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The belay loop is the strongest part of the climbing harness, so why do so many climbers not trust it?
It’s very common to see climbers backing up their belay loop with a separate piece of webbing or clipping their belay carabiner through the waist and leg tie-in points to avoid the belay loop. I’ve even seen some climbers cut the belay loops off their harnesses because they’re “old school” and never had a belay loop when they first started climbing.
What I believe so far is that one could not possibly generate enough force by rappelling or holding a big lead fall to cause a belay loop to fail. Not even close.

Then Why Are Belay Loops Not Trusted? When I started climbing I was asked to concede a fact that the Belay Loops are just there to hold the leg loops to the waist loop.

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I edited your title. The title originally asked if the belay loop was the strongest part of the harness. But in your first sentence, you asserted an affirmative answer to the question in the title, and asked why then did climbers not trust belay loops. I edited your title to reflect what I think your question asks. I can change it back, if you want. –  DavidR Jul 21 '13 at 4:32
    
I think there's kind of a couple of independent questions here - "Is it reasonable for a climber to create a secondary belay loop out of webbing or coord" and "Is it reasonable for a climber to cut out his / her belay loop because it isn't needed". Asking why people would insist on second guessing the equipment manufacturer may open a whole can of worms... –  DavidR Jul 21 '13 at 4:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I've seen this kind of behavior.

I think there's a tendency for people to want to continue to do things the way they're used to doing them, and the way they were originally trained. It can be a little frustrating when someone comes along and tells you that the new "right way" to do something is different that what you've done before.

Also, if you're an experienced climber, you were probably trained several years ago. When new recommendations enter the climbing community, they're introduced in books and training classes that are mostly taken by beginners. So you have a situation where the people with the most up-to-date training don't have the context to fully understand what they've been taught, or necessarily apply it safely. This makes experienced climbers unlikely to take their advice.

I've felt this myself - I used to rig a backup autoblock off my leg loop, until a friend convinced me to extend my rappel, and put the autoblock on my belay loop. It was honestly hard for me to hear, because my friend was actually pretty inexperienced, and I'd been climbing for 3 years at that point. But I eventually came around.

FWIW, I hope we can all at least agree that harness manufactures recommend that climbers use the belay loop to belay, and both tie in points when they're tying in or putting a sling or anchor chain on their harness. At least that's what's indicated on this guide from Petzl. Other things may be safe, but I'd want to see some indication that they were at least tested by the manufacturer before doing it.

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I don't extend because I typically only carry dyneema slings and their low melting point makes me nervous when extending a something that can get quite hot. –  crasic Jul 22 '13 at 0:31
    
Point is, just because there are different ways of doing things, does not make the old way less safe. Maybe less convenient. But any time you try to change an ingrained system is potential danger, I would never tell an old hand to stop tying in with his double backed bowline because the figure 8 is more mainstream, because his/her years of climbing has ingrained the knot to point that its almost fail-proof for them, changing their system throws a wrench in that mental ratchet. –  crasic Jul 22 '13 at 0:33
    
@crasic - Sure, you should be conservative about changing a system you're used to... But at the same time you shouldn't assume that every historic system is compatible with every new product that comes on the market. For instance, a lot of new harnesses have "speed buckles" on the leg loops, including my new one. Speed buckles are relatively new, and will come loose much more easily than traditional buckles if the autoblock catches them wrong, which is part of why I switched my autoblock to my main belay loop. –  DavidR Jul 22 '13 at 0:38
    
@crasic - but, sure, I think some of the new-fangled systems are more trouble than they're worth sometimes. Personally, I think a regular coordellete knot is a better choice than a fancy "equallete" that John Long is recommending most of the time, but that's a whole different issue"... I've climbed with beginners that think dynamic equalization is mandatory 100% of the time, regardless of how long it takes to set up the anchor, and I find that a little annoying. –  DavidR Jul 22 '13 at 0:41
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And at the end of the day, getting something solid up fast is best, so you can get off the d@mn mountain before sunset. :) –  DavidR Jul 22 '13 at 0:47

I have never seen what you are describing in many years of sport climbing. Every climber I know uses the belay loop correctly as it is one of the strongest parts of the harness and like the old harness loop has been designed to take the strain of falls and distribute it evenly to the leg loops etc.

Maybe it is different in different areas, cultures. I don't know. And it appears that in the past the belay loop was not the strong point it is now, so as DavidR mentions, a lot of the legacy beliefs may not be applicable after years of development.

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Belay loop is not the strongest part of the harness, all hard points on the harness are typically rated to 22KN, the belay loop is a convenience and not a safety feature. –  crasic Jul 22 '13 at 0:30
    
Rory: That is incorrect. Think of a belay loop as a flexible carabiner. You should never attach a standard carabiner to your harness and leg loops because that causes cross loading. Metal carabiner aren't built to withstand three points of force blackdiamondequipment.com/en/… They tested their loops and they still stood up even when cut 50% through. –  JohnDavid Sep 10 at 10:55

I can agree with DavidR - it's the heritage of "old school".

Some (like, 10) years ago, materials and sewing technologies were less perfect. My first harness had a much less durable belay loop, than my current one: it was thinner and made of less "dynamic" material than a rope. That is why there was a rule that you should double it with a rope, which is as strong as the rope you are hanging on. So the belay loop had no chance to be the weakest link of your belay system.

Also people tended to use their harnesses for much longer periods of time, many years in a row. The belay loop got some wear and tear, so the new piece of rope was more reliable (you can replace a rope, but it's harder to replace a belay loop).

And it was even worse more than 10 years ago, when technologies and technics, including midern 3-loop harness, were only emerging. You probably know that there was time when there were no harnesses - just a rope tied with double bowline or the like.

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+1 - excellent historical prespective –  DavidR Jul 23 '13 at 21:35
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@Steed: When I started climbing I was asked to concede a fact that the Belay Loops are just there to hold the leg loops to the waist loop. And, the people I learnt with are climbing since late 80's. So, they must have learnt when technologies were less perfect as you said. Thats why may be they don't rely on it. Thanks for perspective! –  WedaPashi Jul 24 '13 at 7:20
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@WedaPashi, exactly. But now you can trust manuals from Petzl/BD/etc, which allow and encourge using belay loop without additional backup. –  Steed Jul 24 '13 at 7:24

My friend's old boss died while rappelling from a belay loop failure. Our belay loops are subject to the most wear and tear- they take brunt of the forces exerted on our harnesses. Many climbers prefer to have a redundant system. The rope is redundant because of the core, on top rope the anchor is redundant. The only thing in a top rope system that isn't redundant is the system attached to the belayer- the belayer's belay loop, belay carabiner and belay device (ATC, belay plate, ETC) It may seem silly or over-redundant, but why not? There is no real harm being done.

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The rope isn't really redundant! The core is taking the force while the sheath guarantees a good handling but could not take significant load. You could (more or less) use a rope core without sheath, but not the sheath without the core. –  Benedikt Bauer Sep 11 at 14:16

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