Climbing harnesses come in many different sizes and styles, which means there are tons of options to choose from when you go to purchase one. Finding the perfect fit is crucial, both for your safety and for your comfort.
A climbing harness should fit snugly around your waist or hips, but it can have a slightly more relaxed fit for the leg loops. The leg loops shouldn’t be drooping or flapping around your legs, but they don’t need to be super snug. You should not be able to fit more than one fist between your abdomen and the waistband of your harness when you are hanging in it.
In this article, we’ll discuss the three main fit points for a climbing harness and how to ensure that you buy the right size.
Climbing Harness Fitting Guidelines
There are three main fit points to consider when purchasing a climbing harness: the waistband, the leg loops, and the rise straps.
First, measure the narrowest part of your waist to figure out what waistband size you need to look for. For women, the narrowest part is often higher than for men. However, for some body types, the narrowest point of your torso may be around your hips. Ultimately, you just want the waistband to fit snugly either above your hip bones or around them, and be tight enough that it won’t slide down.
Remember, if you will be lead climbing, you’ll have the weight of the rope and your gear pulling down against the waistband, so it really needs to be snug. Also, it’s important to account for fluctuations in your weight and waist size. With that in mind, choose a harness with a waistband that is not fully maxed out in terms of loosening or tightening the adjustment points – give yourself some wiggle room either way. You’ll also need to be able to pull the harness up over your curves, so ensure that you have enough extra length to do so comfortably.
Measuring your waist will give you a good starting point, but keep in mind that each brand and model of harness will fit a little bit differently and have a different sizing scale. It’s best to physically try on several harnesses in a store when possible. When fitting your harness, wear the type of clothing that you intend to wear while climbing. So, if you plan to go ice climbing, you’ll need to account for warm layers when fitting your harness. If you’ll just be sport climbing in the gym, you can test out harnesses with your regular workout wear.
Another important measurement is the circumference of your thighs, where the leg loops will sit. You can measure your legs in advance to compare the measurement to the harness manufacturer’s sizing chart, but most harnesses have leg loops that are adjustable enough to work with a range of leg sizes that make sense with the waist size. However, if you have very muscular thighs, you may need to shop for leg loop size first and foremost.
The leg loops do not need to be super tight, but they should be snug enough that they aren’t just dangling freely around your legs. However, they should be loose enough that you can move your legs without it impacting your range of motion.
Finally, check the fit of the rise straps on a climbing harness. These are the straps that connect the leg loops to the back of the waistband, to prevent them from sliding too far down your legs. Some harnesses have fixed length rise straps while others have adjustable straps. You’ll want to find rise straps that keep your leg loops in place so that when you hang from your harness, you’ll be automatically put into a seated position. Which leads us to…
Do a Hang Test
The best way to figure out whether a climbing harness fits properly is to do a hang test. Many outdoor outfitters will have a rope ready for you to tie into and hang. This way, you can assess whether the harness fits correctly and whether the leg loops are in the right position.
When hanging, if you can fit more than an entire fist between the harness waistband and your body, you may want to consider a tighter harness. If your legs aren’t held at roughly 90 degrees from your torso and/or you are having to use your abs to hold your torso upright, you likely need to adjust your rise straps or find a harness that has a different length of rise straps.
Frequently Asked Question
How do you know if your climbing harness fits?
The best way to know if your climbing harness fits properly is to do a hang test and assess whether the waistband is tight enough, the rise straps are the right length, and the harness is comfortable. If it digs in uncomfortably or you don’t hang in a normal seated position, try another harness until you find one that works better.
Is my climbing harness too big?
If you can fit more than a fist between your abdomen and the waistband of the harness, it is too big (or at least too loose). If your leg loops are dangling loosely around your legs or hanging down to your knees, the harness is probably too big. Look for a harness with more adjustable leg loops and rise straps instead.
How do I know what size climbing harness I need?
Start by measuring your waist, so you have an idea of what general size to look for. Then, try on as many harnesses as possible to determine which is the best fit and the most comfortable. If you can’t try on harnesses, measure the circumference of your thighs as well and, if you can, the distance between where you want the leg loops to hit and the smallest part of your waist. Then compare these measurements to each manufacturer’s sizing chart to find the best fit.
Do men’s and women’s climbing harnesses fit differently?
They do! Women’s harnesses typically have longer rise straps relative to the harness size, and more space in the front between the waistband and the leg loops. This is because many women have higher waists than men, and therefore need more space between the waistband and leg loops for a comfortable fit. However, although harnesses are often designated as men’s or women’s, this isn’t a law by any means and you can absolutely wear whatever harness fits you best and is most comfortable.