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Hiking the Steep Edges: A Quick Guide on Climbing Harness Essentials

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Hiking the steep sides of the mountains is enthralling, but at the same time, they come with the prevalent risk factors. Being harnessed to the mountain walls will keep you safe from falling; and to ensure this you need to learn the basic steps of harnessing, some dos and don’ts and the common techniques that will help you climb the rock walls like a pro and enjoy the adrenaline rush. Accurate gears play a great role in ensuring safety and at the same time, add to the fun factor. So let’s delve deep into learning about the climbing harness, harnessing equipment, climbing tips, precautions and the useful techniques. 

Before getting started, it gets mandatory to devise as to why you are going to climb. It can be a summit to a peak, a stunt to get in shape, or even just because you are an adrenaline junkie. It is a complex passion, and expensive too. Hence, finding a good and qualified mentor is really important for harness climbing. Join a formal climbing class that will provide you with the lessons ranging from tying knots to belaying. You can also ask a professional mountain guide for help. 

Know more here:

Top Gears for Climbing

Listed below are the important climbing equipment/ gears for mountain climbing that you will need. 

1. Shoes

Rock climbing shoes are the most important climbing equipment. Beginners should choose a pair that provides good comfort and all-round performance. Gradually upgrade to higher performances. Rocky Mountain Boots can be a perfect choice for both comfort and performance. 

2. Clothes

Stretchy, lightweight and breathable t-shirts and pants (ergonomic shaped) are the perfect choice of clothes. Just make sure you feel comfortable wearing the apparel. 

3. Rope

In harness climbing, a rope provides the balance to the falling climbers. The Dynamic ropes are flexible and absorb energy from a free fall while the Static Ropes are used to anchor systems, haul gear up a wall, in rappelling and so on. Go for a 60m long Dynamic dry-treated single rope with the diameter ranging from 9.5mm to 10.2mm.

4. Harness 

Harnesses are the most important tools for climbing. Check for light-weight and comfortable Harnesses with waist belts, leg loops and belay loops. Black Diamond Momentum Harness is the best climbing harness. 

5. Belay Device 

Climbing harnesses are reinforced by another climbing equipment called the Belay devices. This is a mechanical friction device that controls the ropes. Passive devices are cheap and lighter but the Active ones provide assisted braking. 

6. Carabiners

Carabiners are metal loops with spring-loaded gates used in connecting ropes. Locking Carabiners are used in preventing the gates opening automatically while the rope is running through an anchor. Non-Locking Carabiners are used in attaching the rope to a piece of protection. 

7. Helmet 

While climbing harness, rolling boulders from uphill are very frequent; so are falling equipment or experiencing a drastic fall and hurting your head. To protect your head from these hazards, wear a sturdy helmet. 

8. Belay Gloves

Belayers often get sore and bruised hands from rope burns. So get a pair of Belayer’s Gloves. Use Hand lubes to soothe the palm after a rough climb. Use Finger Tape to protect the tendons and joints. 

9. Chalk

As trivial as they seem, these are one of the important climbing equipment to wick the moisture from the climber’s hands. They are stored as a powder in chalk bag attached to the gear loop.  

Climbing harness gear
Climbing Harness Gear (source)

Types of Climbing Harness 

As a hiking enthusiast, these are the types of the climbing harness to know about:

  1. Top Roping – The climbs in Top-Roping are protected by a harness anchored from above and belayed by applying tension to the harness to minimize the distance in a fall.
  2. Sports Climbing – The ladder attaches the quickdraws (two snap-gate karabiners joined by a sling or webbing) to pre-existing bolts, looping the harness through the quickdraws for protection while ascending the wall being belayed by a partner. 
  3. Traditional Climbing – Particularly tricky, this conventional climbing offers the climber to climb weaknesses or cracks in the rock and place gears (cams, nuts, hexes)in those cracks  and proceed to clip the ropes into these anchors using quickdraws so that it can hold the harness and limit the height in case you experience a fall. 
  4. Bouldering – Nowadays, the most popular form of climbing harness, Bouldering offers the climber to ascend boulders or short cliffs (20ft or below) using pads and spotters at the base for protection instead of harnesses. 
  5. Aid Climbing – It is the practice of ascending a wall using harnesses, tools and other harnessing equipment. Here the climber attaches devices to pieces of protection and stands on those devices to move upward. 
  6. Free Climbing – Climbers move upward relying only on the natural features of the rock, using harnesses and tools to provide a belay and protect a fall. 
  7. Free Soloing – The climber climbs alone without any rock climbing harnesses or protective equipment. The ability to complete the ascent is what plays the role here. The climber reaches to a height from where it is unsafe to have a free fall.   
  8. Deep Water Soloing (DWS) – It is same as the above mentioned free soloing with only one difference that here the route takes place above the sea and if you fall, you will land directly into the water. 
  9. Via Ferrata – Via Ferrata or Iron Way climbing requires you to clip yourself on to a steel cable that runs alongside the route for safety. It involves more scrambling than out-an-out climbing. 
  10. Rappelling – It is the controlled descent of a vertical face by the climber, used at the end of the route when it gets difficult to walk off from the top or when the climb gets dangerous to continue. It is usually done with a belay device. 

Parts of a Climbing Harness

climbing harness anatomy
Anatomy of Climbing Harness (source)

Know about the anatomy of climbing harness to understand all the details. 

Waist Belt:
Combination of comfort and minimum weight with 1-2 buckles to adjust the belt.

1 or 2 pieces of metal for manual double back or automatic double back. It is usually a bit off-centre to avoid conflict with rope tie-in. 

Leg Loops:
Padded and mostly adjustable to allow change of layering while remaining tied in. 

Gear Loops:
For carrying quickdraws, cams, chalk boxes etc. They are commonly made of plastic or webbing. The best climbing harness has 4 gear loops, while some have additional ones. 

Haul Loop:
Located on the back of the harness, the loop is made of stitched webbing. It is used to attach a second rope or haul line. 

Belay Loop:
The strongest and the only part of the harness that is load tested. Made of nylon webbing, anything hard can be attached to this loop. 

Tie-in Points:
These are two loops connected to the belay loop that is used to attach any cord or webbing through both lower and upper tie-in points. This helps to balance the whole harnessing system.

Rise/Elastic Straps:
The distance between the two leg loops is connected with this thin webbing or elastic straps. These straps can be adjusted up and down to balance while you are hanging. 

Types of Harnesses

types of harness
Different types of harness (source)

Harnesses according to terrains are:

  • Sports/Gym Harness –These have Single automatic or double back waist belt buckle, 2 gear loops, thin belay loop and minimal leg adjustability. 
  • Traditional Harness –This has adjustable leg loops with buckles, 4 or more gear loops, thick and durable padding, extra lumbar padding and haul loop
  • Ice and Mixed Harness –Similar to Traditional Harnesses but used in cold weather conditions. 
  • Alpine or Mountaineering Harness –This is the best rock climbing harness having fully adjustable leg loops and waist belt, 4 or fewer gear loops, thin material, thin belay loop and a haul loop.
  • Canyoneering –Have extra seat protection, single tie-in point doubles as belay loop, Have thick pads to protect from frequent rubbing against rock.
  • Competition –No gear loops are provided, thin belay loops are there (absent in some cases), lightweight to make you feel nothing. 
  • Big Wall –Extra thick padding for the whole day, 2 belay loops to provide maximum safety, 6-10 gear loops for carrying a large amount of gear and tools.  

Harnesses According to Size and Genders 

While men’s climbing harness has smaller leg loops and bigger waist belts, women rock climbing harness has larger leg loops, smaller waist belts, increased rise and reduction in the leg-to-waist ratio. Not only according to gender, harnesses vary from body parts as well. 

- The Sit Harness

Most flexible and common and they allow you to sit in the harness and hang. The spine is unloaded and your legs have ample space to move properly. The harness is tied into the front. 

- The Chest Harness

It is suitable for people with smaller hips. It stops you slipping out of the loops and keeps your body in an upright position. Combining Chest and Sit Harness gives better result and safety.

- Full Body Harness

When you need more control while falling; say for example, in case of Rope courses and Via Ferrata, a full body harness gives you more protection with a high tie-in point. For general use, these are not so comfortable. Check for climbing harness size guide for conveyance.    

- Non-Adjustable Harness: Rock Climbing, Cragging, Competitions

Rock climbing harness is slightly padded to balance between having a low overall weight and comfort for the whole day. They have four or more gear loops and non-adjustable leg loops for critical support.

Cragging Harnesses have up to 7 gear loops according to your gear rack and the length of your destination. They are not padded, hence offer less comfort. 

How to Put on a Harness?

Loosen the straps of both the leg loops and the straps of the waist belt. Step into a climbing harness. Check that the leg loops are not crossing, belay loop is not twisted and facing the front of harness and the waist belt is firmly placed above your iliac crest (belly-button level). 

Tighten the waist belt securely with two finger gap between waist and harness. Double Back the buckle. The harness should leave some strap in case you need to loosen up, get in or get out of the harness.  

Adjust the leg loops, one at a time. In case you don’t have adjustable leg loop, use a piece of elastic to allow the leg loop to stretch. Place the leg loops close to groin having a two finger gap between the loop and the leg. Tighter leg loops will enable you to hang freely but also keep them comfortable so that they are mobile. 

All set, now let’s double check fitting a climbing harness.

How to Fit Your Harness?

Double Back Buckles or Threadback Buckles will allow you to thread in a belt and adjust your suit to your own shape. Located on the waist belt, two buckles allow you to centralize the harness for the best fit. You can also use a Ziplock Buckle that locks off when you pull off the webbing. After winding the tail of the fabric through a double back buckle, you will be left with an additional 10cm at the end that will leave you more room for clothing according to your layering. 

Double back the strap of your waist belts to secure the gear loops so that it doesn’t loosen up. Settle the waist belt just above hip bones. After strapping the belt, make sure there are around 3 inches of webbing left from the buckle as that ensures a perfect fit. 

In case of both adjustable and non-adjustable leg loops, secure them firmly so that you can release the legs if necessary. Two or more Gear loops will enable you to clip your karabiners or protection equipment. 

test your climbing harness
Check your harness (source)

Now Test the Harness

You should feel comfortable moving and sit upright while hanging with a climbing harness. The waist belt should not move or shift excessively. If it does, tighten up but not to such an extent that you feel inflammation. Test shifting by pulling the waist belt down over the hips, if you are not able, then all is okay. Adjust the rise of the harness and the elastic strap of the leg loop if you feel stress while sitting upright. Still having the problem? Try a new harness. There are many styles to test for, rather than choosing one that ruins the overall climbing experience. 

Check Harness Standards

To ensure a safe climbing, the harnesses are engineered accordingly. Before choosing a climbing harness, check whether they have passed the test of the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA 105) or the European Committee for Standardization (EN 1277). These are independent testing groups that test the quality and safety of the products. All Harnesses should consist of a waist belt, two leg loops and sit harness (Type C preferable). In a Type C sit harness, the belay loop is tested to 3372 lbs.    

Finally Coming to Style

  • Climb with your feet, maintain quiet feet
  • While hanging, keep arms straight and put pressure on skeleton
  • Build a strong core, rest whenever possible and needed, breath deeply to avoid Elvis Leg (shaking your legs spontaneously)
  • Engage into banters and light chitchats with companions. Be considerate about other climbers, be it your companions or people from other groups
  • Practise free falling 
  • Invest in good gears, cross-check gears before setting out
  • Don’t rush and don’t give up. Leave no trace!

Summing Up

The safety measures, gears, and techniques seem overwhelming, but once you have mastered the skill, nothing can stop you from having a safe and sound rock climbing. Never shy away from taking advice from the fellow climbers and the trainers.

“The best climber is the one having the most fun” – to try to make the best out of the exhilarating passion. Find a reliable belayer and partners who are not reckless. Take a break at regular intervals but try not to lag behind. Climb consistently and steadily and have lots of fun with your fellow climbers. 

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