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How We Tested Climbing Harnesses

By Jeff Dobronyi ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday November 3, 2022
climbing harness - testing harnesses often involved taking a giant pile of them to the...
Testing harnesses often involved taking a giant pile of them to the crag and wearing different ones on different climbs.

We have been testing and reviewing climbing harnesses at OutdoorGearLab for the past nine years. Many of the models tested have the same name as versions that we've tested in the past, although the manufacturers have updated them over that time. We test harnesses pretty much year-round on all of our climbing adventures, and in the past year, we conducted testing at a bunch of cool climbing areas, including Smith Rock, Leonidio, Greece, Trout Creek, the Bugaboos, Squamish, Skaha, the Fins, and Lumpy Ridge.

climbing harness - taking a break on a convenient ledge while climbing directissima at...
Taking a break on a convenient ledge while climbing Directissima at the Gunks of New York. Our testing involved climbing at crags all across the country, sharing harnesses with many different people to gather multiple opinions along the way.

The majority of the testing we do is intensive field-testing, which in this case means pitch after pitch of rock climbing. The head tester spent many days climbing in each of these harnesses, and we also loaned them out to friends and climbing partners to garner a broader perspective. In some cases, we conducted more objective, side-by-side tests to solidify results and comparative ratings, which are described below. While we do speculate at times as to whether a particular harness will be good for ice or mountaineering, we disclose that we did not test these harnesses for these activities. Where recommendations for specific purposes have been made, they have been based mostly on extrapolations based on the experience of the head tester, who has over 20 years of climbing experience in every discipline. In no case should any of the recommendations made be taken as safety advice, but merely as informed advice for a purchasing decision.

Hanging Comfort


We hung on routes, at hanging belays, and rappelled in each of these harnesses. To test them side-by-side, we set up a mock hang at the base of a crag and spent ten minutes hanging in each harness in a position that mimics a hanging belay or hanging after a fall, one after the other, to gain clearer insight to differentiate the relative comforts of each product. We look for harnesses moving around on the body, uncomfortable pinching feelings, and support while hanging to determine the scores.

climbing harness - hanging belays, rappelling, and taking on the rope are all ways we...
Hanging belays, rappelling, and taking on the rope are all ways we assess hanging comfort.
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Standing Comfort and Mobility


This metric is an amalgamation of many different tests. We wore each model, used them, and took copious notes that led to comparative ratings. We analyzed and compared them while rock climbing, standing around and walking in shorts and a t-shirt, doing the same while wearing pants and a jacket, standing, moving, and climbing with a massive rack on the harness, and also while wearing a climbing pack with the waist belt buckled. This metric is meant to convey the comfort for all times when not hanging from the harness.

climbing harness - standing around, belaying, and climbing are all great ways to test...
Standing around, belaying, and climbing are all great ways to test comfort when the harness isn't being weighted.
Credit: Andy Wellman

Features


For each harness, we identified each feature found on it, and then tested it conscientiously while out climbing. We made a note of whether a whole double rack plus water, a jacket, and shoes could fit in the gear loops; how easy or hard the gear was to clip or unclip from the loops; whether the haul loop was easy to clip and unclip; how easy the buckles adjusted and stayed locked in place; and many other such tests of literally every feature available.

climbing harness - we assess the gear loop size and placement of each harness, in...
We assess the gear loop size and placement of each harness, in addition to checking for adjustability and ice climbing features
Credit: Jeff Dobronyi

Versatility


We tested each of the buckles on all of the harnesses side-by-side to get a thorough understanding of which were the most adjustable, and which buckles worked best. For the other features, we climbed both sport and trad routes, and in situations where we were not able to test, like ice climbing, we racked up as if going climbing anyway to test how versatile the features were.

climbing harness - whether climbing multi-pitch classics, or for single-pitch trad...
Whether climbing multi-pitch classics, or for single-pitch trad cragging, as shown here in the lower gorge of Smith Rock, the Adjama is the best choice.

Weight and Packability


This is an easier metric to test. We start by weighing each harness down to the nearest tenth of an ounce. We also fold each harness down to its smallest packable size, and measure the dimensions. The lighter and more compact, the higher the score will be in this metric.

We weigh each harness down to the nearest tenth of an ounce to test...
We weigh each harness down to the nearest tenth of an ounce to test weight.
We fold each harness down to its smallest size to assess packability.
We fold each harness down to its smallest size to assess packability.

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