One way to know if your harness is actually tested and rated for the task at hand is to check and see if it is certified, but what does that certification actually mean?

Knowing how climbing gear is certified to protect us can be a complicated thing, and like most topics in climbing it involves a bit of nuance. So for the curious climber we’re diving into exactly how harnesses are tested and certified so you can see how they help reduce your risk while you climb.

UIAA and CEN logos
The UIAA and CEN are two bodies that work to develop standards in climbing equipment. The EN Certification relies heavily on the recommendations of use-specific groups like the UIAA when it comes to establishing climbing norms

The two certifying bodies for harnesses (and most climbing gear) are the UIAA and CEN.

The UIAA is a group of climbing industry professionals that gather data and make recommendations on best practices for the climbing industry. When climbing gear became a commercial endeavor, a set of standards for maintaining the safety of climbers using that gear needed to exist, so these brands and professional individuals essentially gathered and weighed in on what they should be.

CEN is a European governmental agency that sets forth EN standards in specific documents that identify and detail the testing process required for products of all kinds to be sold in the EU. The CEN often relies on expert groups like the UIAA to inform them on standards for niche subsets of commerce like climbing, essentially deferring to the experts to develop testing and performance benchmarks. We wrote a post on these and other standards bodies if you want to do a deeper dive.

Though the CEN certifying processes also often includes various other standards such as ecological impact, human rights accordances, and material sourcing, when it comes to how the standard affects climbers, EN-12277 and UIAA-105 are the specific set of requirements developed for climbing harnesses. Because the CEN bases their testing methods on the UIAA certification, these can mostly be thought of as interchangeable. If a harness has one or the other, you can know that it has been tested to be safe to use for the purpose of climbing.

We’ll break down the gist of these certs next, but if you would like to dig into the full details of the testing and certification process, links to the full documentation for both groups of tests can be found here for the UIAA and here for CEN, though the EN documentation sits behind a paywall.

UIAA and EN Harness Testing Methods

Depending on the construction of the harness, the testing process involves several strength tests at some key points.

Harness testing UIAA EN Certification
This diagram is a shortened explanation of the UIAA 105 and EN 12277 certification for harnesses. It details the testing methods for full body adult and child harnesses as well as methodology for testing belt strength. Image courtesy of the UIAA

The Hanging Strength Test

This test is to determine if a harness can handle the weight of a climber’s body as they hang. Unlike other certified climbing gear that is tested with fall tests or complicated swinging devices, UIAA 105 only utilizes static pulls at very high forces. These pulls are conducted using a test dummy with specific size and shape to simulate the harness being weighted around a human form rather than a more simplistic pin to pin pull strength test.

Once fitted into the harness, the testing body is essentially pulled toward the ground as the harness is pulled upward. Harness types are broken into 4 categories for testing: A, B, C, and D. Type A and B harnesses are full body for adults and children, respectively, where type C is what most climbers would consider a standard ‘sit style’ harness, and type D is for chest only harnesses.

These distinctions break up the wider spectrum of harnesses based on how they fit on the body. Sit harnesses for example do not need to be fitted past arms and shoulders the way chest and body harnesses do and are pulled at the hard tie-in points, and Type A/B/D connect and are pulled at the sternum. Type B harnesses made for children are also tested to a lower strength of 10kN upright and 7kN upside down, whereas Type A body harnesses for adults are pulled to 15kN and 10kN for the same test.

To put all of this into real world terms, every harness tested essentially has successfully held a 3,300 lb adult human body in upright orientation, and full body and chest harnesses have also held roughly a metric ton (2,200 lb) upside down. While this doesn’t necessarily simulate any scenario a climber is likely to find themselves in, it does say a lot about how extremely overbuilt certified harnesses are when it comes to holding us and our gear off the ground.

This now very old video produced by Singing Rock covers this test quite well, especially if you’re into 2000’s Czech metal.

The Belt Test

The UIAA test also requires that the belt of a sit type harness (type C) must be able to withstand a specific pulltest to assure its strength and the ability of its buckle(s) to hold during a cyclic loading and unloading situation.

The belt is placed on a cylinder and pin apparatus and adjusted so it is pulled at a specific angle of 55º. Then it is loaded very slowly over 2 minutes, ramping in force up to 10kN, where it is held for 1 minute. Once this cycle is complete, it is unloaded and rested for another minute, and then immediately re-loaded even more slowly over 3 minutes as it is brought back up to 10kN. This time the belt is held at full strength for an additional 3 minutes and the pull test is concluded.

During this test, no load-bearing parts of the harness are allowed to rip or shear (which would result in the item failing to pass the certification) and all buckles must not slip more than 20mm total. This simulation essentially is checking that a harness can not only hold more than twice the force that a climber’s weight can reasonably generate even in the worst of falls, but that it can do so repeatedly, and without coming undone.

UIAA Harness Belt test
The testing setup for Type C climbing harnesses is very specific to ensure that buckles do not slip and can hold 10kN of force.

Additional Considerations

Along with pulling the belt and shoulder apparatus for weight, any webbing or loop that the manufacturer designs to be used for rappelling or abseiling must also pass a basic pull test of 15kN. This includes belay loops, any haul loops the brand advertises as ‘rated’, and loops on legs made to clip a third hand for rappelling (autoblock, prussik, klemheist, etc.) Some harnesses like the Safetech from Metolius actually rate and test their gear loops as well, though this is extremely uncommon.

Additionally for the UIAA label, at least 50% of any areas of stitching that involve load bearing (such as on the tie-in points or haul loops) must be visibly contrasting to the loop material. This ensures that climbers can easily identify and inspect the condition of the threads and potentially retire the harness if it appears too worn. Those brightly colored areas of stitching on your harness are about more than just fashion!

Physically Applying the UIAA or EN Label

All harnesses that pass certification are required to attach a tag detailing important information about the model and certification that must be as permanent as possible in ink that doesn’t wear away. This allows anyone in the future to be able to check that a harness has actually been certified, even if that model might be out of production or listing.

For the EN or UIAA label to apply, the correct tie-in method, year of manufacture, manufacturer, instruction booklet reference, size & maximum weight (type B only), and test facility marking number must all be readable. These tags are often hidden in little pockets on the belt of the harness, and should never be removed.

HarnessCertTags 1
UIAA and EN certification require brands to attach or print tagging on harnesses that includes information on harness limits and testing. These tags are often found hiding in pockets on the belt of the harness.

Harnesses Without Certification

There are a handful of harness makers out there that choose to forego UIAA or EN certification. This topic is always a bit sticky and can be a bit more complicated than some might think. Some brands make gear for non North American or European markets, and thereby aren’t required to perform this testing. Other brands may skip the certs from purely a cost perspective.

It costs a lot of money to certify any piece of gear, and these fees come with testing as well as creating and maintaining each listing annually. This means that every brand has to pay to be a member of the UIAA, pay to test every harness through an independent certifier, and pay to list every harness; every year.

For smaller brands these costs can add up to more than is reasonable to do business, which means they may choose other methods to do their best to ensure climber safety. This may mean internally performed testing, and purposeful overbuilding to ensure that gear could hold up to independent testing, even if the brand chooses not to do so. Often these brands pay to be UIAA members and have access to testing standards, but choose to skip the certs to keep their gear testing costs to a minimum.

Unfortunately, this also means that there isn’t any way to be sure gear that isn’t certified isn’t simply being made as cheaply as possible, which brings up issues of severe risk to safety. This is where a bit of research can go a long way. If you are looking at a harness and see that there is no UIAA certification (you can search for every brand and model that is certified here) a quick internet search to check the age and reputability of a brand will often tell you whether or not climbers have found them trustworthy. It is reasonable to be wary of brands that have only existed a short time or are only sold on mega sites like Amazon or Alibaba.

A Final Note

When it comes to our safety while we climb, every climber makes choices that make sense for them. If you’re going to use a harness that isn’t certified, we highly recommend that you research and make sure it comes from a reputable brand. If you’re nervous about trusting that a harness can hold you up off the ground safely, a certified and tested harness with the UIAA or EN marking is the sure way to go.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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