Even if you work for a company that provides all the safety gear needed, many tower climbers on the job like to have gear that is just theirs. When picking out a harness, there are several things to look for. This guide will give you the important things to look for.
Types of Tower Climber Harnesses
There are three types of tower climbing harness. A sit harness is just what it sounds like. There are loops for the legs and loops around the hips. Sometimes used in conjunction with the sit harness is the chest harness which provides extra support when hauling a heavy backpack. These two types don’t transfer well to tower climbers, they are mainly used by rock climbers.
The types of climbing harnesses tower climbers will need to be familiar with is the full body harness. It is covered more in depth in another article on proper harness fit. It is a combination of the sit harness and the chest harness. These two sections may be either permanently or semi-permanently attached together. It will have many connection points. The basic idea of the full body harness will remain the same, but when it comes to material choice, there are many pros and cons for each.
There are currently five types of material used on full body harnesses; Nylon, Polyester, Kevlar, Nomex, and Dyneema. Nylon and Polyester are the two which are most commonly found, but advancements in the industry may lead to a surge in the use of the other three. Material knowledge is important when deciding which harness to invest in.
Nylon is soft and flexible. It was the material most widely used at the beginning of the fall protection equipment industry. When determining the “break strength” for any material, the thickness of the material is taken into account. On its own nylon has a break strength of between 1,400 and 5,500 pounds. In order to increase the break strength, nylon would need to be made thicker and would therefore lose much of its flexibility and stretchiness.
One of the biggest drawbacks about nylon is that it gets weaker when it starts to get wet. Nylon has above average water absorption, which makes it prone to accumulating mold. This mold weakens the material, especially when it forms at connection points. Anyone who opts for a nylon harness will want to take extra measures to ensure it dries thoroughly.
Polyester is a preferred material for many manufacturers. While it is not nearly as flexible as nylon it is more durable. On average, polyester has a break strength of 1,500 to 10,000 pounds, depending on the thickness and how it is made. The estimated break strength will vary from harness to harness and from manufacturer to manufacturer, but will be listed on the harness or the manufacturers website.
Polyester is resistant to water absorption, which means it will be less likely to mold and to lose its stability when in contact with water. Those tower climbers who work in humid areas or areas where rain occurs frequently should take this into account. The morning dew can be just as detrimental as a rain storm.
The material Dyneema is not an industry standard yet. But it does offer increased resistance to cuts, rips and abrasions. The materials Nomex and Kevlar are still being examined for their break strength. These last two are flame retardant and high heat resistant. They are being recommended for those who weld and need fall protection.
Before shelling out money for tower climbing harnesses, think carefully about the pros and cons and the specific needs for your line of work. As with anything, be sure to take proper care of the harness. Just because it is Polyester, do not leave it in a pool of water. Proper harness care will ensure the longest lifespan of each harness.
Finding the Right Tower Climbing Harness
Start by asking yourself some questions. How experienced are you? How much padding do you need? What is the main reason for getting your own harness? Once these are answered, the search can begin. In the tower climbing industry, the full body harness, also called a rescue harness, should be used instead of the seated type.
Padding is pretty standard in harnesses these days. If you have a stockier body type, are new to climbing, or have areas where many harnesses “dig in,” then consider getting extra padding, especially around those “sensitive areas.”
The gear loops that hang off of harnesses are important for hauling and storing equipment. These loops hang off of the waist to distribute the weight more evenly. Most people only use for, but thinking about your climbing necessities will determine how many you need. When climbing a tower, there is no room for anything to be carried in the hands, and it is a long way down if you forget your water bottle.
Sizing the harness can be the trickiest part. Just because a harness fits over your jeans doesn’t mean it will fit over a snow suit. If a harness is too small it will make movement difficult. If it is too large then safety is compromised. The harness should not slide when it is over the ribcage. As a generally rule, snug, but not uncomfortable is a good rule of thumb.
This leads to the harnesses adjustability. When trying on a harness it should be in one of the intermittent adjustment settings. This will allow the harness to fit during weight gain and weight loss periods. It is amazing what a difference 10 pounds can make in how a harness fits, so getting one that only fits on the highest or lowest adjustment settings can spell trouble in the future.
The price tag on a harness can be a big factor but, it should not be the main factor. A harness needs to be durable, especially since it will be used day-in day-out. So that cheaper one may be fine for a few months or a year, but a more expensive one will save you from buying one every few months. On the opposite end, if you have not yet committed to being a tower dawg for life, buying a less expensive one, or even borrowing one from a friend may be a more viable option.
Men and women are built differently. Women who work in the climbing industry should look for a woman’s harness. Some of the key differences in a women’s harness are a shaped waistline, a reduced leg-to-waist ratio, and an increased rise. Not only do these increase a woman’s comfort, they increase safety.
Each of these factors should be considered when harness shopping. Since every body is different, do not expect the harness your buddy uses to be the one that will provide the most comfort to you. If the harness doesn’t feel right when you try it on, it won’t feel right when you are 1000 feet up in the air.
When to Replace Your Tower Climbing Harness
Your harness has been there for you, every climb, keeping you safe and giving you a sense of security on every 1000 foot climb. Your helmet, with your favorite sports team logo on it has protected your head from all the overhead debris. Even those boots, that are so well broken in that it feels like nothing is even on your feet. It is weird that such an attachment can develop to the items that are inanimate, but often it does and this attachment can lead some men and women to not trade out their tools when it is needed.
Each harness, has a different lifetime. The same type of harness, by the same manufacturer will have a slightly different lifetime. On average, a harness will last from one to ten years, and they each come with a manual that has the projected lifetime. Don’t worry, these manuals are available online for those of us who don’t even crack open a manual before tossing it.
Regardless of the age of your harness, certain signs are red flags that a harness needs to be replaced. All harnesses will develop scrapes, cuts, tears, and minor fraying, not all of these will affect your harness. The tie in points are usually the first to wear out. Major brands have been putting a different colored nylon underneath the top layer as an indicator of when to replace the harness. Fuzzy fabric is normal, but the harness is thin, has large rips, tears, or abrasions then replace it. Check the waistband, leg loops and belay loops regularly for wear.
Since the majority of a tower climber’s job is, well climbing, then harnesses need to be replaced more frequently than people who would climb once a month, like rock climbers. One advantage to using your harness everyday is that the risk of rot is diminished. If your harness is going to be stored, it is best to keep it in a separate place from all of the other equipment. This limits the risk of premature tears and lengthens the life of the harness. A mesh bag is a good option, many harnesses even come with one for storage purposes.
The environment and elements will play a factor in the life of a harness as well. Dirt, sunlight and water happen, but exposure will affect harness life. If you end up on a tower at 1500 feet and it rains or has a thick mist, hang dry your harness before storing it. Wipe off any extra dirt or mud before storing a harness or it will eat at the material.
When it comes time to store your harness, avoid storing it in a basement, attic or garage and opt instead to store it in your house away from direct sunlight. Think of it like a nice suit, that just so happens to have life saving abilities. Hang it up when not in use and take good care of it and your harness will last for many many climbs.