Some types of climbing involve getting high enough off the ground that it is necessary to use ropes for safety. Roped climbing requires a lot of gear beyond just a rope, including belay devices, carabiners, shoes, and more. But there is one super important piece of gear that connects us climbers to safety when we’re high off the ground; the climbing harness.

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What Are the Parts of a Climbing Harness?

Climbing harnesses can differ quite a bit in features, but the basic parts you will see are:

  • A waist belt
  • 2 leg loops
  • A belay loop
  • Extra gear loops (sometimes!)

The Waist and Leg Loops

Climbing harnesses are essentially made of loops of flat webbing sewn into a shape that wraps comfortably around the waist and the legs. The waist belt of the harness is the crucial component that holds all our body weight when we’re tied in, so it tends to be wider than the leg loops, which can make it easier to spot when we’re putting it on.

A gym rental harness
A basic climbing harness is often used for rental in climbing gyms. The waist belt is large with a single adjustment buckle and the leg loops are sewn directly to the front plate.

The leg loops can be sewn directly to the front of a harness or hang separately from the belt with smaller pieces of cord or material. Leg loops hang on the back of harnesses from non-load-bearing materials that help to keep them oriented correctly. Traditional climbing harnesses have separate leg loops that connect to the front of the harness via reinforced areas and an additional ring of webbing called the belay loop.

A climbing harness
A more traditional climbing harness has a separate waist and leg loops which are joined by a belay loop at areas with reinforced stitching.

Belay Loops

All harnesses made for climbing have some form of reinforced belay loop, which is used to either connect us to a human belayer via ropes or to an autobelay device via a carabiner when we climb. Belayers attach the rope through a belay device to this loop on their harness and manage the slack in the rope that’s tied to a climber while they move up and down the wall (hence the name: belay loop)

Belay loop differences
Belay loops on harness can look a little different depending on how the harness is made. Traditional harnesses have loops that connect between the waist and leg loops, while more basic versions have a loop on the belt itself.

The reinforced areas that connect the belt and legs to the belay loop are often called tie-in points or hard-points and are where traditional style harnesses tie in with the rope.

Many climbing gyms provide more basic one-size-fits-all harnesses as a rental option, which has a single loop of webbing sewn to the front of the belt rather than this more complicated setup of joined loops. These basic harnesses are a lot more adjustable and simple to put on, but aren’t as comfortable as a traditional hanging leg style.

IMPORTANT: The critical thing with ANY style of harness is to identify this belay loop so you know exactly where to attach yourself safely. Some harnesses have many other loops that are not designed to hold our weight and would fail if we tried to hang from them! ONLY connect yourself to safety systems like rope and autobelays using the belay loop or tie-in points.

Gear Loops

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Some harnesses have gear loops on the sides and back for racking or carrying climbing gear. Not all climbing requires carrying gear while you climb, but if you do, a harness with gear loops is helpful!

A harness that is made for simple indoor climbing may have little or no need for extra gear, so there may be no extra loops. But there are types of climbing that require climbers to carry carabiners, belay devices, or other forms of protection, so a lot of harnesses can have 4 or more gear loops for hanging gear. We want to say again: these gear loops are made to carry climbing equipment, and should NEVER be used to attach ourselves TO things like belayers or autobelays.

Putting a harness on

Loosen all the buckles to make sure you have room to fit. Some harness buckles look different from things you may have seen before like the straps of backpacks, because they are made to resist coming undone easily. A gentle lift of one side will allow the webbing to move freely, then once it is tightened,  will become difficult to move, making sure the webbing holds us in the harness safely.

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A simple lift of most adjustable buckles on harnesses allows the webbing to move freely. Once pulled tight, the buckle holds its grip on the webbing.

When holding the waist belt out in front of you in a horizontal circle, the leg loops should hang evenly and untwisted, allowing you to step into the harness and pull the waist belt up and over your hips like a pair of pants.

This is important for safety, as it ensures we can’t slip out of the harness if we were to turn upside down. (This is extremely unlikely to happen, but all climbing gear is made with extra safety in mind when used properly!) Making sure the harness is over the hips, adjust the waist snugly, usually with a gap of 1 or 2 fingers between your hips and the belt.

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Tightening the waist belt first makes sure the harness is in the correct place on the body– above the hips. Then the leg loops can be tightened for comfort.

Some harnesses have adjusting buckles on the leg loops, though not all do. Leg adjustment is helpful to increase comfort when hanging from the rope or autobelay. When you sit back and hang in a harness, the leg loops take a bit of weight off your spine and move it to your thighs, so adjusting to find a comfy place for the leg loops can be great if you spend a lot of time hanging above ground.

adjustable leg loops
Adjusting the legs on a harness help to fit our bodies better, but some harnesses are made of certain sizes so they don't need to be adjusted. This is a preference for most climbers that you should try out to see which you like better.

How snug you keep them is a personal preference, though if you keep them too loose, they are more likely to move and pinch your more sensitive areas when you suddenly sit down. When purchasing a model that doesn’t offer leg adjusters, it’s a good idea to search for a size that fits your legs best.

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