Updated September 2017
Summer heat and humidity are fading away, making way for plenty of crag days this fall, or at least cooler gym sessions. We continue maintaining this review to bring you thorough assessments of the best harness available so you can make informed purchase decisions. Our climbing testers researched the market and concluded that our award winners are still the best out there. The only update is a color change to the Black Diamond Primrose. The manufacturer confirmed that although the colors are new, the rest of the harness remains the same. More details are covered in the individual review.
The Camp Supernova
was designed specifically for the female form, rather than simply being a tweaked version of a men's harness (a common scenario). This resulted in a mega comfortable climbing harness that ergonomically fits a woman's anatomy. The fit is great and the features are excellent. This model is lightweight and allows a large range of mobility, never constricting our testers while climbing, belaying, or lazing at the bottom of a crag. It has a 3mm layer of EVA foam padding, which more than some of the other high-end sport climbing models out there. It also has a unique "No-Twist" belay loop so that your belaying carabiner never gets cross-loaded. The leg loops detach on the legs instead of the waistbelt, leaving your back buckle free. Our two main dislikes with this harness were the durability of the material, the leg loops wear out quickly, and the waistbelt closure. If you are traditional climbing and scraping against rough rock often, check out our Top Pick, the Black Diamond Lotus
. The closure is on the right, unlike other harnesses. This might be a deal breaker for some, but for us, it was another unique feature of the Supernova
Read review: Camp Supernova
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Primrose
Rigidity of gear loops make clipping easy
Lightweight and easy leg loop adjustment system
Lacks holders for ice tools
has produced several versions of the Primrose
over the years, and the latest model does not disappoint. Earning our Best Buy Award, it's a versatile, all-around model that is comfortable, adjustable, and only $55. It has Black Diamond
's unique trakFIT adjustable leg loops so that that novice climbers can have some degree of leg adjustability with the security of a fixed-leg system. The plastic-covered gear loops are rigid and stick out from the waistbelt for easy clipping and unclipping, and there is a sturdy haul loop in the back. This affordable model is a great buy for anyone just starting out or for anyone else who would rather put some extra money into their rack or a new rope. The Primrose
received a color update in 2017, but besides its aesthetics, the harness remains the same.
Read review: Black Diamond Primrose
Top Pick for Trad and Ice Climbing
Black Diamond Lotus
Robust, built to last
Lacks mobility of other harnesses
If your climbing dreams are full of winter days in Ouray, spring days in Indian Creek, summers in Maple Canyon and fall days in Yosemite, the Black Diamond Lotus
has your name written all over it. Designed as an all-around model for those Jill-of-All-Trades climbers, the Lotus
is an outstanding harness that will fit the bill for any type of climbing. It comes with four ice clipper slots for multiple racking options, wide gear loops to hold a rack of cams or quickdraws, a 12 kN haul loop and an extra 6-inch long loop to hold all the other multi-pitch necessities. One of its best features? The "Bombshell" abrasion resistant patches, which are placed in high-wear areas. If you're tired of blowing out harnesses because you can't stop yourself from worming up another squeeze chimney, invest in the Lotus
and you won't be disappointed.
Read review: Black Diamond Lotus
Looking for a new harness can be like trying to find a good gear placement; you'll know as soon you get good fit.
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you are selecting your first-ever climbing harness or getting ready to buy your 10th model after a lifetime of climbing, a lot of thought needs to go into this purchase. Not only is this something you will be wearing on a regular basis (hopefully!) but your life depends on it. With moderate use, a harness should last for around five years or so, which is a lot longer than you'll keep other major purchases around, like a rope or pair of shoes, so you'll want to make sure you select the right product for both your climbing style and physique. Most manufacturers make several women's specific models to choose from; some even have a women's version of every men's model in their line-up. Whether you need a "women's" model depends on how your body is proportioned, and also what the manufacturer has deemed is the typical female climber's form (and they seem to all have different ideas of what that is). We go into this more in depth in our Buying Advice
article. Don't be afraid to try on some men's or unisex versions when shopping - while you may prefer the more "girly" styling on the female options, or not, fit should come first and foremost when buying this essential piece of gear.
Karen Sahn in the women's specific Camp Supernova. Our Editors' Choice winner was designed to fit a woman's physique.
Types of Rock Climbing Harnesses
There are many different harness options available: some are aimed at specific styles of climbing, some are made for all-around use, and some are designed just for women.
If you hadn't noticed yet, men and women tend to have very different body shapes. A women's specific design will have a longer rise (the distance between the leg loops and the waistbelt) to accommodate for the fact that on average, women tend to wear the waistbelt on their actual waists, and not their hip bones as a man does. A women's specific design will usually have slightly larger legs than a men's version relative to the waistbelt length. This is to accommodate for the "average" woman, who tend to have larger legs relative to their waist size in comparison to men. We say "tend" a lot when talking about body shapes, because there is a lot of variability in women's hip and thigh areas, much more so than for men. So for example, the size small women's Arc'teryx AR-385a has a 27-29 inch waistbelt and 21-22.5 inch leg loops
. The Arc'teryx AR-395a men's version
size x-small has a similar 27-29 inch waistbelt but 19-21 inch leg loops.
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.
Typically, manufacturers make female versions of their popular male designs. Black Diamond has about twelve different models in their lineup, with "female" options for six of them. Petzl has eight different models, two of which have a women's version, and Camp offers a staggering sixteen choices, but only one for the ladies. With so many more options to choose from on the men's side compared to the women's, it is worth determining whether or not you even need a women's model to begin with. Our How to Choose the Best Climbing Harness for Women
article will walk you through some measuring steps that will help you figure out which type will best suit your needs and body type.
Camp makes only one women's specific model, the Supernova. Good thing they did a great job with this one (it's our Editors' Choice winner) or we might be a little miffed!
Sport climbing models are designed with weight and mobility in mind. They tend to skimp on padding and extra features like haul loops in favor of decreasing weight and maximizing breathability. A sport climbing specific model is a good choice if clipping bolts, and/or gym climbing, is the only type of climbing that you will do. However, they don't tend to be very comfortable to hang in. So if you are deep into project mode (or your climbing partner is and you will be belaying them for hours as they perfect their beta), you'd be better off with an all-around model or something with beefier padding so that you stay comfortable. Some of the sport specific models that we tested were the Mammut Zephira
, Mammut Ophira
, Petzl Selena
and the Black Diamond Siren
Sport climbing models are typically lightweight and maximize mobility and breathability. Elaina Arenz is getting it done on the popular Just Shut Up and Climb wearing the Mammut Ophira.
Harnesses designed with traditional climbing in mind usually have larger gear loops and more options for carrying extras, like a loop to clip an extra rope into, and perhaps even a second loop in the back for a flashlight, extra layer, or descent shoes, etc. They typically have more padding than a sport climbing model, and some, like the Black Diamond Lotus
are made with more durable materials or extra abrasion resistant padding to increase longevity. While trad climbing, you're more likely to be scraping your legs and waist against the rock, so it's more important to prioritize beefy materials.
Traditional climbing models will have large gear loops for easy racking, rear haul loops, and should be comfortable to wear on all day routes and at hanging belays. The Black Diamond Lotus was our Top Pick for Trad and Ice Climbing.
Ice climbing requires a few specific features: slots that your ice tool holders can fit into, as well as adjustable leg loops that will fit over heavier pants and thermal layers. Many of the all-around models have these extra features so that you don't need to buy a separate harness if you only ice climb occasionally or for part of the year. The models with slots for ice clippers are: Camp Supernova
, Black Diamond Lotus, Arc'teryx AR-385a, Petzl Luna
and Petzl Selena.
If you ever looked at your waistbelt and wondered why there were holes in it, now you know. These specialized carabiners fit into those slots and hold your ice screws and tools in an easy to access way.
An all-around model should be able to transition easily from sport to trad and perhaps even ice and alpine. Padded and adjustable leg loops, rear loop for clipping on an extra rope, and large gear loops are all features we look for on an all-around version. Sometimes these are billed as entry-level models for people new to the sport who haven't dedicated themselves to one sub-discipline yet and want to try a bit of everything. All-around models will not be as lightweight as sport-specific ones, but will typically have more padding for comfortable all-day wear. The all-around models that we tested include the Black Diamond Primrose
and Lotus, Camp Supernova, Arc'teryx AR-385a and Petzl Luna.
The Arc'teryx AR-385a is a great example of an all-around model. It has adjustable leg-loops, large gear loops for quickdraws or your trad rack and slots for ice tool holders.
If you fancy going vertical camping on some Yosemite granite walls this summer, you are going to want a beefier and more padded climbing harness than your typical traditional or all-around model. Unfortunately, the big wall market is small to begin with, and the number of ladies participating in that sport is even smaller, so there aren't very many women's options out there. From personal experience, both Misty Mountain
and Yates Climbing Equipment
offer excellent big wall options with the ability to customize. For example, Yates sold our lead tester their Yates Shield Harness in a size small waistbelt but with medium leg loops to accommodate for her "female" waist to leg ratio.
Cam McKenzie Ring high off the ground in a customized Yates Shield.
Criteria for Evaluation
We've given comfort a big part of our rating metric in this updated review (40%!) and split it between standing and hanging. Why? You'll likely spend more time standing around, belaying, or sitting in your harness at the crag than climbing, and most climbers don't want to take it off after every pitch. So we need it to be comfortable all the time.
If you plan on using your climbing harness for alpine style missions, where you are doing more hiking and scrambling than hanging, you'll want to consider this metric first over hanging comfort.
We tested whether we could easily walk in the different models, with or without a pack on, if it pinched us anywhere, and whether we felt constrained by it, or if we barely noticed that it was on. The models that ranked the highest in this metric were (not surprisingly) the lightweight and minimalist models. We particularly like the Black Diamond Siren for standing comfort: the waistbelt is only two inches wide, and we could forget we were wearing it.
The Black Diamond Siren topped our ratings for standing comfort. This lightweight harness was unrestricting and easy to leave on all day. Unfortunately, it wasn't very comfortable to hang in.
Other top models for standing comfort were the Mammut Zephira, Arc'teryx AR-385a, and our Editors' Choice winning Camp Supernova. These models were also all very easy to wear under a pack and hike around in, particularly the AR-385a thanks to its thin "tape" design. If you plan on using your harness for alpine style missions, where you are doing more hiking and scrambling than hanging, you'll want to consider this metric first.
The thin design of the Arc'teryx models make it comfortable to wear under a pack and hike around in.
This metric is often the deal breaker when purchasing a new harness. It may look and feel great on, but once you hang in it, if it doesn't feel right then you should move on to the next model. As manufacturers move to lighter and more intricate designs, often the padding is left by the wayside. We typically need some padding to soften the weight of our bodies against the harness' frame. We evaluated hanging comfort by both in-the-field testing while working a route and/or belaying someone who was. We also set up a free-hanging test in our living room. We clipped ourselves into a secure point in the ceiling and hung out for ten minutes, or longer if we could stand it. It was no surprise that the models with more padding scored higher in this metric than the ones without. The Camp Supernova
and Black Diamond Lotus
and Primrose were our favorites for hanging comfort, thanks either to a wide waistbelt like on the Supernova, or more padding on the Black Diamond models. Some of our least favorite designs were the Black Diamond Siren and Arc'teryx AR-385a. The two-inch waistbelt on the Siren (which made it rank high for standing comfort) offers little in the way of support when hanging, and while the four-inch wide waistbelt on the AR-385a does offer a lot of support, the thin leg loops dug into the backs of our thighs and made hanging very uncomfortable.
You might think that this metric is only important for people doing long multi-pitch routes with hanging belays, but sport climbers tend to spend a fair amount of time hanging in their harness as well, so this is a key consideration for most climbers.
Typically, a climbing harness holds 70% of your weight on the leg loops and only 30% on the waist. So while manufacturers tout the comfort of the waistbelt above all, you want to be sure the legs are just as comfortable, if not more so. Climbing gear shops typically have a clip in point that you can use to do your own hang-test before making a purchase. This is a really important test, as our own testing has shown that what might feel good standing and walking around in a store will not necessarily feel good when hanging. We would never buy a climbing harness that we haven't hung in first.
Whether you're sussing out the beta on your next project (or belaying someone who is) we tend to spend a lot of time hanging out in our harnesses and should choose a model that is relatively comfortable to do so.
This rating metric looked at what type of climbing each model was designed for, and how well its features work for those disciplines. For example, the Petzl Luna
was designed for ice climbing and mountaineering, yet our testers found that the slots for ice tool holders were too far to the rear and not easily accessible. There was also only one slot on each side as opposed to two on each side on the Black Diamond Lotus
and Arc'teryx AR-385a
, which limited our racking options. So for this reason, Petzl Luna received a lower score in this metric.
The ice clipper slots on the Luna are too far to the rear and not easily accessible, resulting in a lower score for the Discipline Specific Features metric.
Another model that scored poorly in this metric was the Mammut Zephira. This lightweight option was designed for sport climbing; its front gear loops are oversized and can accommodate ten quickdraws, which is a good thing. They are also plastic and angled forward, which is fine if you are only climbing slabs, but as soon as the angle steepens it actually works as a reverse ramp, sending the quickdraws to the back of the loop and far out of reach, resulting in some frustrating clips and a low score for the Zephira.
Steep sport climbing in the Mammut Zephira. When the rock steepens, the angled gear loop acts like a ramp, shooting your quickdraws to the back and out of reach.
There were several models whose features we did like: our Top Pick for Trad and Ice Climbing, the Black Diamond Lotus, and our Editors' Choice winner, the Camp Supernova. Both of these models had design features that made them stand out from the rest of the pack. The BD Lotus has wide, plastic-covered gear loops that stick out from the waistbelt for easy clipping and unclipping. It has a rear haul loop rated to 12 kN, and an extra loop in the back for clipping on those extras that you need on long days, like a headlamp, extra layer, or a pair of descent shoes. It has four slots for ice clippers which give you more options for racking your screws forward or back depending on your preference, or for having an extra clip in point for your tools. The slots were also tighter and cut into the climbing harness, which kept our ice clippers more secure than the Petzl Luna or Arc'teryx AR-385a slots (which are sewn to the outside). Black Diamond has also covered the outside of the leg loops and back of the waistbelt with its "Bombshell" abrasion patches, which are supposed to be 20 times more durable than nylon alone and should help to increase the longevity of this climbing harness, particularly in those spots that get a lot of wear when hip scumming in a corner or thrutching up a desperate chimney, and other "fun" traddy moves.
The gear loops on the Black Diamond Lotus are large enough to hold your rack, and the abrasion patches on the legs and waistbelt help make this model more durable.
On the Camp Supernova, we liked the flat back on the waistbelt and lack of buckles, which is also good for chimneying; the deep gear loops also hold ample camming devices or quickdraws. We also like Camp's unique "No Twist" belay loop. Instead of fussing with an anti-crossloading carabiner, you just load a regular carabiner through the slot in the loop, and it will hold it in the preferred long-axis orientation when catching a fall.
The "No Twist" belay loop. Just slide your carabiner through the slot in the belay loop and then attach your belay device. This prevents the carabiner from cross-loading when catching a fall, and also saves you from hassling with an anti-crossloading carabiner.
As with standing comfort, this metric is where some of the lighter and sport-specific models excelled. We found the designs that had elastic closures on the legs loops, like the Mammut Zephira and Black Diamond Siren, particularly mobile in the legs, and we were able to high step and heel hook with ease. We also like the mobility of the Camp Supernova: its lightweight nylon material is very supple, unlike the Black Diamond Lotus and Petzl Luna models which tend to be a little stiffer.
We also liked the mobility on the Arc'teryx AR-385a. The ultrathin design conforms to the body, and we barely notice that it's on when climbing. We can't say, however, that there was ever a time that we felt very limited by the material or structure of the models that we were testing — these are not the climbing harnesses of old that were bulky and confining. Instead, all of the models have movement and fluidity built into their design. Where we would pay particular attention to this metric is if we were looking for a climbing harness that we were going to use mostly for alpine adventures, say a season in the High Sierras in California. Since much of the climbing there often involves scrambling in between technical pitches without a lot of hanging belays, we'd want a harness that is lightweight, minimalist, easy to move around in and comfortable under a pack, like the AR-385a.
Heel hooks, drop knees and upside down climbing were no problem in the Black Diamond Siren, and it rated very high in our mobility metric.
This is an important metric for anyone who likes to do a lot of different types of climbing, or for someone new to the sport who is not sure what style they like best and wants to try it all. It's also a key consideration for those of us who don't have a lot of money to spend on gear and would prefer to own only one harness and have some more money to spend on a set of cams or quickdraws. The most versatile climbing harnesses that we tested were the all-around models, like the Black Diamond Lotus, Arc'teryx AR-385a, and our Editors' Choice pick, the Camp Supernova. All of these models can do pretty much everything, and do it well. In particular, the Supernova is light and mobile enough to be a high-end sport climbing harness but has all the features we want in a traditional model, and it even has two slots for ice tool holders.
The Black Diamond Primrose is slightly less versatile, as it does not have ice clipper slots, but it's still suited to traditional and/or sport climbing. Both the Mammut Zephira and Ophira models scored low in this metric, as their lack of a haul line loop and fixed leg loops made them suitable mostly for sport climbing and not much else.
Our Editors' Choice winning Camp Supernova is a very versatile women's harness. We took it on multi-pitch trad climbs one day and short sport routes the next, and it even has two slots for ice tool holders.
Our final rating metric evaluated how adjustable each model was to accommodate different layers of clothing as well as different body types. This is a key consideration if you plan on climbing in various climates, and if your proportions are not what the manufacturer has deemed to be "standard" or "average." For example, we found that the older Arc'teryx R280 model had very tight fixed leg loops — it only fit those of us with the skinniest of legs. However, the new AR-385a has adjustable leg loops that can accommodate a 4-6 inch difference in leg circumference. Adjustable legs allow us to wear the same harness to the gym wearing only leggings one day, and out on an ice climb over long underwear and softshell pants the next.
While adjustable leg loops add more weight to a climbing harness — the adjustable Luna weighs about two ounces more than the non-adjustable but similar Selena — that difference is pretty minimal all things considered. Black Diamond has an option on some of their models that combines the functionality of an adjustable leg loop with the lighter weight of a fixed one. Their trakFIT system has a slider with elastic attached that can tighten or loosen the fixed loop. While we liked this system on the Siren and Primrose models, it does not offer as much adjustability as a buckle system (2-3 inches instead of 4-6) and we were glad that they put the fully adjustable buckle on the Lotus - that's just one of the many reasons it earned our Top Pick for Trad and Ice Climbing.
Black Diamond's trakFIT slider. The elastic underneath the webbing adjusts with the sliding buckle. It's not as adjustable as a real buckle/webbing leg loop, but there is no extra webbing flapping around on your legs which is nice.
From sport to trad and from steeps to slab, we put these harnesses to the test!
A harness is a necessity for all climbers. The fact that it can keep you alive only makes the decision-making process that much harder. It is important to find a model that not only fits your climbing style but also your build. We hope that you were able to use the information in this review to make an informed decision about the type of harness you need. Need more help deciding the correct type or fit? Check out our Buying Advice