27 Jul 2018
Whenever and wherever climbers gather, they will discuss their hitches, often to the point that non-climbers’ eyes will glaze over and many begin to display distinct symptoms of a lack of consciousness. These non-climbers’ incomprehension is understandable; after all, it is highly unlikely that they have ever been 85 feet up in a tulip poplar with a running chain saw and their very exposed and vulnerable position dependent on a work positioning lanyard and their personal choice of climbing hitch.
Even if, as a climber, you have never been in that particular position, your climbing hitch is a choice that affects your well-being almost every day and in every way. The number of hitches currently in use, or even being developed and refined as this article is read, far exceeds the available space to discuss their use and care, but a discussion of some basic open and closed climbing hitches will assist climbers to gain a better understanding of what climbing hitches can and cannot do, and where they might find the hitch they are looking for.
Climbing hitches, by their very nature, need to be secure and reliable. A hitch that requires constant fiddling and maintenance for the climber to maintain his position is one that, sooner or later, is going to lead to problematic situations. When trying out a new hitch, the best place to experiment is “low and slow,” or on the ground. After all, 50 feet up is not the time to discover the new “best hitch ever” seems to creep copiously.
Ease of use
In what can seem to be direct conflict with security is the need for the hitch to be fairly easy to use. This does not mean that it doesn’t require an instruction manual, although with some hitches this might be valuable. Instead, it means that when the climber wishes to ascend or descend, the hitch responds well without undue effort; and that when the climber wants to stop, the hitch does as well.
Open climbing hitches are hitches in which only a single end of the cordage is attached to the climber’s harness, and the other end is used to form the hitch around the climbing line. The end of the cordage extending beyond the hitch should then be tied into a stopper or safety knot. The end of the climbing line itself can be used for an open climbing hitch, though for ease of use, a separate length of cordage, either spliced or tied with an appropriate attachment knot, is often used as a split bridge or tail. Three commonly seen examples of open climbing hitches are the Tautline, Prusik and Blake’s.
The Tautline is probably one of the most commonly used climbing hitches in North America and has been around since the days of natural fiber ropes. Unfortunately, unlike natural fibers, modern synthetic ropes are slippery, and as a rolling hitch, the Tautline can untie under load, or even tighten into immovability. This hitch is formed by making two turns around the standing part of the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the tail up above the original two turns and making two more turns around the standing part of the line downward in the same direction as the first two turns.
Individual user preference and rope choices may dictate more or fewer turns around the standing part of the line for greater or reduced friction. The lines should exit the Tautline from opposite sides in the middle of the hitch. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot to prevent the hitch from untying itself when under load.
The Prusik hitch does not roll under load like the Tautline, but does tend to tighten, although it can be loosened by pushing against the formed bar of the hitch. This hitch is formed by making two turns around the standing part of the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the tail up above the original two turns and making two more turns around the standing part of the line downward in the opposite direction from the first two turns.
Once again, individual user preference and rope choices may dictate more or fewer turns around the standing part of the line. The lines should exit the Prusik from the same side in the middle of the hitch. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot for additional security.
The Blake’s hitch does not roll, nor does it bind as tightly as the other open climbing hitches, making it much easier to move either up or down after loading. It does focus a great deal of friction on one specific point, which can result in glazing on long, fast descents.
The Blake’s hitch is formed by making four turns around the standing part of the climbing line in an upward direction. The tail is then brought down between the user and the bridge, crossing beneath and capturing the bridge, then brought up beneath the bottom two turns on the other side. The tail should then be formed into a stopper knot for additional security.
Closed climbing hitches
A closed climbing hitch is one in which, after the hitch is formed around the climbing line, both ends are attached to the climber’s harness, typically by a carabiner. This closed nature means that closed climbing hitches cannot be formed in the end of the climbing line and require a length of dedicated cordage intended for that use. This also means they are only used as part of a split bridge or tail system, unlike open climbing hitches, which may be used in either. Three commonly seen examples of closed climbing hitches are the Schwabisch, Distal and Michoacn.
The Schwabisch looks very much like an asymmetrical Prusik around the climbing line. It is asymmetrical in that unlike a standard Prusik, which has an even number of coils or wraps each side of center, the Schwabisch, if tied correctly, will have one turn on the bottom and multiple turns on the top.
This hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage up above the original turn and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the opposite direction from the original turn. The ends should both exit from the same side of the knot beneath the bar and are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.
The Distal is tied in a similar fashion to the Schwabisch, with one key difference. The hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, and then taking the end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage up above the original turn and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the same as the original turn. The ends will exit from opposite sides of the knot beneath the bar and are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.
The Michoacn, brought to the tree world by Martin Morales of Southern California, may at first glance appear very similar to the Schwabisch and Distal, but is actually tied quite differently. The hitch is formed by making five turns around the climbing line in an upward direction. The upper end of the eye and eye tail or piece of cordage is then brought down and under the other end of the eye and eye tail, capturing it, before the hitch is completed by feeding the upper end between the standing part of the rope and the first turn. The lower end will exit from one side of the knot, captured by the upper end, which exits from beneath the first turn on the other side of the knot. Both ends are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.
As mentioned in the title, the choice of a climbing hitch is a very personal one, suited to each individual’s climbing style, rope choices and even body weight. In fact, some climbers will use different hitches in different situations or applications, feeling that a particular hitch gives them an advantage in removals, while another performs better when pruning. In addition, different climbers may add or subtract turns even to the basic hitches described here, as each will function differently with different ropes and climbers. The short answer is that there is no wrong climbing hitch choice, as long as it is safe, secure and easy to use for that particular climber. Just as the world would be a boring place if all of humanity dressed, looked and acted the same, the tree climbing world would be much more mundane if all climbers used the same hitch. Besides, then what would we all talk about when we got together?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2011 and has been updated.
Climbing harnesses are an integral and vital part of every climbing arborist’s daily work life; and though some tree folk may put a great deal of thought and energy into harness selection and purchase, a large number just go with whatever’s available or costs the least. While cost certainly has to be a component of harness selection, particularly given the current economic climate, it should not be the only criteria considered when it’s time to replace “ol’ faithful.”
A climber’s harness not only provides safety and security day after day and job after job, it’s also a piece of gear that is intimately familiar with some pretty important parts of the user’s body. In short, a harness is going to be used on every job involving climbing and is going to affect the user’s comfort and abilities more than any other piece of gear or equipment they might employ, so it follows that a poorly designed harness or one that’s not properly adjusted is going to have just as great a negative effect.
Not all that long ago, climbers simply created a harness out of the end of their climbing line, sometimes adding a board or stiffener for additional comfort for their “seat of power.” This field expedient harness creation is not a bad skill to have, especially for emergency situations, but, in general, current production climbers would be less than happy with the pinching, lack of support and general discomfort that a field expedient climbing line harness provides.
Thankfully there are a wide variety of harnesses available specifically designed and intended for the “rough trade” of production tree work. While this variety allows climbers to find the harness that is right for their particular style and body type, the large number of choices can also be confusing. Some basic knowledge about the intended applications and the features of modern harnesses can help make the process less confusing and result in a more satisfactory outcome for the climber and their pelvis.
Industrial harnesses can be divided into four basic types: fall restraint, fall arrest, work positioning and suspension. Many tree industry-specific harnesses will have elements of each.
1. Fall Restraint.
This harness system is intended to prevent the user from getting into a position where they can get hurt or fall. In general, its use in the tree care industry is pretty limited, and most commonly would be seen in the use of a body belt with the appropriate lanyard in an aerial lift or device. The lanyard used with a fall restraint harness is the key component, as it is what prevents the user from getting to the “bad place” where a fall could occur. Personal experience has shown that using a longer lanyard with a fall restraint harness or body belt is an extremely bad choice, and should a fall be taken, will most certainly lead to an entry to the user’s top 10 unpleasant things they have experienced.
2. Fall Arrest.
A fall arrest system is designed to not only stop a fall, but also lessen the forces and accompanying pain and soft tissue iHampton Roadsuries that the “fallee” experiences. In tree care, these types of systems are most often called full-body harnesses, and they are often used in aerial lifts. There are harnesses available with beefy suspenders that at first glance look like a fall arrest harness, but users/purchasers should check carefully that the harness is intended for fall arrest, as sometimes the additional straps over the shoulders are just meant to help support the weight of all the gear that arborists love to hang off their harness, and not to arrest a fall.
A dorsal attachment point is a key indicator of a fall arrest harness and is located on the back of the user approximately between the shoulder blades. A deceleration lanyard should be used with the fall arrest harness to get the maximum benefit out of the system. These types of lanyards have an additional bundle of material sewn into them that is intended to separate under specific forces, thereby slowing down and decreasing the force of the fall. This deceleration works with the full-body nature of the fall arrest harness, which tries to spread the force of the fall over the user’s body as much as possible, instead of focusing it on one or two possibly more vulnerable or fragile points like other harnesses.
As with so many other systems or pieces of equipment used in tree care, the whole purpose and intent of the fall arrest system can be negated by an unfamiliar user or one trying to take a shortcut. In this case by attaching the deceleration lanyard to some other point on the harness other than the dorsal attachment point. For users who climb and work out of a bucket, there are harnesses available for both applications. Fall arrest and the ones listed below, but the typical fall arrest harness issued with an aerial lift or device is not intended for climbing, and to attempt to do so is not only unsafe, but quite uncomfortable.
3. Work Positioning.
This system is meant to give the climber exactly what the name implies, the ability to position themselves safely and correctly to carry out the needed work — hopefully with both hands free — and preventing or lessening the likelihood of a fall.
An example of a work positioning setup in tree industry harnesses is the side attachment points, commonly called D-rings. Climbers use these with some form of lanyard around the pieces/parts that make up the structure of the tree to position themselves securely or to maintain a desired spot while carrying out work. The D-rings are meant to be used with the lanyard attached on one side, going around the branch or trunk, and then reattached to the opposite side D-ring. Having the lanyard returning to the same D-ring on the same side can set the climber up for an awkward and moderately painful body position should a fall occur. Should the user need to have the lanyard attached at the same point, a much better option would be one of the front center attachment points discussed below in suspension systems, as these would allow for an easier recovery in the event of a fall.
A suspension system is one that is probably most familiar to climbing arborists and the one most often used in ascending, descending and working in the tree. The suspension system’s intent is to somewhat cradle the user in a relatively comfortable and stable semi-seated position while suspended from an overhead tie-in point (TIP). When set up and used properly, the system allows the user to work with both hands safely and securely on the task at hand.
Most tree climbing harnesses currently available incorporate components of both suspension and work positioning systems, though some are also available with the addition of a fall arrest component.
Many of the types of harnesses described are available with different leg position options, particularly in tree industry specific harnesses. This is going to be a very personal choice for climbers, one that should be carefully considered — hopefully by hanging in the options — prior to purchase.
The two typical options are a sit harness or a leg strap harness. Sit harnesses, though they may have supplemental leg straps for security, primarily bear the climber’s weight on a strap beneath their buttocks, often supplemented by a batten or stiffener. This setup provides a great deal of support to the user, and in a quality harness can almost feel like sitting in a swing. Sit harnesses without stiffeners can tend to push the hips and legs together, not only decreasing comfort, but also limiting leg movement during climbing operations.
A harness with individual leg straps will put most of the weight of the climber on those individual straps, which in a quality harness can be adjusted to the point of greatest comfort for the climber. The individual straps can allow greater freedom of movement for the climber, but if poorly adjusted or worn by the wrong body type can pinch and bind.
Typical applications should be considered when deciding on the type of leg positioning, as the sit harness option will be most comfortable when hanging free for extended periods of time such as cabling, bracing and crane operations; and the leg strap more comfortable and user friendly when a lot of canopy movement is involved.
There are a variety of attachment options for suspension available to today’s climbing arborist, but they can be divided into two simple types: sliding or fixed. In addition, many of the newer models offer both options on the same harness, a distinct advantage as experienced climbers will often find that the different attachment options are better or worse in specific situations or positions they may find themselves in aloft.
The simplest type of fixed attachment point is a single one on the front of the harness, but multiple ones at various spots in the front will not only help to better distribute weight, but can also separate the climbing system to the user’s advantage.
A sliding attachment point, or sliding D, usually uses some type of strap or rope in the front of the harness that the attachment moves or “slides” along. This is intended to adjust to the climber’s movement, easing the amount of torque on their hips and back.
Although it is not always possible, prospective harness purchasers would be well advised to try out or hang in a harness for at least a short time before laying down their hard-earned cash. This could be as simple as borrowing a bud’s harness for a job or trying it out after work, though some arborist supply retailers have tie-in points in their stores for just this purpose.
The reality is that every climber’s body structure is going to be subtly or widely different, and while modern harnesses have a lot of adjustment options to “personalize” the harness, one size is not going to fit — let alone be comfortable for — all. What looks so cool and hip in the catalog or on the video may feel like some form of medieval torture device after only an hour aloft in that shagbark hickory. A climber would be well served to find that out beforehand.
The cost of a comfortable, high-quality harness certainly has to be a consideration to production climbers. After all, it may come close to equaling a week’s wages if not more. The first and most important consideration for the climber has to be researching and trying out harnesses to make sure that comfort, safety, security and ease of use are all a part of their new harness. However, once the right harness has been selected, the climber should view the price realistically.
A quality, well-designed and manufactured harness, properly used and cared for, should last a production climber at least a year, most likely longer. Breaking down how much the harness costs for each day of climbing should show that it’s actually costing the climber less than all those cups of coffee and bags of pork rinds, making the purchase a little easier to swallow.
Climbing arborists use their harnesses every day in pursuit of their livelihood and the professional care of trees, making this piece of equipment a vital part of their work life. Given the importance of a safe, comfortable climbing harness, a little bit of extra knowledge and time spent in research cannot help but lead to climbers getting the job done more comfortably, safely and efficiently, which is what the whole industry should be about.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2011 and has been updated.
Modern-day arborists have a wide variety of systems available to get them up and about in canopies an almost overwhelming amount in comparison to the choice of spurs or rope of yesteryear. While this helps climbers select not only the system that works best with their particular skill set and preference, but also the requirements of the individual job, it can create confusion and possibly unsafe acts by users who don’t realize that not all systems are alike in their actions and use. A knowledge of some of the basic methods and specific actions of different climbing systems helps crews understand their use, and help employ them more appropriately and effectively.
- Old favorite: Spurs, hooks or gaffs, though more properly a climbing method rather than a system, are certainly a type of climbing that most tree care professionals, and indeed civilians, are at least somewhat familiar with. While to the uninitiated, spur climbing may look like the simplest of activities, it actually has a lot of moving pieces/parts, and requires a fair amount of thought, not to mention physical coordination on the part of the user.
First and foremost, spurs should only be used on a tree that is being removed. This is due to the inherent nature of spurs to punch numerous holes in the bark and living tissue of the tree, providing access for a wide variety of pathogens and causing irreparable damage. The individual techniques of spur climbing have been discussed in other columns, but with an eye toward climbing systems one of the factors that a user needs to consider is the use of some form of rope-based system in addition to the spurs. This will allow the climber to have an additional means of support and stability, along with an escape route to the ground other than spurring down if something happens. The rope-based system may be dynamic or static depending on user preference and situational appropriateness, but its use will make the job easier and more efficient, as well as infinitely safer.
- Dynamic systems: These systems are ones that many climbers think of as “rope and saddle” or “rope and harness” climbing, and involve both parts of the rope moving when in use. In their most basic form, the rope simply goes over a branch or through a crotch and back down to the climber, though a lot of friction can be removed and energy saved by the use of some kind of friction management device.
One of the largest advantages of a dynamic system, and one that makes it fairly easy to ascend, is that the weight of the climber is divided between the two parts of rope, thus the climber is only having to “pull up” half their weight with each ascent movement. This advantage can also be viewed as a disadvantage in that the user has to move twice as much rope to ascend, as to move up 1 foot the climber has to pull 1 foot down on the running end of the rope and 1 foot up on the working end. The forces experienced by the tie-in point (TIP) will be equal to roughly the weight of the user, though this can be magnified fairly seriously by a “drop” into the line or other occurrences that generate some velocity.
Climbers using dynamic systems have a variety of attachment/ascent methods available to them, including mechanical devices, closed climbing hitches and open climbing hitches. The most traditional is to not only tie in with the end of the climbing line, but also leave a long enough tail to create the climbing hitch, typically a Taut-line or Blake’s hitch; and while this method is often neglected by arborists who have “moved on” to more sophisticated and demanding knots, it should be learned and known by all practitioners. After all, if a climber drops their heat-resistant ultra-strong eye and eye while retying in the top of the tree, their options for work, let alone descent, are going to be pretty limited if they don’t know how to use a traditional system.
There are a number of methods to ascend with a dynamic climbing system, most of which require the user to coordinate a number of body movements fairly smoothly. The body thrust is one that many climbers are familiar with, though many may not think of it with fondness, as using this method for long ascents can sometimes seem to be a physical torture designed to punish a climber’s past transgressions. A fairly straightforward, and to most users instinctive, method is to “hand over hand” up the rope; and the addition of a slack-tending pulley beneath the hitch and an attentive ground person can also make this method a safe one by not allowing dangerous slack in the line that could lead to a major “drop.” The footlock can even be used in dynamic systems or even a variety of appropriate ascenders, but, once again, due to the nature of the system, twice as much rope will have to be moved.
- Static systems: This system is one where no part of the rope is moving while it is being used, and includes a variety of uses, including footlocking on both parts of the rope, single rope ascent with ascenders and the like, and even working the whole tree on a single line with the new tools available like the Unicender or Rope Wrench. In addition, a dynamic system may be placed upon a static system, creating a sort of hybrid where the static system is used in the ascent and the dynamic system attached to it used for movement and work within the canopy.
A static system that employs both parts of the line does not change the forces experienced by the TIP all that greatly, regardless of whether it is being used for ascent or in combination with a hybrid system for work, though once again “drops” into the line and possibly rope angles/bending moments can magnify these forces. A static system using a single part of the line, or single rope technique (SRT), does change the TIP forces. Since only one part of the line is being used, both it and the anchored part of the line are seeing the full weight of the climber, which puts twice the user’s weight on the TIP, magnified by any “drops” or impositions by gravity. While this should not be a problem if the climber is judicious in their choice of TIPs and takes the additional precaution of running the line over and through multiple crotches/branches, it is certainly something to be aware of when using single-rope static systems.
Static systems have their own unique requirements that distinguish them from dynamic systems, and in addition will be influenced by what method is being used to ascend. For example, the use of simple footlock technique on both parts of the line can lead the climber into an area of trouble if they advance their hitch into the “spread” of the line, the area immediately beneath the branch or crotch that holds the two parts of rope separate. This can cause the hitch to fail and not grab when the user’s weight is placed on it, but is easily rectified by running an Alpine butterfly or other midline hitch up to the branch to hold both parts of rope fairly close together and eliminate the “spread.”
Climbers using the single rope technique may wish to set up their systems in such a way that the longest part of the line is on the anchor side of the system. This additional rope, and the use of an appropriate belay/lowering device, would allow the climber to be lowered by ground personnel in the event of an emergency, a distinct advantage over a dynamic system. While static systems are not necessarily more complex than dynamic ones, users unfamiliar with them should not only educate themselves on their use, but also practice “low and slow” before incorporating them into work practice, particularly when new devices are being used as part of the ascent/climbing method.
The climbing systems discussed here are no more than a very basic introduction to their individual natures and uses, but that basic knowledge can help interested users start to expand their skill sets to employ different systems in different situations. No one system is going to be perfect for every job; and though individual climbers will certainly develop a “favorite” system, understanding and being able to use all the systems will certainly not only make them a well-rounded climber, but also help them to not force a system into a tree or situation that is not right for it. As always, a climber’s most-effective tool is their own creativity and imagination, used within the parameters of safety and security, so taking the basic natures of the systems and then developing the most personally suitable methods and techniques to use them is going to lead to the most satisfying, and safest, results.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated.
A harness, belt or saddle, depending on where the climber hangs their hardhat or helmet, is an intimate part of every working day, often spending a lot more time in contact with the user’s body than anything else in their life.
While many folks spend a fair amount of time, energy and bandwidth deciding which harness to “upgrade” to next, there are quite a few more who just go with the best bargain available or what their bud likes. Cost will always be a factor in harness selection, or gear selection in general for that matter, particularly given the wages available in most small tree care operations, but it’s shortsighted in the extreme to make it the only factor when deciding which new saddle to strap on.
Safety and security are obviously part and parcel of a good harness, but a climber’s speed and efficiency can also be greatly affected by it, so the initial savings of a bargain harness may actually cost a climber real money in the long run.
Our climbing ancestors had their harness with them as long as they had a climbing line, tying one out of the end of the line, and they would no doubt chuckle at the modern-day conveniences. However, the reality is that a poorly fitting or uncomfortable harness not only takes a toll on the climber’s energy every day, but also chronic illnesses/damage over the course of their career, leading to some pretty noticeable “hitches in their giddyups” later in life. A little information and knowledge about harnesses and their applications will not only help climbers make better informed choices, but also safer and more efficient ones in the appropriate use of harnesses.
There are four basic types of industrial harnesses, which is technically what the tree industry is using: fall restraint, fall arrest, work positioning and suspension. Many tree industry specific harnesses will have elements of each one.
Fall restraint — This system is meant to prevent the user from getting into a position where they can get hurt or, in tree work, fall. It is pretty limited in tree work and would most commonly be seen in the use of a body belt with the appropriate lanyard in an aerial lift or device. The right length lanyard used with a fall-restraint harness is the key component, as it is what prevents the user from getting to a spot where a fall could occur. Personal experience has shown that using a longer lanyard with a fall-restraint harness or body belt is not good, and if a fall happens it will result in unpleasant memories and at least a fair amount of soft tissue unpleasantness.
Fall arrest — This system is supposed to stop a fall, as well as lessen the forces and possible iHampton Roadsuries that the “fallee” experiences. In tree care, these types of systems are most often called full-body harnesses and are often used in aerial lifts, though some can also be used for climbing.
Harnesses with beefy suspenders may look like full-body or fall-arrest harnesses, but users should check out the specifications, as they may just be intended to provide more support for big saws and gear hanging from the waist.
A true fall-arrest system will have a dorsal attachment point, roughly between the wearer’s shoulder blades. This attachment point is used with a deceleration lanyard to provide the force decreasing capability. These lanyards have an additional bundle of material sewn into them that is intended to separate under specific forces, thereby slowing down and decreasing the force of the fall. This deceleration works with the full-body nature of the fall-arrest harness, which tries to spread out the force of the fall over the wearer’s body as much as possible, instead of focusing it on one or two possibly more vulnerable points like other harnesses. The whole system doesn’t work if a user takes a “shortcut” and uses the wrong lanyard or hooks the right lanyard to the wrong attachment point.
As mentioned before, there are specific fall-arrest harnesses meant for both climbing and lift use, but most of the basic ones that come with a bucket truck are not this type and should not be used for climbing operations.
Work positioning — A work-positioning system gives the climber exactly what it says: the ability to position themselves safely and correctly to carry out the needed work, preventing a fall while keeping the hands free.
Side attachment points or D-rings are a good example of work positioning. These are used with a lanyard around the trunk or limbs of the tree to get in a secure position to make a cut, tie off a piece or any number of operations aloft. D-rings are meant to be used with the lanyard going from one side to the other around the trunk or the branch; reattaching to the same side can lead to some Cirque de Soleil looking positions should the climber slip, not to mention the possibility of iHampton Roadsury.
Suspension — This is the one that is probably most familiar to climbing arborists, and the one most often used in ascending, descending and working in the tree. Its purpose is to sort of cradle the climber in an upright, slightly seated position while tied in above. When set up properly, it can also allow stable work positioning with both hands free.
Almost all tree work harnesses are going to have components of both work positioning and suspension, though some will also have fall-arrest capability. It is up to the climber to decide which systems work best for their work needs and make sure the harness chosen is designed for those uses.
Most of the harnesses described above are available with different leg position options, particularly in tree industry specific harnesses. This choice is going to be very user specific, and the best way to determine which one feels best is to “hang” in the options prior to putting any money down.
The two most likely options are a sit harness or a leg strap harness.
A sit harness supports the user’s rear with a flat batten, almost like a swing; although straps to secure the legs are often part of it, the primary support is the flat batten. A harness of this type that doesn’t have a stiffener is going to push the legs and hips inward, leading to long uncomfortable days for most users.
A leg strap harness has individual loops for both legs, which means the weight is distributed between the two. This can allow for greater freedom of movement than a sit harness, but if poorly adjusted, or so “economical” it cannot be adjusted, this type of harness can qualify as an implement of torture. Climbers should think about their most common jobs when choosing. A lot of “hanging” work, such as cabling or crane, might mean a sit harness, while a lot of movement, such as pruning, might mean a leg strap.
There is no shortage of attachment options for suspension available to climbers, but they can roughly be divided into two kinds: sliding or fixed. A lot of the newer harnesses offer both options on the same saddle or allow the user to switch out options as desired/needed.
While the most basic type of fixed point is a single one in the front and center of the harness, different ones to either side offer options and also spread the weight a little bit. Sliding attachment points typically use some form of rope or strap to allow the attachment setup to “slide” from side to side with movement, making it a bit easier on your back and hips.
As mentioned previously, cost is always part of the equation when buying any piece of new gear, and given the price of a modern harness with all the bells and whistles has to be considered. Just because something is the latest and greatest doesn’t mean it will work for each and every climber, but if part of a new harness’ buzz is adjustability and individual options, it is certainly worth taking a closer look at.
In addition, trying a harness out either through a bud that already has one or at a progressive arborist retailer’s shop will help climbers make these big money decisions. In the end, the climber will be using this piece of gear almost every day for quite some time, bringing the cost down to possibly dollars or even cents a day, and the pain of a poorly researched harness choice will be felt on a daily basis.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2012 and has been updated.