Full body harness have been used in industry for decades as PPE for professionals working at height, such as steel erectors and window cleaners. The harnesses we’re covering in this article are not designed specifically for professional work and are designed specifically for climbing. Made-for-climbing full body harnesses focus on being lightweight, maximizing mobility, and have standard climbing tie-in points. Professional harnesses have different needs, straps, buckles, certifications, and requirements such as metal attachment points, backup attachment points, and padding in places that climbers would find cumbersome or even dangerous.

Bottom line: We only cover harnesses made for climbing in this article and suggest climbers only use harnesses that have been designed and certified for climbing.

full body harness types compared
Full Body Harnesses made for climbing are simpler, significantly lighter, and easier to climb in than harnesses made for professional applications. Professional harnesses are designed for long periods of hanging, carrying heavy tools and equipment, and emergency fall protection.

What is a full body harness, for climbing?

A full-body climbing harness is a type of harness that wraps around the legs and extends over the shoulders and chest, providing comprehensive support and distributing forces evenly across the body. This design offers added safety and stability over a traditional sit style (around the legs/waist only) harness, making it particularly suitable for children, pregnant climbers, climbers who need extra space around the waist or, or anyone that may require additional upright support when hanging from a rope.

Wearing and Using a Full Body Harness

A climber puts on a full body harness by stepping into the leg loops and pulling the shoulder straps up and over their shoulders, which are then tightened with buckles. From here, securing it depends on the model of harness. Usually a full body harness meant for climbing has two reinforced loops at the front. Both of these loops need to be tied into when connecting to a rope or both must be clipped when connecting to an auto belay. It is important to note that until these two hard-points are joined by rope or locking carabiner, the harness isn’t completely attached or safe to climb in.

These loops can also be brought together via a locking carabiner for belaying. Be aware that belaying from this higher position can take practice and will feel very different from a sit style harness.

Some full body harnesses have a belt that clips across the waist or chest that helps keep the harness from slipping off when not tied in, but this belt isn’t weight bearing and shouldn’t be used to connect the rope or other climbing gear.

Pros and Cons of Full Body Harnesses

Full body harnesses for climbing do offer some extended safety features when compared to traditional sit harnesses. Because they secure the upper torso over the shoulders, full body harnesses have a higher tie in point. Hanging a climber’s weight above the center of gravity like this makes it nearly impossible to turn upside down. Because of this, a fall in a full body style harness is significantly less likely to result in a head injury.

This upright nature is also helpful in rescue situations where a climber might be unconscious or too injured to keep their body weight forward. Of course this also means that a conscious climber benefits from not needing to use their core strength to stay forward when hanging in the harness, which can be great for kids or folks with lower muscle control to stave off fatigue while hanging and resting. Pregnant climbers and climbers in large bodies also benefit from the higher attachment point which removes the traditional belt across the hips and belly, making for a more comfortable climb.

Full body harnesses have some drawbacks.

  • Padding is either light or non-existent, so they aren’t likely as comfortable around the waist and legs (compared to a traditional sit harness), though this may feel offset by the upper body weight being supported by the shoulder straps.
  • Since full body harnesses have a different structure around the waist, there are minimal gear loops (often 0-1), limiting the ability to rack gear on your harness. (An over the shoulder gear sling might be required for leading.)
  • Depending on your height and body shape, the high attachment point can also be uncomfortable or in the way if you have a larger circumference chest.

How Safe are Full Body Harnesses?

Just like sit style harnesses, full body harnesses are tested and certified by the UIAA or EN. We wrote a whole post on harness certifications that you can find here, but in a nutshell, for an adult harness to pass certification it must hold up to 15kN of force being pulled on it in an upright position, and 10kN in an upside down configuration. In real world numbers that is equivalent to the force of over 3,300 lbs upright and 2,200 lbs upside down.

Full body harnesses made for children test slightly lower at 10kN upright and 7kN upside down, but both tests show that harnesses are still significantly overbuilt for the task of holding a human off the ground safely.

full body harness pull test
The test for certifying a full body harness pulls both right side up and upside down. The forces the harness must withstand are equal to thousands of pounds in both directions.

How Common are Full Body Harnesses for Climbing?

Today, it isn’t actually that common to see full body harnesses used for climbing, except for small children. Gyms and the climbing community at large will see an increase in adult full body harness use with an increase in the (currently) smaller demographics like pregnant folks, differently-abled bodies, and folks in larger bodies out climbing in the future. Full body harnesses can help make that space safer and more comfortable for everyone.