You have gone climbing a few times at the local indoor rock gym and then you hired a climbing guide to take you out to the Garden of the Gods for a day outside on real rock. Now you’re hooked on getting vertical and want to buy a pair of rock shoes and a harness so you don’t have to keep renting the essential climbing gear. Here are some tips and thoughts about how to try on, test, and buy the best harness for you.

It is essential that your harness fits you properly.

If your harness is too tight then:

  • Your movements are restricted when you’re climbing.
  • Parts of the harness can chafe, pinch, and rub.
  • It is hard to adjust if you’re wearing extra clothes.

If your harness is too loose then:

  • The waist belt doesn’t fit snugly around your waist.
  • The leg loops can slide up and down your thighs and can lead to chafing, especially if you wear shorts.

How to Pick the Right Harness

Here are seven tips to consider when you’re buying and to help you select the right harness at the climbing store:

Make sure the harness fits snugly around your waist and legs. It shouldn’t slip, pinch, or restrict movement. Different harness styles from different manufacturers will fit each body type differently. Find a harness that fits just right and you will be happier than if you pick one that fits only so-so.

Make sure the harness is the right size. Besides the waist belt and leg loop sizes, harnesses come in basic sizes—small, medium, large, and extra-large. Make sure that the harness fits your seat properly. One way to check is to make sure that there is two to three inches of space between the top of the belay loop on the waist belt and the bottom of the loop where it attaches to the leg loops. If that space is too small, then the harness might constrict your movement and reduce your leg and hip mobility.

The waist belt should be above your hip bones. You shouldn’t ever be able to pull it below your hips. If it does, it’s too big and you could slip out of it. It could also slide up onto your lower ribs and compress your diaphragm, making it hard to breathe. For women, try a woman’s harness rather than a uni-sex one for a better fit. If the harness can slip below your hips, you have the possibility that you could fall out of the harness if you flip upside down. If you can’t find one that fits your hips, it’s best to buy a full-body harness.

Make sure the waist belt is long enough. Be sure you have two to three inches of extra webbing on the tail of the waist belt after you’ve doubled it back through the buckle. That extra length of tail webbing will make sure that your harness never comes untied under a weight load.

Fixed-size leg loops or adjustable leg loops? Some folks have big waists and bellies with skinny thighs; if that’s you, buy a harness with an XL waist but adjustable leg loops rather than fixed size leg loops. Usually, the fixed-size leg loops on large harnesses are extra-large to fit beefy thighs. If you do buy a harness with fixed-size leg loops, make sure they fit snuggly and don’t slip up and down your thighs. You are not going to want that extra movement when you are climbing and the harness could be uncomfortable if you hang in it.

When should you get adjustable leg loops? Get adjustable leg loops if you’re going to be wearing bulky clothes; this is important if you plan on doing any alpine climbing. A lot of climbers, myself included, prefer harnesses with adjustable leg loops since we often climb in a wide variety of areas with varying weather conditions. Make sure that the leg loop straps have two inches of the exposed tail after you’ve snagged them down on your thighs. This ensures that they, like the waist belt, won’t come open under a weight load like a fall.

Wear your climbing clothes when you go out to buy a harness. If you normally wear shorts when climbing, try the harness on with climbing shorts rather than blue jeans; especially if you are getting fixed leg loops on your harness.

Always Best to Buy at a Climbing Ship

Now you need to buy that climbing harness. You can, of course, shop online and get all kinds of great deals on harnesses, but if you have never owned a harness before, then that might not be the best idea since you can’t try the beast on before buying it. It is best if you go to a brick-and-mortar climbing shop and look at the harnesses in stock. Try on different harnesses and move around. If they have a short climbing wall, bust a few moves and feel how it rides on your hips and around your waist.