Friday, February 23, 2007

Selecting the Right Climbing Gear: Harness

A climbing harness attaches you to your climbing rope, so it's important that
you know what harness you will need for the type of climbing you'll be doing.
Your harness should fit your body shape for comfort and safety. There are
three general styles of climbing harnesses: Alpine, Sport, and multi-purpose.
Construction varies among these categories to meet your specific needs.
Women's and children's harnesses, for example, have special fit
characteristics. The following suggestions will help you find the right

Consider Your Climbing Style

You should first decide the type of climbing that you will do the most
often. Once you know your climbing style, you can select the right harness for
your needs.

Multi-Purpose � Multi-purpose harnesses are known as all-around, crag or
sport harnesses. Multi-purpose harnesses are ideal for beginners because they
are designed for a number of climbing applications such as top-roping, sport
and gym climbing. Most multi-purpose harnesses have padded leg loops and
waistbelts for which provides more comfort, especially if you take a fall.
Some multi-purpose harnesses have detachable leg loops which will allow you to
detach your legs while remaining attached to the rope. Most climbing harnesses
have gear loops for carrying your climbing hardware such as carabiners, chalk
bag, quickdraws etc. Multi-purpose harnesses will usually have a front loop
that allows you to attach a belay/rappel device.

Alpine � Alpine climbing harnesses are made for long mountain trips. These
harnesses are pretty basic and usually have minimal padding and very few
extras so that they will be light weight with low bulk. Alpine harnesses are
made of non-absorbent materials so that they will withstand the rough
environment of glacier and alpine climbing. The waistbelt and leg loops on
alpine harnesses are very adjustable to make it easier to get in and out of
when the harness is not needed. The leg loops are sometimes removable so you
can take potty breaks while staying tied into the rope.

Big Wall � Big wall harnesses are for climbers doing multi-pitch, multi-day
climbs like in Zion's National Park or Yosemite Valley. Big wall harnesses
will have lots of padding on the waistbelt and leg loops to relieve pressure
during hanging belays or aid climbing. Big wall harnesses will also have
multiple gear loops that will help put much of the wait on your harness
instead of on your shoulder gear sling. They usually have a full-strength haul
loop in back for towing a rope or heavy gear bag.

Competition � Competition harnesses are the best choice for climbing
competitions like "On Sight Difficulty" or "Speed" events. Competition
harnesses have a slim design and narrow webbing to allow a full range of
motion. Most competition harnesses will typically have little padding and few,
if any extras.

Compare Types of Harnesses

Leg Loop/Waistbelt -- This popular style of harness consists of a padded
waist (or "swami") belt and a pair of leg loops joined together in front with
a belay loop. The waistbelt buckles in front or off to the side, and the leg
loops are usually held up in back of the harness with elastic straps. Leg loop
size may either be fixed or adjustable..

Full Body Harness -- Full-body harnesses are designed to keep you safe in a
wide range of climbing activities. The harness holds your shoulders as well as
your legs, preventing you from slipping out if you rotate upside down during a
fall. Since full-body harnesses have a higher tie-in point than seat
harnesses, they reduce the chance of flipping over backward in the first
place. Full body harnesses are often used in climbing safety courses to ensure
the safety of beginners while they are learning to climb.

Chest Harness -- Chest harnesses are typically worn only on climbs where
you could likely turn upside-down. Falling into a crevasse during a glacier
climb or rappelling with a heavy pack are examples of such situations. The
chest harness is made to be used in conjunction with a sit harness. The
resulting combination is the same as the full-body harness, but with the
versatility of adding or removing the chest portion, as needed.

Test Fit Your Harness

Finding a harness that fits you well is essential. If the harness is too
tight it will restrict your movement. If your climbing harness is too loose,
it will slip, chafe and, in an inverted fall, maybe even let go of you. Just
like clothing, different harness brands fit different body shapes better than
others. Be sure to find one that works well for you.

Whenever you test-fit a harness, make sure you're wearing the kinds of
clothes you're likely to be climbing in. If you plan on carrying a pack with
you as you climb, wear it as well so you can make sure it doesn't cause any
discomfort when worn with the harness.

The Waistbelt -- Your harness waistbelt should be snug, but not too tight
that it is uncomfortable. It should ride just above your hips, but it
shouldn't restrict your breathing. You should not be able to pull the harness
down over your hips, no matter how hard you try. Children and narrow-hipped
adults -- if you can't get a harness to stay above your hip bones, use a
full-body harness until your body shape works with a waistbelt-style harness.
Be sure that there is at least 3 inches of webbing extending out of the
waistbelt buckle once it has been properly secured and doubled back.

Leg Loops -- Your harness leg loops should also be snug, but not so tight
that it causes discomfort. If they are an adjustable design, the webbing
straps should be long enough for you to double them back through their buckles
with at least 2 inches left over.

You should be especially careful when fitting a seat harness. If you choose
one that's too small, it will squeeze your hips and legs, reducing mobility.
If you choose one that's too large, the harness may slide up onto your lower
ribs, restricting your breathing. You should have between 1 and 3 inches of
clearance between the tie-in loops at your waist.

Buckling up and tying-in

Most harnesses use full-strength buckles to join the waistbelt. Read the
manufacturer's instructions carefully and learn how to use your harness and
the buckle correctly. If your harness and buckle are not secured properly, you
risk injury and possibly even death.

Most harness buckles must be buckled a certain way to be secure. Be sure
you follow the recommended procedure every time. In a high risk sport like
climbing, you never want to take short cuts. Short cuts and carelessness will
put your life at risk. Always double back all webbing straps through your
harness buckles. Under the impact force of a fall, webbing straps that are not
doubled-back can pull through buckles, causing you to fall out of the harness

Remember that your harness is only as reliable as the knot you use to tie
yourself into it. Make sure you know how to tie into your harness correctly.
Read, understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions that come with the
harness. Be careful -- different styles have different tie-in procedures. It
is your responsibility to know how to use your harness correctly, along with
all of your other climbing gear.

Harness Care

Protect your harness from direct sunlight, heat and harsh chemicals like
bleach. Wash your harness in cool water with mild, non-detergent soap. Always
check your harness before you climb for frayed stitching, cuts or other forms
of damage.

Remember that your harness will not last forever. If you climb every
weekend, your harness should last a couple of years. The harder you climb and
the more often you fall, the weaker your harness will become. Replace your
harness whenever it shows signs of wear or damage.