After rappelling near waterfalls, or during the rain, the harness often becomes wet and hard to remove -- particularly for inexperienced people.

How can I instruct someone in how to remove the harness, without touching them?

I have heard people, in particular women participants, (reasonably) complain about their personal space and about bodily contact, when someone else has removed their harness for them.

  • 10
    Would it help to recruit female instructors? Apr 16, 2018 at 16:16
  • @SherwoodBotsford: Thats one option!
    – WedaPashi
    Apr 16, 2018 at 16:25
  • 5
    It sounds like a good answer to this won't require touching, but I doubt touching will always be so optional. When you do need to: 1) Do it only when it's necessary/helpful/in the student's best interests. 2) Do it with the student's understanding and permission ("I'm going to touch you on the [x] for [y] reason"). 3) Do it in "public" and in view of others. 4) Avoid certain areas of the body. Climbing organisations should have guidance for coaching and child-protection. You should familiarise yourself with that guidance, regardless of whether you have to touch people.
    – Nathan
    Apr 17, 2018 at 9:41

5 Answers 5


I don't have anything to add for the specific requirement of removing ones harness, the live-demonstration/mirroring recommendations in other answers should do just fine. I want to address a slightly more general point:

[...] without touching them

It should become blatantly clear from what follows (and shouldn't be a debatable point anyway), but to be safe: If anyone does not want to get touched, you don't.

However invading the personal space of your climbing partner is not optional. Before climbing you always do a proper partner check and that involves checking manually that biners are locked, harness sits tight, ... That's even true for top-roping. If we are talking about leading (high first bolts) or bouldering, the need for touch becomes even more blatant due to spotting. If the climbers hip gets above your shoulder height, the point of initial contact in case of a fall is the hip. Is this potentially awkward? Sure. Is it better than falling directly on your tailbone from ~2m? I think so.

The important point is to explain early and clearly why and in what situation it is necessary to touch or get into the others personal space. It needs to be abundantly clear that it is a safety necessity. Then ask individually when the situation comes up. The consequence is, that if someone legitimately feels uncomfortable about it, you either need to get someone else to do the partner check, or in case of spotting, you just can't do the climb. In general if you can't bear your belayer to touch your harness and hold your behind/back/... in case of a fall while spotting, you might want to rethink whether you want those persons to belay you - they do hold your live in their hands when doing that.

  • I see a difference between touching someone to address a (potentially) dangerous situation, and touching them to help them remove some kit. Checking kit is on properly in the first place falls between these 2 positions, assuming touching them (as opposed to getting close but only touching things attached to them) is required.
    – Chris H
    Apr 17, 2018 at 8:42
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    @ChrisH True. My rational is, that checking a belaying biner (not actually touching them, but very sensitive zone) or whether your harness sits tight is (manually) a similar action as (helping to) removing a harness. If there has already been established trust due to the former (safety relevant) actions, I would assume the latter won't be a problem either (still need to ensure it again by asking obviously). The even more general point is, that by having clearly sport/safety specific, mutual reasons for restricted touch, it is often possible to prevent it from ever getting awkward/problematic.
    – imsodin
    Apr 17, 2018 at 8:52
  • My pre-climb safety check does not involve touching my partner. Rather, my partner demonstrates that the harness is tight, the biner is locked and the rope is properly tied. As for spotting, if my partner doesn't want a spot, then I don't spot them. They can do what they want.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 17, 2018 at 16:29
  • @StrongBad I do preach water and drink wine with long-time climbing partners myself too, but there is a reason for actually testing yourself: The steps are just smaller from letting the other do the check supervised, to asking whether they checked, to just assuming they checked. Accidents that could have been prevented by proper partner checks sadly do happen too often. As for do what they want: Besides the obvious that you have a problem too if they are injured, that's also an attitude thing: For me climbing is a partner activity, I want to be on the same page with them.
    – imsodin
    Apr 17, 2018 at 18:13
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    @StrongBad You're talking about experienced people. The situation in question is inexperienced people. Apr 18, 2018 at 4:02

Been there, done that, it's far more worrisome when you have to show them how to put the harness on and then have them test that it's tight enough. And like you said, you really don't want to touch them.

The simple solutions is to show them how you take your harness off, and have them mirror your actions and go through the steps slowly. I will point to what they need to do, or if they have someone else with them, who they are more comfortable with like a sibling or parent, have them assist the person.

  • 5
    The safety demonstration from aircraft cabins, while somewhat comical, is still effective in such situations.
    – Adnan Y
    Apr 16, 2018 at 23:30

It is not really about instructing people how to take the harness off, but rather about respecting the personal space of clients. I suggest having an instructor demonstrate the steps to take off the harness when the harness is put on and again when the client is about to remove the harness. This requires having a spare harness, but just like on the airplane, the instructor probably does not need to be wearing the harness and instead only needs to show the steps. After demonstrating how to remove the harness, the instructor can then tell clients that if they are having problems, they can ask for help from either a friend or the instructor.

If the instructor is asked to help, he should explain the steps again and where he is going to touch the individual and then confirm that the client is okay with that. For sit harnesses, the touching should be limited to the waist as most harnesses allow people to step out of the leg loops without loosening them. For chest harnesses, there may be a buckle at the sternum strap, but most I have seen have either a carabiner or a rope, neither of which should involve physical contact.


It would take more time but when they are dry at the top have them remove the harness on their own for practice. Tell them when they get to the bottom they should remove the harness when given the signal to do so. If they need help an instructor is also at the bottom.


When you see them struggling ask for permission to help before touching.

While helping try and maintain a professional distance away. There is a big difference between getting up close and personal to fiddle with the buckles and doing it at 3/4 armlengths away. When handling the buckles around the waist and legs you can squat down which is less invading than bending over.

When you need to check the harnesses limit the actual touching to the tie off points on it. Emphasize in advance why it is important that the harness is checked properly, maybe with a bit of a horror story of what could happen if it's not properly fitted.

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