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How to buy the right harness and avoid castration (if you’re a man!)

Posted on April 28 2016

Harnesses are obviously a fundamental part of every climber’s kit. Aside from their essential role in maintaining your current ‘alive’ status, getting one that fits properly is pretty important if you intend on giving life to anything else at some point! These days there are a baffling array of options and colours on the market to suit more or less any body shape and every budget. The inevitable specialisation of the market has made things even more confusing, giving rise to the impression that you need a different harness for every activity. In actual fact almost any of them will do for any activity; the key is getting one that fits.

 Step 1: The Fit 

 Even if you intend on buying a harness online it’s important to try them on. Speaking as a person who has made this mistake at least three times now, I can testify to the importance of dangling from a bit of tat in the middle of a shop floor, trying on every harness in the stockroom. 

 Step 2: The Fit (ii) 

 Basically a harness is three loops of material. All three must be ‘snug’ when on and tightened up. Essentially the waist band is the part of the harness that prevents gravity getting the better of you but you will find it a lot more comfortable if all three loops take the load. This has the added benefit for guys of ensuring nothing can slip inside the leg loop….. 

 Step 3: Gear 

Loops Think about what you are going to be doing in it. This may seem to contradict the opening paragraph but it is important in one regard; gear loops. If you are a die-hard sport climber then one gear loop on each side will easily suffice for all your racking needs. If you intend on spending your days on rope-stretching, multipitch sea cliffs, then you’ll need more (but then if you are only going to do this a few times a year, use a sling as a bandolier!) 

 Step 4: Weight/size. 

 It is impossible nowadays to avoid the barrage of adverts for the ‘World’s lightest…carabiner/helmet/rope’ and harnesses are no exception. Whilst it’s obviously good that equipment is getting lighter, I’d wager your inability to clip the chains on your latest project probably has more to do with the number of pints you drank last night than the weight of your harness. The only time when weight really becomes an issue is in the mountains. There are loads of really lightweight ski touring harnesses on the market which are brilliant for carrying and wearing for the occasional glacier crossing. It could be argued that the ‘packability’ of these harnesses is almost as important as their weight. Some harnesses are very stiff and whilst this often increases comfort, it also increases the amount of space they take up in your bag! 

 Step 5: The Look 

 If you are the sort of person who is bothered by the colour of your gear you are in luck! You can now fully co-ordinate that orange rope, shoes, quick-draws, helmet and harness! What a wonderful time to be alive. 

 To conclude: 

 Buying a harness is entirely about getting one that fits (even if it doesn’t match your rope!). Whilst it’s important to have in your mind what you’ll use it for the most, don’t be led into thinking you can’t go sport climbing in your trad harness! 

Try lots on, then buy the most comfortable one from 

 NB: No article on harness sizing would be complete without drawing attention to the Metolious Safe Tech harness and its adjustable ‘rise’ (the distance between the leg loops and waistband). If you have large legs and a skinny waist this might just do the trick!


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