What is a Belay Loop?

A belay loop is the main connection point between a climber and their climbing equipment. It is also the main point connecting the harness waistbelt to the harness leg loops. The belay loop plays a vital role in the safety and functionality of the climbing harness.

The belay loop is always found in the front center of the harness. It is also reinforced and is one of the strongest parts of a harness. The loop is typically made of nylon or polyester.

The belay loop is easy to find because not only is on the front of the harness but it is commonly made of stiffer material that is usually colored differently than the rest of the harness. The belay loop is technically circular, although the shape often appears to be an oval when the harness is put on.

Belay Loop and Tie in Points
The belay loop (highlighted in bright green) connects the upper and lower tie in points of the harness (in red), connecting the waist belt to the leg loops.

What Does a Belay Loop Do?

The belay loop on a harness provides a place for attaching a belay device and thereby the rope to the belayer. This allows a belayer to belay – we are responsible for controlling the amount of slack in the rope, holding our fellow climber’s weight, or providing a ‘catch’ in case of a fall. The belay loop is also the place where we connect ourselves to devices called auto-belays in gyms which are designed to be clipped to a climber’s harness and automatically lower them to the ground when they let go of the wall.

Belaying from a belay loop
The main function of a belay loop is to connect a belay device to the harness of a belayer

The belay loop also distributes the load (your climbing friend who is hanging, lowering, or falling) across the waist and leg loops, making it more comfortable and manageable to hold your friend. Note: An ill-fitting harness might create uncomfortable pressure points, so it’s important to find the right fit.

The belay loop isn’t just used for belaying. Outside, while multipitch climbing or cleaning equipment from an anchor, the belay loop can be a great place to attach a PAS or sling, as seen in the photo below.

Tying a PAS into the Belay Loop
Andreas has his PAS girth-hitched through the belay loop of his harness, allowing him to anchor himself at the top of this pitch and belay a climber up below him.

Another outdoor use for the belay loop can be seen when rappelling. In the scenario pictured below you can see the rappel device is extended away from the belay loop via a personal anchor (PAS). This frees up the belay loop to be an attachment point for a 3rd hand (aka a prussik or autoblock) backup. Having a backup during rappel increases rappel safety considerably.

Extending a rappel using the belay loop
Using a sling or PAS, you can extend a rappel device away from your harness, freeing up your belay loop and allowing you to clip a backup hitch into the belay loop where it is both closer to you to manage and far enough that it would bind up in the rappel device.

What is a Belay Loop Made of?

The most common material for belay loops is sewn nylon webbing. Because the webbing used in these loops is narrow, the nylon is usually wrapped 2 or more times and sewn with an extremely heavy duty sewing machine using a method known as bar-tacking. A bar-tack usually looks like a ladder of stitches down a small section of the loop.

Thanks to this ‘several loop, several stitch’ approach harness brands can make this small amount of fabric and thread incredibly strong. The UIAA / EN certification test for harnesses only requires that a belay loop hold a maximum of 15kN of force (in a test performed over several minutes) to pass. In a review and test several years ago, Black Diamond found that nylon webbing sewn this way can often easily exceed 22kN (over 5,000 lbs of force).

Bar tacks on belay loops
These belay loops are made of 2-3 wraps of nylon webbing, which are sewn together with extremely strong stitches called bar tacks (seen here in light gray thread). These bar tacks are made of many stitches in a line and when doubled, join the nylon so well that belay loops can hold thousands of pounds of force.

In their review, BD also tested belay loops with various forms of damage from cutting and abrasion, and though they found they could still hold a lot of weight, it was difficult to know which forms of damage would cause failure in the belay loop. Because we climber’s spend so much time hanging ourselves and others from these loops, it is important to inspect your belay loop for signs of wear each time you use your harness, and retire it if you see excess fraying, abrasion, or cuts and nicks in the webbing. Some brands even have red or orange fabric sewn under high wear zones like belay loops and tie in points that indicates when it is time to update your harness.

Recently brands have started using lighter and stronger materials like Dyeema to make belay loops, allowing them to be just as strong while being smaller and lighter and requiring less stitching. These methods allow the belay loop to be less bulky and more flexible and because dyneema is so much more slippery than traditional nylon, it is a lot more resistant to wear from abrasion. This type of loop is currently found mostly on higher end performance harnesses.

The Black Diamond Airnet series of harnesses use a new seamless stitching method to sew their Infinity belay loop with no bar tacks.

Several of Edelrid’s newest line of performance harnesses including the Prisma Guide utilize a Dyneema sheath stitched over the belay loop to add durability and flexibility.

The Biggest Thing to Know About Belay Loops

There is only one spot on a harness for a belay loop and it is always front and center of the harness. The belay loop is made to be extremely robust and is the strongest part of the harness for good reason. It allows a climber to belay, rappel, and anchor themselves safely and efficiently.

Because they are used for so many functions in climbing, belay loops should be inspected regularly for wear and damage. Harnesses with excessively worn or damaged belay loops should be retired for safety.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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