At first glance, harnesses may seem universally simple and straightforward. But their specific components make a world of difference for a climber’s needs and preferences.
Our testers include an American Mountain Guides Association-certified rock guide, an intro-to-outdoor rock climbing guide, and a skilled recreational climber. These harnesses supported our cams, swings, rappels, belays, and rests on a range of North American granite from Canada to Colorado.
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Our climbers smeared up multipitch slab and jammed into a range of crack widths in a variety of weather conditions from hot and dry to humid and rainy. We tested gear on traditional, sport, and top-rope climbs in search of the best climbing shoes.
And while there isn’t a single harness that works for every person’s body and climb style, we’ve highlighted a variety of options. Below, we outline the best climbing harnesses that will make your next belay that much better. If you need more help deciding, check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this article.
Best Women’s Climbing Harnesses of 2019 Best Overall: Arc’teryx AR-385A ($159)
The AR-385A weighs 385 g and wins gold as the lightest, most streamlined, comfortable, all-around harness. The waistband (or swami) covers the greatest surface area of the lower back. This provides comfortable support when leaning off the wall or rappelling multiple pitches back to the ground.
The harness is also comfortable thanks to the Warp Strength Technology, which evenly disperses the load across the entire width of the harness. Simultaneously, the waistband is surprisingly thin and constructed with soft edges. We never felt any unwanted pinching. The four gear loops have a rigid, forward-angled encasement, but they’re soft at the top to allow for movement depending on the load.
For bathroom breaks, the drop legs are connected by a single slide-in latch, which is pretty simple after a few test tries. The only downside of this harness is price. It’s definitely on the more expensive side. But if you climb regularly, it’s a worthy investment.
See the Arc’teryx AR-385A
Best Budget Harness: Black Diamond Momentum ($57)
The Momentum is our favorite gym-to-crag harness among the test pool. The design is simple, with four oblong, rigid gear loops — meaning that plastic tubing sits around the cord. And the belay loop is brightly colored in contrast with the tie-in loops, so it’s easy to quickly tie in without error.
The two rear elastic risers are adjustable and connect the leg loops to the waist belt via a slide-in hook, so a drop seat is available (although the latch is not easy to undo or refasten solo, one tester found). While the harness is on the lighter end of the spectrum, we wished for a bit more cushion on the lumbar during long days in the saddle.
See the Black Diamond Momentum
Best for Beginners: Petzl Luna ($80)
Overall, testers found that the Luna is a great all-around harness that’s comfortable and easy to pull on fast. The aluminum, double-back buckles are smooth and friendly to use — on both the waist and leg adjustment points — and the padding on the waist and legs makes rappels more enjoyable.
The harness has a large gear-carry capacity with two large, slightly forward-angled gear loops in the front and another three soft, round gear loops toward the back.
“One of my favorite parts of the Luna is the drop seat: The elastic straps that connect to the leg loops unclip via two small buckles in the back. When nature calls, you can fully pull down your pants with no hassle,” one tester noted after long afternoon sessions at the crag.
See the Petzl Luna
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Best for Racking Up: Mammut Ophir 3 Slide ($65)
The Ophir 3 Slide weighs 350 g and features four slightly rigid, forward-angled gear loops. It has a strong haul loop that’s rated to hold nearly 900 pounds. The harness is fully adjustable at the waist and leg loops.
“It’s nice that the back leg straps have separate connection points to the waist, so that they don’t seesaw and change lengths, which makes the gear sit imbalanced,” said one tester who guides full-time and carries an entire rack of gear on her harness.
We like the Ophir 3 Slide for its comfortable fit. But if we’re being really picky, an extra half-inch of length on the height of the back padding would be ideal.
“I love floppy gear loops like these ones, because, ergonomically, clipping gate-in feels best for me,” our tester pointed out. “Hard, rigid gear loops force gate-out clipping: With hard loops, if you clip inward, stacked-up carabiners are forced to rise at an awkward, forward angle as the loop fills. If you carry an entire rack on the harness, you’ll notice.”
See the Mammut Ophir Slide 3
Most Supportive: Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe Harness ($130)
The most unique element of this harness might be the double belay loop, which is designed to help minimize clutter while setting up for rappels or multipitch belays. Four loop-shaped rigid gear loops sit on the harness. The loops on each side of the harness slightly overlap, which creates a traffic jam with gear, one tester critiqued.
“The Safe Tech Deluxe Harness has a wider waist belt and thicker foam compared to most women’s harnesses, so it feels super durable and beefy,” our tester said.
The center buckle is tricky at first: You need to hold open the two plates so that the webbing moves freely for tightening and loosening. And when the plates close, they’re a clenched jaw. Butit gets easier with practice.
See the Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe
How to Choose a Climbing Harness Get a Custom Fit
All body types are unique and have diverse proportions. One climber’s waist might be narrow or boxy while the same person’s quads are built-out or straight.
As you choose a harness, consider selecting one that’s fully adjustable. Look for buckles so you can dial in the fit. If you climb in various weather conditions and environments, you may want to add or subtract layers, too, so it helps to have a modifiable harness.
Testing gear in Colorado; photo credit: Eric PhillipsLook at the Loops
Harnesses have rigid loops, soft loops, or a mix of the two. Rigid loops are encased in plastic, which is intended for durability. In great part, the type of loop is a personal preference based on a climber’s personal style, clipping technique, and ergonomics.
If you’re beginning to transition from gym to outdoor sport or trad climbs, test out a few harnesses with different types of loops. Generally, four gear loops or more are ideal for trad climbing because they’re designed to hold a lot of gear. Sport or gym climbing harnesses may need only two gear loops.
In general, consider sizing up in women’s harnesses. Our testers found that the waistbelt padding on the majority of female-specific harnesses doesn’t extend beneath the length of the belt’s webbing.
And be sure to look for cushioning. If the padding doesn’t overlap, the gear loops won’t sit completely equalized. One potential trade-off of sizing up is adding weight. Generally, harnesses range between 350 and 567 g (0.77 and 1.25 pounds), so the difference could be nominal for some.
Have a favorite climbing harness? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.
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