All harnesses do the same things—keep you from hitting the deck and tote gear—but how they do it can be staggeringly different. Some are mega-plush, built for hours of hanging, while others are slim and trim for sending projects. Then there are those designed with special features for ice climbing or mountaineering. You’ll probably have your harness for years—you won’t replace it as often as a rope or rock shoe—which makes it all the more important to choose the right rig. We took a dozen new harnesses picking and kicking in Rocky Mountain National Park, sport climbing in Utah and Colorado, and plugging gear in Red Rock, Nevada. From the slew of new harnesses out in early 2013, we picked five that are guaranteed to fit your fancy.
Edelrid Orion ($115, edelridna.com)
Performance: “This is one of those unique pieces of gear that disappears from my mind because it just works so well,” one tester said. The Orion combines comfort, breathability, and function into one lightweight package. A four-inch-wide waistbelt—one of the widest in our test—distributes pressure evenly: “This harness cradled my midsection instead of trying to squeeze the life out of it,” another tester commented. Thin webbing straps on the outside are connected directly to the adjustment buckles, so when you tighten the buckle, you feel increased support across the entire span. But the width doesn’t come with weight or breathability penalties (the quarter-inch-thick foam has dozens of pencil eraser–sized perforations to cut mass and cool skin). Said one female tester, “This harness mimicked the shape of my legs and waist,” thanks to the 3D construction on the foam pieces, which were angled and cut to wrap around the body instead of simply lay against it. We tested mostly for sport climbing, and the four stiff, forward-angled gear loops “reloaded” the draws well. “The next draw is easy to grab with no fumbling,” a tester reported. Plastic lines the bottom tie-in point for added durability.
Cons: Pricey. And one tester found the adjustment buckles difficult to slide due to the tight overlap in the two-piece design. Minimalist sport climbers may find the wide waistbelt and leg loops bulky or clunky.
Conclusion: Innovative harness for everything from sport to ice, and for anyone who values comfort but doesn’t want to sacrifice utility—and doesn’t mind paying for it.
Mammut Togira Light ($85, mammut.ch)
Performance: “Hands down the best harness I’ve worn out of the 15 or so I’ve donned in the past three years of gear testing,” one female tester said of the women’s-specific Togira Light. “It sits on my body perfectly and stays in place; I’m not constantly adjusting it or pulling it up—a first for me.” Another selling point is the plastic-molded gear loops, which are angled instead of round, so it’s easy to carry an entire rack of doubles through a No. 2 cam and still be able to quickly find each piece. “This harness eliminated my need to carry a shoulder gear sling; raving about gear loops might seem mental, but these were the first I’ve found that were thoughtfully designed and truly useful,” another tester said. A 1,000-foot route in Red Rock (read: seven hanging belays) didn’t give one climber any pain or discomfort, and hot gym days didn’t leave any sweat spots thanks to the breathable and slim two-layer foam construction. We fell in love with this harness for long trad routes, but sport climbers will like its slim profile and svelte fit, too. New Slide Bloc buckles were easy to use: "It zipped right up!" praised one tester. Leg loops are detachable at the lower back so you can relieve yourself en route.
Cons: Fixed leg loops don’t allow you to adjust, so pay attention to sizing. They also restrict layered-up, cold-weather climbing. Dropseat hook attachment is difficult to take off/ put on while you’re wearing it.
Conclusion: “I’ve forsaken every other harness for this one.” Gear-pluggers and bolt-clippers alike will dig the comfort and fit of this harness. Best women’s harness we’ve seen in the past few years.
Black Diamond Momentum 3S ($60, blackdiamondequipment.com)
Performance: For trad routes in Joshua Tree, California, and sport missions in Maple Canyon and American Fork, Utah, this addition to the Momentum lineup has proven to be a comfortable and versatile harness with a few upgrades. Black Diamond redesigned the Speed Adjust buckles—which had little issues with slipping in prior testing—by shrinking the space for the webbing to pass through just enough so that the buckles bite firmly without being difficult to tighten and loosen. “I was impressed with the durability,” one western states tester said. “After more than six months of testing, including some burl-fest chimneys, it showed no signs of wear.” Open-hook seat attachments made it easy to drop trou when nature called, and full waist and leg adjustability was ideal for conditions and climbing from hot to cold. “Sport, gym, or trad, the Momentum 3S has been pure joy thanks to the comfortable webbing and foam insert construction,” one tester said. “Not to mention it’s a steal at $60.” Four pressure-molded gear loops were big enough for every route that wasn’t a big wall, but it maintains an airy weight at 13 oz., so it’s packable and doesn’t add bulk to any gear-intensive backcountry pursuits.
Cons: Sizing seemed small on this model (and other Black Diamond models), so try on before buying or size up with plans to cinch down. Word of caution for short people: Gear loops hang draws and other pro extra-low.
Conclusion: Full adjustability and do-everything design make this nearly perfect for everything on rock. It’s also the least expensive harness in the review, and one of the cheapest on the market.
Petzl Sama ($65, petzl.com)
Performance: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was not the mantra of the Petzl designers. With significant waistbelt, buckle, and gear-loop upgrades, Petzl took our bolt-minded testers’ old favorite and made it hall-of-fame worthy. With wider sides and a narrower back, the new waistbelt scored top marks for comfort and freedom of movement. “The padded sides protected the sensitive parts of my stomach during falls at Shelf Road, Colorado, but I felt unencumbered when I needed to do twisting cross-through moves,” one tester said. Another favorite was the new waist adjustment system. “The wider webbing was easy to grab and pull, even when my fingers were torched, and the new DoubleBack Light buckle is the quickest auto-doubled-back buckle I’ve ever used,” he said. The front gear loops are rigid and stick out from the harness, which was great for quick, fumble-free clips; the rear loops are more flexible, so they lay flat and stay out of the way—perfect for wearing with a pack on long routes. Petzl updated four harnesses for both men and women with all these same features: Sama/Selena with fixed leg loops, and Adjama/Luna with adjustable leg loops for mountaineering.
Cons: A bit stiff at first, but broke in after a few wears. Although it is lined with wicking mesh on the inside, testers found the quarterinch- thick foam less breathable than others.
Conclusion: Built for working sport projects, this harness has the comfort for all-day wear in the waistbelt and the svelteness of a “sending only” rig with the fixed leg loops.
Mammut Realization Harness Short ($200, mammut.ch)
Performance: Building a harness into a pair of shorts might seem like unnecessary innovation, but each tester who tried the Realization harness shorts loved them. “No bunching or riding up made me feel more fluid on the rock; I moved with ease,” said one tester who recommended these board-short-like bottoms for gym days and summer sport climbing. Two plastic gear loops mean you can rack a full set of draws for single-pitch days outside, and abrasion-resistant material stands up to leg and butt-scumming. Four pockets—two in front, two in back—were functional for pre- and post-climbing time, as well as during (i.e., no annoying pocket-wrestling when reaching for lip balm). One tester praised the mesh liner (a cross between a bathing suit lining and boxer briefs), which “kept my contents in check” but breathed well in a “hot-as-hell gym.” Bonus: The Realization shorts didn’t hold any stink after sweaty sessions. While testers found the waist to be small for the size (our 31-inch-waist tester barely fit into a medium), the 11-inch inseam and style were ideal for at the crag and at the bar: “It’s a great-looking pair of shorts with a harness inside. Win-win.”
Cons: The greatest benefit (harness and shorts in one design) is also its biggest drawback— you can’t just take your harness off and be done; you have to change your shorts, too.
Conclusion: Ideal for gym days when you’re hopping from the lead wall to the bouldering cave. The combo was comfortable to climb in, but we’d recommend taking off after climbing.
When buying a harness, look for a model with a CE or UIAA label. This signifies that the manufacturer has met or surpassed design or strength standards established by the European Community and the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, respectively. The crucial areas in harness testing are the tie-in points, waistbelt and leg loop buckles, belay loop, and the waistbelt itself. The tie-in points and belay loop must be rated to at least 15kN, and the waistbelt must be rated to 10kN for side-to-side strength. In a fall, the waistbelt and leg loop buckles can’t slip more than 20mm. Other parts of the harness (like the haul loop or gear loops) might be strength-rated, but they are not designed to be used when belaying or tying into the rope.