Understanding Harnesses

By Don Graydon.

Climbers tie the rope into a harness designed to distribute the force of a fall over a larger percentage of the body. Harness types: seat harness, body harness, chest harness.
Seat harness and homemade seat harness.
  1. Seat Harness: With properly fitted leg loops, a seat harness rides snugly above your hip bones yet transfers the force of a fall over the entire pelvis. It also provides a comfortable seat while rappelling.
    • Adjustable leg loops allow you to maintain a snug fit no matter how few or how many layers of clothing you wear.
    • Loops that can be unbuckled permit toilet calls without having to remove the harness or even untie from the rope.
    • Having the waist buckle located toward one side helps avoid conflict with your rope tie-in or with the locking carabiner that you will attach to the harness for use in belaying and rappelling.
    • Hardware loops are desirable for carrying carabiners and other pieces of climbing gear.
    • Padded waist and leg loops give added comfort.
  2. Homemade Seat Harness: A homemade seat harness is an option for linking yourself to the rope. You can make a simple one from 22 feet of 1-inch tubular webbing.
    1. Starting about 4 1/2 feet from one end of the webbing, tie 2 leg loops just large enough to fit over your climbing clothing, and leave about a 6-inch bridge between the loops.
    2. Once they are tied and adjusted, leave the loops in place.
    3. To wear it, step into the leg loops and wrap the webbing. Use a square knot or water knot to tie off the harness, and then secure the ends with overhand knots.
    4. Wrap a separate piece of webbing (about 12 feet long) around your waist 2 times and tie it with a water knot. Connect this safety loop to the harness with a locking carabiner.
    While this is a low-cost seat harness, it's not comfortable to hang in for long. The webbing is narrower than in commercial harnesses and tends to cut into your body.
Body harness and chest harness.
  1. Body Harness: Incorporate both a chest and a seat harness. Higher tie-in point reduces the chance of flipping over backward during a fall, especially if a pack makes you top-heavy. Because a body harness distributes the force of a fall throughout the trunk of your body, there is less danger of lower-back injury.
    Although they are unquestionably safer, body harnesses have not found popular favor in mountaineering.
    • More expensive and restrictive.
    • Hard to add or remove clothing.
    Instead, most climbers use a seat harness and then improvise a chest harness when one is warranted, such as when climbing with a heavy pack, crossing glaciers, or aid climbing under large overhangs.
    Body harnesses have found the greatest popularity with children, whose still developing bodies make seat harnesses either unsafe or uncomfortable.
  2. Chest Harness: Can be readily improvised with a long loop of webbing (a long runner). One popular design depends on a carabiner to bring the ends of the harness together at your chest.
    To make this carabiner chest harness:
    1. Start with 9 1/2 feet of 1-inch tubular webbing.
    2. Tie it into a loop, with a water knot. Use a distinctive color for the webbing if you want to keep the chest harness identifiable; otherwise, it looks just like any other double-length runner.
    3. Give the loop a half twist to create two temporary loops, and push one arm all the way through each loop.
    4. Lift the runner over your head and let it drop against your back; then pull the two sides together and clip with a carabiner at your chest.
    A chest harness will help keep you upright after a fall or while ascending a rope using prusiks or mechanical ascenders. Following a fall, you simply clip the climbing rope through the carabiner of the chest harness, providing stability and helping you stay right side up. The rope isn't usually clipped into the chest harness during rock climbing or general mountaineering; it is sometimes clipped into the chest harness during glacier travel.

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