The Swiss Seat – A simple webbing harness for canyoneering


Sometimes it is a good idea to tie a harness from a length of webbing. Canyons in North Wash often only have one or two rappels, so a temporary webbing harness works well there. Sometimes your partner will goof up and forget his harness – good to have a backup plan other than running six miles back to the car. Other times you might need to come up with harnesses for a bunch of kids or something. A Swiss Seat harness can be a good solution for these situations.

The term “Swiss Seat” out there in Googleland covers a wide range of options, some of which are pretty safe, and some which are definitely not. I will present here what I think is the best, safest option, which might better be called a “Tied Harness” or “Improvised Webbing Harness.”

Tied Harness using 20 feet 1" Tubular webbing
Fred wants to go canyoneering, but while he is packing up Friday night, he notices his sweet Golden Retriever Miles chewing on his harness, and that he has been at it for some time. What to do? Thankfully, Fred knows how to tie a pretty decent webbing harness: the Swiss Seat! So he grabs a twenty foot length of 1″ tubular nylon webbing to make a harness for the weekend.

Tie one leg loop, five feet from one end
Fred first finds a spot five feet from one end, makes a loop past that and ties an overhand on a bight, leaving a loop about as big around as his thigh.

Tie a second leg loop six inches further out
Fred ties a second loop for his second leg, leaving about six inches between the two loops.

Step through both loops, and bring to top of thighs
Fred steps into both loops, pulling them up to the top of his thighs. The loops should be fairly snug around the top of the leg, fitting into the notch at the top of the muscle. A snug fit will help them to stay in place, which will make them MUCH easier to wear in the canyons. Fred takes the time to adjust the loop size carefully.

Wrap the long end around your waist many times
Fred next wraps the long end of the webbing snugly around his waist as many times as it will go, whilst leaving a long enough tail to tie a knot somewhere near the front. He starts the wrap by going back over his hip bone.

Wrap short end around and tie with water knot
Fred now wraps the short end around his waist one and a half times, then ties the two ends together using a water knot.

Complete Water Knot and tighten waist snug
Fred tightens up that water knot so his waist is snug, but not painful. He carefully tucks the ends in so they don’t get in the way when he is rappelling.

Put a carabiner through ALL waist strands and the leg loop strand
To complete the Swiss Seat, Fred puts a large locking carabiner through ALL of the waist strands and the strand between the two leg loops. Because Fred made the waist appropriately tight, he has to bend at the waist to get the leg loop strand into the carabiner. Fred will use the carabiner as if it is a belay loop.

Swiss seat harness completely tied
Fred is happy that he now has a pretty reasonable webbing harness to wear for the weekend.

For deluxe version, add a strap to hold up the back
Since Fred is going to use this improvised harness all weekend and wear it for most of the canyons, he chooses to add a bit of webbing to the back of the Swiss Seat to hold the leg loops up in position. Kind of a pain when putting the harness on, but its better than the leg loops dropping down every third step.

There you have it. While it’s not the most comfortable harness and lacks amenities like padding and gear loops, the Swiss Seat makes a pretty good harness from 20 feet of webbing, which you are likely to have in your kit at most times. Let me emphasize that the waist wraps need to be tight. After the first rappel, or getting wet, or even just 15 minutes of walking around, take the time to tighten up the waist wraps and re-tie the knot.

Like all harnesses, the Swiss Seat harness works much better on folks that are height-weight proportionate and have a defined waist. Top-heavy men may need a chest harness to aid with staying upright. Kids will need a lot of help getting and keeping the waist wraps sufficiently tight. Leave at least six inches of tail on the water knot, make sure it is 100% correct, and make sure the carabiner catches ALL of the waist-wrapping strands.

Have fun out there, but be safe too.


About tjones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on Jun 26th, 2012 Improvised Harness  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,


  1. avatar

    I have always looked for the best webbing harness and this is by far my favorite. If a lot more buddies want to come along than I have harnesses, this is my solution. The last step since it’s a water knot, is difficult to keep tight, but it takes a little practice. What do you think about adding a bucket similar, if not identical in function, as those SlipLocks used in harnesses?

    When I get my hands on one, I am going to try the following: Make the initial 5′ about 7′. This way after the short end is wrapped one and a half times around, there’s enough webbing to slide the center of the buckle and make an overhand to lock it in. Then simply weave the long end through just like any harness buckle.

    Until I try it, that overhand might bug the rappeller. The only metal buckles I have found (because I would not use plastic), are a couple made of either light/heavy nickel metal, 1″ wide and the opening is 1/4″ exactly as my BD harness has.

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      Adding a buckle: I think this is a very, VERY BAD IDEA. Buckles are made to work with a very specific webbing and in a very specific application. Without knowing and following exactly what the buckle was designed and tested for, putting it on some piece of webbing is a total crap shoot. Not recommended. Just tie the knot, it’s not that difficult.


  2. avatar
    R.T. Peasant

    What concerns me is that the gold carabiner in your picture could get cross loaded as shown. I’d rather see the strand between the leg loops be a few inches longer, then run the waist strands through that loop, such that there is a single attachment point about which the carabiner freely pivots.

    In reality, it’s probably not a big deal, because everything stetches and realigns when you weight the rig. It becomes a much bigger deal if someone omits the second carabiner when attaching the figure eight, and attaches it directly to the “belay loop” carabiner. I’ve seen this done, and the figure eight has a tendency to catch on the gate of the carabiner, which doesn’t pivot freely.

  3. avatar

    If I wanted one or two “gear loops” on the side could I just tie an overhand on a bite along the side of the waist lengths?

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      You would probably regret it. Putting a knot in, the knot would press against your torso – not good. Try clipping a carabiner to one strand and using that as a gear loop. Tom

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