Most ‘Best harness’ lists on the internet suck. This is because they often don’t consider your climbing plan and needs. Do you want to use 1 harness to do everything or do you have the means (budget, location) to do multiple types of climbing or have multiple specialty harnesses?

Most climbers can easily get away with 1 harness for most of their climbing, indoors and outdoors, sport climbing or trad climbing, single pitch or multi-pitch and even summer alpine climbing.

Once you get into ice climbing, big wall climbing, or mountaineering, this is when a different harness is super helpful. Specialty harnesses in these categories are designed so specifically that they can be quite disappointing when used for a style other than their intended purpose.

The best harness depends on the style(s) of climbing you’ll do and the fit. Below we talk about each style of climbing and the harness features that best go along with that climbing style. You’ll be able to see where harness features (and styles) overlap and where they do not. And, if you haven’t read it yet, our post about how to best fit a harness, covers the comfort and fit aspect.

Best Sport Climbing Harnesses (for indoor & outdoor)

If you climb exclusively indoors, exclusively outdoors, or somewhere in between, most harnesses made for sport climbing are going to perform well. Since most climbers today do some amount of sport climbing, you can expect the majority of harness options available to have features and comforts that sport climbers want or need.

The differences between the 150 or so models that fall into this category depend a lot on personal preferences (including color). And there are also some nuances to consider.

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Andreas climbing limestone sport in Wild Iris, Wyoming (Lands of the Newe Sogobia (Eastern Shoshone) Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), and Apsáalooke (Crow) people)

Gear Loops: Across sport harnesses, 4 gear loops is the most common option available. 4 loops gives plenty of room for extra gear (particularly climbing outside, on a multipitch, or when you have to rappel) without your waist belt feeling too cluttered with clipping options. In a gym setting, technically you don’t need gear loops other than for hanging your belay device – but there is no good reason to not buy a harness with 4 gear loops.

Belay Loop: 1 standard belay loop is the most straightforward approach. Even while multipitch sport climbing there is very little reason to have have more.

Buckle Notes: Most sport harnesses come standard with quick adjust buckles on the waist and leg loops, but some have fixed leg loops with no buckles (read about fixed vs adjustable leg loops here). These quick adjust buckles (also called ‘Speed buckles) are as the name suggests: quick and easy to adjust for comfort and proper fit or when taking the harness off/on. Although quick adjust buckles can slip a bit over time when heavily weighted down with gear, sport climbing keeps things light so this rarely an issue. Leg loops with no buckles can be the most comfortable, but they fit a significantly smaller range of climbers.

Weight Notes: Typically, harness weight doesn’t play a big role while sport climbing. More weight can sometimes be better when it means more padding + more comfort. This can be helpful when projecting a route where you fall a lot or need to hang and try moves repeatedly. Despite that, most brands have a “super light sport climbing harness” that they tout as perfect for the hardest sends; these are usually the models that all their athletes wear. These harnesses often have less padding and can be uncomfortable while hanging or falling, but can feel less constricting and more mobile and flexible when pulling hard moves.

Price Notes: Since sport climbing is the most popular type of harness climbing, there are many options from the $50 range all the way up to $200. A more expensive harness often means higher quality materials and cutting-edge construction methods that often add to durability and comfort. That said, some of the “price point” harnesses are very impressive in the technology included.

Other Features: If you climb outdoors a lot, you will eventually need to use ‘the facilities’ and go to the restroom. Many harnesses include the ability to disconnect the leg loop risers so you can drop your pants without taking the harness off (on harnesses this is known as a ‘drop seat‘ feature). It takes some practice though, and given the stakes many folks opt to simply remove their harness to avoid potential messes on their gear.

Some popular and well-liked examples: 

Best Trad Climbing Harnesses

Trad climbing requires climbers to bring their own protection to place like cams or nuts in cracks as they climb. Because the gear required to protect a climb safely varies in size just like the cracks they protect, harnesses made for trad climbing need to be able to handle a lot of it. Harnesses made for trad climbing are built for more gear, by using bigger thicker materials to handle the added weight, and by providing the physical space to carry it.

Gear Loops: In trad climbing harnesses it’s all about room for gear. Whether you’re single pitch cragging or going for tall multipitch objectives, having space to carry all the gear you want is often a high priority, and this means maxing out on gear loops. 4 is the minimum recommended (and is common particularly when you have one do-it-all harness) while 5 and 6 loops will enhance your carrying options.

Most brands offer options that have at least 5 gear loops and some even go to 6, giving maximum space for sorting and organizing all your cams, nuts, slings, and carabiners for your climb. Harnesses made with trad gear in mind also tend to have larger and stiffer gear loops to add additional space and weight capacity, as trad gear can get heavy quickly.

Belay Loop: Single belay loops are the standard here. Much like sport climbing, there is usually very little need for more than one soft connection point while climbing or belaying in most trad climbing situations (this changes for big wall trad climbing).

Buckle Notes: Buckle types for trad harnesses can span the range from quick adjust to manual double-back, and tend to be more of a personal preference. The one nice thing about a double-backed buckle is that it cannot slip or creep under large amounts of weight being loaded and unloaded on it like a quick adjust version can. Many legacy climbers like this for keeping their harness belt and loops adjusted in one place for the course of a day out climbing. That said manual double-back buckles are becoming rarer and rarer each year and are mostly only available from US-made climbing brands.

The advantage of quick adjust buckles is that they are more easily adjusted on the fly, allowing easier on/off for bathroom breaks, loosening and tightening if you need to add or remove layers, or to give your thighs some breathing room during a long hanging belay on multipitch routes. Because of this need for adjustability throughout a long day of trad climbing, you generally won’t see fixed leg loops on a trad climbing harness.

Weight: Trad harnesses tend to be bulkier and have more padding than their sport climbing siblings. All that extra gear on those extra gear loops translates to needing stiffer and thicker materials in our waist belts and leg loops. This bulk means more comfort, and it helps provide structure for the harness to maintain its shape and keep that padding where we want it. Trad harnesses don’t HAVE to be bulky, but keep in mind that as the weight of your harness goes down, the amount of padding and support will decrease as well. If you’re expecting to mostly do single pitch routes, less padding isn’t as much of an issue, but for taller routes or routes with hanging belay stations, comfort from a heavier more padded harness is indispensable.

Price Notes: With the added time and materials it takes to include those extra gear loops, buckles, and padding, trad climbing harnesses are usually a bit more expensive, though not by that much. The 50 or so models currently available that fall into this category range from as cheap as $70 all the way up to the $180 mark, with the majority being in the $80-$90 range. The pricier end of the spectrum utilize higher end materials to cut down on weight and increase comfort, much like sport harnesses, or they come from smaller operations like Yates or Misty Mountain that offer more customization options.

Other Features: Most harnesses in this category also include a specialized haul loop on the back. This loop is usually used as a connection point for hauling rope or equipment behind you (the latter is mostly done in big wall climbing which we’ll get to in a minute), but many folks who multi-pitch climb utilize it as a free ‘extra gear loop’ for storing cordalette, rappel devices and gloves, or other things that aren’t usually needed until they are at an anchor.

Some popular and well-liked examples:

Best Alpine (+ Ice + Mixed) Climbing Harnesses

Alpine climbing is a catch all term that mostly means: multi-pitch trad climbing in a remote (or at least semi-remote) area. It virtually always includes trad climbing, and could also incorporate ice climbing and mixed climbing depending on the season and objective. There is often miles of approach to get to the base of the peak.

Alpine harnesses can be the same as sport/trad harnesses. Alpine climbers will most often buy a new/different harness if their trad harness was on the heavier side or they’re looking for more waterproof/durable materials. Most climbers look for the same features in their ice, mixed, and alpine harnesses and is why we combine talking about them here.

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Alpine objectives mean hiking it all in, often while harnessed up.

Gear Loops: Alpine climbing often means carrying a pack while the harness in on – either during a protected approach or during the climb. Wearing a harness under a pack can range from not noticed to uncomfortable to painful, so harnesses made for alpine endeavors typically design the back of the harness to lay flat (no protruding gear loops and a low volume haul loop). So you might have 2 gear loops in the front that are plastic and two gear loops in the back made of fabric.

Some alpinists will also depend on gear loops on their pack while climbing.

Belay Loop: One belay loop is standard and plenty. Less is more when you have a long approach.

Buckle Notes: Alpine climbing often requires us to periodically add or remove layers as objectives change from hiking, to scrambling, to belaying, to climbing, and back. The quick adjust buckle on a waist belt makes this a breeze as you add or remove a puffy or base layer while you’re standing on a ledge.

Although many of the lighter weight alpine harnesses have fixed leg loops, these harnesses are only reasonable for a small range of climbers since they have so little adjustability when layering. It’ll save some grams but often the fit just doesn’t work. Also, while alpine climbing you often find yourself in all sorts of belaying positions where having the ability to adjust buckles can help make the stance more comfortable.

Weight: While there are no hard/fast rules for alpinism, there is a general consensus that if you don’t need it, it’s just dead weight. If your objectives are close, a handful of ounces aren’t going to mean the end of the world in a harness, and many people don’t need to spend on something specialized. Many brands even write that they’re premium lightweight sport climbing harnesses are also fit for fast and light alpine and ice missions.

The majority of options in this specific category are in the 300-400g range, and lighter on average than a typical all-around trad harness – prioritizing weight over comfort. And, if you want to go full on weight-weenie, there are several fully featured harnesses around the 250g mark. Many alpine harnesses also are lighter on the padding not just to reduce weight but also to be more flexible.

Price Notes: Though they can be as low as $80, the majority of alpine harnesses sit in the $90-$100 range. By stepping into higher end ultralight materials to reduce weight and bulk for increased comfort and packability, models can run as high as $200. Like most things in climbing, low weight comes at a premium.

Other Features: Because of the mixed nature of trad and ice climbing involved in the alpine, these harnesses can include some of the most features, presented in a stripped down way. Whether your objectives call for it or not, you’ll often have the option of ice clipper slots for carrying ice screws, and drop seats for doing your 1’s and 2’s while you’re roped up.

Some popular and well-liked examples:

Best Big Wall (and Aid) Climbing Harnesses

Big wall harnesses are made for climbers doing long multipitch climbs that often take multiple days. They are the heaviest harnesses on the market, and much like their trad harness cousins they prioritize padding and comfort, with a heavy emphasis on carrying a ton of gear including specialty aid climbing equipment. Most big walling involves aid climbing, where climbers place gear and then clip webbing ladders directly to it, which are used to progress slowly upward. The gear used for such endeavors varies a lot, but includes trad gear like cams and nuts, specialized carbon-steel hooks for literally hooking onto features, or (less common these days) steel pitons hammered into cracks. A moderate 50m pitch of aiding moves can require dozens of gear placements, which often means more gear than you could fit on any harness, so many aid climbers use supplemental chest harnesses or gear slings.

Gear Loops: The name of the game here is more more more. The more options you have for hanging gear on your harness, the less you will have to tag up when you run out halfway up a pitch. 5 gear loops is considered a bare minimum, with some models going as high as 7! These harnesses often have a separate gear loop and haul loop: one for anchor gear, and a dedicated loop for bringing up a second rope, or haul line which is used to tag up gear or haul huge haulbags. It should be said that some aid climbers do like a slimmer harness though, and prefer to rack more of their gear onto a gear sling or chest harness.

Belay Loop: One feature that is found on most big wall specific harnesses is the addition of a second belay loop. Having two soft points gives aid climbers a place to connect a second daisy, which is used for capturing progression as they ascend the ladder. This keeps the climber from pulling up on their lower daisy (and also the piece of protection it is clipped to!) as they stand tall in their ladder to place the next piece. Two belay loops can also be handy when setting up hauling systems which big wall climbers use to create mechanical advantage to haul the hundreds of pounds of gear and food needed for a multi-day endeavor.

Buckle Notes: Most modern big wall harnesses (really, all harnesses) have moved to using quick adjust buckles, though there are still a couple out there using a manual double-back buckle. As mentioned in the trad section, a double backed buckle is more slip/walk resistant, so it can be a great choice for keeping your belt in place when it is weighed down by 20+ pounds of gear.

Weight: Harnesses in this category are the beefiest you will find, and that also means they are the heaviest. More weight requirement means more foam and bulk, and more abuse for climbing for days on end means heavier, thicker materials. Though this might sound cumbersome, the trade-off of fewer bruised hips and being able to feel your toes after 3 days of hanging belays is usually well worth it. Not to mention that the rest of the gear weighs so much, a chunky harness is isn’t going to tip the scales too much.

Price Notes: All the extra materials and weight comes at a higher cost. Harnesses made specifically for big wall climbing start around $110, but generally range from $140-$200+. This harness style would be overkill in every other situation, but for those 🏴‍☠️ sailers of the high granite seas, they are worth every penny.

Other Features: Some big wall climbers explore in areas where hammering pitons is the ethic, and to hammer a piton you need a hammer. Though it used to be an option on several harness offerings, today only the Yates Shield still includes hammer loops on both sides of the hip belt. To get-around this, some folks have turned to hanging gear on an ice clipper.

Some popular and well-liked examples:

Best Mountaineering & Ski Mountaineering (Skimo) Harnesses

Mountaineering harnesses focus on lighter weight instead of comfort. Harnesses are worn as a safety backup and most mountaineers don’t expect to spend time hanging in their harness. Many harnesses also come completely apart so you can put them on (or take them off) while wearing crampons.

Ski Mountaineering harnesses are a subset of mountaineering harnesses. When on a skimo mission, to reach skiable snow, one may need to lower into a couloir from above or protect a sketchy traverse. Speed is often a top concern and after weight, skimo folks care mostly about putting a harness on/off while wearing skis. Skimo racers, want the harness out of the way as much as possible (with no restriction of movement) and a fast option for belaying and rappelling. Much of the skimo harness designs come from the requests of skimo racers.

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Gear Loops: Most models of mountaineering harnesses have 2, 1 or no gear loops. Mountaineering objectives are often limited in the amount of technical (rock & ice) climbing, so the need to carry gear is minimal. When you add in that mountain objectives can mean days of hiking and porting, high altitude, plus overnight gear and equipment, the less-is-more attitude makes sense.

Many [ski]mountaineers will wear a pack during a chunk of their summit pursuit. So gear loops are often non-existent or low profile to make sure they’re not causing pressure points under a pack.

For those who are looking to climb more technically, the offerings blend into lightweight alpine harnesses with 4 gear loops.

Belay Loop: At least a third of mountaineering harnesses have 1 belay loop. This is very standard and easy to use and identify. Often, the harnesses with a belay loop range from slower to totally inconvenient to take the waist belt completely apart.

Many of the lightest options actually use two tie in points, that take the place of the belay loop, when they are both clipped together. With the two tie in points, the harness designer is able to more easily create a waist belt that can easily open completely, allowing the harness to come on or off quickly to use the bathroom, to put on with crampons or skis, or get roped up for glacier travel, etc.

Buckle Notes: Lightweight [ski]mountaineering harnesses are where you see the most diverse buckles. Sometimes they’re toggles, clips, snaps, or any sort of fast and speedy adjustment. Some work better than others with gloves on (so try it on in the store with gloves for a full experience!). They can also be made of plastic or other lightweight materials.

Some of the toggles and clips do not include additional adjustability so it is important to try the harness on while wearing all the layers you’ll use to when you’re kitted up for snow travel, to ensure the harness will fit.

Weight: These are the lightest harnesses in the world. Because they aren’t built for hanging comfortably (since likely you’ll only hang in them when things have gone awry), mountaineering harnesses are usually ultra thin structures of webbing and mesh. They have zero bulky padding, that could absorb water or reduce mobility. They’re typically made to pack down extremely small, about the size of a fist and add very little to your pack weight. The weight ranges from 175g for the models with all the bells and whistles like belay loops, adjustment buckles, and gear loops to under 70g which is less than some locking carabiners.

Price Notes: These highly specialized pieces of kit are at the pinnacle of engineering when it comes to harnesses but that doesn’t make them as pricey as you might think. Because there is so little material at play and so few features on most models, nearly every current mountaineering harness is at or around $100.

Other Features: You’ll often notice an extra piece of stretchy webbing on the leg. When you hang an emergency ice screw off a gear loop, this extra leg loop webbing will hold the ice screw body, and keep it from bouncing around as you walk.

Some popular and well-liked examples:

Picking the Best Harness

Choosing the best harness always comes down to: what are you going to use it for, and how does it fit. Narrowing your choices based on technical specs like gear loops, weight, price, and other features (most easily done on since we list every harness available) will help you find options and then you can make the deciding choice based on how the harness fits.

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WeighMyRack Team

WeighMyRack Team

Most posts are a team effort. Whether one person's name is on the front, there's always multiple behind the scenes. From research, collaboration on ideas and concepts, writing, editing, it takes multiple perspectives to bring you accurate and unbiased gear knowledge.

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