Picking the Right Rock Climbing Harness

Picking the right rock climbing harness can be a daunting task for rock climbing beginners. There are so many options and price points for harnesses, and of course every beginner climber wants to learn about how safe the different rock climbing harnesses actually are.

So, here are some common questions from new and beginner rock climbers.

If you have any more questions, ask them in the comments section below!

Rock Climbing Harnesses

Should I Get a More Expensive Rock Climbing Harness Because it’s Safer?

Answer: If you are purchasing a brand new harness from a legitimate retailer then a more expensive harness isn’t necessarily safer. Rock climbing harnesses from the major climbing manufacturers all have to go through the proper safety certifications in order for them to be sold, so even the least expensive harness from one of these well established companies has gone through all the necessary tests to ensure your safety.

Obviously rock climbing can be dangerous if you don’t use the equipment properly, or if you’re using an old or damaged harness. That’s why it is critical to inspect your equipment before climbing, and also ensure that you have received live safety training at a rock climbing gym from certified instructor. By having such climber safety training, you will know how to properly use your rock climbing equipment and climb safely.

To help you out, below is a list of some of the major rock climbing harness manufacturers that you should keep an eye on when you are harness shopping (whether online or in a physical store).

When you look through their harnesses, keep in mind that you want what’s called a “sport harness” or “gym harness”. There are different types of harnesses for different types of climbing (ex. ice climbing, mountaineering, big wall climbing, trad, and others) but as a beginner climber, you want just a basic gym harness for now.

Why Are Some Rock Climbing Harnesses More Expensive Than Others?

Answer: The different price points are generally due to the extra non-safety related features that the different harnesses have. Here is a list of some of the major ones:

Breathable Harness Material:

Some harnesses have the more expensive breathable material. This can be nice because it results in less back sweat in the area where your harness touches your back. However because that section of the harness is breathable, it is therefore not as padded. Because of this, if you have a fall, they may not be as comfortable as a harness which has extra padding in place of that breathable material.

With many harnesses, you have to decide whether you want the more padded harness (which can be less expensive), or whether you want the nice breathable harness and forgo some of that extra padding.

Personally when I started climbing, I chose the least expensive padded harnesses. I knew that I would be falling a lot as a beginner climber, and so I wanted something durable and padded that was also not be too expensive.

Here are some visual examples so you can see the difference between a rock climbing harness that uses a breathable mesh material, and ones that just has extra padding:

Breathable Rock Climbing Harness Example

Breathable Rock Climbing Harness Example

Padded Rock Climbing Harness Example

Padded Rock Climbing Harness Example

Harness Comfort and Weight:

As expected, some harnesses will be more comfortable for you than others. You will find some give you a bit better mobility, and some seem heavier than others. Once again, here is another matter of personal preference. What I suggest here is that you simply try on the different harnesses in the store and see which ones feels most comfortable to you.

Keep in mind that there will be times that you will be hanging away from the rock climbing wall for extended periods of time during your climb (i.e. resting). This is where harness comfort is critical, because you don’t want your harness cutting off circulation to your leg(s) and making them numb right before you start climbing again.

To prevent the above problem from happening, see if the outdoor store will let you get strapped into the harness and actually hang off it for a few minutes. This will give you a good idea of how comfortable the harness actually is and whether you are still comfortable being in it after those long rests at the rock climbing gym or during outdoor climbing.

Adjustable Harness Straps:

Some rock climbing harnesses have adjustable straps for the legs, while others are simply one-size-fits-all. Personally, I like the one-size-fits-all since I don’t like messing around with more components of the harness than I need to.  Still, it’s a matter of personal preference and you will find adjustable straps on both the higher and lower end of the harness price range.

Adjustable straps can be good if you are ever climbing outdoors in the cold with thick pants (i.e. you adjust the straps for less pressure on your legs). Still, I climb outdoors and have never had an issue with the straps being too tight. Personally I found that the straps stretch well and I have never been in a situation where I felt that I was at a disadvantage by not having the straps. Below is an example between the auto-adjusting and the manually adjusting leg straps:

Self Adjusting Leg Straps on a Harness

Self Adjusting Leg Straps on a Harness

Manually Adjusted Leg Straps on a Harness

Manually Adjusted Leg Straps on a Harness

Final Thoughts: Rock Climbing Harness Buying Guide

As tempting as it might be, you don’t NEED to get the most expensive harness. Much of it is based on personal preference and whether you are okay with paying a little extra for some of that extra utility that the higher end harnesses provide.

The important thing to remember is to get your harness NEW and from a reputable brand so that you know it’s safe.

As tempting as it might be to get a used harness because it’s cheaper, I personally don’t recommend that as you don’t know what that used harness has been through. It might look fine but you don’t know things like how old it actually is, and whether it was actually cared for properly (i.e. was it stored safely or did the owner’s dog use it as a chew toy occasionally?).

Where Do I Buy a Harness?

In terms of where to buy your harness there are two main options:

  1. A reputable physical store that sells outdoor related equipment including a good assortment of rock climbing gear: This option may at times be more expensive than just buying a harness online but there are a few benefits assuming it’s a good store with knowledgeable staff:
    1. You can try on different harnesses and see which one is most comfortable. Some stores will even let you get strapped in so you can hang off the harness and test how comfortable it actually is. This is a really nice benefit as it prevents you from being in discomfort every time that you take a rest during your climb.
    2. The staff can advise you which harness they would recommend based on what you care about (i.e. price, comfort, etc.). It’s much more difficult to do this online when you’re only dealing with pictures and descriptions.
    3. The staff can also tell you specifically why some harnesses that they carry are more expensive than other. You can then compare the two side by side and analyze the difference. Then you can decide whether you’re willing to pay a premium for the extra feature/comfort or not.
  2. A reputable online store that sells outdoor related equipment including a good assortment of rock climbing gear:   This option can sometime be less expensive as online retailers don’t have that giant expense of keeping a physical retail store operational. Just make sure that if you do this option you make sure that the store is reputable and sells the major brands. The “reputable” part is important as you don’t want a shady store trying to sell you a used damaged harness and passing it off as “new”.

Of course while the upside of buying online is the cost savings, the downside is that you don’t get to actually try on the harness. You must therefore decide whether the cost, or the risk of discomfort is more important to you.

Two Sneaky Ways To Get Both: Ensured Comfort and Cost Savings 

  1. If you find a really good deal online, you can try that harness in a physical store and then if you like, you can buy it online at the sale price (you can do the same for rock climbing shoes too). The downside to this of course is that:
    1. You are no longer supporting your local store that helped you (which you may feel is not the most moral thing to do).
    2. You have to wait for shipping whereas if you’re at the store with the harness ready to buy, you can take the harness home with you right away and start climbing even that day.
    3. Some online stores will charge you for shipping which could erode any savings you have gained from the online sales. Sometimes after all the shipping the total cost may actually be more than if you just bought it at a local store (this actually happened to me with rock climbing shoes where it was actually cheaper to buy them locally due to the shipping charges).
    4. If the harness is being shipped not from your country, there is a risk that customs may pull it over and charge you duty tax. This alone can also destroy any savings you may have gotten from buying it online so BE CAREFUL!
  2. Another trick is that you can just buy your rock climbing harness in a local store and have the staff help you pick the perfect harness that is most comfortable to you. Then if you are happy with the harness, when it’s time to get your next one, just buy that same one online if you can find it cheaper (be sure to take into account shipping, duty taxes, and sales tax). You can do the same for rock climbing shoes.

For more tips and tricks, sign up for free here and get the full video series on the Top 5 Climbing Mistakes!

Also as a reader you also get $10 Off the full PEAK Climbing Video Training Program which you can find here.



Leave A Reply (8 comments so far)

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  2. Kornel (admin)
    5 years ago

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