Harnesses: Belay Loop. Use it or loose it?


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Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 20, 2009 - 01:10am PT
For the last 20 years I've always chopped the belay loop off my new harnesses. (That sewn loop that holds the leg loops to the waist belt.)

I use a large locking 'biner instead. It makes the harness much easier to use and feels safer to me. My logic is:
1. Less links in the safety chain, less to go wrong.
2. Under stress and torque, fabric on fabric is more abrasive than polished metal against fabric.

Does anyone else do this?
Does anyone care to argue in favor of keeping the belay loop?
Do you keep it but bypass it?

Dec 20, 2009 - 01:27am PT
I use a large locking biner too, but I leave the belay loop intact.

Now I have two points of attachment.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Dec 20, 2009 - 01:27am PT
I use the belay loop. If the belay loop is inspected regularly and not allowed to wear abnormally (as happened in Todd Skinner's unfortunate accident) I think there shouldn't be any concerns about the safety of the belay loop.

It is kind of like do you use the EDK or a double fisherman's when you rappel? Use whatever makes you feel safer.


Dec 20, 2009 - 01:38am PT
As an old-schooler, who is always trying to 'minimize links' in the system and keep things simple, I still tend to clip my belay device via a pear or large D to my leg loops/waist loop, and skip the belay loop. Functionally, I find this orients most tube-type devices (ATC and similar) in a horizontal orientation, marginally more in line with my braking action. Honestly, it's a very subtle difference, and is probably more related to habit than benefit. I don't have any problem with using belay loops- sometimes they provide a nice benefit- it's just not my intuitive choice.

I have had relative newbs (<10 years experience) look in horror at my technique, sure that I am going to kill someone doing this, since their harness manufacturer and their rock climbing instructor at REI last week told them they should ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS clip into the belay loop and any other method is criminally negligent.

The argument I always hear from newbs and their REI instructor (or gym monkey instructor, or whatever) is that the harness manufacturer recommends they should be used this way, and that connecting to the leg/waist loops places dangerous tri-axial forces on the carabiner.

Theoretically, ok, I suppose this would be true, as long as the human body in the belay chain was statically anchored, and all of the force of a fall was transmitted and absorbed entirely by the human. Fact is, this doesn't happen- even if anchored, when a fall occurs in a typical climbing environment, everything in the belay chain moves, and everything absorbs this force. A typical pearabiner or locking D is rated to ~26 kn...reaching half of this force...hell, a quarter of this force would be enough to tear the entire pelvic structure out of the human body. I haven't heard of that happening much....how about you?

My guess is that harness manufacturers specify the singular connection of a belay loop primarily as a CYA measure- they need to be able to be clear about proper use of their product, and the belay loop is the obvious, logical method to specify.

Belay loops have only been commonly present on harnesses for, what, say 15-20 years now? Prior to that, they didn't exist, and belayers clipped into some sort of leg/waist loop variation (depending on the harness that existed at that time). Belay loops became commonplace primarily as a convenience feature, and ironically, were viewed with great suspicion for many years as potential 'failure points'- at this point in time, they have largely overcome that suspicion, and doubly ironically, nowadays clipping a harness in any other method is considered negligent.

That's just my .03 cents. I'm sure there are many, many, many other opinions on this that will make me out to be a criminally negiligent idiot. That's cool, as long as they can back it up with clear, empirical, science balanced by a healthy dose of reality & practicality, and a clearly demonstrated trend of incidents. Bring it!

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
Dec 20, 2009 - 01:41am PT
All I can say is that clipping to my belay loop seems safer than clipping to my 1" webbing swami. That never failed though and neither has my belay loop. You guys worry too damn much.

Dec 20, 2009 - 01:56am PT
I'm with Werner. I leave mine on, and only really use it as a point of attachment in aid jumblef*#ks. Petzl William or am'd is my belay loop.

Trad climber
OAK (nee NH)
Dec 20, 2009 - 02:26am PT
Take a short (2') length of webbing.

Wrap it doubly upon itself (visually reference your belay loop). Use some masking tape to keep the loop fixed.

Try to pull it apart.

It should become obvious that this is the strongest, most (and only) redundant element of your harness.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:01am PT
I wouldn't cut the belay loop off a harness - never know when it may be useful. And they often are. But I sometimes belay and even rappel as apogee describes, that is with a big pear locking carabiner directly through the leg and waist loops. That leaves the belay loop free for other uses. The one real negative to doing so is that it brings the rope closer to your body and so to clothing, which can reduce freedom of movement, and increase the chance of clothing getting caught in a belay/rappel device.

But then, I most often put the carabiner through the belay loop.

Trad climber
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:45am PT
I always saw the loop as a convenient bit that kept the loops and belt "in place" but was always intuitively averse to hanging it out there on this one piece only.

Big locker through the goods for belaying.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:51am PT
I use the large biner also and save the loop for the gerbil.

Dec 20, 2009 - 09:49am PT
I use the belay loop and back it up with a "Skinner loop" for peace of mind.
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
Top of the 5.2-5.12 Boulder
Dec 20, 2009 - 10:07am PT
Yup, Me too, Kevin.

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Dec 20, 2009 - 10:49am PT
Well, when I did climb, er uh, what Werner said.......
Paul Martzen

Trad climber
Dec 20, 2009 - 11:23am PT
I trust the belay loops and like their convenience. Doubled webbing like that is around 25 KN according to the manufacturers. If the webbing starts looking worn, it is easy and cheap to sew on a new one. Most people probably never replace their belay loop, just retire the harness, but I replace my belay loops periodically when I don't like the look of them.

Sew a triple wrap if you want and the strength would be up around 37 KN.

Google belay loop strength and there is a lot of info available.

Pragmatic issues seem more important to me. When belaying, the loop extends the belay device out further so it is harder to take in rope fast if needed. For me, if I am belaying the follower on easy ground where they are moving fast, I prefer a body belay where I can really take in the rope fast.

When rappelling I think the belay loop makes it easier for me to keep the setup clean and visible.

Wild country video of belay look testing after being cut 50%.

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Dec 20, 2009 - 11:40am PT
I tie in directly to waist & leg loops, belay off pear biner with ATC, and leave the loop there to keep the harness easier to put on.

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Dec 20, 2009 - 11:42am PT
Pear biner is clipped directly to waist & leg loops, only had shirt get stuck in ATC one time 15 years ago.

Dec 20, 2009 - 11:42am PT
Most people only climb on one rope. Use only one biner, one belay device, one harness etc....

I wont argue with any of the responses cause they are all valid to the individual, not me.

What I dont understand is at what point in your climbing gadgetry do you decide, "I need to be redundant here but not here when either of those places may be the difference between life and death if failure were to occur."


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 20, 2009 - 11:54am PT
I think the basic problem is that the biner might be bound in place and the rope slip over the gate portion, which, even with a locking collar, is significantly weak for an outward pull. Even if one clips the biner so that the gate is against the body, the rope slipping down on the opposite solid spine could still put a big outward load on the gate, and the gate against the body is more likely to unscrew.

There have been accidents in which a figure eight device has levered open a locking biner gate under bodyweight loads. In these cases, the biner was clipped into the harness loop points and did not reorient in the direction of the load.

As with many things in climbing, one could clip the harness points directly for many years without things ever arranging themselves in the fatal configuration at a moment of high impact. And biner cross-loading can happen when a biner is clipped to the belay loop too.

Personally, I clip the belay biner to the belay loop. But I do use one of these

which eliminates any possibility of the biner rotating and becoming cross-loaded during a fall. As an extra minor benefit, the little mini-gate can hold the belay device when it is being carried on the harness and prevents it from being accidentally dropped when the belay carabiner is transferred from the harness to the belay loop.

I'm not the least bit worried about belay loop failure. Even a normally worn belay loop is stronger and more reliable than a carabiner. The exceptionally extreme level of deterioration needed to make the belay loop a hazard would, of course, also make absolutely everything about a harness a hazard, not just the belay loop. If we didn't have a tragic example to the contrary, I'd have said no one would let their harness get to that point.


Trad climber
June Lake, CA
Dec 20, 2009 - 12:10pm PT
The belay loop is BOMBER and very convenient as it helps to orient the
biner and belay device in an good position. It also extends the belay device out
far enough to provide a auto-block back up off the leg loop. The potential for
tri-axial forces on the carabiner is very real and biner failures have occur as such.
I believe the belay loop is the single strongest part of a climbing harness, no concern about failure
whatsoever. Todds accident was clearly due to obviously wear and needed
replacement. The lesson here is that we can (and do) become a bit casual to the
exposure/environment over time, sometime we ought guard against.

Walleye says "Well, when I did climb, er uh, what Werner said......."
Does this mean you aren't climbing now? Word on the street is you were seen soloing at
the Cookie recently. Do tell......and make it the truth this time.


Social climber
Seattle, Wa
Dec 20, 2009 - 12:15pm PT
The harnesses are designed to be used with the belay loops. A friend called a number of manufacturers over this issue. Their response was, "If your harness has a belay loop, use it." I use mine and replace the harness when it is worn. For me, it's the tie in points of the harness which start frazzling first. I also don't girth hitch webbing to a belay loop.

Considering the number of harnesses out in the field (large) and the number of accidents due to failed belay loops (single digits?), the belay loop is probably one of the safest links in the safety chain.

If you want to minimize the number of links in the chain, then you should loop the rope around your waist three times and tie a bowline on a coil for climbing and rappel with the Dulfersitz. Or accept that sometimes adding links to the chain makes it safer (because the analogy is flawed).
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