We’re going to dive into how sizing works for climbing harnesses and how to navigate what the brands are putting out. This can help explain why you might have trouble finding a harness that has a perfect fit. Note: We have a different post that describes all the details of how to fit a harness correctly.

The bad news first: There is no official sizing standard.

Even if you’re typically a size medium, not all mediums will fit the same. This isn’t just between different brands but also within a brand. If you are outside the small-medium-large range the options are very confusing as some harnesses labeled as XL actually have a bigger size range than harnesses listed as XXL or XXXL. According to harness brands, the range of an XL could be anything from 26-59 inches (66 – 150 cm).

We graphed all the XL harnesses and were astounded at the results. Below you’ll see some examples of harnesses all labeled XL below.

Note: For this graph we didn’t include brands that use “size 2” and it is pulled from a pre-2022 dataset.

XL Harness chart

Despite the fact that XL harness sizing is all over the map, adding to the confusion, the XXXL harnesses in our database maxed out at sizes smaller than some XXL harnesses (as labeled by the brands).

Official Sizes Before any Re-Categorization

This lack of size standardization by the brands is enough to make one’s head spin. (I still look at these graphs incredulously).

So how do you bypass the lack of standardized sizing?

Don’t buy blindly online – Try on in store

Problem: Even looking at the size chart could be misleading.

I’d like to think that looking at a size chart online would make for a safe purchase, but with shoes and harnesses, this is not true.

For most of my life I have been safe assuming I am a size small. This doesn’t always work out for harnesses because even if the waist technically fits, the gear loops might not be oriented correctly.

For example: My waist is currently 29″ so it seems like I would be perfect for the Edelrid Ace small that the size chart states 28 – 33.9″. Yes, there is plenty of extra webbing and I can center the belay loop BUT the gear loops are horribly off-center when I do so. This ends up being a terrible fit.

Similarly, Misty Mountain size chart says a 29″ waist is comfortably a size small (27-30″). My small Misty Turbo fits great yet my small Misty Bolt has terribly off-centered gear loops once I center the belay loop.

Not a good fitting harness 1

Note the off-center gear loops of the harness. This is certainly not my ideal size. Also, FWIW, I did try a medium in this model and I couldn’t tighten the waist down enough for a proper fit. Which means that this model just isn’t made for my body and I will move on to other models.

Check both the waist AND the legs

Across brands and even within brands, the leg width varies.

Ever since I started biking regularly, my thighs have more muscle and it makes fitting into my historic harness size less of a safe bet.

At the widest point my thighs are comfortably 22″. The Edelrid Ace small maxes out at 21.3″ and they are uncomfortably tight. My mistake! On the other hand, with the same brand, the Edelrid Helia legs max out at 23.6″ and are very comfortable.

I have a Misty Mountain Turbo in size small and it fits perfectly. Unfortunately, my new Misty Mountain Bolt harness in size Small is uncomfortably tight on the legs. The Misty Mountain size chart suggests I am on the upper end of size small (19-22″), but should still fit small leg loops.

A size standard suggestion

I wish we could just go with measurements, like men’s pants. And I wish these measurements were ones that you could feel confident that you’d be able to have a centered belay loop and gear loop.

Until then, after graphing the data of all size ranges, at WeighMyRack we came up with a mostly linear size suggestion that would fit the vast majority of brands and models.

Yes, there is a fair amount of overlap between the sizes, but this also accounts for centered belay loops and centered gear loops.

Full Harness Size re-categorization

It’s very possible that you can fall into 3 sizes of “standardized sizing.” This is because the range of brands and their sizing also widely varies. When we tried to make the ranges smaller, inevitably, we would be leaving out at least 2 popular brands (or override their system entirely – and how do you fairly choose which brands are overridden?!). So we had to keep the sizing standard somewhat broad in order to ensure we weren’t falsely eliminating options from your search. We’ll continue to revisit this issue as time goes on and we talk to each of the brands more.

It’s better now than it was!

Although many harness models are mis-labeled, the brands are getting better at sizing offerings. Now you can find 2XL more frequently versus lumping the largest harnesses under XL. The retailers are helping with their requests for more inclusive sizing too. Right now REI now has 5 harnesses listings that are 2XL.

And if you filter on size “2” you will find the size 2 Petzl 2 Corax harness, that would be in this same 2XL category as it maxes out at 42.1″ (107 cm).

A note: Sometimes harnesses have difference with gender and sometimes the difference is just what sizes or colors are available. The 2XL harnesses listed above are men’s models, and women’s models rarely go to XL or above. The BD Momentum – Women’s version tops out at 36″ (91cm) in size large where the men’s 2XL model goes to 45″ (114 cm).

Sizing Takeaways

  • Always try on in person if possible – looking at a size chart doesn’t guarantee a proper fit of a centered belay loop and gear loops.
  • Some retailers will let you return harnesses, but most won’t, so read the fine print. (Often, even newly returned harnesses are discarded and not re-sold, so from a waste perspective this option sucks).
  • Always check the waist AND leg specs; if you’re close to the end of the range, size up.

This post is sponsored by REI as part of a Size Inclusivity in Climbing series. In 2021 REI made an announcement that they were making a “commitment to becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist, multicultural organization.” They followed this announcement with the Product Impact Standards, a document that specifically outlines the requirements that any partner brands they work with must meet.

By Spring of 2024, REI is requiring all apparel/gear partners to include marketing diversity and inclusive sizing as defined by these standards:

  • …have in place inclusive guidelines for marketing assets, photo casting and production that ensure diverse and inclusive representation across race, age gender identity/expression, body size/type and disability.
  • …each brand partner that sells wearable products offered in a variety of sizes to provide REI at least one sample size outside the standard size range for marketing photography.
  • …expects that all wearable products offered in a variety of sizes maintain the same price within a style regardless of size.

By Spring of 2025, they’re requiring a diverse hair type inclusion standard:

  • …each brand partner that produces headwear (helmets, hats, headbands, hoods, balaclavas, hijab, etc) to have in place guidelines for ensuring an inclusive assortment for a variety of hair types, including higher-volume and textured hair.

If you’d like to read more about how REI is fighting climate change, advancing inclusion in the outdoors, and managing chemicals, the Product Impact Standards are a great way to learn more.

Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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