What does better mean when talking about fixed vs adjustable leg loops? Is it the fit? The range of possibilities? The comfort? The style of climbing it should excel in? In this post we dive into why one is better than the other, for your specific circumstance.

First, the main difference: Fixed leg loops have a fixed diameter; it fits or it doesn’t. Adjustable leg loops have a buckle or sliding mechanism that enables you to modify the circumference of the leg loops to fit a wider range of thigh sizes. Now let’s dive into the details.

Fixed Leg Loops

fixed leg loop example 1

Adjustable Leg Loops

adjustable leg loops example 2

Fixed Leg Loops

Fixed leg loops have a 2″ (occasionally 3″) range of fit as there is often a stretchy mesh or nylon component that creates a bit of expansion in the loop. Sometimes this stretchy material is not very elastic so the range feels more limited than what somebody could technically squeeze themselves into.

Most fixed leg loops seem to fit a limited range of climbers whose thigh circumference falls within a narrow range.

Fixed leg loops fit graph 3
No matter what size you get your harness in, this graph shows that fixed leg loops will not fit a majority of climbers.

Note: There is no standard to leg loop sizing. It is not only different between brands, but also between models of the same brand.

If you happen to be in the minority of climbers that fit into fixed leg loops, there are a number of benefits.

climber wearing fixed leg loop harness 4
Hanging in a fixed leg loop harness can be more comfortable because pressure is more evenly distributed, there are no buckle pressure points, and the padding is in place as designed. You can tell this climber is wearing a fixed leg loop harness because there is no webbing on the side of the leg loop.

Reasons to Choose Fixed Leg Loops

Assuming you can find ones that fit, most climbers use fixed leg loops while sport climbing. Whether indoors or out, sport climbing typically has less variability in the thickness of clothing worn, so the limited leg loop range is not an issue. It is less common (but certainly exists) for alpine climbers to wear fixed leg loops as the amount of clothing they wear can increase/decrease the width of the leg pushing somebody out of the range that fits.

Overall, the number 1 reason to choose fixed legs loops is that they’re simpler – there is less to deal with and worry about. For example:

  • No messing around with buckles
  • Fewer moving parts – no worry about breaking
  • Less to check to make sure it’s working correctly
  • Lighter weight
  • Less chance of catching/snagging on ropes, slings, rock, etc
  • Won’t accidentally loosen (a rare, but annoying occurrence most often when offwidth climbing with buckles)
  • Rarely moves out of position (or gets in the way when climbing or walking)
  • Less pressure points (especially when you’re putting your leg inside cracks/chimneys)

Also, fixed leg loops are more comfortable while hanging (again, when fit correctly). We’ve talked to multiple brands about this being the case, along with informal instagram polls and follow-up questions with our followers. It has to do with where the leg loops put pressure, due to the harness design. It’s not a huge difference, but it is notable.

Leg loops more comfortable meme 5
When we posted this meme to Instagram, the vast majority of the responses were akin to "YES!" along with a few complaints that the person did not fit into fixed leg loops. One person reported it being an "individual preference" and one person said they've never been able to tell the difference between fixed/adjustable.

The only reason to avoid fixed leg loops on a harness is if the sizing offers a poor fit. With too skinny legs, the leg loops with move/flop around and can result in discomfort or pinching soft parts at an inconvenient time (catching a fall, falling yourself, hanging belay, etc). On the other hand, if you are above a harnesses leg loop range you’ll find the loops constricting, uncomfortable, or literally impossible to get much higher than your knee. Finally, if you want one harness to wear for all seasons, the lack of range might not accommodate your varying layers of clothes.

Gear Loop Caveat

The majority of fixed leg loop harnesses are designed with sport climbing in mind. Often this means these harnesses will have smaller gear loops, designed for holding quickdraws and a belay device, and not necessarily to accommodate a trad rack (not to mention a double rack!). This doesn’t mean you can’t use these harnesses for trad / crack / alpine climbing, it just means that you might have to rack your gear differently (doubling up some items or using a shoulder sling) or you’ll just have a more limited selection of harnesses to choose from.

Adjustable Leg Loops

We did an Instagram poll with over 5,000 people responding and most people said they use an adjustable leg loop harness. After a ton of conversation investigating why, it turns out many people just don’t fit into fixed leg loop harnesses well. It seems that adjustable leg loops are more a preference of convenience as they accommodate an adjustable thigh range from 4-6″ thanks to the buckle or sliding mechanism. This allows climbers with larger waists and thin legs or small waists and larger thighs to fit more comfortably.

a climber wearing an adjustable leg loop harness 6
Adjustable leg loops allow climbers to dial for tighter or looser fit depending on their climbing style. They can also provide a much better fit for folks with legs and waists that that are above or below average sizes that fixed loops are made for. You can tell this climber is wearing an adjustable leg loop harness as you can see the extra webbing on the side of the leg loop.

Reasons to Choose Adjustable Leg Loops

Other than initial fit, the main reason to choose adjustable over fixed, is if you would like one harness for all seasons and all possible layers. With the wider range of adjustability, the same harness could fit whether you’re wearing thin shorts for summer sends or have 3 layers of pants on during a winter climb.

Another reason to choose adjustable leg loops is physiological comfort. One climber we surveyed beautifully captured this sentiment with this reply: To be entirely honest, it’s just nice to have the option. I can’t say that there’s ever been a time where I needed to adjust my legs loops after the first time.

There are many additional reasons that adjustable leg loops work well, such as:

  • Ability to trade/share gear (a higher chance it’ll fit)
  • Convenience to set and forget, or adjust if necessary
  • Mentally knowing the option to adjust is there, if/when needed (whether you use it or not)
  • If you want to loosen them for walking (a longer distance or just to the next climb)
  • Ability to adjust while multi-pitch climbing to get more comfortable (ledges, hanging belay, etc) or while routesetting
  • Can cinch them down to keep the leg loops more snug so they stay put and/or if you just want to feel the pressure to know they’re secure
  • Easier to take on/off with shoes if you open them up
  • Ability to change the level of tightness depending on the discipline of climbing
  • Can be more convenient to put on if you loosen the leg loops (versus the always taught fixed loops)

A Buying Note

Especially if you must buy online, an adjustable leg loop harness will be a safer bet in terms of fit.

The negatives of adjustable leg loops are limited

  • The buckles or extra webbing could get snagged/caught (tree, rock constriction, etc)
  • The leg loops could loosen slightly, on accident, if they get caught (this is rarely a safety concern, since the buckles aren’t coming open)
  • More weight
  • Historically were slightly more expensive ($5-10), though prices today are quite variable with so many more options

Hybrid Adjustable / Fixed

Some harnesses have both a fixed aspect with stretchy webbing to hold the shape and also an adjustable buckle to dial in the leg diameter. These harnesses can be a middle ground of increasing comfort and also extending the adjustability from a standard fixed harness.

Leg loops that Come Apart

The buckle mechanisms in this category are often unique. Some basically take a fixed leg loop harness and allow it to open and close while others still have adjustability built in. These incredibly lightweight harnesses are made for mountaineering or ski mountaineering, allowing a climber to put on their harness regardless of what is on their feet (large mountaineering boot, crampons, skis, etc).

Men’s vs Women’s Harness Note

This gender label isn’t helpful as a description for what you’ll get. There is no standard for what a men’s or women’s harness will have for features / differences. Sometimes the only difference is color or the size range the harness comes in. Occasionally the length of the belay loop is different (women’s belay loops are often longer to accommodate a higher waist). Sometimes the ratio of waist to thighs is different, and least often, the shape / angle of the waist band is shaped differently. Some unisex harnesses are most similar to men’s models, while others split the difference.

When it comes to adjustable leg loops vs fixed, try on all genders and/or check out the size chart. Sometimes the waist to leg loop ratio for women’s harnesses allow for slightly wider thighs than the men’s harness with a similar waist size. This means that the men’s harness might have a size small waist and size small legs, where the equivalent women’s harness may have the same size small waist but size med leg loops.

If the leg loops are tight on the men’s version, try the women’s version, or, conversely, if the leg loops are loose on your legs with the women’s version, try the men’s.

Fixed vs Adjustable Take-aways

Fixed leg loops have a limited fit range and don’t fit the majority of climbers. If you are one of the lucky ones who fit them well, they can provide more comfort while hanging and also add a simplicity (in belay checks, things going awry, etc).

Adjustable leg loops allow more flexibility in the fit and your ability to dial in what that fit should be at different times (walking vs climbing, sport vs alpine, etc).

There are minor pros/cons to both, but most importantly it comes down to what fits you best. And, if you must buy online, an adjustable harness has a much higher chance of fitting than a fixed loop harness.

WeighMyRack Instagram Poll 7
Our Instagram poll results. After interviewing many of the respondents it seems that the adjustable leg loop majority does not fit into fixed leg loops. So the results are skewed towards a coincidence of fit vs a preference.
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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We’re @weighmyrack


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