Best Harness for Sport and Gym Climbing
Black Diamond Solution
Fusion Comfort Construction in both waist belt and leg loops make it the most comfortable for hanging and belaying
Very light and super packable
Gear loops too small for frequent use as a trad climbing harness
No features to accommodate other climbing disciplines, usable pretty much only for sport and gym climbing
Looking for the most comfortable harness you can possibly find, regardless of whether you are belaying your buddy for hours on his project, hanging and falling repeatedly as you suss out the crux moves, or simply hanging out at the base of the crag day after day? Look no further than the Black Diamond Solution
, the highest scoring harness in our review. It features a thin and lightly padded waist belt that is far wider than most, and mimics this design for the leg loops as well. It uses Fusion Comfort Construction
, meaning it employs three very thin strips of webbing spread out through the waist belt and leg loops to help diffuse the pressure against the back, hips, and hamstrings. The result is the most comfortable harness we have ever worn, and it comes at a reasonable price of only $69 retail. For sport climbing and hitting the gym, we don't feel there is any better harness you could buy. Worth mentioning, however, is that the Solution
comes with the downside that its feature set (minimal small gear loops, no haul loop, fixed width leg loops), preclude it from extensive use on larger climbing objectives.
Read the full review: Black Diamond Solution
Best Harness for Trad Climbing
Padded waist and leg loops comfortable for hanging at belays, rappelling, carrying a rack, and extensive belaying
Huge gear loops have plenty of space for carrying a complete rack and all the long route essentials
Versatile enough for use while trad climbing as well as sport, gym, or ice
Padded waist and legs loops are a bit bulky
Leg loops are not adjustable
The Petzl Sama
is an exceptionally versatile harness that was the second highest scorer in our review. Although Petzl claims that it is designed for sport climbing and mountaineering, we found that it was the best choice when it came to trad climbing. Its Endoframe construction technique uses two strips of webbing to help diffuse the pressure in both the waist and legs, combined with a heavy dose of foam padding. The result is a tad bulky but unarguably very comfortable, regardless of the type of climbing one is doing. So why do we think it's the best choice for trad cragging or long routes? Because it combines supreme comfort with awesome, large gear loops and a haul loop that gives a climber all the room they need to carry a whole rack, as well as the essentials such as water, shoes, and a windbreaker. Other harnesses like the Black Diamond Chaos
simply didn't have enough carrying capacity for all of our long route needs, and the Arc'teryx AR-395a
, while more heavily featured, couldn't match the Sama
when it came to hanging comfort. We also loved the fact that unlike the Black Diamond Solution
, the Sama
can be used just as easily for sport or gym climbing as well as trad, and isn't a bad choice for days spent on the ice either.
Read the full review: Petzl Sama
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Momentum
For only $55 retail, offers nearly the same performance as harnesses costing $125
The simplest and easiest to use leg loop adjustment buckles
Rigid and flat gear loops make for easiest clipping and unclipping of biners
Waist belt sizing seems to run on the small side
Foam padding bulkier than most harnesses
Gear loops on the small side for carrying a full trad rack
The Black Diamond Momentum
harness retails for a mere $55, making it the second most affordable climbing harness in this review. However, what really made it worthy of our Best Bang for the Buck Award
was the fact that it scored almost exactly the same as the high end Black Diamond Chaos
harness, which retails for more than double what the Momentum
does. You read that right — the Momentum
offers high-end performance at a basement level price! While it does have a few flaws, this harness is notable for the fact that it has the simplest and easiest to adjust leg loops, has all the features you need for most kinds of climbing, and is pretty comfortable as harnesses go. While it wouldn't be our first recommendation for long rock routes or alpine climbing, we think it is a perfect choice for a beginner climber who doesn't want to break the bank, as it offers above average performance whether you are using it to climb in the gym, at the sport crag, or for moderate trad cragging.
Read the full review: Black Diamond Momentum
Most Versatile Harness
The best feature set found on any harness!
Optimally designed for any sort of climbing: trad, sport, gym, alpine, ice, mountaineering
Low profile is easily packable and wears comfortably under a pack waist belt
It's Arc'teryx, so of course it's pricey
Leg loop design cuts off circulation easily, not as comfortable for hanging or belaying as others
The only thing keeping the Arc'teryx AR-395a
from recognition as the very best in this review was the fact that its leg loops were a bit too thin where they wrap inside the legs and over the femoral artery, so we found it to be a hair less comfortable for hanging and epic belaying sessions than the Petzl Sama
or Black Diamond Solution
. Of course, anyone who has spent an hour or two at a hanging belay knows that no harness
is truly all that comfortable to hang in, so this complaint is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. What we absolutely loved about the AR-395a
was its astounding versatility and awesome feature set. If you want to own one single harness that is ideally suited to every type of climbing in every season, this is without doubt your choice. The giant gear loops are optimal for sport climbing or trad cragging, and there is plenty enough room for all the extras on long free or alpine routes. Adjustable leg loops help you stay comfortable no matter how bulky (or not) your clothing is, and four ice clip attachment points offer great winter climbing versatility. Finally, the waist belt is super thin and lies flat against the hips and back, so if you are mountaineering or alpine climbing with a pack, the hip belt will ride comfortably over the top of the harness. While it wasn't our highest scoring harness, it was pretty darn close, and is a great choice for anyone willing to invest the money.
Read the full review: Arc'teryx AR-395a
Notable for Incredible Adjustability at a Great Value
Huge range of adjustability
Double waist buckles mean harness is always centered
Comfortable and inexpensive
Heavy and bulky
Double waist buckles means lots of fiddling for adjustments
The Petzl Corax
is worth mentioning as a good harness option for those who want a very affordable but also highly adjustable harness, as well as those who want a very versatile but still affordable harness. You may have noticed that the Black Diamond Momentum
, while offering good performance at a low price, fits small and does not have a very wide size range. You also may have noticed that the most versatile harness in this review, the Arc'teryx AR-395a
, is also by far the most expensive. The Corax
is a good alternative to both of these options because it is affordable, versatile, and highly adjustable. Its most unique feature is double auto-locking buckles at the front of the waist belt, as opposed to a single buckle found on all other harnesses. This is nice because it allows for a far wider range of adjustability, convenient for certain circumstances such as easy sharing of a harness. It also means that no matter how tight or loose the waist belt is, the belay loop in front and gear loops on the sides always stay centered, which is not the case for single buckle designs, especially when worn near the limits of their size range. While the Corax
was not one of the highest scoring products in this review, it is still a comfortable harness with unique features that make it worth a look as an alternative to some of our award winners.
Read the full review: Petzl Corax
Analysis and Test Results
To be able to give the best possible harness recommendations, we tested each of the eight harnesses extensively over a three month period, with multiple people wearing and giving their opinions on each harness. The majority of our testing took place outside at crags in the mountain west: local crags near Ouray, CO, on a road trip to Ten Sleep, WY, on a brief family visit to the Gunks in NY, and on an extended multi-week journey to Smith Rock, OR. We took extensive notes throughout the testing period and had a pretty good idea of the merits of each after the test period was over, but followed up our opinions with controlled tests to compare each harness to all the others over a variety of metrics.
Pulling through the low steep moves on a popular climb at the Motherlode, a beautiful crag high in the San Juan Mountains, while wearing the Edelrid Zack harness.
To represent which were the best overall harnesses, we graded each harness for five individual metrics on a scale of 1-10. We then weighted each metric based upon how important it was to the overall performance of a harness, and added all the scores together to come up with an overall score between 1-100. In all cases, scores were awarded based on performance compared to the competition. A low scoring harness may not be a bad product at all, but simply didn't perform as well as the others. Many of the harnesses tested are designed for specific purposes, so just because a product has a high (or low) overall score does not mean it is or isn't the best choice for you. Delve deeper into the individual metrics to find the harness that best fits your needs. The individual metrics that we graded for, including what percentage they accounted for a product's final score, and the best performers for that metric, are described in greater detail below.
As our Best Overall harness for sport climbing, we naturally think that its best application is clipping bolts, as we are here in the Dihedrals area at Smith Rock.
The principle function of a climbing harness is to catch you when you fall and to hold you safely against the cliff when needed. All of these harnesses did a great job of this, and one need not worry about the safety of the harness, if used correctly, when climbing. On the other hand, how comfortable a harness felt while hanging in it varied drastically. Check out the table below to see how the competition stacked up when it came to hanging comfort.
We're going to let you in on a simple truth when it comes to hanging in a climbing harness: it is not
comfortable. While this truth may not register in your consciousness as you work your way up a steep sport climb, anyone who has spent an hour or so at a hanging belay waiting for their partner to finish their lead can attest to the great discomfort of hanging in a harness for a long period of time. Climbing harnesses have fabric that wraps around the waist, lower back, and back of the thighs, which is necessary for safety. But the fact remains that these parts of your body are not designed to directly hold weight for long periods of time, and the pressure put on them becomes uncomfortable or even painful rather quickly. While each harness uses a different strategy to diffuse or pad against the load, none of them come close to the sensation of sitting in a chair or on the couch. Perhaps this metric should be better thought of as least hanging discomfort
, rather than "hanging comfort."
To test hanging comfort, sometimes we just decided to take a break. Here on top-rope in the San Juan Mountains. The Momentum didn't let us down, but wasn't one of the most comfortable for hanging around in.
In order to conclusively say which harnesses were the least uncomfortable while hanging in them, we posted up at the bottom of a local cliff and spent eight minutes successively free-hanging in each harness, one after the other. While this amount of time doesn't compare to an actual hanging belay, we can assure you it was plenty of time to understand the merits or detractions of each harness, and compare them fairly. This test mimicked the positions found in a hanging belay, while hanging from the rope after falling or taking, and while rappelling. Evident to us was that in this position, a person's weight is distributed between the waist belt and the leg loops, but not evenly. We estimate that 60% or so of the force rested on the legs, with 40% or less on the lower back. With this in mind, the design of the leg loops actually had a more critical effect on hanging comfort than the design of the waist belt.
Conducting the hanging comfort test at the bottom of a local crag, here shown hanging out in the Sama. You can see how most of the climber's weight is focused in the leg loops. The Sama was one of the most comfortable harnesses for hanging in.
The "Fusion Comfort Construction" of the Black Diamond Solution proved to be without doubt the most comfortable harness to hang in
. A large part of this finding was due to the fact that it had amongst the widest leg loops that also worked to diffuse the load in the same way that its waist belt did. Leg loop designs that were thinner or diffused the load with a single strap of webbing, especially where the loops ran inside the legs and across the femoral artery, led to cut off circulation and were noticeably less comfortable, immediately. The wide and well padded leg loops on the Petzl Sama
, as well as the Petzl Aquila
, allowed for the second least uncomfortable hanging experience. As the single most important aspect when considering the performance of a harness, we chose to weight this metric as 35% of a product's overall score.
The triangle of fabric shown in this photo does a good job of keeping the leg loops in place as they wrap around the front of the leg. Despite its relatively thin design, the Petzl Aquila was indeed a comfy harness to hang in.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
If you are wearing a harness but aren't hanging at a belay or rappelling off a cliff, then chances are you are moving around, climbing, walking, or merely standing about at the base of the crag. This metric was designed to assess how comfortable a harness is during all of these non-hanging moments, which is the majority of the time while you wear a harness. Check out the table below to see where each contender ranked for Standing Comfort and Mobility.
While we initially conceived of this metric as "mobility while climbing," we found that while actually climbing, we were always so engaged in what we were doing that we never noticed our harness at all!
Unarguably, this is a good thing, but didn't give us much to use when comparing models. So we instead chose to rate their comfort during moments when we do notice them: standing around, walking about, and hiking. We also included in this metric how comfortable each harness was when carrying a full rack while wearing heaps of extra clothing, and while carrying a climbing pack. To test them, we took detailed notes while doing each of the above things wearing each harness and then amalgamated the findings into an overall Standing Comfort and Mobility Rating.
Lead belaying does not put any stress on the harness or the wearer until the leader falls. At that moment, the belayer will certainly notice whether they are wearing a comfortable harness or not, and the Solution, shown here in Smith Rock, was the best for this purpose.
Once again, our Editors' Choice Award-winning Black Diamond Solution
was the most comfortable harness for all of the non-hanging times. Its wide waist and leg loops are very minimally padded so that there is no bulkiness to impede movement of provide a distraction. Its thin waist belt sat comfortably under the hip belt of our climbing pack, and it held the weight of a rack without sagging or putting pressure on the hips. The Arc'teryx AR-395a
was the second highest scorer in this metric, for very similar reasons, but had a mild tendency to rub and chafe at our lower back at times while carrying a heavy rack. Behind those two very thin and minimally padded models were the Black Diamond Chaos
, as well as the Petzl Corax
, which all used a variety of foam padding to accomplish a comfortable fit with a bit more bulk and mildly less mobility. As an important metric to the performance and enjoyment of a harness, we weighted this metric as 20% of a product's overall score.
Even while carrying a pretty heavy rack, the AR-395a sat nicely on our hips without undue downward pressure. This is a nice harness for hanging out in while not climbing, far more comfortable than most.
Climbing harnesses have some distinct features that make them more (or less) comfortable or versatile or allow you to carry the gear you need when climbing. Some of these features include adjustable leg loops, auto-locking double-backed safety buckles, reinforced tie-in loops, gear loops, a haul loop, and slots to add on ice clippers to hold ice screws and tools in the winter. The particular features included on each harness, and how they perform, plays a large role in differentiating whether a harness will be a good choice for particular disciplines, such as sport vs. alpine climbing. Look closely at the subtle features of a harness before purchasing to be sure you get one ideal for what you want to use it for. The table below shows how the competition stacked up.
The gear loops on the AR-395a are massive and can hold more gear than we'd like to carry at one time.
To rate for features, we looked at what features a harness had and assessed how well they worked compared to the competition
. We didn't penalize a product for having fewer features but did reward products that had more features, as long as they worked well. Be sure to check out the individual reviews for a run down of the features found on each harness and how well they worked. We can't stress how important this is: for instance, our highest rated competitor has a feature set suitable only for sport climbing, and would be a disappointing purchase for a person wanting to primarily climb long free routes.
Elizabeth borrowed this harness for a day at the Gunks and proceeded to rack up. While she made it work, things got a bit tight on the small gear loops of the Momentum. Clearly you can make it work if you want to, but if you are buying a harness for mostly trad climbing, we recommend one with bigger gear loops.
In the end, two harnesses — the Petzl Sama
and the Arc'teryx AR-395a
— had feature sets that far outperformed the competition. The AR-395a
had by far the most features, making it a top choice for literally every style of climbing, although we had a minor
complaint with the shape of the gear loops and the unrated haul loop. On the other hand, the Sama
had slightly fewer features, but we literally couldn't find fault with any of them, so we gave them both the same top score. The Black Diamond Chaos
also had great features, although we were able to find small complaints with each and so awarded them one less point. As one of the most differentiating aspects of harness design, we weighted features as 20% of a product's final score.
The coolest feature on the Momentum is these trakFit leg loops adjusters that tighten or loosen the fit simply by sliding them back or forth, the quickest and easiest leg loop adjustment system we have seen.
You can't eat a PB&J sandwich without the jelly, and you can't go climbing without also belaying. Unless your partner is named Alex Honnold, you're probably going to spend a fair chunk of your belay time holding your partner as they dog on lead or take a break while top-roping. Holding a climber while belaying puts a substantial upward pull on your harness that localizes the force almost entirely in the leg loops, especially as they wrap around the inside of the leg to meet at the front. The diffusion of this pressure is completely different than that found while hanging in a harness, so we decided to rate harness comfort separately for belaying. How each harness stacked up to our tests can be seen in the below chart.
Once again, holding a person for a long time while belaying is not what most people would call comfortable
. Like when comparing harnesses for hanging comfort, we soon realized that thinking in terms of "least uncomfortable" was a bit more productive. To test this metric accurately, we compared them one after another by holding a climber on top-rope for a few minutes at a time in each harness. The best harnesses had the most comfortable leg loops that would sit flat against the leg as it wrapped around the inside to meet at the belay loop. The most uncomfortable felt like we were being gouged by the sharp edge of a piece of webbing, which we usually were. Worth noting is that with a properly fitting harness, dudes can rest assured that all of these harnesses are designed to allow everything to hang right and not get pinched or crushed when belaying, although we noticed that when wearing pants with bulkier or thicker material, there is a greater chance that some adjustment will be necessary.
Not lacking for views! Testing the Edelrid Zack's comfort while belaying. Due to a very stiff and not super comfortable padding system, it was not one of our top choices for extended belay duty.
As it was when we assessed for hanging comfort and standing comfort, the Black Diamond Solution
was once again the least uncomfortable harness to belay for extended periods of time in. That gives it a clean sweep of all the comfort related metrics in our testing, and the wise would look no further if they want the most comfortable harness (do investigate further, though, if you need a harness for other than sport or gym climbing). The leg loops found on the Petzl Sama
were fat and well padded, and were again more comfortable than virtually every other harness in our belay testing. Finally, the Black Diamond Chaos
, as well as the Petzl Aquila
, were both fairly "not uncomfortable" to belay in for long periods. Unfortunately, we found that the thin and flat strips of fabric found on inside of the leg loops of the Arc-teryx AR-395a
bit into our femoral region more viciously than most, and this blemish was probably the only thing keeping it from being the top overall scorer. As a metric that is not quite as important as the three we have already described, belaying comfort accounted for 15% of a product's final score.
Holding someone taught while belaying centralizes the forces on the inside of the leg. The Aquila was one of the most comfortable harnesses for belaying in, shown here high in the Wooden Ship gully at Smith Rock.
All of the harnesses reviewed here are designed to be used for climbing, but the truth is that there are many different forms of climbing: sport, gym, trad, ice, alpine rock, alpine mixed, and mountaineering. It is possible to buy a harness specifically designed for and tailored to each of these purposes, and indeed some of the harnesses here only fit a narrow range of use. On the other hand, the vast majority of climbers we know certainly do not
have an entire quiver of harnesses, and so picking one that is versatile enough to serve you on every adventure is a bonus. Check out the chart below to find out which harnesses were the most and least versatile.
When assessing for versatility, the first thing we considered was how many of the above genres a harness was suitable for. Harnesses with ice clipper attachment points and huge gear loops could be used for ice climbing and alpine climbing better than ones with tiny gear loops and no attachment points. A secondary consideration was how adjustable the harness was. Adjustable leg loops and highly adjustable waist belts ensure that no matter what the temperature and amount of clothes you are wearing, you can fine-tune the fit. Speaking frankly, having fixed elastic leg loops was never a detrimental issue for us; the loops were not a design feature we would shy away from, but we also can't argue that adjustability is beneficial.
Far and away the most versatile harness was the Arc'teryx AR-395a
Andrew hanging the draws at the Techno Crag while wearing the BD Chaos harness, which he likes due to the integrated waist belt design and versatility for all styles of rock climbing.
, so much so that we awarded it a Top Pick for Versatility. If you want only one harness and routinely find yourself enjoying every
style of climbing, then look no further. We particularly liked it for long free and alpine routes where its huge gear loops and haul loop are necessary for carrying a lot of gear. Nearly as versatile was the Petzl Sama
, a harness designed for sport climbing but which also has a huge amount of gear storage that made it our favorite trad climbing harness. The Petzl Corax, with its incredible range of adjustability and double waist buckles
that allowed for perfect centering of the harness, was another high scorer in the versatility metric. As an important consideration, but nowhere near as vital as comfort and individual features, we weighted this metric as only 10% of a product's final score.
Elizabeth following the crux rail traverse of Directissima at the Gunks. The Momentum is ideally suited for budget conscious rock climbers.
There are so many different climbing harnesses available on the market today that choosing the right one probably rates up there at about .10b or so. We did the work of sifting through the countless choices for you, and hope that this comparative review of the eight best and most popular harnesses has been helpful for your decision. In order to get the most out of this review, we encourage you to consider your own needs and likely uses before delving deeper into the individual reviews to find the harness that best suits you. Happy climbing!