How to Choose a Climbing Harness for Mountaineering

How to Choose a Climbing Harness for Mountaineering
Mountaineering harnesses fill a specific niche of climbing gear. They're usually designed with minimal padding, the assumption being that you'll hang in your harness little if at all, so comfort can take a back seat to weight. Mountaineers expect to travel in snowy or wet conditions, to take bathroom breaks while still in the harness and to wear the harness over a variety of layers, including taking it on and off over boots and crampons. As a result, mountaineering harnesses are typically made of non-absorbent material, have detachable leg loops to facilitate bathroom breaks, and adjust sufficiently to accommodate a variety of layers.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Try on the harness over the bulkiest clothing layers you might wear while mountaineering. This should include your shell jacket and snow pants. Make sure that the waist belt sits above the crest of your hip bones and can cinch down tightly enough that you can slide your hand between the harness and your waist but don't have room to turn your hand around.
Step 2
Perform the same fit test for the leg loops: When they are cinched down you should be able to slip your hand between the loop and your thigh, but you shouldn't have room to turn your hand around.
Step 3
Put on your mountaineering boots and crampons, if you have them, and try taking the harness off and putting it back on over the extra footwear. Both leg loops and waist belt should adjust sufficiently to allow this without a struggle.
Step 4
Take the harness off, strip down to the lightest layers you think you might wear while mountaineering, put the harness on again, and perform both fit tests---waist belt and leg loops---again. If the harness you're trying on cannot be adjusted to fit you both in bulky layers and stripped-down layers, it's not suitable for mountaineering.
Step 5
Inspect the harness to make sure that the leg loops are detachable (there will be a small clip joining each leg loop to the waist belt, via a piece of elastic webbing) and that the material is non-absorbent; these are important elements in a mountaineering harness.

Tips & Warnings

Gear loops aren't a critical element in a mountaineering harness. If you find a harness that you like and want to use for mountaineering, but it has gear loops, you can always cut them off.
Even though comfort is a secondary consideration for mountaineering harnesses, you should still tie in to the harness and perform a "hang test" if the shop's facilities allow it. This involves suspending your full weight from a climbing rope, while wearing the harness, to make sure that it fits comfortably enough to permit you to sit for at least short periods of time. If the harness bites into your skin anywhere or pinches you uncomfortably you won't be able to bear sitting in it for any length of time; try to find a different harness that is not so uncomfortable.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.