Selecting Your Rope Access gear- How To Guide.
Part 1.0 - Your Harness:
The core of any rope access kit, or any height safety kit at all, is your harness. Unfortunately, not all harnesses are made equal, and not all harnesses suit all people. What works for one may be terrible for someone else. My personal taste is very minimalist. I am a little bit old-fashioned in this area and prefer a separate chest harness from my sit harness. The current standards call for a full body harness in all situations( fall arrest, restraint, work positioning.) Most people are aiming for a good balance between comfort, ease of use, affordability, and durability.
At rope access and rescue we only stock harnesses that we are happy to use ourselves. I have been using the Skylotec Rescue Pro 2.0 with great success. This is a reasonably well-designed harness with a high level of comfort. The integrated chest ascender actually works pretty well. Like I said, I prefer a separate chest harness, but this has now become very much the norm in harness design.
Skylotec is coming out with some innovative designs. Simple additions like the tabs for attaching the Skyboard Work Seat work great. They keep the loading on the device when changing between ascent and descent modes.
Ferno has been going to town in their design department. The Roar Lite harness in their range moves away from the teardrop ventral “D” ring for our attachment point and uses something similar to a rigging plate. Great for keeping lanyards, separate from your descender. Well worth your consideration. May take a little getting used to but very comfortable and a lot of harness for the money.
A lot of people make the mistake of sticking with the harness they were trained using. Training facilities will use the cheapest harnesses they can get away with! Also, suppliers will do great prices to help training providers because they are aware of this brand loyalty that gets created.
Key features to look out for-
We are extending our range all the time. Look out for in-depth descriptions and videos reviews as new harnesses come available.
- Padding. This will make or break you. More is not strictly better. Padding can absorb a lot of sweat and start to have an interesting odour after a while(it stinks) if not washed and dried properly. Too much padding will restrict movement and can put pressure on the wrong areas. Not enough padding and you are going in for some serious discomfort and will definitely need a seat.
- Adjustable fit. Short fat people, tall skinny people, tall fat people, endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectomorphs. How can one harness fit everyone? Adjustable straps everywhere. On the waist belt, back of the leg loops, the front of the chest harness and back of the chest harness. All these need fine tuning to make the harness fit properly. A popular mistake is to not set the harness for the correct height. This is the rear chest harness buckle. Make sure you choose the right size to begin with though. Each brand has different sizing so it's good to try these things on where possible. I will create a sizing chart to help with online purchases.
- Standard Compliance. Some work sites in Australia won't allow a harness unless it complies with Australian standards. This is a good idea in some ways, but I personally disagree. A harness must be fit for purpose. To disallow American and European harnesses leaves a huge gap in the choices available. Also, apparently, it violates international trade laws, specifically the Marrakesh agreement. I have not looked into this in any detail so if anyone has more on this subject please leave comments below.
- Chest Ascender. To integrate or not to integrate? Having the chest ascender built into the harness has its pros and cons. Pros- You never forget your chest ascender you don't have to buy a separate one. Cons - The device can flop inside your waist belt when not in use and digs into your guts. Not pleasant. Depending on how the manufacturer has installed it, the mechanism that holds the device upright can restrict the rope leading into the ascender.
Dedicated Seat Connection. This is a great addition to modern harness design. The advantage of this is that your weight is always on the seat when changing between devices. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is.
- Space on the D-Ring. The main D-ring is for connecting cows tails, lanyards, descenders etc. This can get very crowded very quickly. It's common to find a second Maillon connector installed behind the original D to spread things out a little. This is NOT acceptable practice unless the manufacturer says it is. Find a harness with plenty of room so you don't have to do this. Also, connect your backup device to your sternum D, not your ventral D.
- Weight. Important when walking around a lot. Not so important when hanging around a lot. Weight leads to fatigue but usually means a more durable harness. There is always a trade-off. Go for aluminium buckles and D-rings. Use aluminium karabiners where possible. You can even go super small with the Kong Futura range!