I'm about 150ish lbs and my partner is 100ish lbs. I've read somewhere that a 2/3 weight ratio between belayer and climber is ok for lead climb, but I don't remember exactly where.

Can someone confirm this? Looking around the net, I'm getting conflicting and not very authoritative answers.

I was thinking of getting a weight vest of around 10 or so lbs to increase the weight ratio, but I'm also thinking that this may be problematic as the belayer's center of gravity is then raised. Could that be an issue?

I was also considering ankle weights of 5 lbs a piece (total 10 lbs). Could this cause an increase chance of knee injury?

Any other ideas that I may not be thinking of?

  • 1
    Welcome to outsoors.SE! This is mostly a duplicate of the other question. Basically your weight ratio is fine, but if your partner is anxious about getting picked up, there are better options than what you're describing. In the gym, ask for a weight bag that sits on the floor, and your partner can clip it to their harness with a tether. Outdoors, either build a ground anchor using trad climbing techniques, or tie in to a backpack with some weight in it.
    – user2169
    Dec 6, 2016 at 4:31
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    @CharlieBrumbaugh: that question is specifically about top rope climbing, this one specifically about lead climbing. That makes a big difference. Dec 6, 2016 at 8:30
  • This is no duplicate!
    – OddDeer
    Dec 6, 2016 at 8:45
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    I agree this is not a duplicate, however it is too broad, in the sense that it is asking multiple related but distinct questions. Please separate your questions about weight ratio, potential positions on the body and risk of weight "attachments" and of "other stuff to consider" (could be translated to: What general measures are there to mitigate weight difference. All these questions are good in their own wright. Asked together they will only get partial answers (see Michael Borgwardt's, which is good but does not address all points fully).
    – imsodin
    Dec 6, 2016 at 9:28
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    @BenCrowell, I've heard using a weight bag is not safe for lead. Ok, I'll write up separate questions.
    – Adrian
    Dec 7, 2016 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


A 2/3 weight ratio is definitely at the absolut top of what is routinely manageable for lead climbing, and I would not recommend that for novices.

Additional weights are an option, but 10 pounds will probably not be enough. The center of gravity for the belayer is not really an issue, but a lot of weight in a vest is going to be uncomfortable for them.

A more common option is to use a weight bag that is clipped into the belay loop of the belayer's harness.

If you're willing to spend a bit of extra money, there is a the Edelrid Ohm, a device made specifically for this scenario.

  • 2
    The centre of gravity would be an issue if the belayer was lifted up and inverted.
    – user2766
    Dec 6, 2016 at 13:08
  • Another option is a ground anchor or two
    – user2766
    Dec 6, 2016 at 13:09
  • For fear of spamming your post, the video in your link also states that "the german climbing association recommends no more than a 30% weight difference in climbers and belayers"
    – user2766
    Dec 6, 2016 at 13:12
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    Yeah, neither of us are novices, so that's not an issue. I'm just trying to get the best, safest climb possible and I've not lead climbed with anyone this light before. That Ohm device is awesome. I was actually thinking about something to add resistance to the line, and didn't know that there was something already available. That's awesome.
    – Adrian
    Dec 6, 2016 at 14:38
  • @Adrian: another thing that is sometimes suggested is to increase friction by clipping the first draw of a neighbouring route, but that's not really practical (or rather, very impolite) at well-frequented gyms and crags. Dec 6, 2016 at 16:47

While having a belayer that is much lighter than the climber is clearly not ideal, especially on lead, it isn't insurmountable.

A famous climbing couple from days of yore was comprised of Lynn Hill and John Long. Lynn Hill is 110 pounds and while I can't find any exact numbers John is known as a big muscular guy. While they were clearly elite climbers it goes to show you that radically different sizes can be good partners. On a more anecdotal level my first climbing partner was a body builder and I was a fairly scrawny guy. I never asked his weight but I'm sure he outweighed my ~170 lbs by at least 30 to 40 lbs and we never had any problems. Also a more contemporary example would be Ammon McNeely and his girlfriend's second ascent of Wings of Steel. I don't know their weight difference but Ammon is clearly bigger than her and he regularly took massive falls on that route day after vicious day. Ammon is a terrific guy and a world class climber. Kait on the other hand certainly has experience but she isn't nearly at Ammon's level.

According to a write up on the Edelrid Ohm product that Michael also linked to in his answer:

The newest educational standard from the German Alpine Club (Deutsche Alpenverein aka DAV) suggests there should be no more than a 10kg (22 pound) difference between the belayer and climber. This number has been reducing over the years as the DAV continues to study the belay habits of climbers to ensure a safe experience.

For what it’s worth, I weigh less than 120 pounds. In the last 7 years, my main climbing partner, Andreas, has weighed between 160 and 175. This is a +35-48% difference – which is higher than even the old European standards recommend. I can actually tell if he’s gained or lost weight in how it feels to belay him. When he’s on the heavier side of that spectrum, even during a smooth lower, I can be lifted off the ground. Whenever he falls, my feet come off the ground.

These quotes would suggest that my climbing partner was oversized for me per DAV guidelines. We made it work, and people with a really big disparity (48% difference) can make it work too. So I don't think people should dogmatically dismiss a good climbing partner just because a weight disparity exists.

Now that we have that out of the way what can we do when a weight disparity exists?

Increase friction in the system

If you read the review I linked above you can see that the Ohm is basically a device that increases rope drag when the system is loaded. The basic principle at work is the more friction/drag in the system the less upward force is applied on the belayer so the less likely they are to be lifted off the ground. You can also see this technique in climbing gyms that use a round bar as an anchor point that the rope is wrapped around for their top ropes. The more wraps, the more friction in the system and the less force is transmitted to the belayer.

Anecdotally I lead a multi-pitch climb where at the top of one pitch there was so much rope drag (because I didn't use long enough slings) in the system that I had to pull with all my might on the rope in order to get any slack. Luckily by that point in the pitch it was really low angle slab, so it was a pain but not unrecoverable. In any case due to all the rope drag I bet my 4 year old daughter would have been able to hold me if I would have fallen.

Anchor the belayer/belay from an anchor

If we don't want something to go somewhere you anchor it to an immovable object. Depending on the gear you have and the surroundings you can probably find a way to tether the belayer to the ground. Once they're anchored to the ground, or belaying from an anchor, who cares what the weight disparity is as long as they can work the belay device because then their effective weight is orders of magnitude larger than the climber's weight with a proper anchor. Keep in mind too that even if they're too weak to work a tube device there are auto-locking devices like the Grigri.

It is important to keep in mind that these are the default options everyone has when doing multi-pitch climbing, regardless of weight differentials, because the belayer must be anchored while belaying. When doing multi-pitch climbing it is considered a best practice for the leader to belay the second directly from the anchor. Here is one out of a bunch of resources on the internet covering this technique that specifically mentions disparate weights. Directly belaying a leader from an anchor doesn't have as widespread support. Two common concerns are increased forces on the system due to an unyielding anchor, and that anchors aren't typically setup to counteract upward forces. The first complaint in my opinion is mostly valid when your protection is questionable. The second complaint is a bit of a red herring because anchors should be built to handle any forces they may be subjected to. Typically this is a downward pull, but if you are planning to belay off an anchor then you should obviously build an anchor that can support that. Personally I've almost always just belayed off my harness, but I've occasionally belayed a second directly off the anchor, and never belayed a leader directly off an anchor. That being said I've never felt like the situation warranted me belaying a leader directly off an anchor. However, if I felt like the situation warranted this then I'd strongly consider it.

Accept the fact that the belayer may be lifted up and the leader may fall farther with a more gentle catch

Being lifted off the ground as a belayer typically isn't the end of the world if the belayer is on the ball. Some belayers even consider this as part of the fun. Of course there are times when this is dangerous for the belayer and/or the leader. This is a factor you'll have to judge for yourself. Also keep in mind that the person taking the lead fall will experience a more gentle fall because some of the force of the fall is being absorbed by the belayer being lifted off the ground. This will also reduce the forces on your climbing protection.

In my personal experience belaying people who are much heavier than myself I've found what generally happens is I get pulled up a couple feet up in the air, then I lower myself down to the ground, and once my feet are back on terra firma I'm able to lower the other climber. Of course your mileage may vary...

Notice I didn't recommend you make your partner wear weights while climbing. Climbing should be fun for everyone, and having to stand around carrying a bunch of weight, or slug a bunch of lead weights up multiple pitches isn't going to be fun for long.

  • Though ppl have done it in the past, I'm not convinced that it should necessarily be done, especially if a safer alternative is available. The Ohm device was designed to make climbing safer and more enjoyable by both parties when a large weight difference exists, without carrying much extra weights around. And though one could anchor to an immovable object, this would result in a harder fall, though this would be less of an issue with more rope in the system.
    – Adrian
    Dec 7, 2016 at 14:09
  • Sorry Erik, but it sounded like you were suggesting that those of different weights should climb together without any method of counteracting the forces involved, and then cited several ppl who did. I wasn't aware that "belaying directly from the anchor is a best practice on multi-pitch" as I've not attempted that as yet. Thanks for the info.
    – Adrian
    Dec 8, 2016 at 17:38
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    @Adrian I was trying to say that it isn't a deal breaker to have a partner much lighter than you, and here are three broad approaches to handling the difference. I'll try to clarify that in my answer.
    – Erik
    Dec 8, 2016 at 17:41

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