If you are new to climbing or a crusty veteran, few things in climbing are so important as a harness but often receive only passing thought. In talking to a lot of climbers for this article, some had to look at what harness it was they were using as they weren’t sure off the top of there head. Other people like myself are always on the lookout for the perfect harness. I’m happy with my cams and shoes but I have yet to find the one harness has everything I want. Maybe it’s a case of the grass being greener on the other side but I set out to find out if spending more on a harness would pay off.
Before we look at some high-end harnesses we need to talk about what we want from a harness. If we take it as a given that we are only going to look at harnesses that are properly rated from a reputable company, here are the things that I look for when testing out a harness.
Hanging Comfort – This is both comforts falling and hanging around in belays and rappels.
Belaying Comfort – You are the belayer how does it feel to catch a fall and hold a climber hanging dogging their route.
Easy of movement – This is both climbing and hiking around the crag. You shouldn’t notice your harness when you are on the move.
Packability – On a long hike in a harness that takes up less room in your bag is a winner.
Features – Gear loops, haul loop, adjustments, ice clipper slots, and droppable rear for relieving yourself.
Weight – As long as the other points are covered, lighter is better. We are hanging from our fingertips after all.
Most harnesses from any big-name companies are under $100 but there are a few that go well over that. I will look at 3 of the most expensive rock climbing harnesses I could find. I didn’t include specialty harnesses like bigwall versions.
If you decide to pony up the extra cash is it worth your money to get an expensive harness?
Weight: 513 grams
Gear Loops: 6
Haul Loop: Yes
Ice Clipper Slots: 2
Adjustments: Manual Dual Waist and Leg Loop Adjustment
With a name like the Cadillac, you would expect this harness to be comfortable and loaded with features. On the comfort end, it really shines with a padded waist belt that is 4.5″ tall at the lower back giving a lot of support when hanging around. The leg loops are similarly padded making for a very comfortable hang whether falling, at a hanging belay or rappelling. But you pay a weight penalty for the comfort. At 513 grams for a medium, the Misty Mountain Cadillac is almost twice as heavy as the Petzl Sitta. And the padding makes for a bulkier package in your pack on the hike in. The material is tough so if you are looking forward to grunting your way up some offwidth climbs, it will stand up well to a lot of abrasions.
I really like the dual adjust buckles on the waist belt as it allows you to keep the belay loop centered and have the gear loops even on both sides. This is a pet peeve for me on some harnesses as the left gear loops sit much further back and therefore harder to reach. The buckles are manual double-back so always do a safety check as they aren’t secure until the tail is doubled back through the buckle.
WIth 6 gear loops and 2 ice clipper slots combined with the wide padded waist belt, this may be the ultimate multi-pitch harness when comfort and gear space is more important than weight. You’ve got the room for a double rack of cams, slings, anchor kit, belay gear, and your approach shoes. If you are a trad dad or mom who just wants to be super comfy and isn’t sending the hardest routes where every gram counts this would be a great way to treat yourself.
Weight: 395 grams
Gear Loops: 4
Haul Loop: Yes
Ice Clipper Slots: 4
Adjustments: Quick Adjust Waist and Leg Loop Adjustment
Best known for their clothing, most people don’t know Arcteryx got their start making climbing gear including harnesses. Like most Arcteryx products at an initial glance, they seem expensive but then when you look at what you get it starts to look pretty cool. Using what they call Warp Strength Technology, they do away with bulky padding and make the fabric of the waist belt and leg loops load bearing.
While not as comfortable for long hanging belays as the Misty Mountain Cadillac, the AR-395a is pretty good considering it has no padding. The upside of this is being much lighter and packing a lot smaller than foam padded harnesses. When you are wearing the harness you don’t even notice you have it on. By doing away with the foam padding it also breathes a lot better in hot weather. Your low back doesn’t get as sweaty.
The 4 gear loops are wide with a good shape to rack gear for any type of climbing. They give you enough room for a full trad rack for long multi-pitch adventures. But it is perfectly at home with a rack of quickdraws for a day of sport climbing. And when it gets cold the 4 ice clipper slots will let you rack as many ice screws as you could ever want to head up that frozen waterfall.
To save a little weight and money you can get the FL-365 which is the same harness without adjustable leg loops. Also available are versions for women with and without adjustable leg loops.
Weight: 270 grams
Gear Loops: 6
Haul Loop: Yes
Ice Clipper Slots: 2
Adjustments: Quick Adjust Waist
Light, pricey and bright orange. The Petzl Sitta is surprisingly comfortable for a harness so light. Like the Arcteryx, it does away with foam padding in favor of a wire frame made from Spectra and the shaping to provide the load-bearing comfort. This makes it both light and very small when in your pack.
The unique front gear loops are large with an adjustable divider to both organize and reinforce the loops. The gear loops themselves are a bit thin so I suggest using keylock-style carabiners or you may snag the nose of the carabiner on the gear loop when taking the gear off the harness. There are two smaller rear gear loops as well as a haul loop. Two ice clipper slots expand your seasons allowing for this to be a versatile 4 season harness. Sport, trad, ice or alpine climbing are all handled capably by the Petzl Sitta.
When climbing in Red Rocks I talked with climbing guide Cody Bradford about using the Petzl Sitta and he said the thing that he liked the most was it was so light and small, taking up very little room in his pack. A lot of his clients want to do epic multi-pitch routes in the canyons which means the approach is long and rugged. Lighter gear not only benefits the climb but saves a lot of energy on the approach.