I have an Arcteryx 'alpine' harness - guessing ten years plus old. Average usage in UK summer and winter, plus at wall these past few years. I think it had a date on it but its faded.
Last week at the wall a friend was 'pulled up' by staff for using a harness that they identified as more than 10 years old.
Should I be getting a new one?
Climbing soft goods often have a manufacturer's stated shelf life of 10 years (this means unused stored in a dry and dark place). Most resources will tell you to replace climbing soft goods (including helmets and nylon slings) every five years of use, quicker if used more intensively.
I'd say replace it but it is a bit of a personal judgement thing as these stated lifespans are erring on the safe side. But if it is already 10 years old and you have been using it for a couple of years already, both in the gym and outside... I would retire it.
It's up to you.
Mine's nearly twenty, and I'm still using it, it get a thorough looking over quite often and can see no signs of wear.
I did get a replacement, because after a year off, it seemed to have shrunk a little. It's fine now though as I've lost a bit of timber.
Although yes there is an arbitrary 10 year age limit, very relevant for commercial use.
IMHO as important -- arguably more important is the condition at the wear/rub points. I think a meticulous inspection is a better determiner.
> Last week at the wall a friend was 'pulled up' by staff for using a harness that they identified as more than 10 years old.
Did this wall also sell harnesses?
My indoor one is about 16 years old; no major wear where it matters so intend to keep using it.
Probably goes against the grain of this thread but I tend to replace safety critical equipment every 5 years. Harnesses, helmets, ropes etc.
£100 harness, £20 a year. My spine is definitely worth more than £20 a year.
> Did this wall also sell harnesses?
Probably the ten years is from someone who loves reading rules and regulations deciding that 10 years is a limit for "insurance reasons" and to comply with "elf and safety" etc.
Is your spine at any greater risk for £10 a year though?
Genuinely interested, not trying to be antagonistic; are there any documented cases of harnesses catastrophically failing through wear and tear (other than Todd Skinner's)?
Let's try to be logical and scientific. If the shelf life is 10 years, then the harness should not be in a dangerous condition after 10 years. There can't be an immediate requirement to retire it then. There must be plenty of contingency in the manufacturer's recommendation.
So, when do you retire it, if ever? Unless it gets damaged, there will never be a time when it must be replaced.
On the other hand, if you never retire it then there may be a risk that it will eventually fail.
The actual risk is probably impossible to compute.
The approach you take is perhaps a personal choice.
Finally, and less scientifically:
You do, of course, also have to consider your climbing partners. If an ancient harness fails and they get seriously injured, how would you feel?
Like I always say, if it looks fine, it is fine.
These things are not designed to wear in an invisible, dangerous way.
> Is your spine at any greater risk for £10 a year though?
> Genuinely interested, not trying to be antagonistic; are there any documented cases of harnesses catastrophically failing through wear and tear (other than Todd Skinner's)?
Manufacturers have recommended time frames for most things, it's normally based on testing and understanding the materials and use of the item. It could be they have picked an arbitrary number but more likely there will be a good reason, especially with ppe.
I tend to replace them far sooner than 10 years because they get visibly worn well before that.
> Manufacturers have recommended time frames for most things, it's normally based on testing and understanding the materials and use of the item. It could be they have picked an arbitrary number but more likely there will be a good reason, especially with ppe.
Actually it is arbitrary, there is no lower value in the strength requirements saying when equipment must be retired so the manufacturers guess what this is.
Just because there is no actual lower value in the strength requirement (though I find that hard to believe) I'm sure the "guess" is based on testing and evidence, maybe with a side order of commercial viability.
Maybe they just test their stuff for up to a decade after manufacture and know it’s still safe at that point, but have no data for >10 years so just recommend it’s replaced after that?
It’s all a bit arbitrary though isn’t it? Pretty I’d feel safer in a lightly used 15 year old harness, that has been stored well, rather than one half that age that has been used outside every day of its life…
It's due to the way the standards were historically developed, the principle being if it holds XkN new then it probably won't break later.
Nowadays we (manufacturers) have to give a lifespan and how to check if the equipment is no longer safe. No information on this is given in the standatd so it's an abitrary decision, if a new nut is permitted to be 4kN then why should a sling be condemned at 16kN? If on the other hand if a minimum strength was given there is no justification for the higher original strength requirement, the system is imperfect but that's the way it is.
Consequences and comfort are as important as age and best by dates, I bought a troll waist belt back in 1970s (after spending some years tieing in directly to the rope...) Whilst graduating via a couple of Whillans sit harnesses and later a full Troll harness, I'd seen a pal loose a large part of their lead rack into the sea when the gear loops failed while on the sharp end (and experienced something similar myself). Gear loops may not be part of the CE rating but hey, they are critical whilst leading, and those events were well within a 10 year lifespan. On its own that seems a good reason to replace your harness but developments in harness design significantly improve both comfort and ease of use and those are equally good reasons for a change. Since buying a new harness a couple of years ago to replace my 15y old Troll I've really noticed the difference each time I've put it on - and that provides the boost to keep up with the fun.
Is there not any research into different fabric materials aging and their strength properties, to go beyond 'probably won't break later'?
A retired relative used to work in engineering (primarily metals - metal fatigue, then rubber and carbon fibre to extend the software's application), and I get the impression there's all kinds of research and related knowledge available.
As far as I know there definitely is. Polyamide (which is the most common synthetic textile used in climbing soft goods) does become stiffer and more breakable over time.
Here it gets tricky, because most of that degradation comes from exposure to the sun and elements. So there is some merit to "I'd rather climb in a well-stored brand new 15-year old harness than a used daily year-old harness". But it is also why I would replace a 15-year old one that has been used regularly, both inside and out.
> Is there not any research into different fabric materials aging and their strength properties, to go beyond 'probably won't break later'?
> A retired relative used to work in engineering (primarily metals - metal fatigue, then rubber and carbon fibre to extend the software's application), and I get the impression there's all kinds of research and related knowledge available.
Of course there is, just look at the ageing requirements for car seat belt material for example compared with climbing tape (there are none). It still requires the entire standards system is changed to reflect a minimum allowed strength as opposed to the current system and climbers probably wouldn't be happy with the results since slings etc would almost inevitably become considerably thicker, stiffer, more expensive and less interesting colours.
Never heard of wall staff offering to police your personal PPE. Got that to look forward to when they see the old tube stitch plate, old tatty lead rope, and pair of shoes with no toes in. The latter is possibly the most critical in falling off or staying on?
If you fancy shopping, why not buy a new one.
If you doubt the integrity of the gear, replace it.
If being over 10years old inhibits your use, replace it.
If it impacts you partners, replace it
If you feel ethically about climbing shops keeping going, use them more.
If your waist belt smells of old repeated fear and attracts the local crag dogs so they eat your sandwiches etc etc
In short. If you're happy and you know it, keep going.
> Never heard of wall staff offering to police your personal PPE....
Happened to me at Warwick Uni wall a few years ago.
Wet behind the ears child said I should get a new harness because he didn't recognise the one I was wearing so said it had to be old. He also said "Isn't your life worth £30 ?" - I told him I wouldn't touch a harness that was as cheap as that with a barge pole.
Trouble with paying peanuts to wall staff - you get a number of monkeys doing the job.
> Happened to me at Warwick Uni wall a few years ago.
Warwick seem to be particularly excited about old harnesses.
The lifespan of the equipment needs to be defined by the manufacturer for all items of PPE. Manufacturers have generally decided, after a few different iterations*, that for soft goods, defining a maximum lifespan from the date of manufacture is the simplest way to do this. They then caveat it with words about inspection/heavy use etc. This is very relevant for professionals, as they are legally obliged to retire gear, but less relevant for the casual user, i.e. us, as we have no legal obligation and can use our eyes/knowledge of the usage to make a reasoned assessment.
Soft goods are a bit of dark art. Quite a lot of the testing has shown they are stronger and more resilient than we think** but poorly maintained soft goods are the weakest link in the system imho.
*number of years from purchase, number of years from first use etc.
> The lifespan of the equipment needs to be defined by the manufacturer for all items of PPE...
No problem with that, although aren't the people making the final decision in reality NOT technicians, but the Lawyers for the Insurance companies - who will always edge far beyond the true technical truth to ensure there's never any payouts.
(For info - I always checked my harness [and indeed everything else] each time I put it on, including gear loops - looking forward to being able to get out again).
> Warwick seem to be particularly excited about old harnesses.
Wish they were as diligent checking the tapes connecting to the ground belays - they always looked a bit rough.
I've known of a couple of walls pulling people up. One I witnessed said they weren't happy letting them use the harness they had but lent them a rental for freesies, which seemed like a nice compromise. I'm not sure how this would fly if it was a regular user who refused to get a new harness.
With litigation how it is, the walls have to cover themselves as best they can. If they let a 30 year old harness crack on and the belay loop snaps, resulting in a climber decking (it's all well and good saying YOU are happy with your grotty old harness but you are only 50% of the party at risk as well), there's a good chance someone will be asking questions of them after the inquest. Short of stopping someone climbing in an old harness, what can they do to cover themselves? Get the owners to sign a disclaimer? Probably even more annoying and don't tend to stand up in court for that kind of thing. I've heard of someone successfully suing an instructor when they degloved themselves, even though they said in front of everyone there that they understood and accepted the risk. The wall/instructor are the boss/expert and should act in the punters interest, regardless of what they say/think.
If a harness within the manufacturer's declared lifetime fails then it falls at the manufacturers door. If it's after that then who ya gonna sue?
> If a harness within the manufacturer's declared lifetime fails then it falls at the manufacturers door. If it's after that then who ya gonna sue?
Why do you need to sue anyone?
From the manufacturers I've spoken to, they made the decision. It has come up a couple of times recently at the TC136/WG5* and UIAA Safety Commission Plenary meetings so the national delegates discuss it as well.
It's not all nefarious megacorps sucking the soul out of life you know!
*This is the committee that rights the EU standards for climbing gear.
Because it's 2021, not the 1950s. That's what we do now, attribute blame.
I expect it is safe, you don't hear of many harness failure accidents. On the other hand, if you wait until there are visible signs of deterioration then that might be too late, ten years out of a harness seems good value for money.
I normally buy myself a new harness and helmet after 10 years and pass my old ones down to my kids.
Thing that I wonder though is if walls start to pick people up on their gear, does that now mean that they now have responsibility for making sure everyone's PPE is safe?
If one person gets pulled up for an old harness one week, then someone else has an accident as they used a 20 year old harness or a core shot rope the next week, does that not suggest that the staff have failed in their responsibility to pick up on the victim of the accidents gear too?
If I'm honest I'm playing devils advocate here - I don't think that, but some keen lawyer somewhere might try to argue it. And because of that, if operated a wall I'd draw a clear line in the sand - the centre is responsible for its own equipment, climbers for anything they have provided.
Mind you there's one particular 90's harness I would ban - I think I saw it a the start of a 90's climbing documentary and the buckle snapped on it? Does anyone know the name of that documentary or can find it online?
It had Sylvester Stallone in it, being chased round some mountains by John Lithgow...
Exactly, I've explained this often enough but the UKC echo chamber likes to blame mega-corp inc/EU/Bill Gates etc.
> Mind you there's one particular 90's harness I would ban
Put me off BD harnesses forever!
> I normally buy myself a new harness and helmet after 10 years and pass my old ones down to my kids.
If they're no longer safe for YOU to wear, how can they be safe for anyone else ??
I assumed it was a joke.
> Because it's 2021, not the 1950s. That's what we do now, attribute blame.
Some people might, I think I'm responsible for my own decisions, I wouldn't expect to sue anyone if my 20 year old harness failed, in fact it wouldn't enter my head to even try.
Maybe this is what's wrong, not how old your harness is, but your attitude!
> I normally buy myself a new harness and helmet after 10 years and pass my old ones down to my kids.
yeah! let them take the risk!!
To be fair, I've done the same, not because I dislike my kids, because I'm pretty certain the gear is good.
I wasn't suggesting that is my attitude or that that attitude is correct by the way but it's definitely something businesses these days have to be vary wary of. I've worked at a wall and there was at least one on-going litigation case that was obviously no fault of the wall. Not everyone climbing is so pragmatic.
Imagine someone pretty new to climbing takes their mate to the wall and lends them some shonky harness they bought on facebook marketplace (you often see WELL OLD kit getting flogged with no information from the seller. I always make a point to flag the age or wear in the comments to any potential buyers and I'd recommend anyone else do the same). This person doesn't know what's going on and could feel rightly let down if they ended up getting hurt. Yes the blame should mostly fall at the door of their mate but you'd at least expect the wall to have a word.
Same as if they saw someone belaying dodgy. Yes, it's that individuals fault but the wall has at least some responsibility in highlighting safety concerns.
Less experienced and non-climbing parents do like to try and blame the wall/staff/instructors/setters if they can. It deflects from their own inadequacies.
> If they're no longer safe for YOU to wear, how can they be safe for anyone else ??
Well my kids don't weigh as much as me so the forces will be lower.
You're probably right.
The comparison with dodgy belaying isn't quite the same. Walls will ask questions and give users a bit of a test before they'll allow them to do independent roped climbing, so people belaying have already have some kind of informal validation from the staff that they are competent enough to do so.
If someone's belaying is then found to be suspect, somebody could argue that perhaps the walls vetting isn't tight enough and so it's unsurprising they'll take issue with bad practice when they see it.
However staff do not check over personal kit before they say it's ok for people to go ahead and use it, so it's really not on them whatsoever if something fails as it's too old or worn.
> However staff do not check over personal kit before they say it's ok for people to go ahead and use it, so it's really not on them whatsoever if something fails as it's too old or worn.
And, a new harness could be more unsafe than an old one, depending on how it's been used / stored.
expecting staff to inspect gear would be opening them up to all sorts of issues.