Below, we cover all the details of how to size and fit a climbing harness for the most comfortable experience.

In regards to safety, as long as you are buying a harness that is CE/UIAA certified, are closing the buckles correctly, and using the harness as intended (including tightening to fit), there should not be a safety concern about fit for adults.

First, Men’s vs Women’s

Similar to climbing shoes, you may find the best fit regardless of a “matching” harness gender. It’d make more sense if harnesses were descriptively named such as, “straight hips, low rise” or “curvy hips, high rise.”

Men’s harnesses usually assume the wearer to have straighter / no hips so the distance between the legs and the top of the hipbones will be shorter than a women-specific harness.

Women’s harnesses occasionally have wider waist band or a more shaped waist band to accommodate for having hips. Most often, the only harness difference is a longer rise, so a longer distance from the leg loops to waist to ensure there is enough distance to get the harness waist to sit atop the hipbones.

harness rise longer vs shorter 1
In this example, a woman is wearing a unisex harness on the left, and the shorter rise (and belay loop) pulls the waistbelt down uncomfortably. On the right, with a women's specific harness, there is a longer rise (and belay loop) and the harness sits comfortably on the hips without any downward tension.

Sadly, it’s common for the only difference in men’s and women’s harness to be the size range and color combo’s they offer. Sometimes you’ll see a harnesses come in two colors with a purple or pink harness in the size range of XS – M and a green or blue in sizes S-L. Note: The more feedback you can give to the brands and stores about sizing issues, the more likely they are to take action.

Bottom Line

  • If you have a more straight body (and less hips), a men’s specific or unisex harness may fit better.
  • If you have a curvier / more hourglass shape body, a women’s specific harness may fit better.
  • Occasionally the proportions of waist circumference vs leg circumference are different on men’s and women’s harnesses.


Fitting the Waist of a Harness

A harness goes over the top of your clothes, so you’ll want to tuck your shirt under your harness. Usually, a harness will sit higher than your pants/shorts, but high waisted pants, like yoga pants, can certainly be high enough that the harness waistband will go over them as well.

The harness waistband ideally sits on your waist, above your hipbones, around your belly button area (could be above or below, whatever is more comfortable). The important part is that when the harness is tightened, the harness should not be able to be pulled down over your hipbones.

Snug harness above the hipbones 2
A snug harness can sit above, on, or below your belly. Whatever is the most comfortable. The most important part is the harness can't be pulled down past your hips.

The fit should be snug against your body, not tight (no uncomfortable squishing), nor loose (no sagging, can’t be pulled down). Ideally, after tightening the waist belt, the harness belay loop would be centered and the gear loops should be equally spaced on both sides.

For an idea fit, you should be able to slide a few fingers comfortably between you and the harness. If you can easily slip your fist/arm between the harness and your body, it is too loose.

Perfect fitting edelrid harness 3
Perfect fitting wild county harness 4

The two harnesses above are unisex, and worn by a male. They are a perfect fit, tightened snug, with fingers fitting through only. The belay loop is centered, the gear loops are equally spaced on each side, and there is minimal area of padding gap.

Not a good fitting harness 5

The harness above is not a good fit. Although I (she/her) normally wear a size small harness there are multiple things wrong here. Although the belay loop is centered, the gear loops are not equal distant. Also, the unisex fit of this specific harness means it has a shorter rise / belay loop which pulls this harness down on my hips uncomfortably.

Most climbers will find that a harness with 2 waist buckles makes it easier to adjust and have the belay loop centered, and the gear loops equally available. Unfortunately, there are not many 2-buckle options available mostly because they weigh more and can sometimes feel bulky.

Double buckle centered belay loop harness 6
Thanks to the double buckle adjustability, this belay loop (and gear loops) are centered and equally spaced.

What about Harness Padding?

Some harnesses don’t have padding and instead have a wider fabric to disperse the weight. It is up to personal opinion which is more comfortable.

For harnesses that have foam, for the most comfortable fit, the best case scenario is if the foam is close to touching, possibly overlapping, with a minimal webbing gap. When there is webbing showing (with a gap in the padding), it’s possible (but not guaranteed) that the webbing may bite into your skin when the harness is weighted. That said, some harnesses were not made to have webbing 100% around the waist. Also, larger bodied folks will find it impossible to acquire a harness that doesn’t have a webbing gap.

Fine harness padding 7
This harness was not meant to have padding 100% around the waist (even if it was totally tight, the padding would not touch). With a padding gap, it has the potential to be less comfortable than another option.
Ideal harness padding overlap 8
This harness was made to have padding all the way around the waist, and in this case the padding overlaps slightly. In theory this is the most comfortable possibility.

How Much Tail is Enough?

For waistbands, the general rule is to have a few inches of “tail” (extra webbing coming from the buckle). This guideline is partly a holdover from an older buckle style and before brands put as much extra stitching at the end of the webbing. This extra tail would ensure that even if the harness webbing stretched or slipped, it would not come out of the buckle. We still prefer to abide by this rule, adding an extra measure of safety.

Harness Waistband Tail 9
You'll note the stitching and extra fabric at the end of the webbing that helps to prevent the webbing from coming out of the buckle.

Some folks will find they have a lot of extra tail. Most companies provide a small loop meant to hold extra webbing, to keep it from moving and flopping around as you climb.

Harness Webbing Holder 10
Here a climber inserts the extra webbing into a slot that was meant to hold this webbing.

Harness Construction Note

Construction styles vary widely, in shape and amount of padding. And aside from watching YouTube product videos, it’s hard to know the details and inner workings of the harness construction.

Harness Waistband examples 11
Some harness waistbands have different contours that may fit the curves of your body better.

Generally speaking, harnesses under $70 will have cheaper construction materials, like padding that doesn’t keep its shape as long, or one band of webbing vs multiple bands of webbing to disperse the weight. But, if that actually matters in the short term all depends on how your body fits the harness. The $65 Momentum harness is Black Diamonds (and REI’s) best selling harness, one of the cheapest harnesses on the market, and it has rave reviews.

All this to say: try on different harnesses and hang in them to see which is more comfortable for you. Since there is such a wide variance in body shapes, there is no universally most comfortable harness.

Fitting the Legs of a Harness

Leg loop fit doesn’t matter as much as the waist fit. Leg loops work as long as your legs fit comfortably in the leg loops. When climbing, harnesses are designed to have snug leg loops for the most comfort. Some people will loosen their leg loops when they’re not climbing as it gives greater flexibility while walking.

Some body shapes just don’t fit well with fixed leg loops because the harness proportions are fixed to a standard that may not match your body.

Tight harness leg loops 12
It's hard to tell from the picture but these leg loops are TIGHT. The stretchy fabric is maxed out and the leg loops feel constricting. Although this is my usual harness size, these leg loops do not fit at all.

In general, adjustable leg loops are the better bet for expanding the range of leg shapes they will fit, as well as being helpful if you’re climbing in different climates and seasons with different amount of layers (shorts, pants, long johns, etc).

That said, adjustable leg loops can still be restrictive, especially if you have big thighs from biking or if you naturally have thunder thighs.

Harness Leg loop adjustment 13
It is ok if the straps are out all the way, this is not a safety concern, partly thanks to the wide ends that cannot fit through the buckle while it's being worn. It can be a limiting factor in comfort though.

The amount and shape of leg loop padding is also personal experience in terms of how it will feel when you sit in the harness. There is no, best way, otherwise, every harness would be the same!

Harness Rear Adjustment Straps

Most people will not find a fit issue here, and this is just a reminder to adjust these straps so they are just barley taught (not tight and restrictive, not loose and floppy). They help keep the leg loops in place, right below your butt. Many new climbers don’t adjust these straps and you’ll notice they flop around.

A loose and floppy rear adjustment strap is not a safety concern, but it does let the leg loop sag. If the leg loop is lower than your butt, the leg loop will not help you sit up straight and you may feel like your center of gravity is too far back when being lowered or taking a break on a climb. Also, the leg loop may cut into your leg in a weird way as the weight is not as evenly distributed.

Although these straps often have adjustment and are commonly made from stretchy material, it is possible that with a particularly large booty you might find these straps restricting on certain harness models.

Harness read adjustment straps 14
There are two straps, one for each leg loop. In this photo, the far side of the strap is adjusted well and is taught while the closer strap is loose, allowing the leg loop to hang down lower than ideal.

Harnesses to Fit While Pregnant

While we don’t have personal experience here, Beth Rodden has a great article on the REI blog about this along with more data and writing on her personal blog.

To avoid putting pressure on the waist and stomach area, you’ll want a full body harness.

The Mad Rock Mountain Mama harness is the first and only harness purpose built for climbing while pregnant. While there are other full-bodied adult harnesses options, most of these are intended for mountaineering or work at heights and have no padding. You can find these harnesses from many of the brands on thier websites in the “professional” use area vs the “sports” use side of the site.

Note: At WeighMyRack we do not currently list adult full-body harnesses, mostly because the majority of full-body harnesses are not designed for rock climbing.

Buying a Harness Online

We only recommend buying online if you don’t have a local retail shop to try harnesses on at. If you’re buying online, ALWAYS always check the exact measurements and don’t assume your size (even if you’ve bought the same size from the same brand before). Some mediums fit like smalls, and some XXL are the same as another brands large. The range for XL harnesses can be anywhere between ~30″ to ~56″, with some harnesses maxing out at 40″ while others start at 40″. (We wrote a whole post about this discrepancy, with graphs).

How to Fit a Harness Key Takeaways

The most important piece of advice for finding a harness that fits, comfortably, is to try on a lot of different models. And, if the store allows, hang in them too!

For the most comfortable fit have…

  • the waist belt fit snugly above your hipbones on your waist.
  • the belay loop centered
  • the gear loops equally spaced on each side
  • try for the most padding around your waist, with less webbing gaps (if possible)
  • the leg loops should fit snug or loose-snug (not tight & not floppy)
  • ensure the rear adjustment loops are taught and not floppy
  • don’t assume your size, even if you’ve bought the same size from the same brand previously

Note: This post goes over how to fit a harness. There are other decisions that go into buying a harness like how many gear loops, ice clipper slots, type of tie-in point, and type of buckle and materials. We’re currently working on a post where you’ll be able to dive into that information. In the meantime, we have tips on our harness page for filtering on these features.

This is a Sponsored Post

Our How To Fit Series is generously sponsored by REI. We approached REI about this series and they were thrilled to help make it happen. All words are solely the authors and have in no way been altered because of the sponsored nature of the post. We do link directly to REI’s website for some of the products mentioned.

In regards to fit, it’s worth noting REI’s free shipping for Co-op members as well as the 1-year return policy. Members can also buy and trade in used gear.

Other articles in this series include: