A climbing harness attaches you to your climbing rope, so it's important that you know what harness you will need for type of climbing you’ll be doing. Your harness should fit your body shape for comfort and safety. There are three general styles of climbing harnesses: Alpine, Sport, and multi-purpose. Construction varies among these categories to meet your specific needs. Women's and children's harnesses, for example, have special fit characteristics. The following suggestions will help you find right harness.
Consider Your Climbing Style You should first decide type of climbing that you will do most often. Once you know your climbing style, you can select right harness for your needs.
Multi-Purpose – Multi-purpose harnesses are known as all-around, crag or sport harnesses. Multi-purpose harnesses are ideal for beginners because they are designed to for a number of climbing applications such as top-roping, sport and gym climbing. Most multi-purpose harnesses have padded leg loops and waistbelts for which provides more comfort, especially if you take a fall. Some multi-purpose harnesses have detachable leg loops which will allow you to detach your legs while remaining attached to rope. Most climbing harnesses have gear loops for carrying your climbing hardware such as carabiners, chalk bag, quickdraws etc. Multi-purpose harnesses will usually have a front loop that allows you to attach a belay/rappel device.
Alpine – Alpine climbing harnesses are made for long mountain trips. These harnesses are pretty basic and usually have minimal padding and very few extras so that they will be light weight and low bulk. Alpine harnesses have non-absorbent materials to withstand rough environment of glacier and alpine climbing. The waistbelt and leg loops on alpine harnesses are very adjustable to make it easier to get in and out of when harness is not needed. The leg loops are sometimes removable so you can take toilet breaks while staying tied into rope at waist.
Big Wall – Big wall harnesses are for climbers doing multi-pitch, multi-day climbs such as those in Zion’s National Park or Yosemite Valley. Big wall harnesses will have lots of padding on waistbelt and leg loops to relieve pressure during hanging belays or aid climbing. Big wall harnesses will also have multiple gear loops that will help put much of wait on your harness instead of on your shoulder gear sling. They usually have a full-strength haul loop in back for towing a rope or heavy gear bag.
Competition – Competition harnesses are best choice for climbing competitions such as On Sight Difficulty or Speed Events. Competition harnesses have a slim design and narrow webbing to allow a full range of motion. A competition harness will typically have little padding and few, if any, frills or extras.
Compare Types of Harnesses Leg Loop/Waistbelt -- This popular style of harness consists of a padded waist (or "swami") belt and a pair of leg loops joined together in front with a belay loop. The waistbelt buckles in front or off to side, and leg loops are typically held up in back of harness with elastic straps. Leg loop size may either be fixed or adjustable..
Full Body Harness -- Full-body harnesses are designed to keep you safe in a wide range of climbing activities. The harness holds your shoulders as well as your legs, preventing you from slipping out should you rotate upside down during a fall. Since full-body harnesses have a higher tie-in point than seat harnesses, they reduce chance of flipping over backward in first place. Full body harnesses are often used in climbing safety courses to ensure safety of beginners while they are learning to climb.
Chest Harness -- Chest harnesses are typically worn only on climbs where you could likely turn upside-down. Falling into a crevasse during a glacier climb or rappelling with a heavy pack are examples of such situations. The chest harness is made to be used in conjunction with a sit harness. The resulting combination is same as full-body harness, but with versatility of adding or removing chest portion, as needed.