I can’t tell you what the best caving harness is for you, since it depends very much on your personal preference, body type, and caving style. I can however tell you what distinguishes a bad harness from a very good one. In this article, I list the most important features of a good caving harness, and I’ll go over some things to consider before committing to one.
To give you a little spoiler: a climbing harness isn’t that good for caving. Going for a specialty caving harness will definitely add to your experience.
The most important takeaway of this article is: there is good bang for the buck out there. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a good quality harness. There’s plenty out there that will do the job and do it right. If you do the research, you’re sure to buy something that will last you a decade.
In my opinion, PETZL is again dominating this list. It’s the specialty brand and they have put in a lot of effort and R&D to make sure their harnesses are comfortable and safe. But if you’re not ready to commit to spending the money, there are some good cheap alternatives out there, such as the Gonzo Guano Gear Ultralight harness.
The Caving Harness I Personally Recommend
After a lot of uncomfortable junk, getting frustrated by not being able to get the good gear (not everyone ships to The Netherlands), I finally have a good recommendation. The harness that I recommend for most cavers is the PETZL Fractio (available on Amazon).
What I like about the Fractio is that it is very lightweight and durable, and the price is reasonable for a very high-quality piece of gear. It does lack some padding, but I find it comfortable enough, and I believe most cavers will too. It also looks cool, which is a plus. It offers a CE EN 12277 certification and uses TPU instead of PVC, making it very abrasion resistant.
It can be uncomfortable if you’re a woman however – but there are alternatives (scroll to bottom).
What To Look For In a Harness
- Comfort – the more padding you add, the more expensive the harness will be, but it can be worth it if you find you need it. Good design also contributes to comfort: make sure the leg loops aren’t digging into your thighs and the waist belt is supportive of your back.
- Total weight of the harness – Some harnesses are super comfortable to wear, but are just too heavy to carry around, so they make you tired. I like to keep my harness as light as possible, ideally under 500g.
- Safety – any harness you consider should have a CE or UIAA 105 certification.
- Durability – you want your harness to be made of abrasion-resistant materials; no squishy elastic band and extensive cushioning: just solid, hard-to-break materials.
- Adjustable belts – your waist belt and leg loops should be adjustable, as a tight fit ensures your safety.
- Chest harness option – it’s good if you can pair your harness with a chest harness. You need it for ascending ropes.
Caving Harness vs. Climbing Harness
A climbing harness isn’t the best for caving. Climbing harnesses are made from less durable materials, which won’t hold up against the conditions of a cave. Most climbing harnesses also have all kinds of loops, which can get caught on rocks. Not a safe option.
The other factor is design: the attachment point is too high on the body, which is not ideal for caving. The lower the attachment point, the more efficient the rope travel. So the lower the better.
Top Caving Harness Brands To Consider
- PETZL – the industry standard for quite some time, most of their gear is just good value. The Fractio is simple and durable, and has a double waist belt for extra comfort. No-nonsense harness and the best value in my opinion.
- Gonzo Guano Gear – makes the cheapest quality harnesses. They lack a bit of padding, but if you’re up for that you can’t go wrong with them. Best budget option.
- MTDE – the Picos is probably the most comfortable caving harness ever made – at least, that’s what many say. Their designs are a bit more complex (have more loops), and a bit more heavy (around 700 g). I quite like their mid-price harness Amazonia (click to check current price on Amazon).
- Aventure Verticale – as a French company, they are experienced alpeneers. Check out their Muruck, Tecnibat, or Tecnirapid if you’re looking for something that will last you a long time.
- Singing Rock – the Digger Light is very lightweight and durable. Not too expensive, and they look sweet! Click to check current price on Amazon.
- Alp Design – as an Italian company, their harnesses look great. They offer a compact full body harness which I quite like, and it’s not very expensive. They also offer compact seating harnesses.
- CMI – the Cavemaster has a very simple design, but it sure looks very durable and abrasion-resistant.
- OR1 – OnRope1 bought Howies and continued many of their products. They offer good quality harnesses for a fair price.
- PMI – is one of the more expensive brands but makes very comfortable harnesses.
Best Women’s Caving Harness
Most caving harnesses use a design with two leg loops, a waist loop and two front-side screw links. However, this design seems to be uncomfortable for many female cavers. Luckily there’s a design without the leg loops; instead, it uses a butt-loop, waist loop and one screw link at the front. This seems to be more comfortable (I’m not really qualified to test it, not being a woman, but so I’ve heard from women).
These harnesses tend to be very simple, lightweight, and also cheap.
If you’re a woman and you find the design on most caving harnesses uncomfortable, be sure to check out the following brands. They use the design without leg loops:
- CMI Cavemaster (HAR31)
- Gonzo Guano Gear Ultralight
Which Chest Harness to Go With It?
- MTDE’s Garma (available on Amazon) – high speed donning, doffing, adjusting, and most versatile overall.
- A good alternative is Adventure Vertical’s Speloshoulder
Safety Standards for Harnesses
Vertical caving gear should be very reliable: I don’t have to explain why. That’s why there are safety standards for all harnesses (and also helmets, and so on). The safety standards used for caving harnesses in particular are the EN 12277 and UIAA 105 standards. If your harness has any one of these, you’re good to go.
Contrary to popular belief, the CE standard is only a minimum requirement for any items sold to European markets, and it’s not very comprehensive. So U.S. products without CE-certification aren’t bad by any means. Also, CE-certification requirements are defined by the UIAA.
You can spend anywhere from $40 up to $300 bucks for a decent harness. You don’t have to overspend, as long as you make sure your harness meets safety standards and is comfortable enough so that you’ll use it for the next 10 years.
If you’re looking for good quality caving gear, I have other articles like this one. You can check them out on the recommended gear section of this site. It has all the caving gear I love most.