Whether you’re in charge of gear at an Outdoor Education Centre, or starting a new adventure business, chances are that at some stage you’ll be faced with the task of buying climbing harnesses. While traditional padded style harnesses are fantastic for individual use thanks to their comfort and tech features, they don't always suit budget requirements and the necessary bomber construction required in commercial applications.
It's important to choose the right harness, especially if purchasing in bulk, and the decision can be a confusing one with so many options on the market.
So, in order to simplify things, here are 3 of the most common choices for commercial use harnesses:
The Vertical Gym by Ferno*
A tried and tested harness of the Outdoor Education industry. Chances are that if you’ve spent time working in Outdoor Education or in the climbing industry, you’ve come across these blue tape harnesses at some stage.
PROS - Bomber, secure and easy to use. The Vertical Gym is popular when dealing with groups of inexperienced users. A huge range of adjustability means you don’t need to worry about choosing a size range and the price point is great, especially when buying in bulk.
CONS - The Vertical Gym does lack in the comfort department (it is a tape harness after all) and bigger users will certainly feel the pinch. Vertical does manufacture XL sized harnesses to order but it doesn't improve the comfort factor.
The Black Diamond Vario Speed
Another tape harness that has well and truly proven itself in the field is the Vario Speed from Black Diamond.
PROS - The Vario Speed is still considered 'low-tech' however it does have dual buckles for the elasticised bum straps and a high-vis belay loop. The thicker waist straps on the Vario also mean it is going to be a more comfortable option than the Gym.
CONS- While the Vario Speed is still highly adjustable when compared to the rest of the market, it does have the smallest size range out of the 3 harnesses listed here, so there is the possibility that you'll need to buy different harnesses for the big guys. It is also the most expensive, coming in at around $35 more per unit than the Vertical Gym and $12 per unit more than the Joker II.
The Edelrid Joker II
While the original Joker from Edelrid has been on the market for some time, the recently released Joker II is the official new kid on the block.
PROS- The Joker II is certainly feature packed compared to its competition; right and left leg loop markings help with ease-of-use for both instructors and students and a traditional style belay loop coupled with a single gear loop give the harness slightly more versatility.
CONS- The quality of the harness is of course backed by the Edelrid name, however being so new to the market the Joker II yet to be subjected to long-term use in the field. The design of the harness may mean a lower centre of gravity. While cheaper than the Vario-Speed, the Joker is still significantly more expensive than the Vertical Gym.
So, the Verdict?
At the end of the day, the 3 harnesses appear to share similar traits. All are highly adjustable, easy to use and have buckles that can't be unthreaded and that don't need to be doubled back. So it really comes down to a proven track record, price, comfort and features. It's also important to remember that all three have compatible chest harnesses available which should be used if the activity involves a risk of inversion.