Climbing Harnesses 101

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What’s the difference between a rock climbing harness and a mountaineering harness? Why might one be better than the other? Below we’re going to dig into the primary differences, and why for anything but technical rock climbing, you should choose a mountaineering harness for your next objective.

There are three primary differences between your average rock climbing harness, and your average mountaineering harness: weight, packability, and detachable leg loops. 


Weight

When thinking about what to pack for an expedition in the mountains, the weight in your pack should always be a consideration, and you should cut weight where possible. Check out a great post about how to do that here. One thing that can help bring that weight down is your harness. A typical rock climbing harness is going to weigh in around 12 – 17 ounces, or about one pound. Compare that with a mountaineering harness, which weigh as little as 7oz. And the ultra-light models weigh a scant 3oz. Going from 17oz to 3oz is almost a pound of weight savings in just one piece of gear. But even if you don’t go with an ultra-light model, you’ll still save about ½ pound!

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The Petzl Altitude harness is an example of a simple, reliable alpine-focused harness.

Packability

Rock climbing harnesses weigh more because they have more features – padding around the waist and legs loop and large, numerous gear loops. Mountaineering harnesses cut those things back, which saves on weight, but also saves on packability. Your rock climbing harness probably wouldn’t fit into a Nalgene, while a mountaineering harness will probably fit into (and be lighter than) your morning coffee cup. When packing for mountaineering, every bit of space helps, and a smaller, more packable harness will help you fit all those essential items.

 

Detachable Leg Loops

Often overlooked, this is one of the most important features of a mountaineering harness. Mountaineering harnesses will feature quick and easy to use buckles (even with gloves on!) so that the leg loops can fully detach. This means you can don the harness with both feet firmly on the ground, eliminating the sketchy balancing act at 1am on a glacier. This also means you can put your harness on while wearing large boots and crampons or skis – something that is much more difficult if not impossible with a regular rock climbing harness. And we know, some rock climbing harnesses have threadable buckles that can come apart, but on a cold alpine start with heavy gloves on, do you really want to deal with that?

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The Black Diamond Couloir is another comfortable, lightweight mountaineering harness.

 

We strongly recommend the mountaineering climbing harness as a great tool in your kit to save weight, increase your packability, and increase safety and convenience while on the mountain.

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