A climbing harness is a crucial piece of equipment: it’s the contact point between you, your rope, and your belayer (the person on the ground on the other end of the rope to stop you from falling).

Parts of a Climbing Harness

If you’re new to climbing, your first step is to understand the parts of a harness.

01. Waist belt The waist belt is the thick slab of webbing that wraps around your waist. It’s usually sewn and padded for comfort, where you will be hanging from your harness. Some harnesses, like those made for alpine climbing, have a no-frills waist belt with no padding but less weight.

02. Leg Loops

The leg loops are the two wide, padded loops of webbing that encase your upper thighs. They can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the webbing which runs through buckles. 

The leg loops are attached to the front of the waist belt at the belay loop and by adjustable webbing straps on the rear of the waist belt. 

The leg loop cross piece also attaches the leg loops to each other at the front of the harness.  The leg loops work in conjunction with the waist belt to distribute your weight between your legs and pelvis in the event of a fall.

03. Buckle

Harnesses have either one or two buckles attached to the front of the waist belt. A single buckle is usually threaded with a length of webbing on the waist belt and then doubled back on itself through the buckle. 

This ensures that the harness will not accidentally come undone when it is weighted. It is extremely important to always double-check that your harness belt is doubled back through the buckle.  Many harnesses also have double buckles that are pre-threaded, which allow you to easily tighten or loosen the harness waist belt.

04. Tie-in loop

The tie-in loop is exactly that, a loop of strong, rigid webbing sewn onto the front of the waist belt.  The length of webbing that secures the buckle is attached to the loop. When you tie your rope into your harness (using the figure-8 or follow-through knot), the rope is threaded through the leg loop cross piece at the bottom and then up through the tie-in loop, which tightly secures the rope to both parts of the harness and distributes your weight on both parts if you fall or hang on the rope.

05. Belay Loop

The belay loop is a strong, rigid loop of webbing that attaches the leg loops to the waist belt. 

The belay loop is also one of the most important parts of the climbing harness since a locking carabiner is attached to the loop when you are belaying or rappelling. 

The belay loop is extremely strong so it can withstand all the energetic forces of climbing, including severe falls.  Still, belay loops have been known to fail, especially if they are old and worn, so always back it up to create redundancy in your chain of safety if you have any doubts about the loop’s strength and integrity.

06. Gear Loop

The gear loops, either soft or rigid loops are attached to the waist belt and are used to track your climbing gear, including nuts, cams, and quick draws, to your harness for easy carrying while you climb. 

Harnesses usually come with either two or four gear loops, depending on the weight of the harness. Small harnesses for women or kids often have just two gear loops, while bigger harnesses have four.  Usually, it’s better to have four gear loops unless you’re using your harness for gym climbing, top-roping, or sports routes. Most gear loops are not strong enough to support anything more than body weight.

07. Haul Loop

A haul loop is a loop of webbing on the back of the waist belt. 

The best haul loops are sewn and are full strength. These are used for hauling a second rope on long climbs, aid climbing, and big walls.  Some harnesses have a low-strength haul loop, often a loop of plastic tacked onto the waist belt. These are usually used only for clipping a chalk bag or other gear onto the rear of the waist belt.

08. Leg Loop Cross Piece

The leg loop cross piece is a length of webbing connecting the two leg loops on the front of the harness. 

It is usually adjustable with a small threaded buckle. This webbing, along with the tie-in loop on the waist belt, is one of the points where you attach your climbing rope to your harness.

The rise is the distance between the 2 leg loops and the waist belt. It is connected with thin webbing or elastic straps. 

If the straps are removable from the waist belt, the harness is considered a drop–seat harness. 

Many alpine and traditional climbing harnesses are drop–seat harnesses and allow a climber to take off the leg loops without untying.  Many sport and gym harnesses have permanent straps that cannot be temporarily removed. These straps can be adjusted up and down, altering the shape of the harness and affecting how it feels when you hang in it.

Wearing the harness

Putting on a climbing harness for the first time can feel a bit like a brainteaser. 

When you have to figure out where all the straps, loops, and buckles go. But with a few tips and some repetition, it will soon become as familiar as pulling on a pair of pants.

Here’s how to put on a climbing harness. (Note: Not all climbing harnesses are exactly the same, so you should read the instruction manual specific to your harness to understand how to use it properly.)

  • Loosen the buckles: Start with the waist belt and leg-loop buckles.
  • Remove twists: Straighten out the waist belt or leg loops.
  • Step into the harness: Step through the waist belt and into the leg loops, and then pull the harness up.
  • Tighten the buckles: Snug up the waist belt and leg-loop buckles.
  • Double-back the buckles: Make sure each buckle is properly double-backed.
  • Double-check everything: Check again for any twists and that all buckles are double-backed.

Here’s some additional detail on each step

01 – Loosen the waist belt and leg-loop  buckles

Some harnesses allow you to completely undo the buckles, and some people like to do this when putting on a harness, but it’s usually simpler and faster to loosen the buckles enough so that you can get into the harness. (If your harness has stretchy leg loops without buckles, you need only to loosen the waist buckle.)

02 – Remove twists in the waist belt or leg loops

Hold the harness out in front of you by the waist belt with the belay loop facing away from you and undo any twists. Pay particular attention to the leg loops, as they are prone to twisting and flipping upside down. For an easy way to tell if things are twisted, look at the stretchy straps on the back of the harness that connects the waist belt to the leg loops. They should run fairly straight to each leg loop.

03 – Step through the waist belt and into the leg loops like pulling on a pair of pants

Pull the harness up by the waist belt so that the leg loops are around your upper thighs and the waist belt is just above your hip bones.  Alternately, you can put the harness on the ground with the leg loops placed inside the waist belt. Step into both leg loops and pull the harness up.

04 –  Tighten the waist belt and leg-loop buckles

Snug the waist belt tight enough so that the harness cannot be pulled down below your hips. (You can test the tightness by slipping a hand through the belt. Then, make a fist and try to pull your fist up through the harness. If your fist comes out easily, you need to tighten the belt more.) Tighten the leg buckles up so that they are comfortably snug. If you can slide a flat hand between the leg loop and your thigh, that’s usually about right.

05 – Double-back all the buckles

Many newer harnesses include pre-threaded buckles that adjust while maintaining the correct double-back configuration. With these, simply tighten the straps up and you’re ready to go climbing. However, some harnesses have buckles that require you to manually double them back, which basically means threading the strap back through the buckle one more time to secure it.

Important: Always read the instruction manual that comes with your harness so you understand what style buckles the harness has and how they operate. It’s critical that all buckles are properly double-backed before climbing.

06 – Double-check that you’ve put the harness on correctly

Make sure there aren’t any twists in the waist belt or leg loops and that all of the buckles are double-backed. While you’re at it, double-check your partner’s harness, too.