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Whether you are canyoning or simply bushwalking, the ability to make a tape harness is not only useful, but it can get you out of some pretty sticky situations. While I’ve used this technique in canyons (generally when taking several beginners so I have run out of harnesses) and it has performed surprisingly well, where it comes into its own is when doing off-track or pass finding trips where I always take one with a carabiner and length of 6mm rope.
There are two simple and effective designs that I have used. For the first, take about 3 to 4 metres of tape (depending on the size of the people who will be using it) and tie it into a loop using a tape knot (basically just an overhand knot tied with flat tape). Before tying the knot, hold the two ends together and roughly try it on to work out what length is required rather than having to tie and retie knots several times.
Take the loop around your back, pulling both ends to the front. The top strand of the loop should run above your hips, while the second needs to be below your buttocks. Holding the two sides together, reach between your legs and pull forward the lower strand. Use a carabiner to clip the three loops together.
The next option, which is my preferred technique (this design actually came to me in a dream a few days after I had been thinking about the topic) provides a slightly higher anchor point on your body, which makes abseiling easier, especially when wearing a pack. It also feels more secure on your legs which is reassuring if you are being belayed.
You will need a slightly longer length of tape to allow for a couple extra knots. Starting at one end, come in about 50cms, then create the first leg loop. You want it to fit fairly snuggly, but remember to include a little extra length to allow for clothing (or wetsuits) as well as the length that will be taken up by the tape knot.
From here move another 20cms or so, then make the second leg loop, as close to the same size as the first one as possible. From here you need to allow enough tape to continue around your back, then tie it off to the first end to complete. Always leave 20cm tails for safety (which can also have a second knot tied in them to create a handy gear loop).
To put the harness on, place your legs through the big loop, then into their relevant leg loop. Pull it up so the big loop sits above your hips, then clip your carabiner through the strands on each side of the leg loops as well as the strand between them. Once clipped together the harness should fit snugly and will remain on while walking, if correctly fitted.
To abseil on either of these harnesses you can either take a light weight descender (ATC type devices are probably best for this) or you can use a Munter Hitch, which is my preference. While this technique works best with single ropes, it is possible to use it on doubled ropes. In this setup it works better on thinner sizes (works fine on 9mm in a canyon, but is perfect on my 6mm bushwalking rope).
This knot is also good for belaying, with the entire rig perfect for setting up a top belay to provide additional safety to a group when doing a particularly exposed or difficult climbs.
– Tim Vollmer