.
High-end harnesses will use ultra high molecular polyethylene (UHMP) materials, such as dyneema, instead of traditional webbing. The use of dyneema, or similar material, will again be more comfortable, but also more expensive.
The Beal Ghost harness, for example, is constructed with dyneema and retails for $110 (or $83). The thin harness construction makes it an affordable option for mountaineers, competition or sport climbers. Black Diamond’s new airNet harness is made with another UHMP material but the fibers are constructed in a net formation to increase breathability. The airNet retails for ($160). The Petzl SITTA, another similar weight harness as the Ghost and AirNet, is also constructed UHMP material and goes at $199.95.
Foam and Lamination:
Gym, sport, trad and entry-level harnesses are usually padded with foam for added comfort. Foam is heavy, it breaks down relatively quickly, and the glue used to laminate the foam to the harness often times isn’t breathable. Companies address these cons by incorporating mesh, perforating the material, or using other forms of “comfort” technology. This foam-workaround, while making the harness both cushy and durable and less prone to heat-spots, also explains price discrepancies.
Petzl’s ADJAMA is a built for trad and multi-pitch climbing and retails for $80. It includes the usual gear works–gear loops, ice clipper slots and a haul loop–and is constructed with closed-cell foam and variable-width webbing for optimal load distribution.
The new Mammut Comfort Knit Fast Adjust (launching Feb 2020) harness will MSRP for $160. This harness is constructed with split webbing and “warp-knit” technology, a.k.a. an open fabric and laminate construction to enhance breathability while maintaining the foam-comfort. Like the ADJAMA, it includes the normal fixings for trad climbing.
Bells and Whistles:
Certifications must be renewed yearly and can affect the entire supply chain. EDELRID, for example, offers bluesign certified harnesses. To achieve this certification, the harnesses must be made with minimal environmental burden and maximum sustainability. Everything from the selected materials (including chemicals and textiles) to the assembly and production process is inspected by a third party for social and environmental impact. Several of EDELRID’s harnesses have up to 35 individual parts, each of which with their own supply chain that must meet bluesign’s requirements.
While other companies don’t have bluesign certified harnesses, it is likely a trend we’ll see increase in the future.
Main takeaways: Determine what type of climber you are; assess webbing and foam construction to determine expected comfort levels; leave the strappy rental harness at the front desk and break out your brand new harness before it’s time to start projecting. Happy sending!