Updated May 2017
As we notice gear manufacturers upgrading and redesigning their products, we do our best to update our reviews accordingly. The Petzl Corax review is adjusted to reflect the latest changes to the Best Buy award winner. The new Corax is reconstructed to distribute weight better. It also features redesigned leg loops and boasts larger gear loops to accommodate those bulky trad racks. You can find more details about these updates in the individual review. The harnesses keep getting more refined and the competition tighter.
Best Overall Men's Climbing Harness
Light & compact
Steep price tag
Less comfortable than more padded harnesses
Not the best for extended hanging
The Arc'teryx AR-395a
battled it out for our Editors' Choice Award - it ultimately earned top honors because it has an excellent mix of features that make it excel in almost all disciplines. This was the most versatile harness in the review with few downsides. We especially loved the huge gear loops and rear haul/fifth gear loop at the rear for a belay device and/or some extra biners. This harness is extremely mobile and perfect for everything except really extended hanging. We were skeptical of the lack of padding, but found that it was adequately comfortable for all our climbing needs. If you venture onto longer big wall climbs, you will want something with more padding; however, this is an excellent all-around harness that is supremely versatile. If you can swallow the price tag, we suspect you'll love this fancy looking harness that seems to disappear the second you put it on, but is always there to catch you when you fall.
Read full review: Arc'teryx AR-395a
Best Bang for the Buck
Adjustable & comfortable
Heavy - excess buckles add weight
Less mobility than competition
Who knew that $65 could buy this much awesome? This harness has accompanied us on ice, big walls, sport projects, long alpine routes, and gym climbs alike. With dual buckles and adjustable leg loops, the Petzl Corax
is pretty much guaranteed to fit and has the features you need for pretty much any climb. While not the cheapest harness in the review, we find it to be an exceptional value. Some of our testers have used this harness for years and still keep coming back. The 2017 model displays construction updates such as the integration of the webbing into the padding, redesigned leg loops, and larger gear loops to accommodate more equipment. The latest version also features FRAME Technology which distributes weight between the waistbelt and the leg loops. More details about theses changes can be found in the individual review. It may weigh a little more than other harnesses out there, but if you're worried about the added cost of a couple ounces, you should probably start by getting a haircut and climbing without a shirt. If you take friends climbing often, this harness covers an extremely wide range of sizes and body types making it a great harness to lend.
Read full review: Petzl Corax
Top Pick for Trad Climbing
Black Diamond Chaos
Gear loops ideal for sport climbing
Lacks adjustability of other harnesses
Lacks ice clipper slots
The Black Diamond Chaos
is an excellent harness and several of our testers liked it as much or more than the AR-395a. Like the AR-395a, it uses a construction that spreads load evenly, but it is a little more stiff. Though it has some padding, it is surprisingly lighter than the AR-395a as well. Abrasion resistant patches and four prominent gear loops (positioned slightly towards the front for easy access) make this a great pick for your next trad climb. Additionally, the rear haul loop is rated to 12 kN so you can be sure it won't break while hauling a tag line or pack. If this harness had ice clipper slots, it would have been more versatile and likely could have won our Editors' Choice award. As it doesn't have these, it is best used for rock-specific adventures away from ice and alpine environments. If you're looking for a fantastic, comfortable, and lightweight harness for your next trad climb, our Top Pick is tough to beat.
Read full review: Black Diamond Chaos
Analysis and Test Results
This harness from Mammut has great mobility and worked well for all-around use. This tester didn't find it very comfortable, but liked the adjustable leg loops and reinforced tie-in point.
Selecting the Right Product
Let us be clear right off the bat, all of the climbing harnesses in this review are equally safe when used in normal climbing situations in accordance with the manufacturers' recommendations. Testing the breaking strength of any harness components is beyond the scope of this review.
Buying a climbing harness that fits you well and is comfortable will significantly improve the quality of long belay sessions and hanging belays. You're going to spend a long time in your harness, so buying one that is comfortable and fits well is paramount. A good harness is a fantastic investment in your climbing future because it will most likely outlast your rope and shoes. If you find a harness that you love but are turned off by the cost, just remember that you'll likely wear out several pairs of shoes and multiple ropes before you need to replace your harness. If you're trying to get into climbing on a budget but have a couple extra bucks to spend on one thing, spending that money on a harness. Buying a harness that matches your needs perfectly is a more efficient use of your hard earned dollars than buying expensive shoes that will need to be replaced much sooner. Do yourself a favor and buy the right harness the first time and never look back. Check out our Buying Advice
article for more help on how to choose climbing harnesses.
Types of Rock Climbing Harnesses
Men's vs. Women's vs. Unisex
Newsflash: men's and women's bodies are different. This is clearly obvious, but it's also important because men tend to wear harnesses on their hips while women often wear them on their waists. Because of this, the rise on men's harnesses is usually shorter than that on women's harnesses. Also, women usually have wider hips relative to their waists than men. The ratio of the waist and leg loop adjustability is also a bit different between men's and women's harnesses. In comparison to a men's climbing harness, a women's specific design often has slightly larger leg loops relative to the waistbelt length. While most male climbers will find the best fit in a men's specific harness, some of us might get a better fit in a women's harness. If your thighs are the size of trees, and you find the leg loops on most male harnesses constricting, don't be scared to try on a women's version.
The "rise" of the harness refers to the distance between the leg loops and the waist belt.
Some harnesses like the Metolius Safe Tech All-Around
and even the Petzl Corax
are so adjustable that they can usually provide an excellent fit for men and women alike. The Metolius harness is especially suited for a wide variety of body types because the rise can be adjusted.
The new all-around models from Arc'teryx in the women's (AR-385a, left) and men's (AR-395a, right) versions. Note how the women's version has a longer rise to sit on the waist, and larger leg loops relative to waist size.
Harnesses for Specific Disciplines
Rock climbing has exploded in popularity over the last twenty years. Thanks to the influx of climbers, manufacturers not only produce all-around models, but also offer harnesses with special features for every discipline of the vertical world. Everyone these days can buy a climbing harness that fits well and is perfect for their exact needs. That said, remember that the most important part of a harness is the fact that it will keep you safe, and every harness in this review will do just that if fitted and used properly. You could use any of the products we tested for sport, trad, alpine, or ice climbing and they will all hold you securely.
Gym Climbing & Top Roping
The typical one-size-fits-all gym rental harnesses are often so uncomfortable that it's a wonder people ever decide to pursue climbing in the first place. These harnesses are great for rentals because they offer unparalleled adjustability but they don't have any of the features you'll want if you get into climbing. More importantly, they're quite uncomfortable when compared with a properly sized and padded climbing harness. If you're just getting into climbing, you're probably reading this review to escape the uncomfortable misery of rental harnesses. If this sounds like you, awesome! Welcome to the climbing community.
You don't need a tricked out big wall harness if you're just taking laps at the gym. You probably just need something that's simple, cheap, and relatively comfortable. The Black Diamond Momentum fits the bill at $55
and is a great harness that won't break the bank if you're just trying to save money by owning rather than renting every week. If you're not sure that you'll take your craft outdoors but like the idea of that possibility, be assured that this harness has everything you'll need for even long and complex multi-pitch routes. You won't need to upgrade your harness as you progress in the sport.
The Corax is a great harness no matter what kind of "rock" you're slaying and won't completely break the bank. If you loan your harness to friends often, there's a good chance this harness will fit them too thanks to its great adjustability.
If you can't seem to dial in the moves on your project recently, maybe it's because your current harness is a couple ounces too heavy or not quite mobile enough. Pick up a lighter weight mobile harness like the Petzl Hirundos or Black Diamond Ozone. You probably won't notice the difference in your climbing performance due to the weight, but sometimes the psychological boost of believing that you're lighter is all it takes. To put a spin on a classic Yogi Berra quote: Ninety percent of climbing
is half mental.
Lighter weight harnesses tend to skimp on padding and are much less comfortable than all around harnesses. This might be OK if you're crushing moves, but when it comes time for you or your partner to hangdog for an hour, you'll be much happier and more patient with a more padded all-around harness.
This Arc'teryx harness was one of our favorites for hard sport climbing. It was comfortable enough at the belay, but is still very mobile and has excellent gear loops while climbing.
Good harnesses for trad climbing should be comfortable and have enough space on the gear loops for all your cams. Hanging belays aren't that fun in lightweight sport climbing harnesses - instead look for a harness with a little extra leg loop padding. For long routes, it can also be nice to have a haul loop to trail a rope or tag line. When we go trad climbing, we usually end up doing a little more chimneying and general groveling (whether it's a horrible offwidth in Vedavoo or the Narrows on the Steck-Salathe). To help combat all this wear and tear, we look for extra durability in a trad climbing harness. The Black Diamond Chaos
is an excellent trad harness with patches that increase abrasion resistance and gear loops that are placed slightly forward for easy access to your gear. It's also comfortable enough to hang out in while your partner tries to retrieve that stuck C4 you overcammed.
Because you'll be wearing extra layers, padding isn't as important for ice climbing as it is for other disciplines. However, there are other features that are desirable for the frequent slayer-of-ice: adjustable and/or detachable leg loops are really nice so you can put your harness on over crampons. Ice clipper slots are also great so you can keep your screws organized. While there are ice climbing specific harnesses, we didn't include any in this review. That said, the Arc'teryx AR-395a
is the best harness in this review for ice climbing with its four ice clipper slots, adjustable legs, and streamlined design. The Petzl Sama
and Petzl Corax
also have two ice clipper slots each. If you climb year round, one of these harnesses will probably suit you well enough for any ice climbing you want to do.
Alpine & Mountaineering
With two ice clipper slots, the Sama is a good harness for the occasional ice climb. If you're looking for a harness specifically for this purpose, you might want one with four ice clipper slots.
Alpine climbers and mountaineers often need the bare minimum when it comes to climbing harnesses. Some manufacturers make harnesses for this purpose that weigh a fraction of the weight of any of the harnesses in this review. These are made with minimal if any padding and are designed to protect you in the extremely unlikely event of a slip. This review focuses on harnesses conducive to more vertically inclined endeavors.
When wearing a backpack, the gear loops on the Chaos can get in the way. Other than that, this is a mobile and comfortable harness.
All-around harnesses are the workhorse models that work great for almost all disciplines, and as a result, this is the style of harness that's best for most people. The trade-offs for getting a harness that's good for everything rather than just one thing are usually extremely small. Although all-around models are less comfortable than big wall harnesses, they are often padded enough that hanging won't hurt, and they don't weigh as much as their big wall cousins. They have at least four gear loops and often a haul loop. Sometimes they have adjustable leg loops, sometimes they don't. The best all-around harness we tested was the Arc'teryx AR-395a, which is why it won our Editors' Choice Award. Our testers also found the Petzl Sama, Black Diamond Chaos, Petzl Corax, Black Diamond Momentum, and the Mammut Ophir 3 Slide
all to be good all-around models.
We used this Black Diamond harness for trad and sport climbing and found no fault for either endeavor. This harness has everything you need but wasn't as comfy as some of the others. For the price, this one is very difficult to beat.
Big wall harnesses are made for extended periods of hanging and are quite padded. They are the most comfortable type of rock climbing harnesses since they are beefy all the way around and are much heavier than the harnesses in this review. Because of the bulky padding, they aren't even close to as mobile or comfortable when standing as an all-around harnesses. Because they are so specific, we didn't include them in this review.
Ammon McNeely starts up the spectacular Pitch 13 of Horse Chute, El Capitan. He is using the Five Ten Insight shoes and Yates Big Wall Gear Rack.
Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort is a huge thing to consider when buying a harness. There's a reason you don't see climbers using bowlines around their waist or wearing webbing harnesses anymore. Part of it has to do with safety, but probably just as much comfort. Standing comfort makes up 20% of our weighting because you're probably going to spend as much if not more time standing in your harness as you are climbing or hanging. The less we noticed the harness while standing or walking, the higher its score in this category. See the chart below to gauge where each harness ranked in standing comfort.
The lightest and most flexible harnesses typically did the best in this metric. We also liked standing in models with some level of breathability. If you're going alpine climbing (or carrying a pack with your harness on), gear loops that fold down flat on the back are nice to accommodate a backpack's hip belt. The Editors' Choice Arc'teryx AR-395a and the Petzl Sama were the most comfortable when standing and both work well with backpacks. The Black Diamond Chaos was nearly as comfortable when just standing, but the prominent rear gear loops weren't as comfy with a full-size pack.
With gear loops that lay flat, this Arc'teryx harness didn't get in the way during our early season ski of Quandary peak in Colorado. It is quite comfortable for standing or walking.
This will likely be the most important metric for many climbers. With a comfortable harness you won't have to dread hanging belays 500 ft off the deck. You can also stay comfortable and keep a positive attitude while you're belaying your partner on top rope and they've spent the last 30 minutes hanging at the crux. Perhaps you clip bolts exclusively; a harness with good hanging comfort means that when you take a whip for the umpteenth time, your hips won't take a beating so that you can try "just one more" burn. Hanging comfort is quite important and can make all the difference between a great
harness and a good
We tested each harness through a series of bounce tests, hang tests, intentional (and unintentional) falling, and belaying. Throughout this process, we took notes and comments from all our testers and compiled them. The most comfortable harness for tester A
wasn't necessarily the most comfortable for tester B
, which isn't a huge surprise since real world hanging comfort depends largely on fit. Our scores reflect our best estimation of comfort for the average climber. The other key considerations for comfort are amount of padding, harness width, and overall construction.
We hung in these harnesses back to back to determine hanging comfort. Typically, the ones with the most padding were the most comfortable. The Chaos is seen here on this frigid February day.
Not surprisingly, the most comfortable harness was the Metolius Safe Tech All Around, which felt like the most padded. We could hang longer in this harness without discomfort than in any of the others. Runners up include the AR-395a and the Black Diamond Chaos, both of which have less padding but have designs that evenly distributes the load to the entire surface of the harness.
Making sure a harness is comfortable to hang in is critical. We highly recommend spending some time hanging in a harness at your local climbing shop before you buy. Most, if not all, climbing shops have stations for you to hang in the harness before you buy. Take a few moments to hang in every harness of interest, noticing if your toes go numb, your thighs are pinched, or you feel off-balance while hanging.
We hung and bounced in these harnesses side by side to compare comfort. Here, Jeremy puts the Corax through its tests.
This metric is easy to confuse with versatility, but discipline-specific features gives each harness the opportunity to showcase its unique features. The Black Diamond Chaos scored the highest in this category and received a Top Pick award because it has some really neat trad and sport climbing specific features. The forward gear loops make reaching your stuff a breeze and the lack of an ice clipper slot between the gear loops allows the rear gear loops to sit further forward for easier reach. Abrasion resistant patches on the legs and hips help the harness last for extra years of heavy abuse.
Conversely, the features that make the Chaos great for trad climbing make it relatively poor for ice and alpine climbing. The Petzl Sama works well for sport climbing, but the flat gear loops on the back accommodate a backpack hip belt with ease. The ice clipper slots and great mobility make it a great pick for ice climbs.
The Safe Tech All Around has some great features for trad climbing. Large gear loops carry a mass of gear and are super strong. A rear haul loop is really nice for tailing a rope.
The mobility rating reflects how easily we felt like we could move in each harness. None of the harnesses in the review were particularly restrictive, but there were some subtle differences. The best ones seemed to disappear completely from thought when climbing. Fixed leg loops with elastic sometimes felt more mobile as the elastic has some give when making acrobatic moves.
The AR-395a scored the highest in this category and uses a unique leg loop attachment. The ultra thin material on this harness hugged our bodies so well that it was easy to forget we were wearing it.
Spencer McCroskey focuses solely on the moves while his Sama harness stays out of thought thanks to its great mobility.
This is the "all-around" metric. A harness that scored well in this category would be great for a day of climbing anything and everything. Harnesses like the Petzl Sama did well in this category because they excel for climbing ice, in the gym, sport, trad, multi-pitch, and alpine. Harnesses made for more specific purposes scored lower in this metric.
The Metolius Safe Tech All Around was our favorite for hanging, but it doesn't excel at sport climbing, alpine climbing, or gym climbing. Meanwhile, the Mammut Ophir 3 Slide
scored better than the similarly featured Black Diamond Momentum because it can do everything the Momentum does, but would be better for alpine climbing.
The AR-395a is a truly versatile harness. The gear loops were huge some of the easiest to clip of any harness we've used.
This is the metric where a rental harness would win. We don't recommend buying a harness without trying it on first, but if you do, you'll probably do the best if you pick a model that scored highly in this category. If you generally find that you're between sizes or you're having a hard time finding the right fit, a harness like the Petzl Corax, which has two waist buckles, can often help solve this problem.
Speaking of buckles, we should mention that we strongly prefer auto locking buckles over the standard ones. Every harness in this review has the new style except for the Metolius Safe Tech All Around. Auto locking buckles are easier to put on, adjust, and seem much safer. In spite of its old school buckles, the Safe Tech All Around received the highest score in this metric because it has an adjustable waist, legs, and harness rise. The Petzl Corax, also scored highly in this category because its two
sizes cover a waist range from 24 to 41 inches. Most other harnesses cover this range in five
sizes! If you're looking for a great all-around harness that you could let friends borrow, this is a great pick. Finally, harnesses with fixed, elastic leg loops scored lower in this category.
The adjustable buckles on the Corax let you center the gear loops every time. Adjustable, auto locking buckles are nice too. Notice how the climber's right leg loop is twisted. Harnesses like the Sama avoid this with a triangle piece. Always ensure that your harness is on correctly. We caught this issue before climbing.
Other OutdoorGearLab Men's Climbing Harness Reviews
Can't get enough? We recommend checking out the products that made our most recent review first, but here are ten more individual reviews of men's climbing harnesses. We reviewed these products a few years ago, so we didn't include them in our side-by-side comparison, but we think you might still find this information useful.
Great for alpine climbing: Petzl Adjama
, Camp Air
, Petzl Hirundos
Some of the best lightweight harnesses for sport climbing are the Black Diamond Ozone
and Petzl Hirundos
Just a few more:
Black Diamond Aspect
, Black Diamond Alpine Bod
, Black Diamond Bod
, and the Black Diamond Momentum DS
We tested these harnesses from the sandstone of Red Rock Canyon to the granite of the Rocky Mountains. Here the Sama helps us send at Turkey Rocks in Colorado's South Platte.
A harness is one of the most important items in your climbing kit. In addition, it is most likely the item to last the longest before having to replace it. For these reasons and more, finding the right harness is a big decision and a great investment. When making your selection, consider the type of climbing that you plan to use the harness for and keep comfort and fit high on your priority list. We hope that this review has helped you to narrow down the options and find a harness that fits your climbing style. Read our Buying Advice
article for more detailed information what to keep in mind to make the best decision.