The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Petzl Selena Harness: Women-Specific, but Lacking Function
Posted on: January 11, 2011
It seems like much of the "women-specific" clothing and equipment on the market is renamed men's versions that are painted pretty colors. When I picked out Petzl's Selena harness, I expected the same thing. I thought the flashy pink (and I mean pink) color of the waist band and leg loops was a cover-up for a disappointing lack of women-specific features. When I actually put the harness to the test, I was pleased to find that the design is thoughtfully tailored for the smaller, curvier climber. However, ladies who plan to climb more than just single-pitch sport will be frustrated by the Selena's other design features on long trad climbs.
With our centers-of-gravity resting at our hips, it is especially important for women to find a harness that gives beefy support to our waists and lower backs. The Selena accomplishes this with a shapely waist belt and lengthened belay loop, letting the back band sit above the hipbones. Transitioning from my seven-year-old Black Diamond harness with a "unisex" fit, the Selena felt sleek, comfortable and exactly the way a women's harness should.
During my eight months of testing in Colorado and Nevada, I logged some quality time hang-dogging and belaying from awkward positions in the Selena. In every situation, the waist band was fabulous. It's wide, well padded and sits exactly where it needs to. I wish I could say the same for the leg loops.
While the leg loops are wide for most of their circumference, the material narrows in two places. In a perfect world, harnesses would stay exactly where they're meant to and these narrow points would not be a problem. But the reality is that at cramped belay ledges things get twisty. In those situations the webbing digs into the tender pockets of my inner thigh, causing my legs to fall asleep. It isn't excruciating but it is annoying.
Though the structure of the leg loops have left me dissatisfied, I am impressed by the harness' padding and ventilation systems. Petzl uses a combination of closed-cell foam and polyester mesh in the back band and leg loops. The alternating layers of foam and mesh provide plenty of padding, with the exception of those narrow points. The padding holds its shape, making it easy to put on, while allowing for a comfortable amount of give when I apply body weight. When I have the luxury of a roomy belay stance, with everything lining up where it should, I hardly notice my harness at all.
Even more impressive is the ventilation. On balmy days at the local crag, the rest of my body may be hot and sweaty, but the skin under my harness always stays cool. I even feel a breeze sneak through the fabric of the harness from time to time.
Petzl also claims that this woven mesh gives the harness quick-dry capabilities in soggy conditions. I inadvertently put this claim to the test when a late start and poor route finding led me into a rainy, nighttime struggle fest on The Bastille in Colorado's Eldorado Canyon. Once my partner and I escaped the squall, the mesh did dry quickly, but the thicker frame of the harness stayed soggy. While this wasn't a problem in Eldo—a 10-minute drive from hot chocolate and warm French fries—I wouldn't want a sopping-wet harness in the backcountry.
Since the Selena's leg loops are not adjustable, I was concerned that they wouldn't fit my legs. With so many shapes and sizes in the climbing world, surely four sizes—xs, s, m, l—don't fit all. The added elastic doesn't give the loops that much room for expansion. However, the stretchy material in combination with a generous dose of webbing in the waist belt should give ladies enough options to find a good fit.
I was happy with the basic structure and materials of the Selena but was disappointed by some of the smaller details.
The feature that peeves me most is the gear loops. They are designed to be low-profile and flexible so the harness fits well with a pack, but this also means they sag significantly under the weight of a standard trad rack. The four loops are also positioned too far back on the waist belt. Both of these details made swapping gear a time-consuming nuisance.
The Selena's waist belt is automatically double-backed and easy to adjust. However, I found that the waist belt loosened a little too readily, especially under the weight of a trad rack. While the strap never loosened to a dangerous point, it did sag below the ideal position of support on my lower back.
Lastly, he haul loop where I often clip a tagline, daisy chain or chalkbag is small and flimsy. I fumbled with it nearly every time.
As a whole, the Selena excels as an affordable option for intermediate sport climbers but is not beefy enough for multi-pitch trad climbing. It's a harness with an excellent women-specific framework. However, it falls short in the details and the picky climber will be disappointed.
Pros: breezy ventilation; adequate padding for comfy hang dogging; women-specific design provides excellent back support; reasonably priced.
Cons: gear loops are floppy and too far back on the waist belt; buckle on waist belt loosens easily; haul loop is flimsy and annoying; narrow points on leg loops can be painful at long or awkward belays.