Gear Pick: Climbing harnesses for dummies

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on October 5, 2012.

When it comes to a new hobby, I’m generally wary about investing money into any new gear. In this town, it’s relatively easy to drop hundreds of dollars on gear that you’ll never actually use in the long run, so I tend to hold out as long as possible before I make a purchase, which others might call necessary. (It took a year and a half for me to finally buy my own PFD when I was a raft guide.) Recently I made the  decision to invest in my own climbing harness after I annoyed a group of experienced climbers by asking them to loan me their harness after each other climb.

It’s a good way to get out of belaying someone, but a bad way to make friends.

There’s a wide range of options out there for harnesses in both comfort and affordability. When I walked into the shop to choose one, my first instinct was to buy the cheapest $40 model and call it a day. I was quickly informed by the sales person that when you’re buying a harness, which will be responsible for holding you up some hundreds of feet in the air, cheap isn’t the way to go.

Good point. The cheaper harnesses offer the bare minimum of support without providing pads for comfort. Investing $30 more, you can buy a Black Diamond harness that not only gives padded support, but comes in pretty colors like daiquiri green, fig red and something they call Aruba fire (light blue and red together). Ultimately, I settled on a Petzl harness, which got the recommendation from both the sales person and my experienced climbing buddy. After being on rope in the Petzl Selena for a couple of days I know why.

Petzl is also the greatest company in the world for idiots. It costs roughly the same as a Black Diamond harness, but its small safety features make it the clear winner. The most notable downfall of the Black Diamond harness is that you have to be sure to double-back your waist strap so that it doesn’t accidentally come loose mid-air. For someone like me, who has a problem remembering details, that could be fatal. With a longer waist strap, Petzl assumes you’ll forget and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to untie the double-backed strap.

All of Petzl’s gear comes with detailed pictures of how the product should be used. While most companies rely on a packet to instruct users, Petzl puts universal instructional images right on the product, so that users get it right the first time. On the Petzl harness, for example, there is a drawing of a rope through the section of the harness where a climber would put a rope, so it won’t take people like me 20 minutes to figure out which way is the front.

Before I made the purchase, I wondered if I would be judged by fellow climbers as a rookie with Petzl gear. But the more I climb, the more I’m genuinely appreciative of Petzl’s attention to detail and concern for my safety.

Get Your Own
Petzl women’s Selena harness
at Ute Mountaineer $64.95

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