Saturday, 12 December 2009

Choosing a Climbing Harness

One of the questions I am regularly asked is "What climbing harness should I get? / how do I choose and fit a climbing harness?" Last week I was asked twice for information on climbing harnesses - so I wrote a short piece that is on the Rock Climbing Company site in the complete version.

There are other articles there that cover other aspects of choosing and using climbing equipment.

Climbing Harnesses - Choosing and Fitting.

  • Background
All climbing harnesses sold in the UK (and EU) are tested to meet certain mandatory standards as set out by the European Union Directive 89/686/CEE on personal protective equipment. The EN standard within this directive that deals with sit harnesses is EN 813 (Full body harnesses are covered by EN 361)This directive sets out the conditions under which products may be brought onto the market, the manner in which they may be used by member states, and their free circulation within the European Community. It also sets out general rules pertaining to design and defines the certification procedure for equipment.

As far as climbers are concerned a key part of the testing requirement is that a force of 15kN (equivalent to a static load of 1500kg) is applied to the harness and it must hold that load for 3 minutes - so don't be worried about falling off in any new harness. It is one of the strongest parts of a climbing system.

A climbing harness is a core piece of kit for any climber so it is worth spending some time choosing one that fits correctly and has the features that you need.

Don't buy your first harness on Ebay or second hand - it is most likely that you won't have the experience to determine if it is safe and it is very unlikely that you will get the best combination of fit and features that you need.

Head down to a good climbing shop that has a wide range of harnesses and shop staff that climb. The shop should have some means of letting you hang in a harness so that you can check that the harness will hold you in the correct position in a fall /during an abseil. This also lets you gauge how the harness spreads the load / how comfortable it is.

Then spend some time choosing the best harness - the article below will look at types of harness, features and fit and should hopefully give you a few ideas about what to look for...


1. Types of Climbing Harness

Thus the first thing to decide is what type of climbing that you will use it for – this may sound silly, but each different climbing discipline is best served by a harness with specific features. The majority of climbers will not have a harness for all the different types of climbing, but knowing what features you will and will not need should mean you don’t make compromises in the wrong areas.

Centre Harnesses: Centres and groups want harnesses with a simple design, great durability and wide size adjustment amongst other things. Thus most popular centre harnesses are constructed from un-padded 44mm nylon webbing with a minimum of gear loops. Many have a high tie-in point because they are often used with children and this feature helps reduce the chances of children inverting (children have under-developed hips and a higher centre of gravity compared to adults). They are perfect for groups, but their limited features means they aren’t perfect for personal use.

Examples: DMM Alpine and DMM Brenin

Mountaineering and Alpine Harnesses: These harnesses need to be light, easy to put on when wearing big boots / crampons, have a wide range of adjustment to go over a multitude of clothing systems and have drop away legs for calls of nature. Ideally I prefer these harnesses to have 4 or more gear loops, although a lot of people use bandoliers in the mountains. They are normally worn over several layers of clothing and so do not need padding for comfort, in addition unpadded belts are lighter and absorb minimal water. There are two main styles – harnesses with fully opening adjustable legs and those that use a nappy design. Nappy designs tend to be most popular because there is only one buckle to do up/carry up the hill.
You will be using this harness with gloves so check that everything can be adjusted with gloves on. Features that are fiddly in the shop will be impossible to use on the hill.

Can you use the harness with your rucksack on? Is it comfortable or will the sack cause the harness to dig in? Stop you accessing your gear loops?

Examples: DMM Super Couloir and BD Bod (not the Alpine Bod which lacks a belay loop).

Rock / Cragging Harness: This is the harness for general summer cragging duties. It is probably the hardest design to get right because of the contradicting demands placed on it – it also (unfairly) increasingly unpopular as climbers have moved/been pushed towards fully adjustable harnesses.

The harness needs to be padded so that it is comfortable on stances and yet be lightweight and unrestrictive, so as not to hinder athletic movements. This is best achieved by using a sculpted waist belt that is wide at the rear and is then cut away at the sides - when designed correctly this should provide support in the small of the back and yet not restrict sideways bending. The quality of the foam padding is also important – there is no point in having padding if it collapses under load. Squeeze the waist and leg loop padding and see how it behaves - if is collapses easily then it is unlikely to provide much comfort..............

This is continued on the Guided Climbing page of the RCC site in the tab under the main text.

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