Determining when to replace your climbing harness is not an exact science. The average lifespan of a climbing harness can vary from one to five years, depending on factors such as usage, environment, storage, and maintenance.
There are instances where visible damage indicates the need for a replacement, while other times there may be no apparent issues, yet it is still necessary to retire the harness. It is therefore recommended to regularly inspect your own climbing harness and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding its maximum lifespan.
This article explains the frequency of harness replacement, checking for damage, and guidelines for retiring your harness. We hopefully can guide you with enough information to make a judgement on when you should replace your harness. And if in doubt, it's always better to err on the side of caution because replacing your harness in due time is beneficial to your safety and your climbing partner’s safety.
Most climbers typically replace their climbing harness within 1 - 5 years from the date of first use. This is due to normal amounts of wear and tear that occurs during climbing activities, which can weaken the harness over time.
Some manufacturers provide a 'used by' guideline from date of first use, which is a good starting point when understanding how long a climbing harness may last:
If properly stored and unused, the maximum shelf life is approximately 10 years from date of manufacture for most climbing harnesses. This is because products manufactured from synthetic fibres / textiles are subject to ageing from environmental conditions even when not used. (To find out more information about how to identify the date of manufacture, please refer to the technical specifications or user manual that is provided with your harness. This can also be accessed digitally from the manufacturer website).
If your harness is properly maintained, whichever comes first: "date of manufacture" or "date of first use" will determine when you should replace your harness.
Tips: Some climbers will use their harness alot and then store it for long periods before using it again, you can average it out to figure out the lifespan. Also, make sure to save your invoice so that you can remember when you first purchased / used it.
Warning: It is important to note that there may be instances where retiring a product after just one use is necessary, even if there are no visible signs of damage. These instances include intense falls, exposure to sharp edges, extreme temperatures, prolonged UV exposure, and contact with harsh chemicals.
There are four more important factors that can have a significant impact on the wear and tear of a climbing harness: transport, storage, the intensity of falls, and environmental conditions,
Climbing harnesses can be negatively impacted by heat, sunlight, humidity, and chemicals, so it's important to take proper care when transporting and storing them. Here are some recommended practices:
The intensity of falls affects the integrity of a climbing harness. Just like a climbing rope, a harness absorbs the impact of falls. A lead climbing harness, which experiences more falls than a harness used for top roping, may show signs of wear and tear sooner. If you experience an intense fall and suspect that your harness may have been compromised, it is important to retire it immediately. Signs of damage could include weakened belay or tie-in points, loose stitching, fraying, or small tears.
Outdoor climbing harnesses are exposed to various weather conditions and abrasive rock, which can affect their condition. Exposure can lead to discolouration, abrasion, and fraying of the harness. If a harness is used near the ocean, the metal buckles can rust from sea salt if not properly washed. Additionally, if the metal buckles become sharp from abrasion. it is necessary to retire the harness because it may compromise the webbing.
Manufacturers advise inspecting climbing harnesses for damage every 12 months. However, for regularly used climbing harnesses, it is recommended to check them monthly due to their crucial role in safety.
While specific areas on the climbing harness should be examined for wear or damage, it is important to note that not all reasons for retirement are apparent or visible, including expiration date from first use. To identify signs of damage, watch our video.
To ensure your safety, it is important to retire your gear when necessary. A harness should be retired if it meets any of the following criteria:
To determine if your harness needs to be retired, you can use the 10% rule. If your harness shows more than 10% of wear, it is time to replace it. Answer the following questions to assess the condition of your harness:
If you have doubts about the safety of a harness, it is advisable to retire it. Seeking the opinions of others can also be helpful, but ultimately, trust your instincts. If you lack confidence in the harness's safety, there is no point in keeping it.
Old harnesses can be repurposed to a certain extent. If the harness only has minor damage that doesn't compromise its safety, it can still be used for activities like top roping, caving, or canyoning. In cases where the damage is more extensive, the harness can be utilised for weighted hangboard training, as long as the belay loop remains intact.
If a harness is deemed unsuitable for climbing or any other purpose, it is crucial to ensure that it won't be used again for climbing or other sports. To prevent further use, it is important to destroy the harness by cutting it up. The soft textiles from the harness should be disposed of in the standard garbage bin, while the metal buckles can be recycled separately.
I have been rock climbing for about six years and it’s taken me to beautiful places all over Australia. I love adventuring into the outdoors, seeking big multi-pitches, splitter cracks and night climbing. My local is the Blue Mountains (NSW), while in the winter I’ll migrate to Frog Buttress (QLD). When the weather’s right, you can catch me at places like Point Perpendicular, Arapiles, Tassie, Buffalo and maybe the Warrumbungles.