Why Do You Need Harnesses for Rock Climbing?

Written by alli rainey
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Why Do You Need Harnesses for Rock Climbing?
A climbing harness helps mitigate the chance of injury when a rock climber falls. (safety harness image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com)

Scaling a vertical rock face hundreds of feet off of the ground, a rock climber depends on his safety equipment and his climbing partner to reduce the risk of injury or death in the event of a fall. Though rock climbing can be dangerous or deadly, proper use of safety equipment designed for the activity reduces this risk significantly. Wearing a rock-climbing harness constitutes a key component of the rock climber's safety system.


In the 1960s and earlier, before the advent of the modern climbing harness, rock climbers wore a belt made of webbing or rope called a swami belt. They would tie the climbing rope to this belt. However, this placed undue stress on the back in the event of a fall. This led to the gradual development of the modern climbing seat harness, which features two leg loops plus a waist belt.


Today's modern rock-climbing harness disperses the rock climber's impact in the event of a fall. The climber threads the climbing rope through two prefabricated loops on the harness, one on the waist belt, and one on the front of the leg loops where they come together. The climber then ties a secure climbing safety knot. Should she fall while climbing, the climber usually ends up hanging in her harness in a comfortable seated position.


Most rock climbers today choose to use the climbing seat harness, the least complicated and most comfortable harness design that allows for the greatest range of motion. Some climbers use a full body harness, which loops around the arms and across the chest. This design can inhibit the climber's range of motion, but provides an extra measure of safety by reducing the possibility of the climber flipping upside-down in the event of a fall.


The rock-climbing seat harness includes a waist belt with a buckle that will not come undone when properly secured prior to climbing. This security system is referred to as being "doubled-back." Some seat harnesses now feature a buckle that is always doubled-back to reduce the potential for human error. Most harness waist belts are permanently connected to the leg loops with a belay loop in the front and with straps in the back.


Rock climbers must wear properly sized climbing harnesses for the harness to perform as intended. Consequently, rock-climbing safety harnesses come in a wide range of sizes, including children's sizes and women's-specific sizes and designs. Leg loops should fit snugly around the upper portion of each leg, but not so tightly that they impact the climber's range of motion. The waist belt should be secured tightly enough to remain above the climber's hips.


Although modern rock-climbing harnesses are designed to reduce the potential for injury or death while rock climbing, they cannot be safely used without first receiving proper training from an experienced and qualified instructor. Even after receiving rock-climbing safety instruction, including how to use a climbing harness, going rock climbing still carries with it a risk of serious injury or death.

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