The Arc’Teryx AR385a (women’s) / AR395a (men’s) is our pick for the best all-around climbing harness. It has many useful features whilst maintaining a simple, practical appearance and light weight packability. Designed with sport, trad, alpine and ice climbing in mind, and with both a women’s and men’s version and a range of sizes, it is sure to be a good fit for any climber.
Next in is our step-up pick, the Black Diamond Technician. This harness will do you well no matter what type of climbing you are into, from ice to sport. One of the best new additions to the Black Diamond range and it’s already becoming a favourite among many climbers thanks to its versatility and low-profile construction.
Our budget pick is the Edelrid Jayne II (women’s) / Jay II (men’s). This harness features everything you would expect from a solid all-around harness, like great fit adjustability, removable leg loops, a drop seat and a couple of ice clipper slots. Almost as versatile as our top two picks, and at one of the best prices.
|Fit / Adjustability||Durability||Weight / Size||Gear Loops||Haul Loop||Ice Clipper Slots||Drop Seat|
|Arc’Teryx AR-385a / AR-395a||Women’s and men’s, 5 sizes each||Low-profile construction, durable double weave with wear indicator on tie-in points||395g (men’s),
|4x large, removable plastic on the outside||Yes||4||Yes, 1x hook|
|Black Diamond Technician||Women’s and men’s, 4 sizes each.||Low-profile construction, quick-drying durable outer shell||376g (men’s), compact||5x: 4x with plastic on the outside, plus a 5th soft loop at back||Can use 5th gear loop||4||Yes, 1x hook|
|Edelrid Jayne II / Jay II||Women’s (4 sizes) and men’s (3 sizes) with moveable waist belt mesh||Mesh padding, durable with plastic tie-in point protector||416g (men’s),
|4x, with fabric on the outside||Yes||2||Yes, 1x hook|
|Arc’Teryx FL-355 / FL-365||Women’s (4 sizes) and men’ (5 sizes)||Low-profile construction, durable double weave with wear indicator on tie-in points||365 (men’s), very compact||4x large, removable plastic on the outside||Yes||4||Yes, 1x hook|
|Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe||Women’s and men’s, 4 sizes each||Padded, super burly construction with 2x belay loops||567g (mens), quite bulky||4x large, offset, with plastic on the outside||Yes||No||Yes, 2x re-threaded buckles|
|Black Diamond Aspect / Lotus||Women’s and men’s, 4 sizes each||Minimal padding, with abrasion patches for extra durability||397g (men’s), average bulk||4x with plastic on the outside||Yes||4||Yes, 2x hooks|
|Misty Mountain Cadillac QA||Women’s and men’s, 7 sizes each||Well padded and super durable||513g (men’s)||6x large, offset, with plastic on the outside||Yes||6||Yes, 1x clip|
|Petzl Macchu + Body||One size fits all (kids), with 2x waist buckles for extra adjustment range||Well padded and very durable||325g||2x with fabric on the outside||No||No||Yes, 1x clip|
|Black Diamond Couloir||Unisex, 5 sizes||Hydrophobic fabric, durable enough but not super burly||215g||2x thin fabric||No||4 (with ice screw slot on leg loops)||Yes, 1x clip|
|Black Diamond Primrose / Momentum||Women’s (4 sizes) and men’s (6 sizes)||Well padded with abrasion resistant nylon outer fabric||350g (men’s)||4x with plastic on the outside||Yes||No||Yes, 2x hooks|
- A Little Background
- How We Picked
- Finding the best climbing harness is a huge task. Just as climbing has many sub-disciplines, so do harnesses have many specialisations.
- Weight / Size
- Gear Loops
- Haul Loop
- Ice Clipper Slots
- Drop Seat
- Top Pick
- Flaws but Not Dealbreakers
- The Competition
- Other Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping It Up
A Little Background
As climbing increases in popularity, more and more people are heading out in search of the vertical adventures this sport facilitates. From the climbing gym to frozen waterfalls, overhanging sport climbing caves to remote alpine big walls, there are more people than ever before in our sport.
From general outdoor gear to specific climbing equipment, the best gear is a huge part of what makes modern climbing possible. With so many climbing disciplines and so many climbers, it is only natural that we now have a large range of climbing gear available to us, with new ideas and new products every season.
Perhaps the most important piece of gear in your climbing kit is your harness. It is the first piece of safety gear in your system, you wear it every time you rope up for a climb, and aside from your shoes, it is the one piece of gear that is specially chosen to suit your particular body and your style of climbing. There are many great climbing harnesses on the market today, so we’ve done the hard work and tested a selection of them to find the best ones for you.
|A good harness fits you well and comfortably carries all the gear you need, whilst allowing you the freedom you need to climb.|
We’ve come up with an overall top pick, as well as the best picks for different types of climbing that may require different styles of harness. With the number of options out there it can be quite daunting to choose one, so we’ve also put together a small guide on how to choose the best harness for you, as well as answered some frequently asked questions.
How We Picked
Finding the best climbing harness is a huge task. Just as climbing has many sub-disciplines, so do harnesses have many specialisations.
It’s a good idea to consider each feature on our list below and how important they are for you and the kind of climbing you will be mainly doing. You might be sticking to one particular discipline, you might dabble in a few types of climbing, or, like me, you might want a few different specialised types of harness which are best at different things if you do a lot of different types of climbing.
To come up with our pick of the best climbing harness, we weighed up each of these features to find an all-around model that performed well in many aspects:
- Fit / Adjustability
- Weight / Size
- Gear loops
- Haul loop
- Ice clipper slots
- Drop seat
Next, let’s have a look at each feature and why it’s important in when choosing a harness.
Having a harness that fits you properly is one of the most important factors not only in terms of comfort, but also in safety. Many climbing harnesses on the market have all the best bells and whistles of a good quality, modern harness, but only ones with the best fit / adjustment options made it into our shortlist.
Extra points were awarded to harnesses that came in both women’s and men’s versions. A women’s harness accounts for higher hips, so it has a longer pelvic area, ensuring that the hip belt is not pulled downward by the belay loop. They also usually have wider leg loops than on men’s harnesses. Petzl’s Luna (and its minimalist counterpart, the Selena) is a favourite of many women who swear by its female-specific design. Harnesses labelled as ‘unisex’ are generally made to fit a man’s body, but are available in a larger range of sizes than men’s-specific models. While these may fit some women, they aren’t the best and didn’t score as highly as models that had a women’s option.
The next thing we considered in the fit / adjustability category was the size range availability. Harnesses with options ranging from XXS to XXL scored higher than those with a narrower range of sizes.
Lastly, leg loop adjustability was another important factor in this category. Some harnesses have fixed leg loops which, if they fit your particular sized legs, are nice and hassle-free, however, if they don’t fit your legs you simply won’t be able to use that model — obviously not the best if you have narrowed down all the other features that you like. For this reason, harnesses with adjustable leg loops scored higher in this category than others.
|Adjustable leg loops mean you can get the perfect fit, whether you are climbing in shorts in the summer or have an extra three layers on during winter.|
All harnesses are made with structural webbing, of either nylon or dyneema, which is responsible for the actual weight-bearing rating of the product. Our considerations with durability were focussed on how well-protected the structural materials of the harness are, and therefore how long the lifetime of a harness may extend.
On top of this, we wanted to find the best durability of non-structural features such as gear loops. Of course, this varies greatly depending on what type of climbing you are doing (gym, sport, trad, ice, mixed, big wall or alpine), so for this category we conservatively assumed regular trad climbing usage, so as to consider abrasion resistance from off-width and chimney climbing.
The most common type of structural material for modern harnesses is nylon and/or dyneema, which is usually best covered with padding or with a thin, wide belt. In general, the padded harnesses offer more durability, however Arc’Teryx’s AR385a / AR395a, Black Diamond’s Technician and Solution (and the women’s Technician and Solution) are exceptions to this, with a low-profile style construction that scored very highly in our durability tests. Not many harnesses have the structural webbing exposed to the outside, but there are some. Keeping the webbing safely hidden inside other materials is the best way to increase durability.
Some models have wear indicators on their belay loops/tie in points — an outer layer of stitching that, when worn down, exposes a bright colour beneath. This handy feature to help climbers tell when their harnesses might be wearing out and in need of replacement is found on the Arc’Teryx AR-385a / AR-395a as well as Petzl’s Adjama / Luna.
Gear loops have a plastic structural element that is either inside a fabric casing (the fabric also sewn at either side to the waist belt) or outside the fabric, protecting it. Gear loops with the fabric on the outside were found to wear through faster and create problems when the fabric was fully worn away, enabling gear to drop off the broken gear loops. Harnesses that had the plastic structure on the outside scored best in our gear loop durability tests.
|Plastic protects these gear loops from abrasion. Interestingly on the Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe, these gear loops are also fully rated.|
Weight / Size
For several types of climbing, such as alpine, and any climb requiring a long approach and/or descent, the way the harness packs down becomes important. When projecting a hard sport climb or working a cutting-edge trad route it’s also important that you feel the freedom of movement offered by a more streamlined design. For this category we considered both weight and bulk, in terms of wearability and packability.
Gear loops might seem like a trivial feature to mention, however there are a few things to consider with them that might make or break your deal on any given harness. Firstly, how many there are: a basic / streamlined sport climbing model usually has four, but other types of model go above and beyond this. If a harness is made for big wall climbing, we expect more gear loops — or at least a more accommodating size or shape if there are only four.
Gear loop size and shape is also important to all types of climbing harness, because it’s just not the best when all your quickdraws bunch up at one side, or if your rack doesn’t fit nicely spread out for easy access. For this reason, designs with more gear loops (when appropriate), and larger or more accommodating gear loops were ranked higher than those without.
The placement of gear loops is also important and harnesses that had centred / symmetrical gear loops came out better than those that sat asymmetrically. This test was done when harnesses were worn in the middle of the range for their size (i.e. the waist belt was tightened to halfway). Although gear loops are not expected to be fully rated (to bear weight), I’d like to give a special mention to the Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe (and the women’s version) which goes the extra mile with fully rated gear loops, so you can even belay sideways, if that’s your thing!
From tagging up extra gear on a big wall to trailing a second rope for rappels while ice climbing, having a haul loop is often something we can’t do without on a climb. Of course, some types of climbing won’t require it (if you’d rather sleep in a tent on the ground than haul up a portaledge for the night, I’m talking to you) but it’s still important enough to consider when thinking about which harness would be most suitable for you. What we’re looking for: is there a haul loop or not?
|On long climbs a haul loop is important so you can trail up a second rope that you might need to rappel off, or to tag up gear, food and water.|
Ice Clipper Slots
Not every harness is designed specifically for ice or alpine climbing, but for the ones that are, as well as ones that are promoted as all-around models, we considered their ice clipper slots. The first thing to consider is how many there are. Harnesses with four slots were rated best compared with those with only two — after all, if you’re going to make it ice-climbing compatible, you may as well go all the way.
The placement of ice clipper slots is super important, so as to not tear up your pants with ice screws but also to make sure you can actually reach your gear. The placement of ice clipper slots was tested similarly to the gear loops, i.e. with the harness worn in the middle of its size range. Lastly, it’s always a compromise between how easy it is to insert and remove ice clippers from the slots and how securely they stay in place once slotted. Models that performed well in both these aspects came out best.
|Ice screws should hang on your ice clippers in a way that doesn’t damage your pants, but so that you can still easily reach them when climbing.|
For indoor or sport-focussed harnesses this wasn’t considered as a priority, however for all others the drop seat is pretty important when nature calls. There are two main types of drop seat: clip/buckle and hook. Both can be pretty easy, and both can be difficult and fiddly. Ease of use was considered more important than one type over another, so harnesses with two attachment points of elastic and therefore two drop seat hooks rather than just one lost points. The best were ones we could use with only one hand.
Almost an extension of the drop seat, are removable leg loops. Models with both of these did best in the rankings, especially if they were marketed as a trad or big wall specific design.
|Being able to drop the seat and remove the leg loops while keeping tied into the waist loop is invaluable when nature calls on the wall.|
The Arc’Teryx AR-385a (women’s) / AR-395a (men’s) is our top pick for the best all-around harness. After testing it on hard sport climbs, long multi-pitch trad, big walls, ice climbs as well as general mountaineering, I can safely say that it performs well in all aspects.
Its “Warp Strength Technology™” construction does a great job at distributing your weight over the thin waist belt and leg loops, making it one of the most comfortable harnesses I’ve ever used — and it doesn’t even have padding. This design moves with you as you climb and is not bulky at all. It is also much tougher (thanks to its durable double-weave) than it might seem at first glance, but when it’s time to retire this harness, you’ll know, thanks to the orange wear indicator on the tie-in points.
The four gear loops are protected by plastic casings which are cleverly shaped to maximise capacity. You can even take the plastic off and flip it around, which means you can choose whether your rack slides towards the front or back of each gear loop. There is also a rear haul loop for tagging up extra gear, an extra rope for rappels, or a haul line. Although the haul loop seems a bit flimsy at first, it has held up just fine with no sign of wear over the last six Yosemite big walls I have climbed in the AR-385a.
|We liked how the AR-385a easily accommodated a double rack as well as other multi-pitch necessities we needed like an extra layer and shoes for the walk off. At the same time, it was super comfortable to climb in.|
When the summer season’s over, you can continue to use the AR-395a / AR-385a for all your winter climbing as well. Four ice clipper slots mean you can carry a full rack of screws for multi-pitch ice climbs. Removable leg loops mean you can put the harness on while wearing crampons, while the adjustability accounts for more clothing layers. The drop seat hook is easy to use both on a big wall and on a big mountain.
If you’re looking for the best climbing harness that will perform well for you and hold up to the task, wherever you may be climbing, the AR-395a / AR-385a is well worth a look.
Flaws but Not Dealbreakers
While there are a couple of things that I’d like to see improved on, these qualms are certainly not dealbreakers.
The haul loop is relatively small and often requires two hands to find and clip it through the gear hanging off the gear loops. Although this is not the best, you do get used to it after a few uses. The buckles loosen a little once tightened and need to be occasionally re-tightened, however this is the case with most pre-threaded buckles. I expect in the future Arc’Teryx might be the first to come up with a solution to this problem.
The Technician’s waist belt with “Fusion Comfort Technology” is very form-fitted and low-profile, hugging your body as you move without adding bulk. Similar to our top pick, the Technician spreads your weight across various strips of webbing internally distributed throughout the waist belt so that there are no pressure points.
The four main gear loops are protected with pressure-molded plastic which also helps them protrude out from the waist belt for easy clipping. In place of a haul loop is a large, soft, fifth gear loop. Of course, this could also be used to haul up a tagline, but its main purpose is to stash all the gear you won’t need until the end of the pitch like your belay device and a warm layer.
On ice, the Technician gets the job done with four ice clipper slots and quick-drying material on the waist belt. Its removable and adjustable leg loops allow you to stay warm with extra layers and put your crampons on without taking the whole thing off. The drop seat is a single user-friendly hook.
If you’re looking for something that you can take on all kinds of climbing adventures but don’t quite have the budget for the AR-385a / AR-395a, the Black Diamond Technician could be your best bet.
The Jayne II / Jay II is one of the most adjustable models we tested. As well having a women’s and men’s version and adjustable leg loops, the waist belt padding is movable. This means you can tighten the webbing to fit you and then slide the belt around so that the gear loops and belay loop are centered. The “3D Mesh Padding” proved quite comfortable and also breathed well while climbing in a hot gym.
Instead of a wear indicator, Edelrid has reinforced the tie-in points of the Jayne II / Jay II with a plastic abrasion protector so that this heavily used point will last longer. You can also take this harness ice climbing with you: it has two ice clipper slots and the drop seat and removable leg loops are easy to use. Unusual for climbing harnesses, you even have a choice of colour with the Jayne II / Jay II.
Best Harness for Sport Climbing
Arc’Teryx’s FL-355 / FL-365 is our best pick for sport climbing. With the same “Warp Strength Technology™” as our top pick, the FL-355 / FL-365 is minimalistic and super comfortable without being bulky. When carrying minimal gear on the route, and pulling hard moves you really want to be able to not notice your harness at all, and this is what the FL-355 / FL-365 achieves.
Fixed leg loops eliminate extra buckles that are not needed if you’re mainly single-pitch climbing (and the leg loops fit you). At only 365g, the FL-365 is one of the lightest models available without getting into super-minimalist alpine styles. If you’re looking to push your grade in something super comfortable and light, the FL-355 / FL 365 is a great choice.
|Freedom of movement to make gymnastic moves like this is important when pulling hard moves on sport climbs.|
Best Harness for Trad Climbing
The Metolius Safe Tech Deluxe (and the women’s Safe Tech Deluxe) scored the best for trad climbing. The main factor here was durability and we couldn’t find anything tougher than the Safe Tech Deluxe. On top of this, is scored as one of the best for comfort during extended time in hanging belays.
Made with burly ripstop nylon and padded with closed cell foam, this is a basic but fail-proof design. In fact, every part of the Safe Tech Deluxe is fully rated to hold you in a fall — meaning that if you accidentally clipped into the wrong part you would still be fine. There is even a second belay loop for redundancy.
All the buckles are single buckles, so you need to double them back yourself, but they won’t slip at all once done. There are even handy visual indicators on all the webbing to remind you to double-back through the buckles.
Best Harness for Ice Climbing
Black Diamond’s Aspect / Lotus is our best harness for ice climbing. It is fully equipped for cold climbing and carrying ice protection, and it’s the go-to choice for many of my colleagues on the ice.
The four ice clipper slots provide plenty of space for all your screws and for stashing tools. They are also spaced around the waist band so that they won’t interfere with gear clipped to the gear loops. “Speed Adjust” buckles on the waist loop and leg loops help you quickly adjust for layers, and the drop seat hooks give you the option to completely drop the leg loops.
One concern for ice climbers is all the “sharps” we deal with: crampons, ice tools and ice screws, and Black Diamond obviously had this in mind when they designed the Aspect / Lotus. On the outside fabric are “Bombshell” abrasion patches, which will protect against those sharp ice screws with 20 times more durability than standard nylon.
Best Big Wall Harness
Often on a big wall you spend hours at a hanging belay, so you really need a design that will support you comfortably and not pinch your waist or cut off the blood supply to your legs. The Cadillac has a super wide waist belt: 4.5 inches at the back and the leg loops are 3 inches at their widest. The nylon is super durable, with even denser reinforcing in high-wear areas.
Carrying that triple rack shouldn’t be a problem with the Cadillac as it features six large, offset, gear loops. Two above and one below on each side will help you keep all that gear organised and reachable. A burly haul loop, removable leg loops and a single-buckle drop seat are some more great features of the Cadillac. It even has two ice clipper slots in case your wall is planned for winter.
|On a big wall like this you’ll often need to carry a huge rack, as well spend lots of time at hanging belays.|
Best Harness for Kids
Just like we would expect a kids’ bike to have all the necessary functions for them to learn how to ride properly, we’d like a kids’ harness to be one they can easily learn to climb in. For this reason, we have chosen the Petzl Macchu and its accessory, the Body as our best kids’ pick. Unlike some children’s models, the Macchu is built with the same comfort and functionality as an adults’ ones.
The Macchu is well padded, breathable, and has two gear loops. It also has a huge range of adjustability to be able to grow with your child. The leg loops are adjustable and there are two waist loop buckles to best accommodate for very large size range. There is even a single-buckle drop seat on the Macchu. The belay loop is bright green (in contrast with the rest of the design, which is orange) making it easy to introduce ropework skills with your child.
The Body is worn like a vest, and, when combined with the Macchu, provides a full-body harness. This means that instead of buying a body-harness and then upgrading to a waist one when your child grows, the Macchu / Body combination covers you for a longer period of time. Note that the Body cannot be used alone: it must be in conjunction with a waist harness such as the Macchu.
Best Lightweight Alpine Harness
For the best lightweight alpine model we have chosen the Black Diamond Couloir. There were many top contenders for this pick, but in the end a few features made the Couloir stand out above the rest.
Approaches to and descents from alpine climbs can be the longest parts of the day, and your harness is likely in your pack. The Couloir is extremely lightweight (only 215g) and packs down to the size of your fist. You could stash it in your jacket pocket during the approach if you like and you wouldn’t even notice it was there.
There are two minimalist gear loops, and four ice clipper slots. Usually super light models only have two, so this stood out. The gear loops sat well under the waist belt of my pack and I didn’t get the usual chafing I get from other harnesses worn under my pack. In fact, the Couloir turned out to be very comfortable despite its minimalist construction.
|I ended up testing the hanging comfort of the Couloir on an unplanned tyrolean traverse recently and it far exceeded my expectations.|
Best Entry Level Harness
Our best entry level pick is the Black Diamond Primrose / Momentum. If you’re just starting out with the sport of climbing, you don’t need many of the features our other picks have, so we were really looking for the best stripped-back design here that was comfortable and affordable.
The Momentum / Primrose is nice and adjustable, with four sizes for both women and men, as well as “trakFit” adjustment sliders on the leg loops so you can customise their size. The waistbelt has a bullhorn shape for extra comfort — it’s higher and wider on the hips, and wider and lower at the back. On top of this, there are four colour choices for each of the women’s and men’s versions (not something we can say for many of the more high-end models).
There are four molded gear loops with plastic protection as well as a haul loop, so you can take this harness with you from the gym to the rock. The Primrose / Momentum will be right with you when you start following long climbs and leading climbs of your own.
Choosing the Best Harness for You
The first thing to consider when choosing your best option is what type of climbing will you predominantly be doing. If you do a range of different types of climbing, it might be worth investing in a couple of different harnesses to suit your different needs — and to also extend the lifetime of each one. Personally, I have three: one for gym / sport climbing; one for trad, big wall, ice and mixed climbing; and another one for alpine climbing. This means each harness will last longer than if I only used one for all of these activities, and also means I can be more comfortable on each climb with a design that best fits my needs more closely.
For those of you who predominantly do one style of climbing and dabble in a few others, it makes sense to find a sort of “quiver killer” harness — a model designed as an all-rounder. Otherwise, if you mainly stick to one type of climbing, it makes sense to tailor your best choice to match that style and do away with any unnecessary features that you would never need and would just get in the way.
After thinking about the type of climbing you will be doing, size and fit is the next most important thing to consider when choosing the best model for you. Make sure you can wear it comfortably, and that you can easily access all the features you need. Remember, everyone has a different body, so it’s worth checking out a couple of different models that sport similar features. Usually, I find that the way the harness fits me ultimately determines which one I buy.
There were plenty of other models that we looked at, but ultimately didn’t make it into our shortlist. Some had much less durable construction (like webbing on the outside of the waist belt), some were unnecessarily bulky and cumbersome, and some were extremely uncomfortable.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the benefits of rock climbing?
A: Rock climbing is one of the best all-around workouts has many great benefits for both your body and your mental health. The physical sport is a fun way to work every muscle in your body, both on strength and endurance, and you get to head outside to enjoy socialising, camping and being with friends.
On top of this, climbing helps your mental health best by:
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Creating a sense of accomplishment
- Creating positive relationships with other people
- Increasing serotonin production to improve mood
Q: Who can try rock climbing?
A: Because the way you move over rock is so unique to each person, everyone climbs slightly differently. Balance, flexibility and technique are all key components, as well as strength, and different people have different ways of approaching a difficult sequence on a climb. This means that climbing is not best suited to any one type of size, shape, or age of person: kids and elderly alike enjoy rock climbing. There are even climbers who are missing limbs enjoying the sport.
Q: How do I get started with rock climbing?
A: There are a few ways to get into the sport. You could start at your local climbing gym by taking a belay lesson and finding a regular partner to climb indoors with. Once you’re comfortable you can take a course on lead climbing and learning some skills you’ll need to go outdoor climbing.
Another great way to start is by joining a local alpine club (regional, national and university clubs are quite common). The best clubs usually have courses to teach you the basics as well as group trips where you can go along to learn skills and meet other climbers. Another way to start out is to hire a certified mountain guide to teach you the basic skills you’ll need. Sometimes group courses are offered by guides, which can be a fun way to meet like-minded people at the same time as learning the best practices of the sport.
Wrapping It Up
All in all, there were several great harnesses that we tested, but the overall top pick went to the Arc’Teryx AR-385a / AR-395a because of its streamlined design and great features. Remember to consider what you are looking for in terms of the type of climbing you’re doing and the features you’ll need when deciding on this important piece of gear.
Once you’ve got your harness sorted, you’re ready to start enjoying this great sport and all its benefits. Gear isn’t everything, though: staying fit for climbing and making sure to eat right are also part of the mix to make sure you get the best experience from this sport.