The Best harness Essentials for Speed and Safety on Multi-Pitch Rock

I enjoy seeing how people manage safety and speed within their rock climbing outings: cragging, multi-pitch, alpine days, ice, etc.  As someone who is always chasing for the perfect system, I am continually eye-balling what people use to clip into the belay, what they keep on their harness, and how they are able to deal with various situations that arise with this gear.

Overtime I have narrowed down the list of the things I like to have on my harness.  This means sport, multi-pitch climbing, ice climbing, or even glacier travel.  Because I spend more time trad climbing than anything else, the set of items is geared towards that.  I do find that this kit lends itself to being functional in other domains as well, so most of these things never leave my harness at all.

Lets jump straight to it.  I ALWAYS carry:

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(1) Reverso + two lockers (one pear-shaped, one smaller) + belay gloves

  • The belay device can be any kind of ATC with a guide mode
  • Use the pear-shaped locker anytime you have two ropes running though the device, this creates less friction.  For example:
    • When belaying from my harness using half or twin ropes
    • When belay on two ropes from above (two followers or again, twin and half ropes)
    • Rappelling on two strands
  • The belay gloves go on whenever I am handling the rope, in particular, when coiling it, belaying from below or above, and rappelling.
    • This serves two purposes:
      1. Your hands are for climbing not for handling ropes, save them to extend mileage
      2. Have you ever noticed the flakes of metal coming off the belay device when you rappel, or the nice grey sheen on a sheath of a rope?   Well guess what, its often dirt, its aluminum, its getting all over your hands. Next, you eat nuts, share dried fruit, scarf down a PB&J, et voila! Now you are ingesting it!  Given the correlation between aluminum and cogitative diseases like Alzheimer’s, I’d rather take two seconds to put on gloves.
    • A friend turned me on to these gloves from Harbor Freight.  They are LW, durable, and very cheap. Oops you dropped one?  Just another $6!  It just so happens that they climb very well too.
  • I keep this on my harness the same way every time to make for a quick and convenient set of steps to put someone on belay at the top of a climb (see lower down in article).
    • Reverso hanging from the small locker by the metal, load-bearing loop at the top.
      • The utility wire is non-load bearing, can pull out, and allows the device to jangle/swing more while it is on your harness.
      • Pear-shaped locker attached to the same small locker as the Reverse.
      • Gloves attached to the pear-shapped locker
Personal locker, 12mm Dyneema, and Petzl Ropeman
Personal locker, 12mm Dyneema, and Petzl Ropeman

(2) Small locker for clove hitching myself to the belay.

  • Again, small, and never leaves my harness.
  • Its not intended to be used as a master point due to its size, but is just big enough to fit around a bundle of cordelette or webbing that you might find at an anchor in the alpine.
  • I do my absolute best to always clove hitch with the rope instead of using a PAS. I find any kind of PAS system bulky, too static, and limited in used because it is always attached to your harness via a girth hitch (which additionally bulks up the your crotch area, making it harder to see what is going on down there when you tie in.)

(3) 12mm Dyneema or Nylon 120cm Sewn Runner 

  • While this might sometimes come off my harness at a belay to build an anchor, I try not to leave the belay without it or a replacement.
  • Storage: I double up the sling twice, then twist it, and double it once more, before racking it on a single large biner (the larger biner makes it easier to come on and off).
  • When I reach the end of a climb and need to untie from the rope system (or otherwise need to go indirect for a reasonable amount of time), this is what I use.
  • Same setup every-time if I am extending my rappel:
    • Girth hitch through both belay loops on my harness.
    • Knot mid-way between my harness and the end.  I now have two different clip in points.
    • Now at a wrap station, with the above knot, I can easily clip into the anchor at the end and clip of my belay device to both closed loops where they meet in the middle.  When I begin rappelling, the locker at the end that was clipped to the anchor, now gets attached to my belay loop.  I now have a redundant system between the rappel device and my harness.
  • When we are talking about your lifeline, using a nylon weave or a thicker Dyneema tape width (12mm), though it adds bulk, is a good idea:
    • The strength of Dyneema/Spectra runners can be significantly reduced due to wear/tear and abrasion. Think of those situations where the rope ends up rubbing substantially against your sling – avoidable but it happens
    • Knotting Dyneema reduces its strength substantially and knots in Dyneema can slip  (not enough to worry about under body weight), but who knows what else might get clipped to that sling, or what its current strength is anyways? See the test results in the above link for the differences in force when the knot slips for a 8mm versus 11mm tape width.

(4) A WildCountry “Ropeman”

  • Useful as a second prusic, I find this to be another indispensable piece of gear. I’ve used it for:
    • Ascending a rope, in combination with a prusic, after falling off over-hanging climb or traverse.
    • As part of a hauling-system for glacier rescue, walling, or a tag-line on hard climbs
    • I recently heard an argument for a Petzl Micro Traxion instead of a Ropeman due to weight differences but haven’t looked into it.
    • Adding an element of safety during simul-climbing, should the follower fall (a post about better simul-climbing soon).
Trango knife and 5mm prusic with a $1 for a size comparison
Trango knife and 5mm prusic with $1 for size comparison

(5) Short prusic out of 5mm cordelette, tied off with a double-fishermans knot on a small biner

  • My setup here is very small, but works.  You don’t need a bigger know of thicker webbing.  If I need to extend the prusic away from my body, I used a QD or sling.  Because it is so small, there is never an excuse not to bring it.  I keep it stored with the locker/Reverso combo so it’s never forgotten.
  • Using a small diameter cordelette for your prusic means that it will grab on thin diameter ropes without an excessive amount of wraps.  I never do more than three

(6) A small Trango knife, tied and clipped to a very small carabiner.

This is something I’ve started carry recently.  I used to rely on the fact that in my pack contained a Swiss Army knife, but I’ve realized that I don’t climb enough with a pack to make this argument.


 

Putting it all together when you arrive at a belay to which you will be bringing up a partner:

  1. Clove hitch in. If you like you can do a single handed clove as shown by Jeff Ward 
  2. Build a redundant anchor point if you have not already done so. Make sure you are safe and sit back on the anchor. “Off Belay”.  Make sure you are comfortable.  This should be a resting position, not one that requires more energy.  Give yourself room to work with the belay device, and to feed rope once you are belaying the follower.
  3. Next, unclip the small biner holding your Reverso, gloves, and pear locker from your harness and attach it to the anchor master point.
  4. Now notice: you cannot skip the gloves at this point, they are on the pear locker, which is clipped to the smaller locker that you just attached to the anchor. Put them on.
  5. Bring up the rope(s), coiling it on the length of rope attaching you to the anchor or in a pile.  Coiling on your legs means you won’t be able to move them. When you get to the end, feed the bight(s) of rope through the belay device, securing it using the pear locker that is waiting unused.  “On Belay”
  6. Adjust pack, rack gear for the follower, put on a jacket, or eat a bar as required. That was fast and now its time for a break.

Some final tips related to your harness and personal kit:

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Chalk bag on 6mm cordelette that doubles as an extra load bearing sling
  • Instead of the buckle/strap combination or carabiner for your chalk bag, use a cordelette with a square knot and two overhand finishes.  This gives you one extra bit of load-bearing webbing to work with in an emergency.  6mm or 7mm diameter chord seems to work best for this to make it comfortable.
  • Always rack your stuff in the same place on your harness.  I can grab my belay device with barely a glance to my left, and I always know where my locker is for a clove hitch I arrive at a belay. These things count if you are climbing fast!
  • Between my partner and I, I always like to have a Gri-Gri.  They are indispensable whenever you are climbing on single ropes, and have many of the same benefits as a Ropeman.
  • I’ve previously discussed the importance of having a great LW rain and wind layer, buff and bars here.

 

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