Safety Alert from the UIAA: Canyoning Harnesses

March 30, 2020

Safety Alert from the UIAA: Canyoning Harnesses

This safety alert concerns any harness that is used for canyoning.

UIAA Logo - Safety Alert

 Safety Alert


A new canyoning season will soon begin. Now is a good time to prepare and inspect your gear, but BE CAREFUL! Following multiple incidents, fortunately without serious consequences, the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) issued a safety alert concerning the risk of failure, under low loads, of harnesses used for canyoning.

ENSA, an independent laboratory, did pull tests to assess attachment point and waistbelt strength on used harnesses collected from canyoning professionals: 48 harnesses which had recently been retired after one to twenty years of use.

Some harnesses, after three to four years of use, exhibited a strength of only 10% of the rated value. The aging of harnesses used for canyoning is greatly accelerated by the harsh environment of the canyons and/or the conditions of use, drying and storage.

This letter is a reminder of the recommendations already specified in the Instructions for Use for harnesses used for canyoning:

  • The manufacturers’ recommendations regarding frequency of inspection and retirement criteria (instructions, websites) must be carefully followed. For those who feel the need, most manufacturers offer training in PPE inspection.
  • This equipment MUST NOT be dried by exposing it to high temperatures (placed directly on a heat source, such as a car hood in direct sunlight).
  • It is recommended to use a dehumidifier, or at the very least to dry this equipment slowly in a dark, well-ventilated area.
  • Follow the manufacturers' recommendations on the wear state of equipment. A harness that has nicked or frayed straps (leg loops, waistbelt, attachment point), or a rusty or deformed adjustment buckle MUST be retired.
  • The effect of water exposure is likely, but not yet demonstrated. It is therefore necessary to respect the lifetimes recommended by the manufacturer.

Petzl’s responses to questions:

  • Are Petzl harnesses affected by this safety alert?

    Any harness used for a canyoning activity, regardless of the manufacturer, is affected by this safety alert. This alert reports on two different aging phenomena which do not affect all harnesses in the same way:
    • A well-known phenomenon that affects all manufacturers. In canyoning use, harnesses lose strength over time due to abrasion of the textile straps. This can be dangerous if the user continues to use it beyond the manufacturer’s recommended point of retirement. Harnesses from all manufacturers are affected by this phenomenon.
    • A new phenomenon, unknown until recently, which according to the ENSA study affects some manufacturers. In canyoning use, the harnesses affected by this phenomenon can lose up to 90% of their strength in just a few years, while visually the wear state of the straps remain in compliance with manufacturer recommendations. To our knowledge, no Petzl harness has thus far been affected by this new phenomenon.
  • Have any Petzl harnesses failed under a low load in canyoning use?

    To date, we have been informed of only one case of attachment point failure of a Petzl harness under a low load (CANYON C86). The cause of this failure was extreme abrasion of the attachment point by a quick link and extensive use beyond the recommended point of retirement. Indeed, at the time the attachment point failed, this harness had undergone eight years of use in very intense canyoning (use by a canyoning instructor): the attachment point’s tubular protective sleeve had been worn through and destroyed by the fifth year of use. The customer continued to use the harness for an additional three years, when he should have retired it at the first sign of wear on the attachment point’s tubular protective sleeve.
  • When should you stop using your Petzl harness used for canyoning?

    Before each canyoning trip, you must inspect the following four points of your harness, according to the criteria indicated in its inspection sheet:
    • Check the webbing at the attachment point, at the adjustment buckles and at the safety stitching.
    • Check the wear state of the harness attachment point.
    • Look for cuts, wear, swelling and damage due to use, to heat, and to contact with chemicals.
    • Verify that the adjustment buckles operate properly.

    During training and peak season canyoning activity, some harnesses may be used several times a day. In this context, we recommend that you carry out a detailed inspection of your harness every two weeks. For this inspection, refer to the criteria indicated in its inspection sheet. You must record the result of this inspection in the PPE inspection record.

    You must destroy and dispose of your Petzl harness when:

    • It does not meet the criteria indicated in its inspection sheet.
    • It is more than 10 years old.
    • It has been subjected to a major fall or load.
    • You have any doubt as to its reliability.
    • You do not know its full usage history.
    • It becomes obsolete due to changes in legislation, standards, technique, or incompatibility with other equipment.

WARNING: do not forget to destroy your harness before disposing of it, in order to make it unusable. Cut the attachment point straps, for example.

    • What special precautions should I take when using Petzl CANYON harnesses?

      Before each canyoning trip, you must inspect the following four points of your harness:

      1- The wear state of the harness attachment point.
      2- The wear state of the straps.
      3- The wear state of the safety stitching.
      4- The proper functioning of the adjustment buckles.

      To carry out the inspection, a CANYON harness inspection sheet indicating the various criteria is available.

      A detailed inspection of your canyoning harness must be carried out every two weeks.
      During training situations and peak season activity, some harnesses may be used several times a day.
      • To help you carry out the inspection, see all the criteria in the CANYON harness inspection sheet.
      • We strongly recommend that you record the result of these inspections on the PPE inspection record sheet.

      No other special precautions are necessary.

  • What is Petzl’s position on adding an auxiliary tie-in loop to Petzl CANYON harnesses?

    When all harness control points have been checked in accordance with the Instructions for Use, no Petzl canyoning harness has ever broken under the load of a user. This is why we do not recommend having an additional tie-in loop to secure the main harness tie-in point.

    As mentioned in the Instructions for Use, we remind you that any modification of PPE is prohibited. However, we know that auxiliary tie-in loops are added to canyoning harnesses in the field. If you do so, it is your responsibility to identify and assume the new risks brought about by the modification of the harness.

    Here are some examples of new risks:
    • The knot of the loop may be poorly made or ill-suited. Please note that Dyneema™ cord manufacturers recommend a triple fisherman’s knot.
    • The knot of the loop may loosen with use.
    • Main harness strap wear may accelerate due to friction with the additional loop.
    • The connection may inadvertently be made only to the additional loop, without connecting to the main harness attachment point.
    • Other unforeseen potential risks...

Petzl canyoning harness