Gear loops may seem simple: they exist on your harness to hold gear. So what are the subtle differences? We go over materials, size, and number of gear loops.

Material Construction

The biggest difference in one gear loop compared to another is the material construction. There are a few different types.

Harness Gear Loop Types Diagram

Fabric (Nylon) gear loops – Fabric loops hang vertically and are lighter than the other gear loop options. They fit far more comfortably under jackets and packs. This is a rare form of gear loop for a sport or trad harness since it is harder to get your gear off of a thin wobbly fabric gear loop.

Fabric gear loops are only found on harnesses looking to reduce weight or increase comfort with a pack such as mountaineering harnesses which often have only fabric loops. Alpine harnesses might have two fabric loops in the back to be more comfortable with a pack on.

Meanwhile a lightweight sport climbing harnesses might have two fabric loops in the back to lower the harness weight. This weight savings doesn’t come as a big disadvantage since the back loops will be used less frequently.

Plastic tubing loops – This could be a fabric loop with plastic tubing over it, or just plastic tubing. In the 90’s/00’s this was the way most harnesses achieved stiff gear loops and this method is still in use today. The stiffness of the plastic tubing makes it much easier to get your gear off the gear loop compared to a plain fabric loops. Most plastic tubing loops hang vertically or mostly vertical, depending on the sewing method.

Jeff Misty Mountain Gear Loops 1
An example of plastic tubing gear loops. This harness has 6 tube gear loops - 3 on each side. You can see how some are designed to stick out more than others.

Plastic tubing gear loops can also be seen in combination with a harness who has plastic molded loops. In this case the plastic molded loops tend to be on the front and the plastic tubing loops are in the back, helping to help keep a lower profile.

Plastic molded gear loops – There are now many companies who mold the shape of their gear loops. These shapes go from simple rectangles to more complicated shapes with multiple angles. Sometimes this molding helps the gear loop stand out horizontally from the harness so the gear can be taken on/off the loop easier. The best shape (rectangle vs an angled rectangle) comes down to personal preference.

Some folks find their body shape and flexibility makes some gear loops easier to use than others.

Climbers who know they’re going to be wearing jackets or packs over their harness might take care to choose a molded loop that hangs more vertically since loops that stick out could cause pressure points. Some brands like Arc’teryx have molded gear loops with removable molding. So if, for example, you wanted two back fabric loops, you could take the molding off the rear loops but leave it on the front loops.

Fabric over plastic molded gear loops: Today, many brands, such as Blue Ice, Edelrid, Mammut, Ocun, and Petzl make gear loops with plastic on the inside and high tensity nylon on the outside. These fabric gear loops also tend to be more colorful / colored to match the harness waistband.

This fabric can create a very smooth/slippery loop to get gear off, though we find the fabric can scratch/degrade over time. This hasn’t caused an issue for us, but for folks who want their gear to always look impeccably clean, or folks who scrape up offwidth climbs may find it annoying.

Gear Loop Size

There is no standard sizing to gear loops. Some brands run a little smaller, like Black Diamond. Some brands tend to run larger like Mammut and Arc’teryx. Most brands are somewhere in the middle. Worth Noting: Some brands will change the size of the gear loops if it’s a sport harness vs an alpine/trad harness – so if you find a harness you like/don’t like from a brand that may not be true for all models.

Gear loop size tends to matter most for trad climbers. Larger gear loops allow you to hold more gear like cams and other hardware. With a smaller gear loop you may have to put multiple cams on one carabiner. Or you might rack slings on eachother vs separately on the gear loop to take up less room.

Gear loop size is also a personal preference and may change how you rack. For example, with smaller gear loops you might put most of your cams on the front two loops and large cams, nuts, slings, belay device, and anchor material on the back two loops. With a larger front loop you might be able to fit all your cams and nuts on that loop with slings and accessories on the back loops.

Sport climbers tend to care less about gear loop size, but the fit of the harness may effect the gear loop location, and the size of the gear loop may play a further role in a harnesses fitting well or not. When trying on a harness, no matter what type of climber you are, it can be helpful to practice putting gear on the harness and taking if off to see if you like the location (and size) of the gear loop.

Harness with hard and soft gear loops 2
Since sport climbers don't usually carry as much gear, they have less uses for the back gear loops. In this case the harness maker prioritized lighter weight fabric gear loops over easy to use plastic/molded loops for the rear gear loops.

Number of Gear Loops

The most common number of gear loops is 4. This is enough to hold most standard racks. To help you find the right harness, on WeighMyRack you can filter for the number of gear loops on the harness.

0 – 1 Loops – Most often on full body harnesses or guide/gym style harnesses, for climbers who don’t need to hold much gear. Also found on lightweight ski mountaineering harnesses where the loops are minimally used or might hold an emergency ice screw or belay device.

2 – 3 Loops – Mostly found on lighter harnesses made for [ski] mountaineering or high-end sport climbing. This number of gear loops tends to signal a very lightweight harness and/or for folks who will typically use very minimal gear.

4 Loops – The standard/most common number for climbing harnesses. It is the standard because it fits the most use cases.

5 Loops – Occasionally there will be 5 loops on the harness. Most times this 5th loop is on the direct center of the back of the harness. Many people like this 5th loop to hold anchor material and/or belay device and/or emergency gear to have it completely out of the way while climbing. Folks who like systems can also appreciate this 5th gear loop as the go-to spot for specific items – they reach back and despite no visibility, they can quickly find exactly what they’re looking for.

Sometimes you’ll find a harness where the medium/large size has 5 gear loops but the x-small/small harness only has 4 gear loops due to the smaller waist band. On WeighMyRack we make a specific note on the harness page when this is the case.

6+ Loops – Designed for people who need access to a lot of gear and enjoy the added organization. This tends to be folks climbing long multi-pitch, big wall, or aid climbing. These harnesses are purposely designed to hold the maximum amount of gear. Some of these harnesses also include more padding to accommodate for the extra weight of the harness.

It is possible that some harnesses will have 7 gear loops for the medium/large size but only 5 loops for the x-small/small size due to the smaller waist band. On WeighMyRack we make a specific note on the harness page when this is the case.

How WeighMyRack allows you to filter for number of gear loops.


In the end gear loops are largely a personal preference based on what you’ll be carrying, where on your harness you’d like to carry that gear, and fit. Often what type of climbing you are doing will help lead you down a path of a certain number of loops and what style of loops is most helpful.

Mountaineering / Ski Mountaineering – Tends to have less than 3 gear loops and they tend to be lightweight fabric.

Sport Climbing – Most often has 4 gear loops made with a wide variety of materials.

Trad / Ice Climbing – 4 gear loops is most common, though some climbers prefer more loops, or more molded materials to get gear on/off faster.

Alpine / Ice Climbing – Same as trad climbers but some ice climbers will also prefer the back two loops are fabric if they’ll be carrying a pack while climbing.

Big Wall / Aid Climbing – 5+ gear loops is the most common. These harnesses typically also have more padding to support the expected larger amount of gear.

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