Without a doubt, one of the most critical pieces of equipment for a climber – following closely on the heels of quality personal protective equipment (PPE) – is the harness or saddle they choose. Sometimes described as your home in the tree, the proper harness ensures your comfort as you move about in the canopy and enables you, as a climber, to do your job better and even longer, during the day and throughout your lifetime.
Though the words “harness” and “saddle” seem to be used interchangeably by most manufacturers, “harness” is the accepted term for aerial-lift fall protection, as the full body harness offers full-body support, as the name implies. A saddle, on the other hand, can be almost as simple as a seat the climber sits on, with or without leg loops and all the other bells and whistles that come with a high-end harness.
Depending on your budget, a decent harness can run anywhere from several-hundred dollars to almost a thousand. To make sure you get the most for your money, we asked a number of manufacturers for their recommendations on what to look for in a harness, as well as some of the innovative features of their newest climbing harnesses.
Buckingham Manufacturing Co., Inc.
According to Ryan Lusht, head of distribution, product & partner marketing for Buckingham, the most common complaint they hear from climbers regarding harnesses has to do with adjustment and proper support. “Properly fitting your harness can take time,” he notes, “but it is necessary. If you’re having issues with ‘sagging’ or slight adjustment slippage, especially when hanging a chain saw off your harness, you’ll need to make sure your friction buckles are properly adjusted, or you can consider using a harness with a hook-and-loop or tongue-buckle waist-strap design.”
When asked when it is time to retire a harness, Lusht says, “We don’t have an expiration date on our harnesses, but obviously, proper maintenance and care can prolong the life of your harness. Before every climb, you should thoroughly inspect your harness for any indications of wear or deterioration.”
And what would he tell climbers who are resistant toward spending money on a new harness/saddle when it’s time to retire their current one? “Your life depends on a safe harness. If you’re seeing signs of severe wear, it needs to be replaced. And when that time comes, Buckingham offers the largest selection in the industry for whatever harness option you’re looking for.”
According to Lusht, the newest of those options is the Buckingham Agility Saddle, which was developed in conjunction with the working arborists at ArborMaster training. “It features the industry-first, specially designed Leg Pad/Suspension System, allowing you to properly fit and support your lower body,” he says, “plus Hook & Loop ‘stay put’ waist and leg straps for easy one-time adjustment that will not come out of adjustment. It also has an industry-first Segmented/Pocketed Rope Bridge, giving you easy length-
adjustment options (without untying) that won’t slip like systems using Prusik knots, and it gives you multiple stationary connection points to put you in the optimal climbing position.”
CAMP USA, Inc.
Jack Perry, North American safety sales manager for CAMP USA, says the most common complaints they get feedback on are price and fit. “Fit is always a personal preference, but everyone has an opinion,” he says. “You talk to 25 tree climbers and let them wear your saddle, and each one will say something different about what they like and don’t like about the fit. We listen, and then we do the research and development.”
According to Perry, most of the time the standard life of a saddle is five years, “But you should be inspecting the harness on a daily basis for wear.” And when the time comes to replace it and you hesitate? “Ask yourself, isn’t your life worth more than the cost of a new saddle?”
The newest climbing harness from CAMP is the Tree Access Evo, described as being designed “to meet the needs of the most demanding tree climbers.” Perry notes that the harness has patented STS (slide/twist/slide) automatic buckles on the leg loops and an innovative mobile bridge system, described on the CAMP website as “manufactured from 10.5 mm semi-static rope covered with tubular webbing for the best durability. Two loops on the ends of the bridge create extra points for positioning. The adjustable connections to the waist belt allow the user to fine-tune the height of the bridge in order to optimize the position while hanging.”
Knowing when it’s time to retire your current climbing harness, says Rudy Rutemiller, Petzl Eastern Sales Division manager, is mostly a matter of following your harness manufacturer’s inspection protocol. “You also should do a daily inspection and an in-depth inspection according to your company’s protocol,” he adds. “If there is no protocol in place, make sure you do an in-depth inspection at least once a year.
“Petzl’s textiles have a 10-year life-span, as long as they continually pass inspection,” he continues. “If it passes each inspection, retire the harness 10 years after the date of manufacture.”
When it’s time to replace your harness, Rutemiller says don’t skimp. “Your harness is a piece of life-safety equipment that keeps you aloft and tied into the tree,” he says. “Your life is priceless. Spend the money to keep yourself alive and safe. Also, build the cost of equipment (like a harness) into your cost per hour or your bids, if necessary.”
Updated in 2019, the Sequoia is one of Petzl’s most popular tree-climbing harnesses. What new features set it apart? According to Rutemiller, “Lower D rings allow for different work-position applications. The harness also offers enhanced adjustability and total customization of fit. And new, smaller buckles make for easy donning and doffing, even while wearing gloves.”
According to Josephine Hedger, Teufelberger ambassador in the U.K., it’s time to retire a harness whenever you inspect it and find a safety concern. “If in doubt, always seek another professional opinion or contact the manufacturer directly,” she advises. “Textile equipment has a life expectancy given by the manufacturer. Follow their information for guidance and replace your harness even if it visually looks to be in good condition. Teufelberger treeMotion harnesses have an eight-year shelf life and a recommended maximum of five years in service.”
Hedger says you should view your harness as an investment in your safety, professionalism and comfort. “Why would you want to compromise your life on something that is no longer safe to use?” she asks. “Buying new equipment should be seen as an investment in your business, and replacing equipment should be factored into your business pricing. Climbers can spend up to eight hours a day in a harness. So you should expect to get wear and tear from all the hard work and harsh environments you expose it to. Also, getting new equipment with recent improvements is advantageous, as manufacturers are always striving to improve their products for the safety and productivity of the arborist industry.”
Teufelberger’s treeMotion Evo is the newest evolution of the popular standard treeMotion harness, says Hedger. “It has the same safety and comfort that people have grown to know, plus some new features. It comes as standard with a knotted, double rope bridge. If connected to both bridges, this increases safety, or they (bridges) can be used independently to allow better work positioning, with two separate systems creating less conflict of hardware/systems. These can be adjusted to suit each climber’s preferences and can be exchanged for stitched rope or the simple webbing bridge. This feature makes the harness even more personalized.”
Hedger continues, “A new design of lower forward D rings reduces wear points and allows for easy changing and replacing of bridges. Plus, the new Cobra Buckles are anodized and stronger, and come with protection against sawdust. They also are easier to adjust when you need to change between winter and summer clothes, for example.”
Vertical Supply Group (VSG)
When it comes to feedback from climbers regarding harnesses, Mike Ziecek, product management director for VSG, says the most common issues have to do with a lack of comfort. “If a work-positioning harness is not comfortable, it can make for a very long day,” he notes. “Climbers often describe pain in the hip areas caused by excessive pressure from the harness. Other common complaints are a lack of back support and uncomfortable leg-support straps.”
Ziecek recommends that climbers always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the retirement of any equipment. “Inspect the entire harness daily, including stitching and any life-support components of the harness,” he stresses. “Manufacturers tend to use contrast stitching in high-stress areas of the harness, so it’s very easy to perform a quick yet thorough check of the stitch threads. The webbing and rope bridge should be inspected and subjected to the recommended replacement protocol. Reference the user manual for your harness to know exactly what to look for during inspection.
“Retirement can vary with the frequency and condition of use,” he adds. “A harness could last two to five-plus years; however, it also could be compromised on a single climb or use and should be retired.”
For those who are resistant to buying a new harness, Ziecek says, “This is a no-brainer! You are in your harness the entire time you are climbing. It needs to provide comfort, support, security and the ergonomics that allow you to do your job to the best of your ability. It is an investment, not a throwaway piece of gear. Your harness can make a huge impact on your daily productivity and wellbeing. Your body will thank you for not waiting (to purchase a replacement).”
According to Ziecek, the most popular harness sold by VSG is the Notch Sentinel Harness, “due to its comfort, value and performance characteristics.” The Notch Sentinel is described at treestuff.com as providing “all of the features a modern climber needs to be safe, efficient, and comfortable while working at height, with lightweight contoured mesh padding for breathability, fast and secure thumb friction buckles, and high customization.”
Again, lack of comfort tops the list of complaints from climbers about harnesses, according to Dustin Taylor, arborist sales manager at Weaver Leather, LLC. “I would have to say that being uncomfortable, such as pinching and pressure points, and their heavy weight are the two main complaints we hear of harnesses in the industry,” he says.
“Harness use varies greatly from user to user, and as such, replacement intervals vary similarly,” Taylor notes. “Any harness that is subject to neglect, misuse or a shock-loading scenario should immediately be taken out of service and discarded. A harness should be thoroughly inspected before each use, and any wear or damage to a load-bearing component warrants retiring the harness immediately.
“Weaver provides an inspection card on every saddle we sell that can be used for record keeping,” he adds.
Taylor touts a few of the features of Weaver’s newest harness, The Denali. “It has an all-leather back pad that will mold to your body over time for unmatched comfort,” he explains, “as well as a ventilated foam pad to help keep you cool while climbing. It also has multiple attachment points for all of your gear-storage needs.”
No matter what climbing harness you choose to meet the needs of your demanding job, one thing is clear from the experience of these manufacturers’ representatives – daily inspections are a must, and when the time comes to replace your harness, don’t delay. Your life could depend on it.