The Art of Thinking Safely

the correct way to girth hitch

Gideon Geerling is back to have you really thinking about how you think about your safety. 

Have you thought about what you do and why you do things when operating within high-consequence environments? Or do you accept that you were shown by someone with more knowledge thus, it must be, right?

Without going down the ‘Rabbit hole’ of Heuristics* and getting overwhelmed, consider this as an example: When attaching your personal safety lanyard to your harness, where do you put it, and how do you attach it? Or is it just done the way you were shown, and you accept this as ok?
Most personal safety lanyards these days are made of Dyneema™ AKA Spectra, with or without a nylon component to it, giving it the colour.
Spectra, as we know, is a phenomenally strong and somewhat static entity, far more than Nylon. And how we choose to attach the sling/PS to our harness needs some consideration.

Q: For example, if you choose to ‘Girth hitch’ your sling in parallel to your belay loop, which seems the common way for novices who are using these PS, what will happen to the nylon in this area over time by the weighting and un-weighting of your harness onto your PS?

A: You have a static sling under tension with a higher strength than the surrounding nylon harness. What is this doing to the nylon areas of your belay and distribution loop? The short answer is; abrading this area a little at a time. Over time this weakens the focal point of the whole harness.

What then? If you ‘Girth hitch’ the sling directly onto the belay loop so that under tension and without tension, the sling is moving less and thus rubbing less over the nylon. As well the belay loop, are multiple layers of nylon designed for abrasion over time.

Or… re-loop the personal safety parallel to the belay loop but isolate it with an overhand, creating a closed static loop that will not expand and contract when loaded over time.
Taking this example into consideration factor the following into what you’re doing out there: All these options factor the following; Knowledge of the mechanisms and materials and consequences of how they interact.

To summarise:
· Do you know what you’re doing?
· Is it safe?
· Do you know WHY you’re doing it that way?
· Does/Will it work?!

If you're struggling with these basic qualifiers, talk to others, stop and re-think things (there is always time), ask for help or seek more comprehensive training, and DO NOT accept without asking WHY?!


Gideon Geerling is a general outdoor and mountain bad-ass. He also loves to share his knowledge and passion for the outdoors.

He is an active member of the NZ Mountain Guides and Outdoor Instructors Associations respectively. Gideon is a NZMGA Alpine Trekking Guide and NZOIA Alpine 2, Bush 2 and Rock 1 Instructor.

Instagram: @g.geerling


Here's another Gideon blog you might like too: Backcountry Adventures and Technology. 



1 comment

  • Yann

    Hi guys :)
    Thanks for the article, it’s good to see some content out.

    Though, not really accurate.
    The reason a girth hitch to a belay loop has little to do with it damaging the belay loop from pressure but from creating more friction on the lower tie in point, potentially damaging it quicker. Girth hitching the belay loop allows for easy inspection and the ability to move the point of contact to spread the wear over time.

    The significant downside from girth hitching tie in point is the friction created by the cinching of the hitch when loaded, also bringing the harness together in a weird way. A lot of pas now have an extra loop allowing the pas to be threaded in a static way to the tie in points, avoiding this problem.

    The photos on the article also show a Petzl Sitta, its belay loop is made of dyneema, not nylon.

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