Making a tape abseiling harness

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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.

Take the loop around your back, with the two strands on each side of your buttocks

Pull both sides together

Reach below your legs and pull through the lower strand

Use a carabiner to clip the three loops together. Notice the fairly low anchor point

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.

The design of my preferred tape harness laid out on the ground

With the three loops clipped together the harness fits very snuggly. Note the gear loop on the right

Ready to abseil, using a Munter Hitch to provide friction

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.

A properly tied Munter Hitch. It causes limited wear on the rope as there are no static friction points

— Tim Vollmer


8 thoughts on “Making a tape abseiling harness

  1. Pingback: Pantoneys Crown… from afar (a trip to the Red Rocks) | Two Breakfasts

  2. It is a problem that there is a force at 3 different direction on the karabiner.
    You can tie the webbing or use a special biner that is made to stand in such force.

    • The forces involved in abseiling are a fraction of those in climbing, because you don’t (or shouldn’t) take falls, therefore there is no shock loading. Carabiner are strongest along their vertical axis, but they are also very strong horizontally. I would avoid loading across the gate, but you should do that no matter what as it is by far the weakest point.

    • Murray, the forces involved in abseiling are quite minimal compared to other uses. Cross loading reduces the strength of a ‘biner, but that is only an issue if your application includes forces that approach the new breaking strain. If you’re hauling, or taking falls, then obviously the forces are greater. The force imposed by an abseil are just a fraction of that.

  3. I’d say emergency use only. Looking at this setup there is cross loading on the biner – yes the forces are lower than in a lead climbing fall but you can still easily shock load your biner especially if using a static rope. Secondly the rope used (based entirely on it’s size) is unlikely to be rated for static rappels or dynamic strength adequately to be used for anything other than an emergency. Lastly the use of a munter hitch on a biner for abseil is reasonable in many scenarios but it lacks any sort of backup on its own and does not provide any significant resistance if you happen to let go. Yes, a backup is critical and proper equipment doesn’t cost enough to risk your life on a shitty setup no matter how much people try to reason out that the forces are lower than in other scenarios that the equipment is designed for… oh right, this is not purpose built equipment at all… maybe you should consider if the manufacturers of that equipment would recommend their gear be used in that way before slamming commenters who are concerned about the same things that manufacturers actually caution people against doing.

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