Women’s Harnesses: Best of 2019 and Buying Guide

The good thing about looking for a women’s climbing harness (or any harness for that matter) is that once you buy one, that’s pretty much it.  You can use that harness for all your roped climbing needs. It’s only if you’re after a more specialised harness for e.g. ice climbing that you may need to get another one.  So we’ve rounded up the best harnesses for every style of climbing from whether you’re a beginner top-roping at the local gym or an experienced trad climber looking to conquer their next E6 monster.

The Good:

  • Comfortable
  • Adjustable leg loops  
  • 4 ice clipper slots      
  • Durable
  • Affordable
  • Quick-drying

The Not So Good:

  • Bit stiff to begin with
  • Less mobile than super lightweight models
  • Weight: 376g (13.3 oz)
  • Padding: Fusion comfort technology
  • Buckles: Auto-locking ‘speed’ buckles on waist and leg loops
  • Gear loops: 4
  • Haul loop: Yes - 0 kN
  • Ice Clipper Slots: 4

The Black Diamond Technician won our prize for the best all-around women’s harness because it’s versatile, durable and comfortable.  The fact that it’s still under the $100 mark is also amazing and means you get a whole lot of harness for your money.

You can wear the Technician for pretty much any type of climbing you can think of – sport, trad, alpine, even ice climbing.  That’s right, it features four ice clipper slots! They’re also placed in the front so they’re easily accessible.

The Technician has four gear loops so you can really pile on those quickdraws or cams.  And Black Diamond’s Fusion Comfort Technology – essentially three strands of webbing heat moulded together – ensures a comfortable feel whether you’re hanging or falling as it distributes your weight evenly.

The quick-drying outer shell is made of a super strong nylon fabric so you can really throw yourself against the rock and be confident that your harness will stand the test of time.

The Good:

  • Cheap!
  • Comfortable   
  • Adjustable leg loops – slider not buckle
  • Speed Adjust waist belt buckle  
  • Rigid gear loops for easy clipping
  • Automatic double-backing

The Not So Good:

  • No ice clipper slots
  • Weight: 350g (12oz)
  • Padding: Dual Core Construction
  • Buckles: 1 auto-locking buckle on waist belt & leg loops
  • Gear loops: 4
  • Haul loop: Yes
  • Ice Clipper Slots: No

The Primrose is Black Diamond’s most popular women’s harness and it’s easy to see why.  It’s adjustable leg straps and emphasis on comfort allows it to conform to a wide variety of body types with ease.  It’s an uncomplicated model that still features convenient features like an automatically double-backed buckle and easily adjustable leg loops.

The Dual Core Construction in the waist belt refers to the two bands of webbing that runs around the outer frame with a CLPE foam insert in the centre for better breathability.

Near the $50 mark, the Primrose simply cannot be beaten on price.  Women with larger thighs and smaller waists said this model was particularly well-adapted to their shape.  This harness can also come conveniently packaged with chalk, a chalk bag and a belay device. Spot on for new climbers.         

The Good:

  • Waistband features pressure dispersal technology for added comfort   
  • Versatile
  • Looks stylish
  • Four ice clipper slots  
  • Light and compact when packed
  • Easy to move in

The Not So Good:

  • Expensive
  • Thin leg loops may feel uncomfortable to some
  • Weight: 385g (13.6oz)
  • Padding: Foamless Warp Strength Technology
  • Buckles: Auto-locking double backed buckles on waist belt and leg loops
  • Gear loops: 4
  • Haul loop: Yes
  • Ice Clipper Slots: 4

Trust Alteryx to design such a sleek and modern-looking harness.  The interesting thing about the AR-385a (catchy name we know) is that it doesn’t really have a lot of padding.  You might gasp and wonder but how can it be comfortable enough to hang in? Well according to Arc’teryx, they use ‘warp technology’ in their waist belt that evenly distributes your load across the entire construction rather than on a single piece in the centre or outer pieces of webbing at the edges.

Also the waist belt is shaped to better fit the female form where it wraps around the waist widening at the back and then tapering off at the sides, almost like a corset.  Not only does this look quite fetching but it also adds comfort and support when hanging or falling.

We liked how the gear loops on the AR-385a didn’t jut out as much as other harnesses which means you can wear a rucksack on top without issue.  The harness packs down in size really nicely and is smaller and lighter than the other harnesses we saw, probably due to the fact there’s not a lot of bulky padding.

This may cinch the deal for you if you’ll mostly be carrying it in your pack and whipping it out only when needed when on alpine trips in the mountains.  This is why the AR-385a won our runner up position for the best all-round women’s harness – it lost out to the Black Diamond Technician that also has four ice clipper slots but is far more affordable and also looks quite sleek.

The Good:

  • Compact when packed
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to move in
  • Comfortable
  • Durable

The Not So Good:

  • Expensive
  • Not women-specific (but unisex)
  • Leg loops not adjustable
  • Weight: 270g
  • Padding: Foamless Wireframe Technology
  • Buckles: 1 auto-locking double backed buckle on waist belt
  • Gear loops: 4
  • Haul loop: Yes
  • Ice Clipper Slots: No

The thing about the Petzl Sitta is that it’s light.  And I mean really light. Like when you’re climbing in it you forget it’s there light.  Which is why the Gods of sport climbing have adopted it as their go-to harness for sending their hardest projects.  

Petzl use something they’re calling ‘wireframe technology’ in this harness which replaces the need for using foam padding which adds bulk.  They used parallel strands of high-modulus polyethylene webbing in the waist belt and leg loops that evenly distribute your load instead of the foam.

The harness also allows great mobility because of their elasticated leg loops though be aware that the leg loops aren’t adjustable so make sure they fit your thighs before buying.  

Built with durability in mind, the tie-in points are made of a strong polyethylene that is better able to resist the constant abrasion of rope.  The 4 gear loops have separators so you can e.g. keep your cams in one area, your nuts in another etc. So this harness does have some versatility as well, you can actually haul quite a lot of gear in it if you wanted to also use it for trad or ice climbing.  Though be aware this extreme lightness and mobility does come at a price.

The Good:

  • Durable
  • Comfortable
  • 6 gear loops

The Not So Good:

  • Bulky
  • Heavy
  • Weight: 536g (1 lb 3 oz)
  • Padding: Cross-linked polyethylene foam padding
  • Buckles: Double-backed on waist belt and leg loops
  • Gear loops: 6
  • Haul loop: Yes
  • Ice Clipper Slots: 2

If you’re going to be doing a lot of trad climbing, you’re going to want something that can resist abrasion and handle a lot of gear and the Cadillac does just that.  The outer material is 500 denier Cordura nylon which is what a lot of hiking backpacks are made of so you know the stuff can stand up to a lot of abuse.

With plenty of padding, the Cadillac is very comfortable to wear standing and hanging in though this does make the harness bulkier and less compact when packing away.  There are gear loops galore and they are angled up which makes it so easy to gain access to your gear and clip everything in and out. The leg loops are adjustable and all buckles are aluminium to save on weight without compromising on strength.

All in all, no other harness comes close to the Misty Mountain Cadillac if you’re after a hardcore harness that can handle a full trad rack with ease and years of being scraped against rock!

Buying Advice

What's the difference between women's and men's harnesses?

Women-specific gear is actually pretty new when it comes to sports (thanks patriarchy) and rock climbing is no different. Until recently, harnesses remained unisex despite the obvious differences between men and women’s body shapes.  Women’s climbing harnesses take into account the fact that women usually have narrower, higher waists and larger thighs and hips than men. These harnesses tend to rest on a woman’s waist rather than on the hips as men’s do.

Does that mean women must wear women-specific harnesses? Absolutely not!  Some women may actually prefer wearing men’s or unisex models. This is especially true if they’re a woman with a shorter hip-to-waist ratio (they call this the ‘rise’) that may prefer to wear the harness on their hips.

What key factors should you keep in mind when choosing a harness?

harness diagram

Waist belt

The waistbelt is one of the key factors for comfort when it comes to harnesses.  It’s important the waist belt is able to distribute load evenly whether that’s when hanging or falling.  Some harness achieve this through the use of foam padding while others use webbing in clever ways. Because let’s face it, sometimes we need to take breaks on a climb and/or time to figure the next few moves.  

When absorbing the shock of a fall, the harness should ideally distribute that shock through the small of your back across quite a large area and through the leg loops.

It’s important to note that having a double-backed buckle on your waist belt is a crucial safety step for securely locking yourself into the harness.  Most new harnesses will have self-locking buckles so you can’t ever forget. Look out for this useful feature in the harnesses below. But keep this in mind if you ever come across an old-style harness that relies on remembering to double back your waist buckle.

Leg loops

Another large area of contact with the body, the leg loops should hug your upper thighs snugly (though not too tight, blood circulation is a wonderful thing).  They usually also have buckles for adjustability but some like the Arc’teryx AR385-a don’t have buckles here and opt for stretchy elastic instead. This makes the harness look more streamlined but is not ideal if you need to change your clothes while still in them e.g. while big wall climbing.  Or if the leg loops need to accommodate a wide range of layers.

Gear loops

The type of climbing will largely dictate how many gear loops you need.  These are usually plastic loops found attached to the waist belt, designed to carry equipment like quickdraws and cams while climbing.  

If you’re using your harness for indoor gym climbing where the quickdraws may already be attached to the wall then you don’t really need many gear loops and can opt for two loop models.  If you think you’ll be sport climbing outdoors and will have a set of quickdraws, a sling and a carabiner dangling off you, a 4 loop model should be sufficient.

And finally if you are a trad or big wall climber then you’ll need the ability to carry a greater range of equipment and will need a minimum of 4 loops and possibly also a haul loop that’s been safety tested.  

Haul loop

A haul loop is a small U-shaped piece of webbing attached to the back of a harness.  They are used mostly when on multi-pitch routes or when big wall climbing to attach tag lines onto so you can haul gear.  This could be anything from an extra belay device, to your packed puffer jacket or even some approach shoes. The strength of these loops can really vary so that will dictate how much you can do with them.

Belay loop

A simple extra strong piece of nylon webbing that connects the waist belt to the leg loops.  This is the only safe place you can clip your carabiner into when attaching yourself to the wall or when belaying someone else.  And for that reason, it is the only component that is load tested in all harnesses. Did you know, back in the 70’s, they used to lock the carabiner into the two leg loops and the waist loop instead…makes me sweat just thinking about it!

Harnesses by Type of Climbing

Most harnesses on the market are designed with a specific type of climbing in mind.  Like climbing shoes, you’ll have ones that are multi-purpose or all-rounders that can be used in most types of climbing e.g. indoor gym climbing and outdoor sport climbing.  When selecting a harness you should go into it knowing what type of climbing you’ll be doing most.  

If you’ll be largely climbing indoors in your local gym, then you’ll need a harness that’s durable and comfortable.  And if you’re just starting out and not sure you’re that into it yet then you probably don’t want to break the bank either. You might be tempted to go for the fancier models but it’s really not necessary here.  Falling and hanging can get uncomfortable real fast if your harness doesn’t fit right or isn’t supportive enough.

 

Black Diamond Primrose

Trad harnesses tend to be a bit bulkier than sport climbing harnesses.  This is to allow more gear to be carried but also to make sure it stands up to being chafed and scraped on rock all day.  Trad harnesses usually have more cushioning as well so you don’t feel ready to quit after only a couple of hours of hanging.  Usually a good trad day is exactly that…an all day affair!

Ice climbing harnesses are pretty similar to sport climbing harnesses, the only key addition you’ll need are ice tool slots like in the Black Diamond Technician or the Arc’teryx AR385-a.

Fit and Sizing

Once you have an idea of the kind of harness you want, we recommend trying on a few at a physical store.       

To put a harness on, you first loosen the straps on the waist belt and leg loops, step into the harness (like you’re putting on a pair of shorts), then tighten the waist belt until it is secure but not uncomfortable. Unless you are using an auto double-back model, make sure the buckle is doubled back.  If the harness has adjustable leg loops, adjust them until they fit securely around the thighs.

Next, you should test your harness. There is simply no way you’ll know if the harness feel comfortable until you’ve tried it while loading it with your weight.  So make sure the store where you try your harness has a spot you can clip into and hang from (they normally do).

By ANUKA TEGGART

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