Big Wall Climbing Harness Review

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What is the best harness for big wall climbing and aid climbing? We took four of the best big wall harnesses and put them head to head. We evaluated these harnesses in five main areas: comfort, adjustability, comfort while sleeping, gear loops, and ease of free climbing.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners

Review by:

Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Last Updated:
March 27, 2011

Best Overall Big Wall Climbing Harness

Metolius Safe Tech Waldo

Editors' Choice Award

Price:   Varies from $95 - $129 online
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The Editors' Choice award goes to the Metolius Safe Tech Waldo. Not only is it the most comfortable, it has our favorite gear loops. The only big downside is that you can't remove the leg loops to sleep.

Best Bang for the Buck

Petzl Calidris

Best Buy Award

Price:   Varies from $82 - $110 online
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The Best Buy award goes to the Petzl Calidris. It is tied for least expensive with the Black Diamond Big Gun. However, we think it has more value because it can be worn in more applications. It is the only big wall harness we tested that we would also recommend for an all-around cragging harness, multi-pitch harness or harness for one day big wall ascents.

Analysis and Test Results


Comfort is the most important factor and we gave it a lot of weight in our scores. The most comfortable harness is the Metolius Waldo. Every other harness was reasonably comfortable but this harness stood out because of its extra wide and soft leg and waist straps. There is a reason you see so many gym course-setters using this harness. The Yates Shield was the second most comfortable and also has wide leg and waist belts with fuzzy lining.

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Comparing the waist belt width of the Black Diamond Big Gun with the Metolius Waldo. The Waldo was the widest we tested.


The Petzl Calidris was the most easily adjustable. It was the only big wall harness in our review with speed adjust buckles. It has two buckles at the waist for keeping the belay loop at the center. We love speed adjust buckles but some people, especially in the big wall environment where you don't adjust your harness much, prefer the standard buckles. The Yates and Misty harnesses also were very adjustable. The Metolius Waldo had the most adjustable leg loops in some ways due to its 3-d system. But it also was one of the few harnesses where the extra leg loop material just wouldn't stay tucked away.

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Petzl Calidris Harness

Comfort While Sleeping

The Black Big Gun and the Misty Mountain Titan let you remove the leg loops and are comfy to sleep in. The Yates Shield let you remove the leg loops but still has some big stiff webbing pieces sticking out the side. The Calidris and Waldo don't let you remove the leg loops at all…which is a bummer. That said, I prefer to take my harness off complete when sleeping and use a two-inch swami belt (or thinner). So it comes down to your sleeping style.

Gear Loops

The Metolius Waldo was the only harness with super strong gear loops (rated to 2250lb). This allows you to confidently hang anything off it, such as a portaledge when you are moving things from under the bag to the hanging bivy. We also like how the loops are super perky and stick straight out. They are easy to clip and don't get pulled down flat when weighted. I have never broken a gear loop on another harness, but that is partially because I am always afraid to hang something heavy and important. Most other gear loops were adequate. The Big Gun and the Shield have tons of places to clip stuff. Some people will love this. I find that having too many gear loops is redundant and leads to clutter. If you actually clip stuff to every gear loop it is hard to get to the ones that overlap each other.

Free Climbing

The Calidris was the best to free climb in. It is light, breathes well, and there is not a lot of stuff sticking out to get caught in chimneys and offwidths. For a wall like The Nose or Half Dome, a big harness like the Yates Shield or Waldo can be heavy and cumbersome. Also, Calidris is one of the few harnesses to consider using as an everyday harness for gym climbing, trad climbing, and multi-pitch. This makes it a very versatile harness that can be used year round. The Misty Titan and Black Diamond Big Gun were also relatively light. But they are right at the border of being a harness I would consider taking on The Nose-in-a-day (usually I take a normal free climbing harness). The Yates Shield and Waldo are great serious aid route harnesses but I would not use them on a climb that involved lots of free climbing.


The Waldo and Big Gun are the only harnesses that come with two belay loops. I used to thing this was overkill but now I am pretty sold on it. Two belay loops gives you more options with daisy chain configurations and is great for any time your harness is loaded in two directions. For example, if you are ascending a rope you can have your top ascender attached to one belay loop and your back up knots attached to the other belay loop. Or when you are rappeling the East Ledges descent on El Capitan, you can have the haul bag into one belay loop and your rappel device into the other.

Another feature is a hammer holster. Because nailing is becoming more and more obsolete, I don't really care about this feature. But if you climb tons of hard aid, Yates is the only harness with a built in burly hammer holster. The hammer holster for the BD Big Gun does not work that well. The Metolius Waldo has gear loops that can be used as hammer holsters.


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Ammon McNeely making the first move on a 23+ hour single push ascent of Rodeo Queen. The Camp 4 has a nice reinforcement where the aider meets the shoe. Although this is an older model, the current version offers this same benefit.

When it comes to wearing a harness on a big wall, the most significant factor is almost always its comfort around your waist and legs. However, depending on your personal preferences and climbing needs, other factors can vary in importance. Hopefully this review will assist you in the marketplace of harnesses. Before you buy a big wall harness, read our Big Wall Harness Buying Advice article, which offers further guidance in the process of purchasing the right harness.
Chris McNamara
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by Chris McNamara