Almost every rock climber who has been climbing more than a few months can tell you a fall story, especially if he or she has been climbing outdoors. Though most gym climbs are top-roped, which only allows falls of a few feet, those climbing sport or trad routes can take some pretty big falls. My biggest fall was about a twenty-five footer, which ended with my head hanging only five feet or so above a set of jagged rocks. So why didn’t I hit the ground? I didn’t bash my head on the rocks because my belayer caught me and because all of my gear worked the way it was supposed to, including one of the most important pieces of gear, my climbing harness.
A climbing harness allows a rope to be safely and comfortably attached to a climber, stopping the climber’s fall before he or she hits the ground. The rope passes through one or two webbing loops (depending on the harness), and these loops are one of the most important parts of the chain of protection that stops your fall, including the rope, rock protection, and belay device. These webbing loops also allow you to attach a belay device to your harness, allowing you to belay your climbing partners. All climbing gear manufacturers make sure their climbing harnesses meet rigorous safety standards, but it’s always important to pay attention to your gear and inspect it for any wears or tears. If the nylon webbing of your climbing harness is a little fuzzy from wear that’s all right, but if it’s torn or if any other damage is visible it’s time to get a new harness.
Climbing harnesses come in a range of sizes and designs, and it’s tough to get climbers to agree on what climbing harness is the best. All climbers agree on one thing, however: for a climbing harness to be safe, comfortable, and effective, it must fit the climber properly. An ill-fitting harness is at best uncomfortable and at worst dangerous, and before buying a climbing harness it’s important to try it out first. Hopefully your gear store will be able to attach you to a rope and allow you to hang in the harness for awhile to make sure it’s not only comfortable to walk around in, it should also be comfortable to hang in. Beyond that, you can find stripped-down ice climbing harnesses made to be worn over layers and layers of insulation to bulky, padded harnesses which you could sit in all day; what style you go for is completely up to you.