Technically, you can make yourself a harness with a piece of webbing, looping it around your waist and up between your legs like a Swami belt. This might be technically possible, (props to you, pioneers of rock, for all that you did with webbing, hemp, leather boots and cojones), but it’s aesthetically ridiculous and profoundly uncomfortable.
For the gear geeks at Arc’teryx, which started life cooking harnesses out of heat laminate as climbing gear manufacturer Rock Solid, the riddle of the comfortable technical harness has long been their Holy Grail. And I am 100% with them on that.
For me, the single consistently best moment of a climbing day is not topping out on a multi-pitch classic or cracking the first beer back at the car or pulling through the crux in style. It’s taking my harness off.
That is the cue that now I can mentally relax.
And until I got my hands on the Arc’teryx R-280 harness to try, it was a long-awaited physical relief, too.
In my unscientific method, there are three tests to a good harness, (because if it doesn’t meet “safe and secure”, it shouldn’t even be on the shelf. This isn’t a fashion statement we’re making, this is fundamental “I don’t plan to take my life into my own hands today” equipment.)
- Is it nice to manage your gear when you’re on lead? (My first couple of leads, I was rocking a very old-school bandolier, which is essentially, given the number of hexes I was hauling, like being draped in a T-Rex’s charm bracelet. A giant dangling gear clusterf*ck. Not recommended.)
- Is it comfortable to endure hanging belays?
- Can you pee in it?
Bonus points if it makes you feel sexy.
In the interest of dedicated product testing, I’ve logged about 30 days in the harness. Here’s the verdict.
1. Does it make you want to lead, you chicken?
Typically, I have to be bullied or bribed onto the sharp end of the rope. The R-280’s rubber-coated gear loops, instead of being half-circles of webbing, have an articulated dog-leg kind of elbow which make your gear easier to sort through and get at. The rubber-coating can also be removed or reversed, depending on how you like to rack.
Since getting this harness, I have “manned up” to lead more often. I’m not sure there’s a causative connection, or whether I just got sick of being pathetic. But there you go.
2. Want to hang around a bit longer?
The Warp Strength technology that Arc’teryx has developed in the leg loops and waist belt means a smooth flat surface against the kidneys and thighs, so no harsh pressure points.
They’ve also reduced a lot of the bulk and heft of a traditional harness, so the R-280 is light and much less constrictive-feeling.
In fact, often on a cragging day, I will elect to leave the harness on, shoulder my pack, and walk around the bluffs seeking out the next mission – this despite the fact the harness is one of the easiest I’ve had, to get on and off, because of it’s lightweight profile, auto-locking buckle and reinforced belay loops and leg loops, that maintain their own structural integrity.
It’s that comfortable.
3. Need a private moment?
I suffer from recurring flare-ups of penis envy. Particularly when I’m clinging to granite several hundred feet above the ground, and a long way from an outhouse.
The elastic safety loops that connect the R280’s leg loops to the waist band are oriented to the outer side of glute/IT band, so even though there are “drop seat buckles” that would enable you to unclip for access in order to drop your pants, you probably won’t have to. Which is nice. Really. Because quick and discrete is what we’re aiming for.
4. About those sexy bonus points?
As an Aussie, the harness’ “Bondi Blue” nods to the sentimentalist in me. The aesthete just thinks it’s pretty. After years of climbing in hand-me-downs or androgynous technical equipment, I have to say that feeling somewhat attractive has performance enhancing benefits.
One note of warning to the curvy girls. Heads-up, she-climbers: don’t order this online. Try it on first. I’m a medium in Arc’teryx outerwear, but because the leg loops are not adjustable (they’re seamless, lightweight and made with warp-technology instead), and the waist belt comes with the Arc’teryx’ signature auto-locking buckle, some sporty girls might find the medium won’t accommodate their curves… At 34-28-38, I figure I’m not built like the mannequins. Then, again, I’d like to see a mannequin front up to the Squamish Connection.
- Lisa Richardson