Today there are many models of Women’s and Men’s specific harnesses available. How these models differ varies widely from brand to brand so it can be difficult to know exactly what you’re getting by simply choosing a specific gender. In this post we dig into the differences in gendered harnesses and shed some light onto some specifics you can expect to look out for when choosing between Women’s, Men’s, or unisex models.

Unisex Harnesses

Screen Shot 2023-07-28 at 12.35.42 PM 1

Most climbing harnesses available today are not gender-specific, often called ‘Unisex’. Rather than basing measurements and fit off of a particular gender, brands attempt to cover the largest number of climbers by aiming at the most average shape and size. This means that unisex harnesses tend to have the widest range of sizes available, especially for those on the ends of the spectrum in XXS, XS, XXL and XXXL.

Because the majority of harnesses fall into this category, you will also find the most options for hip and leg loop buckle types here. The wide variety of unisex offerings is the same for many other features like number of gear loops, number of ice clipper slots, or the availability of haul loops. The lightest of the light alpine harnesses are all unisex as well, if you’re gram counting for your alpine race season.

When it comes to overall fit, non-gendered harnesses fit fairly squarish: waist and leg loop ratio’s are similar, with little excess room for those in the upper ranges. Basically, you can expect any particular size to roughly follow how off-the-rack clothing fits, where a medium pair of shorts has medium waist and medium legs for example. This means that anyone who might have above average leg girth for their waist size will often have to size a unisex harness up to accommodate their legs, which might result in a poor fit for the waist belt. Conversely, those with larger waists and thinner legs might find it difficult to adequately tighten unisex leg loops.

In recent years, these poor fit situations have resulted in brands making harnesses to fit more specific body shapes and types. Historically these shapes have split on male/female gender lines which we’ll cover in the next section.

For climber’s outside of the middle-average body shape, fitting a unisex harness can often be an exercise in compromise and trying on a ton of different models, or looking to gendered models. However, if you happen to be born with average hips and legs that fit inside the measurement ratios for unisex harnesses, you can expect to have the most options available (brands, colors, features, etc) and will likely have an easy time finding exactly what you’re looking for.

Women's and Men's Specific Harnesses

Because the vast majority of folks buying harnesses in the early days of climbing were men, the measurements and shape of climbing harnesses reflected that for some time (and debatably still do). When brands started to make harnesses targeted to a specific gender, the move was generally one towards something considered ‘women specific’, sometimes creating a men’s model at the same time, but most of the time simply modifying a unisex model to be more women-centric.

Men’s Fit

Though there are no standards in sizing for harnesses regardless of gender, the general approach for most brands is that men’s harnesses essentially mirror their unisex sizing. Across the board brands seem to use unisex nomenclature unless there is a women’s specific spin-off model, in which case the men’s model is the same as the unisex sizing, and the women’s models sizing are modified from there. Suffice it to say that if there is a men’s model, it is only because a women’s model has been created, and the men’s version is almost always identical in fit to the other unisex models in a brand’s line.

For example, the Ophir Fast Adjust Men from Mammut has the exact same sizing as the Unisex Ophir 3 Slide, while the Ophir 3 Slide Women’s leg loops have a higher rise and are modified to be ever-so-slightly larger. (Let’s also not forget the softer colorway.)

Nine years ago, the now-retired Edelrid Solaris was the first harness we know of that was built and designed from the ground up for the ‘female physique’. If you want to geek out on the details of the research to create the harness, we have a 9 min video we created from interviewing the head designer. Edelrid harnesses continue to have some of most noticeable differences in waistbelt shape when they come in two versions.

Wild Country also recently announced (in 2023) that they have redesigned all of their Women’s Specific Fit models to uphold a new standard based on specific research with a team of women.

Women’s Fit and Shape

Brands in general seem to have settled somewhat in agreement that the anatomy of women calls for a higher waist and larger leg loops. Some brands also tinker with the overall shape of the women’s hip belt to a more contoured or inward-tapered profile to accommodate for wider and higher hips.

Petzl Adjama vs Luna
The Petzl Luna (right) is a Women's specific version of the unisex Adjama (left). The Luna has a higher rise on the hips thanks to a longer belay loop and longer leg loop risers. Like many women's harnesses, it also features leg loops that are a size larger than their unisex counterpart. In this case I am wearing the Large for both, and have a ton more room for leg adjustment in the Luna.

Of course the notion that all women have any one shape, or that any person of any gender can’t be shaped this way is pretty inaccurate, and should mostly be used as a sort of loose rule when you’re comparing and dialing the fit of a harness. It’s best to simply consider how these changes in shape come from deliberate modifications to the ‘standard’ of a unisex harness.

For example, a ‘higher waist’ is accomplished in a couple of ways. Either the belay loop is made longer, the riser straps that connect the leg loops to the belay loop are longer, or sometimes both. With more distance between the legs loops and the belt, the waist can sit up above the hips where it can be more comfortable on a body with a higher waist or larger hips.

When we say ‘larger leg loops’ we are comparing the hip-to-leg ratio of the unisex fit to the women’s specific model. A size small unisex or men’s model may have a small waist and small leg loops, where a size small women’s model might have a small waist with medium leg loops. For example the leg loops on the Small Ocún Neon Lady (women’s model) are the same measurement range as the Medium Ocún Neon (unisex model), allowing for more room for thicker legs and wider hips/posteriors.

The Ocún Neon is a unisex fit harness, with leg and hip measurements that are pretty average for each size in the range.

The Ocún Neon Lady is essentially a women’s version of the Neon with larger leg loops that are adjustable for fitting bigger thighs.

Deeper Details on Women’s Models

Not all women gendered harnesses are the same. We took a look at the 45+ models we currently catalogue on WeighMyRack and compiled a not-a-at-all comprehensive list of the differences we could glean from the information brands have out there. These are all in comparison to their unisex or men’s counterpart models:

Models that have less size options than Men’s or Unisex

Models with a smaller waist / larger leg loops

Models with a taller rise waist belt

Models with contoured or re-shaped hip belt shape

A few surprises – things that are opposite of what we expected to see in a women’s harness

Models with smaller legs AND belts than unisex or men’s 

Shorter leg loop risers

Models that come in more sizes than unisex or men’s

Models that share sizing across all genders

*Misty Note: Although the sizing is the same for all genders, you can call Misty or use their custom harness builder on their website to customize a different ratio of sizes for the waist and leg loops. Misty harnesses also come with one of the largest belay loops in the industry allowing for a very generous rise for all their models.

A Couple Non-Gendered Considerations

With the constantly growing numbers of climbers hitting the scene over the past few years, we have seen an explosion in the body types, shapes, and genders in climbing. This surge has raised the question more and more about how effective it is to use gender to help fit anything, whether it be shoes, helmets, or even harnesses.

Some brands like Misty Mountain have always used the same sizing chart for all their gear; simply measure, consult the chart, and you’re done. Or, you can order a custom size. But they follow the industry standard of using “men’s” and “women’s” labels.

Edelrid has recently begun taking a different approach to fit, and rather than focus on gender, they turned their sights on shape. Two of the most recent additions to the Edelrid harness line are the Helios and Helia. At first glance their names might suggest a male/female component, but in fact these harnesses are aimed at climbers with an ‘O’ shape (hips and waist that are similar in size) and climbers with an ‘A’ shape (narrower in the waist and wider in the hips). The O shaped HeliOs also has a lower profile belt at the hips, where the HeliA tapers slightly inward at the top and has a more pronounced ‘butterfly’ shape to support folks with higher, wider hips no matter what gender they are.

The Edelrid Helios is made for climbers with ‘O’ shaped hips.

The Edelrid Helia is made for climbers with ‘A’ shaped hips.

Overall, Harness Gender Fit has Guidelines but no Rules

  • There is no standard to harness sizing or any gender differences. Give all harnesses a try to find the best fit.
  • If you have a similarly sized waist to legs ratio (say medium hips + medium thighs) a unisex/men’s harnesses should fit better.
  • If you have a narrow waist with bigger thighs, a women’s harnesses could fit better.
  • If you’re curvy / have hips, women’s harnesses could have a larger rise that might fit better.
  • If you’re above XL in size, check the men’s/unisex version, as it often goes higher than women’s.
  • Most harnesses still cater to the ‘average male’ size, whether they’re called unisex or men’s.