2011 Gear Guide: Harnesses
Ultralight harnesses that don’t sacrifice (much) comfortYour climbing rope is your lifeline, but your harness needs to provide just as much confidence as that thin cord when you’re 70 feet off the ground. So beefier is better, right? Not necessarily. To determine just how minimalist you could go and still feel confident and comfortable in a harness, we abused various ultralights in the gym, on many sport and trad pitches, and even on some ice. Featherweights are fantastic for when those ounces count—extra padding is stripped away, replaced with lightweight foam or mesh, and buckles and straps are slimmed down, leaving these rigs at 12 ounces or less (size medium), compared with about 16 ounces for the average all-around harness. Most have fewer or thinner gear loops, so we don’t recommend these for hauling a lot of pro. We preferred them for sport climbing, but they’d be great for minimalist alpine climbs as well.
CAMP AIR CR
The second-lightest harness in our review, the CAMP Air CR weighs in at only 9.5 oz., and is designed for sport climbing and stripped-down alpine and ice climbing—any place where minimalist gear is appropriate. CAMP’s edge-load construction girds 2mm perforated EVA foam with a thin strip of weight-bearing webbing; the foam is lined with soft polyester mesh on the inside and more durable nylon mesh on the outside. An upgrade for 2011 is adjustable leg loops, which is a plus for women and mountaineers, who tend to need more room in the legs. Both waist and leg loops have pre-threaded buckles. The elastic straps connecting the leg loops and waist are very thin, and they aren’t detachable while wearing the harness; you’ll need fingernails of steel or a pen or awl to adjust these straps. Women who wear their harnesses higher on the waist may not be able to dial fit very well due to this harness’ low profile. And though most testers lauded a comfortable fit, one complained the harness was “uncomfortable when hanging due to not much padding” and that it rode up uncomfortably, causing pressure in personal places. Testers’ biggest grievance was the Air CR’s secondary gear loops, which, unlike the front loops, aren’t encased in plastic molding. They were “too short and not stiff enough to clip gear easily,” “catch easily on carabiner notches,” and “sometimes got lost amid a fold in my sweatshirt.” Still, if you’re on a redpoint attempt on the sport proj or trekking up a glacier, this harness is so light it could be just the ticket.
WILD COUNTRY ELITE ULTRALITE
This harness proves you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to minimize weight. Designers of the Elite Ultralite focused on an ergonomically built waist belt for padding without too much bulk, keeping the harness’ weight to a nominal 11.6 oz. The Elite Ultralite has the beefiest gear loops in this bunch—all four are encased in plastic, and they’re sewn for forward racking. This suits sport climbing well, making your draws easy to grab, but wouldn’t work as well for keeping trad gear organized. The super-thin belay loop may raise eyebrows, but it’s made of Dyneema and rated at 30kN, compared to Wild Country’s burlier Elite model at 25 kN. The elastic straps connecting the leg loops and waist belt are easily adjustable on this rig, and they detach for last-minute bathroom stops for the ladies. Elastic in the fixed leg loops allows a range of fits; for one tester—5’10”, 155 lbs.—the medium fit perfectly, but we’d still recommend trying the Elite on before buying to ensure proper sizing.
SINGING ROCK CRUX
Simplicity is the focus of the Singing Rock Crux. This lightweight rig was praised for its comfortable fit on both men and women. At 10.6 oz., the Crux is lined with 5mm perforated EVA foam for slightly cushier hangdogs (for both the projecter and belayer) than the most stripped-down ultralight harnesses. One tester said it “was a pleasure to fall in.” The waist belt is more rigid than on the other harnesses we tested, providing more support when hanging. And “the fixed leg loops don’t twist easily, so you just step through and zip the buckle,” one tester reported. Singing Rock’s Rock&Lock auto-doubled-back buckle makes waist-belt adjustments quick and easy. The four gear loops aren’t encased in plastic, but they’re stiff enough for clipping and unclipping draws easily. For several climbers, the fixed leg loops tended to ride up, causing a little groin discomfort for male belayers. Nonetheless, at less than $50, this is the best-fitting bargain you’ll find.
ARC’TERYX S220 LT
The neon orange, yellow, and green of the Arc’teryx S220 LT will be the first thing to catch your eye, but its light weight (9.4 oz) will hold your attention longer. Our testers initially were skeptical of its seemingly flimsy material, but after wearing they agreed that, despite the super-thin waist belt, it was quite comfortable. One even commented, “It was almost as comfortable as my much heavier and more padded harness.” Arc’teryx credits its so-called Warp Strength Technology, which is designed to allow the harness to contour to and support the climber’s body without extra padding. The non-adjustable leg loops are made of Vapor Mesh fabric, and two polyurethane gear loops were added for forward racking. Some testers weren’t as impressed with the leg loops: Two guys stated they were “quite painful to belay in—for men, at least,” and “they tend to ride up and dig into your legs.” (You can try adjusting the elastic straps to ratchet the fit better.) Testers also noted that having only two gear loops made for difficult organization. Overall, this harness was praised for its light weight, packable size, and comfort on sport climbs. Said one tester: “It does exactly what it is designed to.”
Harnesses are less specialized than rock shoes, and although a beginner can reasonably climb in expert-oriented harnesses like the ultralights in the review, a more padded and comfortable harness is recommended. The main difference between models is the amount of padding, followed by the use of fancy (read: expensive) manufacturing processes involved in molding and integrating the harness’s padding and load-bearing components. The super-light harnesses have minimalist waist and leg loops, which are less comfortable for hanging, and may have only two gear loops (most models have four). Another feature to consider is adjustable leg loops, useful if you plan to wear several layers of thick clothing on cold-weather outings—or lose a lot of weight as you learn to climb. Many “trad” harnesses feature a haul loop on the back, a nice feature for trailing a line. In general, err on the well-padded, comfortable side as a beginner, if only so that you’ll appreciate the svelte feel of a lightweight harness later on. Keep in mind that, even if you don’t plan to spend a lot of time hanging in your harness, your partner may be hanging a lot as he works out the moves on a climb, and extended belay duty demands almost as much of a harness as climbing does. Most harnesses come in several sizes, so try one on in a store where you can clip in and hang for a while—all specialty climbing stores will offer a place to do this. Pay particular attention to the fit and comfort of the leg loops. Most mid-range-and-up harnesses come in gender-specific models, which differ in waist-band and leg-loop proportions, and in the “rise” (distance between waist and leg loops). Try on several models, in several price ranges, to avoid ill-fitting or poorly designed rigs that will give you the dreaded “wooden leg.” —Jeff AcheyFINAL WORD
• Opt for more padding as a beginner
• Fancy molded padding is nice but expensive
• Fitting: check leg loops, waist band, and rise