Sentimental attachment


We all become sentimentally attached to things that share our adventures: boots, jeans, rucsacs, T-shirts etc. But there is one sentimental attachment that could be fatal.


If there is any obvious damage to stitching, replace the harness. Simple. But gradual signs of ageing are harder to read. How fluffy is too fluffy? If in doubt, replace it. But that doesn’t mean simply chuck it out. There may still be another life in the old dog. Click image to enlarge.

The warning that came with my Black Diamond Aspect harness is typical:
“LIFESPAN, INSPECTION AND RETIREMENT: The lifespan of your harness depends on how frequently you use it and on the conditions of use. With occasional use and proper care, the lifespan of a harness is 5-8 years. With frequent use and proper care, the lifespan is 2-5 years”.

Black Diamond and C.A.M.P. both say “The maximum shelf life is 10 years from the date of manufacture.” The warning with my DMM Alpine states “5 years from first use, 10 years from manufacture, whichever comes first” They also say: “It is possible to reduce the lifespan to ONE USE in exceptional circumstances”.


Cascade de Brucholey WI5+ Not the sort of place you want to start thinking about the BEST BEFORE date of your harness. Click image to enlarge.

Guides, instructors, centres and climbing walls should keep accurate records about equipment. I suspect that most of the rest of us, who only climb for fun, don’t. We might think we know how long we’ve had a piece of kit – but memory can be deceptive and doesn’t improve with age  (………what was I saying?).


1997 on the Matterhorn. That bright orange Petzl Gourou harness clashes nicely with the green Buffalo and blue Windstopper gloves. (Aviator glasses were all the rage in 1997 – no really, they were). Click image to enlarge.

I used my orange Petzl Gourou harness well beyond its recommended retirement age. This wasn’t because I have a cavalier attitude to safety – far from it. Nor that I was too mean to buy a new one – after all, harnesses are inexpensive and life is priceless. I just didn’t realise quite how long I’d had it and maybe I was a little reluctant to part with an old friend.


Rimpfischorn 2010 ski mountaineering. Older and wiser? It would be nice to think so. How time flies when you’re having fun. Some of the colour has faded but that orange harness looks familiar. Click image to enlarge

 I’d worn this harness on numerous mountaineering, rock climbing, and ice climbing trips on three different continents. It had been a faithful companion as far afield as the Alps, the Peak District, Yosemite and the Cuillin.

The Cuillin Ridge 2010. That rock Gourou is well past retirement age – no, not the rock Gourou in the middle, the other one. The UV faded, rain sodden, orange Petzl Gourou on the right. Taff, Twid and Nigel in the rain. Click image to enlarge.

I shudder to think of the intense UV that webbing had absorbed at high altitude on Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and whilst skinning up numerous sun scorched alpine glaciers while ski touring.

UV rays knacker nylon. Just look at the faded abseil tat that we cut loose and replace after just one season. How many seasons had that harness been soaking up the rays and the rain? Many more than the manufacturer recommended, that’s for sure.


When you start taking a good harness apart you realise just how phenomenally strong and well made they are. You will need a sharp knife to cut through the very tough bar tack stitches. Click image to enlarge.

Hardware (belay devices, rocks, karabiners etc) can last for years. But software (harnesses, slings, etc) that connect us and our ropes to the hardware, is more readily damaged by abrasion, liquids and sunlight.

If you’ve ever watched DMM breaking gear on their test rig at the Outdoor Show, or the BMC Safety Officer destroying slightly fluffy slings at Kendal Mountain Festival, you’ll know what I mean.


All harnesses are made of strong webbing which may, or may not be partially covered with padding around the waist. Cut through the stitching carefully to remove the waist belt and trim to the length you need with an old, hot knife. Click image to enlarge.

Some say old harnesses should be cut up to put them beyond use but that seems wasteful. I wouldn’t want to take a leader fall, or abseil into the void dangling from that faded, fluffy belay loop again, but I’m sure the waist belt will safely hold my jeans up for many years to come.


Cut one of the buckles free. Fold over a suitable amount of spare webbing, thread the belt through the buckle’s centre bar, fold over and stitch. Allow plenty of extra in the fold, that way, if the belt eventually starts to fray at the other end, you can unpick the stitching, move the fold and restitch. Click image to enlarge.

With needle and thread, plus a little imagination, repurposing kit for non-critical roles is easy. It costs nothing and keeps it out of landfill. Now I know that there is a long and happy afterlife for old harnesses, I’ll be to sure to retire them earlier in future.


Funky colour and bomber belt to hold your jeans up. If your hotel catches fire you could always double the belt back through the buckle and use it to abseil out the window! Click image to enlarge.

Tell us about your “repurposing” tips in the comments section below this post, or via the KragRags Facebook page. The best story could win you a FREE KragRags 100% organic cotton T-shirt – which will last for years. And because our T-shirts are ethically made, using eco-friendly materials and renewable energy (wind and solar), it won’t cost us the Earth.

KragRags is a family run business dedicated to making ethically produced clothes for climbers. When we’re not out climbing, we’re busy creating comfortable, high quality, eco-friendly clothing, from 100% organic cotton, using green renewable energy, ethical Fair Wear employment and ecologically friendly farming and manufacturing practices. Click these links to see our unique designs for men and women.


One thought on “Sentimental attachment

  1. Pingback: Hanging by a thread | kragrags

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