Weight: 322 grams or 11.4 ounces (size medium)
“It’s the single piece of gear I’m excited about buying this year,” said Nic, my gearhead friend, about the new line of Arc’teryx harnesses. It was an unusual comment–the thought of controlled spending–for someone who has a steady job and climbs or skis every day. Nevertheless, I told Nic he had his priorities straight. If I had to recommend a single climbing upgrade for 2008, I’d suggest the Arc’teryx R-320 harness I’ve been testing for the past six months. It has everything I want in a harness–and nothing I don’t.
If you’re looking for a super-comfortable, fully loaded harness that does everything your current seat does, at a fraction of the size and weight, look no further. If your goal is to shed weight to the point of sacrificing comfort, or if you’re on a tight budget, stick with your Alpine Bod.
A rappelling mistake on an ice climb in Hyalite Canyon forced me to learn how comfortable the R-320 was in an uncomfortable situation. Misjudging a pitch’s length, our rope dangled 30 feet above the next good rappel station, the ice too steep and brittle to downclimb. The first built a hanging belay in the only good section of ice, a vertical groove. I came down next, clipped in and waited for the other two in our party to arrive. Some complications resulted in a prolonged stopover where the four of us squished together, crampons skittering, just to fit in the groove. It wasn’t fun, but my new harness proved plenty comfy, allowing me to worry about the approaching darkness rather than numb legs.
I also have used the R-320 for sport and trad cragging, long days in the Tetons, and even route-setting in the gym, where “hanging out” can be an all-day frustration. Even with thin shorts on, hanging for hours in this harness is more friendly than in any other I’ve used. After a while of hanging, the leg loops generate pressure points on the inside of my legs, but I’ve had that problem with every harness I’ve owned.
Now primarily a soft goods company, Arc’teryx released their first products, climbing harnesses, in 1991. Over the last seventeen years, advances to the “padded webbing” technique have improved fit and comfort in harness construction across all brands. Almost dormant in the harness realm for all those years, Arc’teryx has discovered (and made proprietary) a new technology that likely has their competition running to their draft tables.
Here’s how it works: their Warp Strength Technology(TM) removes all the vertical fibers from the long, structural webbing strands. Fanning, laminating, then lightly padding the remaining strands creates an ultra-thin (about 2mm thick) waist strap (height graduates from approximately 1.5 to 3.5″). The same technology is used on the leg loops. The result is so slim that it achieves what Arc’teryx must have been hoping for: “Am I even wearing a harness?”
The “all-around” models–the R-320 and women’s R-280–are two of Arc’teryx’s five new harnesses with this technology. They have fixed leg loops, four gear loops, a self-locking waist strap and a haul loop. They each come in five sizes, making a perfect fit easier to achieve.
One cool feature of the new Arc’teryx harnesses are the color-changing belay loops, which warn you when the clip-in point wears dangerously thin (for me, a practical and welcome safety addition in this post-Skinner world).
The reversible/removable gear loops are another simple but smart feature. The non-symmetrical shape of each “injection moulded” polyurethane loop (which you can take off altogether if you’re shedding weight) allows quickdraws, cams and other gear to hang forward or toward the rear, depending on your preference. However, to change the position from front to back or vice versa requires a struggle; peeling off the polyurethane tube is harder than it looks, and putting it back on is even more frustrating.
Other gripes include leg loops that enjoy twisting themselves and a dropseat that frequently unhooks itself when scrunched into my pack. The former is understandable, as the frame is so slim and wiry (an OK trade-off to me); the latter is annoying because Arc’teryx easily could have developed a better system. Some have voiced concerns about breathability, as the interior laminate is a wide, solid strip of plastic. However, after using the R-320 on a 100-degree day in Little Cottonwood Canyon, I had no complaints.
Alpinists might find these other models enticing: the A300-a, which has adjustable leg loops but still sheds a few grams by removing two gear loops, and the X350-a, which has adjustable leg loops and ice clipper holsters.
The R-320 is a top-of-the-line, do-it-all harness. For cragging, it has all the features I’m looking for in a single, well-designed package. And it’s light and small yet comfortable enough that it’s my harness of choice for long days in the mountains. The technology alone deserves five stars; I expect other companies will follow suit in the coming years.
Pros: Extremely lightweight and packable for a full-strength, full-feature harness; new technology provides comfort and slim design; reversible gear loops; self-locking waist strap; belay loop changes color as it wears so you know when to replace; five sizes make a perfect fit easier to achieve; the best-looking harness on the market.
Cons: Expensive; creates pressure points on insides of legs when hanging for long periods; scrunching into pack can tangle the harness and unhook the dropseat; removing and reconnecting gear loops is annoying.