Climbing harness

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Sit harness Klim gordel.jpg
Sit harness

A climbing harness is a device which allows a climber access to the safety of a rope. [1] It is used in rock and ice climbing, abseiling, and lowering; this is in contrast to other activities requiring ropes for access or safety such as industrial rope work (such as window cleaning), construction, and rescue and recovery, which use safety harnesses instead.



While an improvised harness can be created out of length of rope or nylon webbing, commercially produced harnesses specific to climbing rock and ice are the norm. These characteristically include a dedicated tie-in loop, padding, and amenities such as gear loops. Most commercial climbing harnesses meet the guidelines and manufacturing standards of organizations such as the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme (UiAA) or European Committee for Standardization.

Harnesses of users involved in climbing should be attached to dynamic (kernmantle) rope, which has natural shock-absorbing stretch. In via ferrata, the harness is attached to metal cables via a shock absorber that can absorb some of the impact of a fall.

The most common knot for attaching a harness to a rope is the figure-eight follow through, characteristically backed up by a stopper knot. Although it is harder to untie after a fall than some alternatives, it is inherently more secure, [2] easier to tie, and easier to verify that it has been tied correctly. [3] There are many variations of the bowline knot, including a variation of the double bowline, [4] [3] [5] and some will untie themselves when repeatedly stressed and unstressed, as is common in climbing. [3] [5] [6] [7]

A harness' gear loops, used for carrying such equipment a protection devices, carabiners, etc., are not weight-bearing; nor are the elastic cords which restrain the leg loops from slipping down while not under load.


The invention of the climbing harness has been attributed to Jeanne Immink, a Dutch climber in the late nineteenth century. [8] Some of the first climbing harnesses were devised in the U.K. in the early 1960s by Alan Waterhouse, Paul Seddon and Tony Howard who went on to form the Troll climbing equipment manufacturers. [9] A harness designed by British climber Don Whillans was made by Troll for the 1970 Annapurna South Face Expedition. It went into mass production shortly afterwards and soon became popular worldwide. [10]

The sit or seat harness was invented in the 1960s by Yosemite climbers. The first innovation was the Swami Belt, which was multiple loops of webbing around the waist. Then quickly came the Swami Seat, a sit harness tied from webbing revealed to the climbing world thru an article in Summit Magazine in the mid-60s, which included leg loops and an integrated waist loop. Once the seat/sit harness came to be, suppliers of climbing gear started making them with stitching replacing the knots.


Sling harness Bandschlingen Sitzgurt.gif
Sling harness

A sit harness consists of a waist belt and two leg loops which are normally connected in the front of the hips through a permanent webbing loop called a belay loop. Belay loops are extremely strong, but nonetheless still a single point of failure that caused at least one notorious death. [11] For rock climbing, the rope typically goes through the two "tie-in loops" that are above and below the "belay loop". The figure-eight knot is mostly used for rock climbing. These are the most commonly used harnesses for recreational activities such as abseiling and rock climbing, as they afford a wide range of movement while still maintaining a high level of safety. Ensuring the harness fits correctly is key to avoiding pain in the upper thigh area caused by the leg loops being too tight around the upper legs and groin area, while at the same time ensuring that a climber flipped over in a fall does not slip out. The waist belt should be tightened snugly.

A chest harness is worn around the shoulders, usually with a sit harness so as to provide an additional attachment point. This attachment point allows for better balance in some situations such as when carrying a heavy pack (as the centre of mass is above the connection to the rope) and when the person in the harness may be unable to maintain an upright position (due to injury or other influences).

A sling harness is an improvised harness made from pieces of sling.


In a study conducted, researchers came to a conclusion that there was no statistically significant evidence revealing a pattern between harness type and severity of climbing accidents. Direct rock contact in rock climbing was the main reason for injury, not the type of climbing harness used. [12]


Most harnesses are made from nylon webbing, specifically, Nylon 66. [13] [14] [15] Aspects are often tubular rather than flat. [16] Different weaves are used depending on a component's function. These sometimes include polyester.[ citation needed ] Buckles are typically made of anodized aluminum. Foam and mesh are integrated into the leg loops and waist belt to make them more comfortable. Harness designers adapt increasingly advanced materials such as Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), aramid fibers (Kevlar, Vectran, etc.), and sailcloth to make harnesses lighter and more comfortable.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knot</span> Method of fastening or securing linear material

A knot is an intentional complication in cordage which may be practical or decorative, or both. Practical knots are classified by function, including hitches, bends, loop knots, and splices: a hitch fastens a rope to another object; a bend fastens two ends of a rope to each another; a loop knot is any knot creating a loop; and splice denotes any multi-strand knot, including bends and loops. A knot may also refer, in the strictest sense, to a stopper or knob at the end of a rope to keep that end from slipping through a grommet or eye. Knots have excited interest since ancient times for their practical uses, as well as their topological intricacy, studied in the area of mathematics known as knot theory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bowline</span> Simple knot used to form a fixed loop at the end of a rope

The bowline is an ancient and simple knot used to form a fixed loop at the end of a rope. It has the virtues of being both easy to tie and untie; most notably, it is easy to untie after being subjected to a load. The bowline is sometimes referred to as King of the knots because of its importance. Along with the sheet bend and the clove hitch, the bowline is often considered one of the most essential knots.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Figure-eight loop</span> Type of knot

Figure-eight loop is a type of knot created by a loop on the bight. It is used in climbing and caving.

The Flemish loop or figure-eight loop is perhaps stronger than the loop knot. Neither of these knots is used at sea, as they are hard to untie. In hooking a tackle to any of the loops, if the loop is long enough it is better to arrange the rope as a cat's paw.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Double bowline</span>

A double bowline is a type of loop knot. Instead of the single turn of the regular bowline, the double bowline uses a round turn. This forms a more secure loop than a standard bowline.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Webbing</span> Strong fabric woven as a flat strip or tube used instead of rope

Webbing is a strong fabric woven as a flat strip or tube of varying width and fibres, often used in place of rope. It is a versatile component used in climbing, slacklining, furniture manufacturing, automobile safety, auto racing, towing, parachuting, military apparel, load securing, and many other fields.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> For rock climbing and mountaineering

Glossary of climbing terms relates to rock climbing, mountaineering, and to ice climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock-climbing equipment</span> List of manmade gear

Rock-climbing equipment varies with the type of climbing undertaken. Bouldering needs the least equipment outside of shoes and chalk and optional crash pads. Sport climbing adds ropes, harnesses, belay devices, and quickdraws to clip into pre-drilled bolts. Traditional climbing adds the need for carrying a "rack" of temporary passive and active protection devices. Multi-pitch climbing adds devices to assist in ascending and descending fixed ropes. And finally aid climbing uses unique equipment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abseiling</span> Rope-controlled descent

Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is the controlled descent of a steep slope, such as a rock face, by moving down a rope. When abseiling, the person descending controls their own movement down the rope, in contrast to lowering off, in which the rope attached to the person descending is paid out by their belayer.

Self-locking devices are devices intended to arrest the fall of solo climbers who climb without partners. This device is used for rope solo climbing, for "ground-up climbing", and for "top rope solo climbing". To date, several types of self-locking devices have evolved.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belaying</span> Rock climbing safety technique using ropes

Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers use to create friction within a climbing system, particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Munter hitch</span> Adjustable knot used control friction in a belay system

The Munter hitch, also known as the Italian hitch, mezzo barcaiolo or the crossing hitch, is a simple adjustable knot, commonly used by climbers, cavers, and rescuers to control friction in a life-lining or belay system. To climbers, this hitch is also known as HMS, the abbreviation for the German term Halbmastwurfsicherung, meaning half clove hitch belay. This technique can be used with a special "pear-shaped" HMS locking carabiner, or any locking carabiner wide enough to take two turns of the rope.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ascender (climbing)</span> Devices used for ascending, braking, or protection in climbing

An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bowline on a bight</span> Knot that makes a pair of fixed-size loops in the middle of a rope

The bowline on a bight is a knot which makes a pair of fixed-size loops in the middle of a rope. Its advantage is that it is reasonably easy to untie after being exposed to load. It is one of the two tie-in knots that are being taught by the German Alpine Club (DAV), generally being considered secure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prusik knot</span> Type of knot

A Prusik is a friction hitch or knot used to attach a loop of cord around a rope, applied in climbing, canyoneering, mountaineering, caving, rope rescue, ziplining, and by arborists. The term Prusik is a name for both the loops of cord used to tie the hitch and the hitch itself, and the verb is "to prusik". More casually, the term is used for any friction hitch or device that can grab a rope. Due to the pronunciation, the word is often misspelled Prussik, Prussick, or Prussic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sling (climbing)</span> Item of climbing equipment

A sling or runner is an item of climbing equipment consisting of a tied or sewn loop of webbing. These can be wrapped around sections of rock, hitched to other pieces of equipment, or tied directly to a tensioned line using a Prusik style knot. They may be used as anchors, to extend an anchor to reduce rope drag, in anchor equalization, or to climb a rope.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yosemite bowline</span> Loop knot often perceived as having better security than a bowline

A Yosemite bowline is a loop knot often perceived as having better security than a bowline. If the knot is not dressed correctly, it can potentially collapse into a noose, however testing reveals this alternative configuration to be strong and safe as a climbing tie-in.

El Capitan is a film by filmmaker Fred Padula that captures one of the earliest ascents of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California. It has won several awards at film festivals around the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abalakov thread</span> Ice climbing loop knot

The Abalakov thread, also known as a V-thread, A-thread, or 0-thread, is an ice protection technique named after its inventor, Soviet climber Vitaly Abalakov. The Abalakov thread is a common method of protecting oneself while ice climbing because it is easy to create, does not require the sacrifice of expensive gear, and can be very safe when used properly. An Abalakov thread is often used in multi-pitch ice climbing routes. Because of its safety and convenience, the Abalakov thread is considered one of the most significant innovations in ice climbing. It significantly expanded the scope of possible routes and abseiling safety.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bosun's chair</span> Seat used to suspend a person working at height

A bosun's chair is a device used to suspend a person from a rope to perform work aloft. Originally just a short plank or swath of heavy canvas, many modern bosun's chairs incorporate safety devices similar to those found in rock climbing harnesses such as safety clips and additional lines.


  1. Cox, Steven M.; Kris Fulsaas, eds. (September 2003). Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (7 ed.). Seattle: The Mountaineers. ISBN   0-89886-828-9.
  2. Long, John (2010-06-15). How to Rock Climb!. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN   9780762766741. the double figure eight is a cinch knot: The tighter you pull, the tighter the knot cinches on itself.
  3. 1 2 3 Heise-Flecken, Detlef; Flecken, Gabi (2016-03-28). Rock Climbing: Technique | Equipment | Safety – With an Introduction to Indoor Climbing. Meyer & Meyer Verlag. p. 20. ISBN   9781782550358. double bowline is more complicated than the Figure Eight and partner checks are harder to verify. ... single bowline is not safe while the double bowline is difficult to tie but is easier to undo after taking strain
  4. Fitch, Nate; Funderburke, Ron (2015-10-15). Climbing: Knots. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 30. ISBN   9781493015061. the double bowline with a Yosemite finish is a less common way to attach the climbing rope to a climber
  5. 1 2 "Incident: Climber's Bowline Came Untied While Climbing at Rifle". Mountain Project. Retrieved 2018-07-14. there are many versions of the bowline, some of which are unsafe for climbing ... Bowline on a Bight, Retraced Through Harness w/ Yosemite Finish ... is the safest option
  6. Rock Climbing . Human Kinetics. 2009. ISBN   9781450409001. Because this knot unties so easily, sometimes even by simply rubbing against your body
  7. Tilton, Buck (2008-09-02). Knack Knots You Need: Step-by-Step instructions for More Than 100 of the Best Sailing, Fishing, Climbing, Camping and Decorative Knots. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN   9781599217598. A knot that can be shaken loose to spill of its own accord, such as the bowline ... is an insecure knot.
  8. Harry Muré (2008). "Jeanne Immink". Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  9. [ bare URL PDF ]
  10. Hillebrandt, David (12 June 2007). "Letter: Suspension Trauma in UK Climbers?". Emergency Medicine Journal. 24 (4).
  11. Samet, Matt (2006-12-18). "Todd Skinner: Loss of a Legend". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  12. Hohlrieder M, Lutz M, Schubert H, Eschertzhuber S, Mair P (2007). "Pattern of injury after rock-climbing falls is not determined by harness type". Wilderness Environ Med. 18 (1): 30–5. doi: 10.1580/06-weme-or-020r.1 . PMID   17447711.
  13. Nylon webbing popular choice for climbing gear
  14. Nylon vs polyester webbing
  15. Breaking strength of nylon and polyester being about the same
  16. Tubular vs flat webbing