The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Climbing Harnesses

By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday May 7, 2020
Testing harnesses often involved taking a giant pile of them to the crag and wearing different ones on different climbs.
Testing harnesses often involved taking a giant pile of them to the crag and wearing different ones on different climbs.

We have been testing and reviewing climbing harnesses at OutdoorGearLab for the past nine years. Many of the models tested have the same name as versions that we've tested in the past, although the manufacturers have updated them over that time. We test harnesses pretty much year round, on all of our climbing adventures, and in the past year we conducted testing at a bunch of cool climbing areas, including Smith Rock, Leonidio, Greece, Trout Creek, the Bugaboos, Squamish, Skaha, the Fins, and Lumpy Ridge.

Taking a break on a convenient ledge while climbing Directissima at the Gunks of New York. Our testing involved climbing at crags all across the country  sharing harnesses with many different people to gather multiple opinions along the way.
Taking a break on a convenient ledge while climbing Directissima at the Gunks of New York. Our testing involved climbing at crags all across the country, sharing harnesses with many different people to gather multiple opinions along the way.

The majority of the testing we do is intensive field-testing, which in this case means pitch after pitch of rock climbing. The head tester spent many days climbing in each of these harnesses, and we also loaned them out to friends and climbing partners to garner a broader perspective. In some cases, we conducted more objective, side-by-side tests, to solidify results and comparative ratings, which are described below. While we do speculate at times as to whether a particular harness will be good for ice or mountaineering, we disclose that we did not test these harnesses for these activities. Where recommendations for specific purposes have been made, they have been based mostly on extrapolations based on the experience of the head tester, who has over 20 years of climbing experience in every discipline. In no case should any of the recommendations made be taken as safety advice, but merely as informed advice for a purchasing decision.

Hanging Comfort


We hung on routes, at hanging belays, and rappelled in each of these harnesses. To test them side-by-side, we set up a mock hang at the base of a crag and spent ten minutes hanging in each harness in a position that mimics a hanging belay or hanging after a fall, one after the other, to gain clearer insight to differentiate the relative comforts of each product.

Hanging out at the base of the crag in the BD Chaos  we found that its leg loops were pretty comfy for hanging in  but not as much as the ultra wide leg loops found on the Solution.
Hanging out at the base of the crag in the BD Chaos, we found that its leg loops were pretty comfy for hanging in, but not as much as the ultra wide leg loops found on the Solution.

Standing Comfort and Mobility


This metric is an amalgamation of many different tests. We wore each model, used them, and took copious notes that led to comparative ratings. We analyzed and compared them while rock climbing, standing around and walking in shorts and a t-shirt, doing the same while wearing pants and a jacket, standing, moving, and climbing with a massive rack on the harness, and also while wearing a climbing pack with the waist belt buckled. This metric is meant to convey the comfort for all times when not hanging or belaying.

Pulling the rope from a climb at the Streaked Wall above Telluride  CO  with the famous ice climb Bridalveil Falls in the background. We found the Corax to be super adjustable  and therefore quite comfortable and mobile for hanging out in all day.
Pulling the rope from a climb at the Streaked Wall above Telluride, CO, with the famous ice climb Bridalveil Falls in the background. We found the Corax to be super adjustable, and therefore quite comfortable and mobile for hanging out in all day.

Features


For each harness, we identified each feature found on it, and then tested it conscientiously while out climbing. We made a note of whether a whole double rack plus water, a jacket, and shoes could fit in the gear loops; how easy or hard the gear was to clip or unclip from the loops; whether the haul loop was easy to clip and unclip; how easy the buckles adjusted and stayed locked in place; and many other such tests of literally every feature available.

Leading the first pitch finger crack of the Naked Edge in the Technician  a harness that easily carried a pair of shoes and a jacket on the back  and is equally at home on sport climbs as it is on long trad routes or ice climbs.
Leading the first pitch finger crack of the Naked Edge in the Technician, a harness that easily carried a pair of shoes and a jacket on the back, and is equally at home on sport climbs as it is on long trad routes or ice climbs.

Belaying Comfort


Over the years we have realized that how comfortable a harness feels while hanging is different than when belaying, so we decided to rate this important consideration separately. To test them side-by-side we top-rope belayed a person as they hung in place for a number of minutes, in each harness, one after the other.

Hiroki loving life as he hangs out on a cool day in the fall at Smith Rock  OR. He loved climbing (and belaying) all day in the Aquila  saying he might consider buying it as his next harness.
Hiroki loving life as he hangs out on a cool day in the fall at Smith Rock, OR. He loved climbing (and belaying) all day in the Aquila, saying he might consider buying it as his next harness.

Versatility


We tested each of the buckles on all of the harnesses side-by-side to get a thorough understanding of which were the most adjustable, and which buckles worked best. For the other features, we climbed both sport and trad routes, and in situations where we were not able to test, like ice climbing, we racked up as if going climbing anyway, to test how versatile the features were.

Whether climbing multi-pitch classics  or for single-pitch trad cragging  as shown here in the lower gorge of Smith Rock  the Adjama is the best choice.
Whether climbing multi-pitch classics, or for single-pitch trad cragging, as shown here in the lower gorge of Smith Rock, the Adjama is the best choice.