The Best Climbing Harness For Women Review

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The Black Diamond Primrose SA, out Best Buy Women's harness, which works well for most every style of climbing.
Credit: Ali Feinberg
A climbing harness is your life-line. It is the piece of gear that connects you as a person to your rope and your gear. It catches you when you fall, and catches your partner when they fall. Most climbers keep their harnesses for around 5 years, which is longer than a rope or climbing shoes last, so selecting one that fits, that is comfortable, and that you will be happy wearing for years to come will make your climbing experience more enjoyable. There are now many models on the market, some aimed at specific styles of climbing, some made for all-around use, and some designed just for women. We took a selection of the top performing women's specific harnesses and evaluated them side-by-side to determine which ones we liked, which ones we wouldn't spend money on, and which ones will work best for certain types of climbing.

The first consideration when purchasing a harness is if you want a women's specific model or not. Reference our Buying Advice Article for more details on the differences between men's and women's specific harnesses.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Climbing Harness - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Mammut Ophira
Mammut Ophira
Read the Review
Black Diamond Primrose SA
Black Diamond Primrose SA
Read the Review
Arc'teryx R280
Arc'teryx R280
Read the Review
Black Diamond Primrose AL
Black Diamond Primrose AL
Read the Review
Petzl Selena
Petzl Selena
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $37 - $55
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $41 - $100
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $87 - $149
Compare at 4 sellers
$46
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $49 - $70
Compare at 7 sellers
Overall Score 
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Pros Reinforced tie-in point, rigid gear loops with flexible attachment, lack of buckles on leg loops, comfortable waist belt, versatilecomfortable, easy to clip rigid gear loops, great value, adjustable leg loop system is light and easycool looking, light, compact, great gear loops, great doubleback bucklecomfortable, great gear loops, great valuelight, comfortable, DoubleBack buckle
Cons Heavier than some style-specific harnesses, does not have ice tool attachment loopsno ice tool holdersexpensive, not the most comfortable for hanging in over long periodsno self-locking (speed adjust) bucklerear gear loops small and hard to reach, haul loop not full strength
Best Uses trad climbing, sport climbing, multi-pitch climbing, gym climbingsport climbing, trad climbing, multi-pitch climbing, gym climbing- almost everything!sport climbing, gym climbingsport climbing, trad climbing, multi-pitch climbing, gym climbingtrad climbing, big wall climbing, sport climbing, multi-pitch climbing
Date Reviewed Aug 11, 2013Aug 11, 2013Aug 16, 2013Aug 11, 2013Aug 18, 2013
Weighted Scores Mammut Ophira Black Diamond Primrose SA Arc'teryx R280 Black Diamond Primrose AL Petzl Selena
Comfort - 35%
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Gym And Sport Climbing - 10%
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Trad Climbing - 10%
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Multi Pitch And Alpine Climbing - 10%
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Ease Of Use - 25%
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Weight - 10%
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Product Specs Mammut Ophira Black Diamond Primrose SA Arc'teryx R280 Black Diamond Primrose AL Petzl Selena
Weight (size small)) 13.75 oz 11.84 oz 10.56 oz 12 oz 12.8 oz
Gear Loops 4 (rigid with flexible attachment points) 4 (rigid) 4 (rigid with flexible attachment points) 4 (rigid) 4(2 rigid, 2 flexible)
Haul Loop Yes Yes Yes Yes
Adjustable Legs? No, detachable Yes, detachable No, detachable Yes, detachable No, detachable
Self-locking buckle? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Ice Tool Holder Slot No No No No Yes, 2
Waist Belt Construction 2 part webbing construction OpenAir Dual Core (2 thin bands of webbing with foam in between) Warp Strength® Technology OpenAir Dual Core (2 thin bands of webbing with foam in between) EndoFrame construction

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • All Reviewed Products
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Mammut Ophira
$50
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Black Diamond Primrose SA
$55
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Arc'teryx R280
$150
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Petzl Selena
$65
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Black Diamond Primrose AL
$50
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Petzl Luna
$75
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Black Diamond Aura
$100
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CAMP Jade CR
$70
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Black Diamond Siren
$70
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Comfort
The most obvious factor in comfort is the thickness of the padding on the waist belt. Secondly is the weight distribution around the waist. Across the market as a whole, harnesses are getting thinner and lighter, however there reaches a point where padding still makes a difference in overall comfort. We were blown away by the Arc'teryx R280 is with its almost "padding free" design. When standing around and climbing, it doesn't feel like you have a climbing harness on. However, when hanging around in it for a long time, this harness's cool, slim profile digs into the sides and legs of the testers more than with other harnesses. One of the most comfortable waist belts is on the Mammut Ophira, which manages to be a light harness with a wide waist belt, so weight is distributed evenly and the padding that is there cushions your sides.

Leg Loop Sizing
A primary comfort concern for women is the leg loop sizing, particularly for the models with fixed elastic loops. We noticed that the fit of the fixed leg loops varied greatly. The old Petzl Selena had extremely small and tight leg loops, but the updated version has roomier and more comfortable leg loops. The Arc'teryx R280 has small, tight leg loops, but it is targeted at stick-legged sport climbers. The Mammut Ophira had by far the roomiest and most comfortable of the elastic, non-adjustable leg loops.

Climbing Style
Essentially, you can wear any harness for any style of climbing. (Except maybe bouldering…) However, some models are more suited to a certain style of climbing than others. In general, the lightest and most minimal harnesses are targeted at sport climbers and the harness with extra padding, larger gear loops, and haul loops are aimed at trad and multi-pitch climbers. Here is our break-down of the best uses for the different harnesses we tried.

Sport Climbing Specific Harnesses
Black Diamond Siren
Black Diamond Aura
Arc'teryx R280

All-Around Harnesses
Mammut Ophira
Black Diamond Primrose SA
Black Diamond Primrose SL
Petzl Selena

Ice Climbing and Mountaineering Harness
Petzl Luna

Gear Loops
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The BD Primrose SA. Here you can see the lightweight trakFIT adjustable leg loop slider and pressure molded rigid gear loops.
Credit: Ali Feinberg

All the harnesses we tested have 4 gear loops except for the Black Diamond Siren, which has 2 Mondo gear loops with a plastic divider. For only having 2 loops, this harness can hold a lot of gear, but we think that these loops are less functional than if there were 4 normal loops. The Black Diamond Aura originally came with only 2 gear loops, but the most recent version now has 4.

Gear loops tend to come in two styles: rigid or flexible. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages: rigid loops are much easier to clip gear on and off, and flexible loops are far more comfortable when donning a pack over your harness. Black Diamond uses all pressure molded rigid loops. The Petzl Luna and Selena use rigid loops on the front and flexible loops in the back, which is a clever compromise. But the Ophira and the Arc'teryx R280 do it the best. The gear loops are coated in a rigid plastic so they are easy to clip, but they are flexible where they attach to the harness. If you wear a pack on top of this harness, the loops easily fold down close to your side, but they hold their shape for clipping and unclipping while climbing. These loops are also well placed in the front of the harness to make reaching gear on the back loops easy and comfortable.

Haul Loops
The only harnesses that we tested that did not have haul loops were the Black Diamond Siren and Black Diamond Aura. These are lighter harnesses for sport climbers, who won't often have a need for a haul loop. All other harnesses had a loop in the back, though they varied in strength. The Primrose and Ophira had full-strength loops in back, while the Petzl harnesses had small, weaker looking haul loops.

Ease of Use
We evaluated ease of use based on a few notable features: buckles, adjustable leg loops, and leg loop release. Each of these features is minor in an of itself, but affects how you interact with the harness while wearing it.

Buckles
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Petzl makes one of the best self-locking buckles, called the DoubleBack buckle. This makes the harness easy to put on and increases the safer since it means you can't forget to double back the waist buckle.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

We prefer harnesses with self-locking buckles (also called "speed adjust buckles" and "DoubleBack buckles"). These are easier to put on, and make it impossible to forget to double back your harness, increasing the safety. The Petzl and Arc'teryx buckles work the best while the Black Diamond ones slip slightly, but they all work well enough. The only women's specific harness that does not have a self-locking buckle is the Black Diamond Primrose AL. If you pay another $5 you can get self-locking buckles with the Black Diamond Primrose SA.

Adjustable Leg Loops
Most of our testers prefer harnesses with fixed leg loops, however more women than men lean towards adjustable leg loops. This is because women have larger legs in relation to their waists than men, and finding an appropriately fitting harness is much more difficult. Some women may have a very tiny waist but larger upper thighs (any woman who skis or bikes as well as climbs), and will require adjustable leg loops in order to fit properly, whereas super skinny sport climbers might have tiny legs and so prefer a lighter harnesses without adjustable leg loops. Most harnesses come with an option for either fixed leg loops or adjustable ones, so it is up to you to decide what will work best for you.

Here are the pros and cons of adjustable leg loops as we see it:

Pros:
-Can fit over multiple layers of clothing- meaning you can wear long underwear on those chilly climbing days without cutting off circulation to your legs
Fit a wider variety of women. Women vary in proportion, but overall have thicker thighs compared to their waists in relation to men. Finding a fixed leg loop harness that fits your waist AND your legs can be difficult and frustrating. Many women opt for adjustable leg loops for this reason.
Cons:
Having a buckle on the loops creates an extra point for wear
buckles add weight
once you adjust a harness to fit, you rarely change it, making the buckles seem unnecessary
usually adjustable models cost more

Leg Loop Elastic Release
When it is time to go, it is time to go. Removing a harness entirely is a huge pain, and on a multi-pitch route, not even an option. Therefore the leg loop release system is much more crucial on a women's harness than a men's (for certain things – like peeing – the men really do have it easier!). Our personal favorite systems are the ones that detach both leg loops with a single attachment, rather than having to detach and reattach each leg loop separately. We also much prefer the clip buckle style to the low-profile hook closures because they tend to be fussy and difficult to reattach. The Petzl harnesses win in this category, with a single buckle attachment. The Black Diamond harnesses are the most difficult to use with a separate hook closure for each leg.

Weight and Size
Although climbers are obsessed with all things light, harnesses are one area where we testers restrained ourselves. The difference between the lightest harness and the heaviest was only 3 ounces, and overall they all felt lightweight. Generally the lightest harnesses are also the least comfortable.

More important than weight was fit and feel. For example, the Black Diamond Siren is not the lightest harness, but it feels light because of its slim fit and and design. With its innovative construction, the R280 manages to be the lightest and feel the most non-obtrusive. Most of our gear testers, after putting it on, said, "Wow, it doesn't feel like I'm wearing a harness at all."

Safety Features
Many of the harnesses have extra safety features worth noting. The Arc'teryx R280 has "safety markers" on its tie-in points and belay loop that shows orange when you have worn through the first layer of material and it is time to replace the harness. The Petzl Selena and Petzl Luna also have this feature, with red showing on the lower tie-in point when the harness needs to be retired. In addition, both the re-vamped Petzl harnesses have Dyneema reinforced tie-in points and belay loops, to better resist the friction of the rope.The Mammut Ophira has a hard plastic tie-in reinforcement on the bottom tie in point. This is almost impossible to wear through, and inspires a lot of confidence in the harness.

The Bottom Line

Editor's Choice Award
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McKenzie Long crack climbing in the Mammut Ophira. The large, plastic coated gear loops are ideal for clipping lots of gear, while the comfortable waist belt disperses the weight around the climber's frame.
Credit: Ali Feinberg
Surprisingly, the least expensive harness pulled ahead as our top scorer. The Mammut Ophira is exceptionally comfortable and versatile enough to use for almost any style of climbing. With awesome features such as a self-locking buckle, a reinforced tie-in point, well-fitting fixed leg loops, and large, easy to reach gear loops that are rigid with flexible attachment points, we found this harness to fit all of our needs. It was one of the heaviest harnesses (only an ounce more than most others), however it was also the most comfortable and easy to use. Besides, at $50, it is an exceptional deal! If we could only have one harness, it would be the Ophira.

Best Buy Award
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The Black Diamond Primrose is an inexpensive, versatile harness that works well for any climbing style and will last for several years of moderate use. It is an excellent deal for a first harness.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
The Black Diamond Primrose SA takes best buy for women's harnesses. For $55 you get a versatile, all-around harness with convenient features. This version comes with a speed adjust waist buckle, and only costs $5 more than the version with the traditional buckle. It weighs the exact same as the "lightweight" sport climbing specific Black Diamond Siren, so for an all-round harness, it is pretty feather-weight. This harness does not come in a model with fixed leg loops (only adjustable leg loops available), but the trakFIT adjustable system is so small and easy to use, that it is hardly noticeable. If you want fixed leg loops, check out the Petzl Selena which costs another $10, or our Editor's Choice Winner, which is even less expensive.

Top Pick Award for Best Sport Climbing Harness
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We love the rigid gear loops on the Arcteryx R280, with flexible attachment points. Also, the loops are sloped downwards, which keeps the gear forward, where you need it most for easy access.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
Though expensive, the Arc'teryx R280 pulled ahead as the best sport climbing specific harness. The innovative Warp Strength Technology makes for an extremely light and compact harness with a much slimmer profile than any other harness we tested. It has other fantastic features such as a self-locking waist buckle, detachable fixed leg loops, and 4 rigid gear loops with flexible attachment points. At just over 10 ounces, this is the harness to go to for light and hard endeavors.

The Best Women's Harness for Different Applications
If we had the option to buy a harness for every style of climbing, here is what what we would get:

Best Sport Climbing and Gym Harness: Arc'teryx R280
Best Trad Climbing harness: Mammut Ophira
Best Alpine Harness: Petzl Luna

McKenzie Long
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