Harness buckles appear in two main places, on the waistbelt and, usually, on the leg loops (there are fixed leg loops that have no buckles). There are a few styles of buckles you’ll find and we’ll go over each one and why you should know these options exist.

Quick Buckle Note: Most harnesses have 1 buckle on the waist, and 1 per leg. Some harnesses have two buckles on the waistbelt and there are a small few that have 2 buckles per leg loop. When there are two buckles for adjustment they are always the same buckle type. The two buckles allows climbers a) a wider range of adjustment b) the ability to more easily ensure the harness fits correctly and is centered (ie, the belay loop and gear loops are centered).

Waistbelt Buckle Types

Quick Adjust Waist Buckles

The majority of harnesses today have quick adjust buckles because they’re faster to use. They’re also considered safer, in terms of remembering to close properly. Compared to a manual double back buckle, you basically can’t forget the steps to close them correctly. The quick adjust buckles loosen by lifting the top metal part and tightens by pulling the webbing strap.

You can see how fast it is to loosen and tighten a quick adjust buckle (5 seconds).

You can tell if it’s a quick adjust buckle because the buckle is made with two pieces of metal and the webbing gets squished/stopped between the two metal pieces (the older manual style is only one piece of metal that needs to be threaded correctly). Each company has their own proprietary name to describe this style of buckle like “Speed buckle.”

quick adjust vs manual doubleback identification 1
Pictured are front and side views of the two buckle types. The quick adjust buckle style is slightly bulkier in trade for faster and easier adjustment.

Overall, this quick adjust buckle style is preferred by most climbers because it is the fastest adjustment. To put the harness on you open or close the buckle with one movement. It’s also the safer option because the webbing that goes through these buckles has a sewn end that makes it virtually impossible for the webbing to become undone accidentally. Harnesses designers have switched to this style almost exclusively.

The only downside to a quick adjust waist buckle is possible to experience when carrying a lot of gear (like a full double rack of cams + nuts). In some cases the webbing secured by the quick adjust buckle can start to droop or slump and require you to re-tighten the waistbelt. This does not happen with a manual double back buckle – the webbing is more tightly locked into place.

Manual Doubleback Waist Buckles

Few harnesses produced today (other than big wall harnesses) come with a manual doubleback buckle. This is a traditional buckle style (that all older harnesses used to have) that does not automatically lock and requires manual threading of the webbing through the buckle to secure it. It’s easily identifiable as the buckle is one flat piece of metal.

A big benefit for this buckle style while trad/multipitch/big wall climbing is that once tightened, the waistbelt will not loosen. This is most noticeable if you are carrying a double rack (some people may experience drooping with a quick adjust buckle in this case).

You can see how that it is much slower to loosen and tighten a manual doubleback buckle. Also, the most important part here is how you have to thread the webbing back through the loop. Without this step, the buckle will not be secure.

Today, this buckle style is rare and/or a special request. Although new harnesses typically do not have this type of buckle, as a climber it’s helpful to be able to identify it in case your partner has it, to be able to do a proper belay check. An improperly threaded double back buckle is unsafe as the harness can come completely undone.

Some climbers still prefer manual doubleback buckles because they are harder to loosen accidentally in extreme situations such as a climber who is climbing a big wall or in the alpine and/or rubbing against rock while climbing in offwidths or chimneys. Note: Loosen is the keyword here as a snagged quick adjust buckle may loosen, but is virtually impossible to accidentally come undone. Whereas an improperly threaded manual doubleback buckle may come completely undone.

Waist Buckle Exceptions

Some harnesses may have no waistbelt buckle or a simple plastic clip on the waistbelt (that is not weight bearing). Clip or no clip, this is the equivalent of having no buckle and is only found on mountaineering harnesses and some full body harnesses. Instead, a carabiner or rope is used to hold the harness together.

Kids harness note: Having no buckle or only a manual double back buckle can be a big plus. This ensures that if the kiddo get’s bored or fidgety they can’t fiddle the harness loose.

Leg Loop Buckles

Quick Adjust Leg Buckles

Quick adjust buckles are the most available leg loop option. Having a buckle (vs no buckle with a fixed leg loop) allows for a wider range of fit options, fitting more leg sizes. This wider fit range is also helpful if you want one harness for all seasons and/or also climb outdoors wearing different layers of clothes (pants vs shorts vs snow pants).

Quick adjust buckles are significantly faster to adjust vs manual doubleback buckles. Each company has their own proprietary buckle name like “Speed Buckle” but they are also referred to as auto-adjust or a pre-threaded buckle.

Some harnesses that have quick adjust buckles also include stretchy materials in the leg loop. This adds comfort as the harness can more easily maintain a circular leg shape.

The only drawback of quick adjust buckles is that they can sometimes loosen (not come undone) if they get caught on a rock or bushes while climbing outside. That said, there are some harnesses that have a buckle covering to prevent catching and also increase longevity of the webbing.

Edelrid Helios buckle covering 2
The Edelrid Helios (pictured here) and the Edelrid Helia are one example of a harness that has a covering for the buckle to prevent it from catching and to increase longevity of the webbing.

Manual Doubleback Leg Buckles

Few harnesses designed exclusively for rock climbing (other than big wall harnesses) have a traditional manual doubleback buckle (one flat piece of metal) for the leg loops. This style does not automatically lock and requires each leg strap to be threaded back through the buckle. The benefit in big wall climbing is that you can completely undo the leg loops, to make sleeping on a portaledge more comfortable.

The most important reason to know what a manual double back buckle looks like, is so you can identify if it is being used correctly by your climbing partner during a safety check.

Clips or Toggle Leg Buckles

Although you’ll never see these non-weight bearing buckle types on a waist belt, they are commonly seen on leg loops of (lightweight) mountaineering harnesses. These plastic clips or fabric loops are lighter than metal buckles and they quickly allow the leg loop to come completely undone, making it easy to put on the harness if you’re already wearing skis or crampons. Some racers (particularly ski mountaineering) also appreciate that these mechanisms are the fastest adjustment for taking a harness on/off.

No Buckles aka Fixed leg loops

Some harnesses do not have a buckle on the leg loops and instead of some stretchy material that stretches to accommodate the leg. This fixed loop design allows the leg loop to keep a more particular shape while the climber is hanging that can be more comfortable, if the leg loop fits. The downside is that fixed leg loop harnesses fit far less people as the range of leg sizes it can accommodate are significantly smaller.

Buckle Summary

  • Most harnesses have quick adjust buckles on the waist and leg loops, to provide the largest fit range and speedy adjustment
  • The most important reason to know about manual double back buckles is so you can identify if your climbing partner is using them correctly (like if your new-to-climbing friend bought an old harness)
  • Some climbers occasionally prefer the (now quite rare) manual doubleback buckles if they are outside big wall climbing or offwidth climbing
  • Other buckle types (like clips, toggles, or loops) are typically only seen on lightweight mountaineering harnesses.