The world of racing harnesses is a complicated one: Harness prices begin below $100 then climb to and over $700. There are multiple ratings, belt widths, latch mechanisms, attachment methods, and on and on. And that’s all within one brand! Some of these options have simple choices, others are a bit more dependent on your application and personal preferences.
This post is designed as a simple guide to help you navigate the incredibly complicated field of race harnesses to get you in a safe, comfortable harness without blowing your season’s budget.
Question 1: Do I NEED a harness?
This post (And this entire site) Is about Track Days and Racing. If you are participating in a track day (HPDE), in a street car… you do not need a Harness. However, if you want one (whether for added safety or the extra stability they provide when driving) Know that harnesses are part of an entire system, you cannot simply add harnesses to a street car’s factory seat. In short: You also need a Race Seat, Roll Bar with Harness Bar, and HANS device. If that’s too much, carry on with your factory 3-point belts.
If you are participating in any form of Wheel-To-Wheel racing and some forms of Time Trial, a harness is among the multitude of required safety items.
Do certain features make a harness SAFER?
All SFI and FIA rated auto racing harnesses go through a strenuous certification process to ensure that they will perform in scenarios that greatly exceed any job they may need to perform in the real world. Most of the differences with harnesses basically fall into two categories: Application differences, and Comfort/Preference differences. Since race harness designs are a generic solution for countless applications (different cars, seats, positions, drivers, etc) there are several different styles to better meet each application. Beyond that, there are options for comfort/preference that don’t affect safety but typically affect things like ease of adjustment and even color. All racing harnesses are designed to meet safety safety minimums and should offer more than adequate protection in any event, whether they cost $100 or $800. Some people love to argue that “minimum” is a dirty word in motorsports and you should always buy the most expensive gear. They perceive that premium stuff is designed to exceed the minimum more than a budget brand (Which isn’t necessarily true), even if it was, the minimum is chosen carefully to exceed what a harness may be asked to do in the most extreme situations.
Just make sure you are getting genuine products from reputable sellers.
Ratings and Expirations:
SFI vs FIA – Does it Matter?
To get on track with a harness, all organizations require that the harness carries either a SFI or FIA certification. Harnesses are another piece of safety gear that carries an expiration date. Current harnesses are required basically anywhere that a car will be driven in competition. Most HPDE clubs and tracks do not yet require “in-date” harnesses at general track days, allowing expired belts as long as they do not show any signs of wear. This has traditionally been a fantastic way for HPDE drivers to save a lot of money by purchasing “retired” racing belts from racers for pennies on the dollar (My first harness was free, and the second cost me a 6pack of Miller High Life). However, more clubs and tracks are beginning to require currently dated belts, even for HPDE, so this avenue is drying up quickly.
Does it matter if you choose a SFI or FIA? YES!
While there may be material differences in construction and standards between the two ratings, for the standard consumer, the most notable functional difference between SFI and FIA rated belts is their lifetime. SFI belts are rated for TWO years from the date of manufacture, whereas the FIA ratings are good for FIVE years. FIA belts have 2.5x the usable lifetime as SFI. FIA belts are typically a few dollars pricier than similar SFI counterparts, but they do not cost 2.5 times as much.
This is an easy recommendation for me to make: If you are participating in any form of track driving or road racing, Buying FIA rated belts is clearly the best option. The longer life is well worth the extra few dollars you’ll pay upfront.
If it is such a simple argument, WHY are there still so many SFI rated belts around?
SFI ratings are required in most other auto racing in the US (Think Circle Track and Drag Racing) as those orgs don’t recognize the European FIA ratings. In road racing, we’re lucky enough to be able to use the FIA and their 5 year ratings.
What about Rewebbing?
“Rewebbing” has been a popular way to “rejuvenate” old belts. The process essentially means that you send your belts back to the manufacturer, they then reuse your buckles and hardware and install them on fresh belts. The new belts will carry fresh tags and a new expiration date. Rewebbing is not simply inspecting the belts and replacing the tag.
However, Rewebbing is only an option for SFI rated harnesses (as FIA does not allow the practice). Rewebbing is not extraordinarily cost effective for manufacturers. With most budget harnesses, the work (And shipping on both ends) would make the service costlier than simply buying new belts. Few manufacturers still provide this service so don’t count on rewebbing to get better value from SFI belts.
“But SCCA allows belts from 5 years of manufacture, so SFI get 5 years also” -Not Anymore.
Sorry, this is old news, and no longer relevant. SCCA DOES allow belts to be used for 5 years from date of manufacture. However, SFI was not happy about this, so in 2017 they began printing 2 year “expiration” dates on harnesses rather than “born on” dates. This expiration date supersedes the SCCA “5 year” rule, so you’re back to making SFI happy by purchasing belts every two years. (GCR 9.3.18.E.1: “SFI labels, with expiration dates, expire on December 31st of the labeled expiration date“)
Choosing FIA rated belts helps make you life more simple by eliminating a few of the common options:
Camlock vs Latch-Link
FIA does not allow “latch-link” belts, so any harness with Latch-Link will not carry the FIA certification. You can rule them out.
5-point vs 6-point
The Amount of belts: 5-point has a single sub (bottom) belt, 6-point has two. FIA does not allow 5pt (as of 2018) so any 5pt harness will not carry the FIA certification. You can rule them out.
Even ruling out FIA belts, Latch Link, and 5pts… we still have a few other options to consider:
2 or 3 inch SHOULDER belts
One of my beliefs is that a driver wearing a harness must wear a HANS device on track. While all racing requires HANS devices, they remain optional at most HPDE’s for drivers with Harnesses. Don’t want or can’t afford a HANS for HPDE? Then you may continue with factory 3-point belts, as an unrestrained head with harnesses can cause big issues.
The reason I say this: 2 inch shoulder belts are designed to fit much better with HANS devices. I much prefer 2-inch shoulder belts for that reason. Some shoulder belts are now 2″ thick the whole way, others begin with 3″ on the chest and adjusters, then shrink down to 2″ for the shoulders. As long as the shoulders are 2″ I’m okay with it.
2 inch or 3 inch LAP belts
Two Inch lap belts are another “newer” design option. Craig from GForce Racing Gear explained that 3” wide belts had been the standard for so long that when 2” were released, they initially were very unpopular. Not because they were any less safe (they still exceed the rating, and actually fit better and can be safer), but because people just weren’t comfortable with the change. As racers have become more familiar with the idea, their popularity has increased. I personally find them more comfortable and easy to manage, 2-inch lap belts for me.
Lap Belt Adjusters (Pull up/Pull Down/adjuster location)
Lap belt adjusters are the next thing I look for. A 1-driver car typically won’t have much adjusting happening with the lap belts, but cars driven by multiple drivers (especially in endurance racing scenarios) likely see constant adjustment. Even as a lone driver, the ability to adjust lap belts at-will is nice. Standard lap belts are typically very tough to adjust, ESPECIALLY in a very small car like a Miata. The tight spaces mean you’re usually stuck up against the seat or in an otherwise precarious spot that makes working the adjusting mechanisms tough. The #1 feature of premium harnesses that catches my attention are “enduro” style lap belt adjusters. These adjusters are part of the link that goes directly into the camlock, meaning you will pull outwards to tighten, but since the adjuster is directly in the center of the harness, you have no space issues. This is a significant improvement over an adjuster further down the harness that can get caught up against the seat.
If you look around the Spec Miata paddock, the vast majority of cars (especially the big dollar efforts) have either the Schroth Enduro or Safecraft harnesses. I got talked into buying the Safecraft harness when I started racing. While very expensive, I love the comfort and convenience it provides… but I have been dreading it’s expiration (Coming at the end of the 2022 season). Lucky for me, over the past 5 years, there seems to have been a few budget brands putting out harnesses with all the features.
Wrap or click-in fasteners
There are 3 primary ways to install a harness: Wrap, Bolt-In and Clip-In.
These are a bit of a preference call based on your own application. In nearly all applications, your shoulder belts will attach to your harness bar by wrapping. The Lap and Sub belts are installed either via “clip-in” or “bolt in”. Clip-in is preferred as the installed belt is still able to move to an optimal angle vs a bolt-in which tightens and now operates at a fixed angle. Bolt-in ends are much easier to use in tight situations and are still popular in many applications for sub belts. The lap and sub belt mounting points are usually installed by wrapping over these ends, so you can switch between Clip or Bolt-in as-needed.
There you have it, My guide: Which is essentially my own personal criteria for shopping for a harness. Essentially, I created a Wishlist and started shopping for a harness that can give me the features/options I wanted at a price I could stomach. Here’ what I was looking for:
- FIA Rating : (6pt with Camlock Buckle)
- 2″ Shoulder Belts
- 2″ Lap Belts
- Pull Down lap belt adjusters, located ON the harness end clips.
G-Force racing gear’s 3+2 endurance harness has stepped in to provide premium harness features at a reasonable price, and I have already recommended it to many. Priced at or near $300, they’re still one of the cheaper FIA harnesses you can buy. Racequip (855005) also has an option that seems to have the same features as well. Compared to the competition at Schroth and Safecraft over $600: You’re getting the same features for LESS than half the price.
I just ordered a fresh harness for the 2023 season from OG Racing. They have a solid selection of harnesses on their site (and great service to help you choose) but for me, the decision was a no-brainer.
Remember: While injuries are rare, Motorsports is an inherently risky activity. Proceed at your own risk. Read installation and care instructions carefully, and definitely don’t take my advice here over the advice of Harness Producers or other qualified professionals.