Canadian ingenuity re-born: an elite all-around harness
Let’s cut right to the chase: climbing harnesses range in price from $50 to $180, and they all offer a secure fit, provide easy access to gear, and are reasonably comfortable to hang in for short amounts of time. What makes a high-end harness worth it? An expensive harness isn’t the appropriate choice for every climber, but if you spend a lot of time climbing tall, steep walls, make long approaches, and chase mixed terrain and waterfall ice when the seasons change, an elite-level harness might be a reasonable choice.
Reviewed by: Drew Thayer, Senior Contributor
For climbers that branch beyond single-pitch climbing into longer alpine routes, big walls, and winter climbing, it can be tempting to invest in niche harnesses that are specifically adapted to each discipline. This can really start to get expensive, but it’s hard to find a harness that performs just as well shirtless in a limestone cave as it does over three layers of jackets on a frozen waterfall while you’re groping for an ice screw with gloved hands.
Arc’teryx harnesses are unique: if you’ve never worn one before, the first thing you’ll notice is that there seems to be no padding whatsoever. How could it possibly be comfortable? Instead of relying on padding to provide comfort, as virtually every other modern harness* does, the Canadian engineers developed a technology they call “Warp Strength” which uses thin, flat webbing without large bar-tack stitches. The result is a light, packable harness which is very comfortable to hang in because the broad webbing distributes weight evenly without pressure points.
*(Black Diamond has recently developed “Kinetic Core” harness technology which uses flat webbing plus a bit of padding; it’s similarly comfortable and a bit more bulky.)
Arc’teryx re-designed their full line of harnesses this year, and the AR (All-Rounder) stands out as comfortable and streamlined while including simple features that adapt it well to multi-pitch and alpine climbing. This harness offers large carrying capacity with two oversized front gear loops (larger than loops on Black Diamond and Petzl models), two rear gear loops, and a 5th expanded ‘haul loop’ that’s wide enough to fit several carabiners. I like to clip peripherals like shoes, jacket, and cordalette back there and keep my gear loops from getting crowded. It’s worth noting that the gear loops are built with molded plastic inserts that hug a sewn webbing loop. This design is more robust than many, since the actual weight-bearing member isn’t vulnerable to abrasion. This may seem trivial, but I’ve seen gear loops break and drop their contents, and the consequences could be bad (or dire?) depending on where you are. The molded inserts can be reversed direction or even removed if one wanted an ultra-light harness; I find them very useful the way they are and will likely leave them be. The oversized loops can handily carry a double rack of cams plus extra pieces without crowding.
Arc’teryx designers listened to climbers’ gripes about previous models, and the 2015 harnesses are improved with an upgraded Warp Strength weave which prevents ‘roping’, or bunching, in the webbing material, and a more supple webbing connection under the lower tie-in that doesn’t come un-done like older models did. The new, wider haul loop doesn’t form a pressure point under a pack, and the hook that secures the rear elastic ‘drop seat’ is less aggressive and easier to remove with one hand.
The AR-395a harness adapts well to winter climbing with adjustable leg loops that expand over extra layers and four ice clipper slots. The slots between gear loops are a great position to reach screws and keep the teeth pointed safely behind. The forward slots are basically over the thigh so any screw longer than a stubby will likely snag on your pants while lifting your knee. Still, it will be useful to have a third (or fourth) ice clipper reserved for stubbies.
The AR-395a harness is light for an all-around harness that includes ice clipper slots. At 13.9 oz for size medium, it’s similar in weight to Black Diamond’s all-around Aspect (14.5 oz) and a good bit lighter than Petzl’s Corax (17.3 oz), Edelrid’s Jay (17.6 oz) or BD’s ice-specific Xenos (18.0 oz). Many harnesses designed for rock climbing are lighter (BD Chaos at 12.6 oz, Petzl Sama at 13.0 oz) and there are some really light sport-climbing harnesses (BD Ozone at 10.5 oz, Mammut Zephyr a mere 8.8 oz!), but none of these are equipped with ice clipper slots or a 5th gear loop, and many aren’t as comfortable to hang in.
Arc’teryx harnesses are the most expensive, and not just because they’re sexy. While the cost seems a bit extravagant, only entry-level harnesses cost $50 anymore, and competitors are starting to catch up (BD Chaos will run you $125). These harnesses are still actually manufactured in Canada, so you can rest assured that the price tag supports North American workers. For sizing, the sizing chart on the Arc’teryx website seems spot-on.
Bottom line: The division between those willing to spend top-dollar on a climbing harness and those who aren’t should be pretty self-evident: if you are, you probably know it already. There are many cheaper options, and lighter options if the most you carry is 16 quickdraws, but if you regularly find yourself on long routes with a rack of cams, jacket, shoes, etc. clipped around your waist, AND want a harness that performs for winter climbing too, the AR-395a harness is a great, versatile tool. These unique harnesses are light, simple, and really comfortable to hang in. Considering the longevity of the new models and a great warrantee program (I had a harness replaced once after one phone call, no hassle), it could be a worthy investment for the dedicated multi-sport climber.
Arc’teryx AR-395a Harness on backcountry.com
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