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Gear Review - ARC'TERYX WST Harnesses
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By Josh Janes
Dec 15, 2007
Harness
Harness

The ARC'TERYX R-320 Harness

Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy ARC'TERYX. More action shots coming soon.

Introduction



In 1991 ARC'TERYX released its very first product: A climbing harness. Since then the company has grown to produce state-of-the-art soft goods from clothing to packs, and has created a name that's become synonymous with cool, bombproof, and yes, expensive. But nevertheless, ARC'TERYX is at its heart a climbing company, and the release of their new harness line this spring is a long-overdue milestone for the brand. For us climbers, the Warp Strength Technology harnesses promise to be as big a step forward in comfort and performance as the addition of leg loops to the swami was back in the 80’s.

Personally, I’ve been using ARC'TERYX’s flagship Vapor harness since I began climbing and even though I’ve wanted to like more contemporary harnesses, I still believed that the Vapor was hands-down the best climbing harness made. When I found out that their entire line would be replaced with the WST harnesses, I just hoped that this wouldn’t be a step backwards from the Vapor.

How It Works



The “Warp” in Warp Strength Technology refers to the lengthwise fibers in any woven fabric (as opposed to the “weft” fibers which run perpendicularly)… and it is here, in the actual weaving of the fabric, where these new harnesses differ from the rest. Most harnesses have a narrow (usually 1”) length of nylon webbing that wraps around the swami belt and provides load-bearing structure to the harness. All the fancy foam and nylon padding (or lack thereof) attempt to keep that piano-wire of webbing from digging into your hips when you’re hanging from the harness. Unfortunately, no matter how high-tech the padding gets, there will always be pressure points.

WST
WST

Superimposed view of how the webbing fibers spread out over the entire width of the swami

ARC'TERYX took a ground-up approach to the nature of the webbing itself when developing the new harnesses. They were able to develop a technique to remove the vertical “weft” fibers from a piece of ¾” webbing, leaving only the horizontal “warp” fibers. These fibers are then spread apart across the entire width of the swami and then laminated to a piece of breathable mesh fabric on the inside and Schoeller stretch softshell fabric on the outside. Quite simply, there is no padding on the harness!

Anyone who has taken high school physics knows that pressure is force divided by area. So, if you increase the area (how wide the webbing is) over which a force is applied (you or your partner’s weight), the pressure (pain!) will decrease. Sounds great in high school physics, but does it work in the real world?

Performance Notes From The Field



Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to do plenty of extensive real-world testing (read: tons of hangdogging and falling off my projects) in one of these new harnesses. I put it through its paces on everything from a free ascent of the Moonlight Buttress in Zion to sport climbing at the Industrial Wall in Eldorado Canyon. The following details my experience.

My initial impression was that the harness is light. Light and thin. In fact, you can literally fold the harness up like a handkerchief and hold it in your palm. The only things that are not completely flexible are the rigid plastic gear loops and the stiff belay loop. Upon first seeing it, one of my partners asked, “is that little diaper going to tear in half if I fall?” I responded, “I don’t know; that’s why I’m having you climb first.” Rest assured, the harness is full strength and it’s construction is confidence inspiring.

The first thing you’ll notice when you put on a WST harness is… nothing. The harness is so flexible, light, and form fitting that it feels like you’re not wearing anything at all. I found myself repeatedly looking down to check that I was indeed wearing a harness. This is perhaps the single most remarkable quality of the new technology, and even after wearing it for a hundred or so pitches, I'm still amazed by how unobtrusive the harness is. In terms of moving over the stone, this is the most comfortable harness I’ve ever worn and is truly a leap forward from the Vapor (which, as I said previously, I regard very highly).

But perhaps even more important is how comfortable the WST harness is while hanging from the end of the rope. Since I’m increasingly spending more and more of my time there, this was an important factor for me. My verdict is that it is “about as comfortable” as the other harnesses I've tried. It honestly didn’t blow me away one way or another, but perhaps there is no magic bullet to the reality that hanging from a harness for an extended period of time is uncomfortable. That said, what you are gaining in terms of low bulk and freedom of movement, at a comparable level of comfort, is great. I’d also like to add that I haven't noticed the poor breathability from this harness described in a recent Rock & Ice review, nor have I experienced that reviewer’s leg loop discomfort. The leg loops employ the same Warp Strength Technology and were just as comfortable as the swami.

ARC'TERYX harnesses haven’t been updated in years, and since then many new, minor features have now become standard in most harnesses. With the introduction of the WST line, the company took the opportunity to also incorporate many of these new bells and whistles:

  • Molded plastic gear loops. I’ve disliked these since I first saw them on a harness, specifically because of how small they often are and how they stick out from your sides. This may be a great feature when you’re only clipping bolts, but anyone who has carried an Indian Creek rack or groveled up squeezes on Valley trade routes wants large gear loops that don't stick out. The good news is that, although the gear loops on the WST harnesses are molded plastic, they hang freely at your sides, and are still large enough for a decent amount of gear. They are angled forward (I’m not sure how much this design actually helps) by default, but they can be reversed (I’m not sure why), or even removed altogether.

  • Self-locking buckle. These are old news at this point, but ARC'TERYX’s take on them is smooth and easy to operate, and the aluminum has radiused edges to prevent strain on the webbing.

  • Wear safety marker. The innards of the belay loop and tie-in points are constructed of orange fabric; when it becomes exposed it's time to retire the harness.

As is to be expected with ARC'TERYX, the attention to detail and quality of construction are unmatched. I can't comment on long-term durability yet, but I have no reason to believe that it would have a shorter lifespan than any other harness.

Bottom Line



This is a fantastic product that incorporates a standard-setting new technology. While the harness doesn’t break any new ground in terms of comfort under load, only climbing unroped would provide a more unencumbered experience. With an updated feature set that brings ARC'TERYX harnesses up to speed with the competition, what’s not to like about this new product? Well, there’s the price. The cost of these harnesses is a small fortune - easily double anything else out there. It remains to be seen whether or not that will actually be prohibitive. The only other quibble I found is minor: I was a big fan of the fixed leg loop Vapor: This was a harness that did not have elastic leg loops (which I found to loose their elasticity over time) but instead had leg loops that could be purchased in different sizes independently of the swami. I’d love to see this option available in the WST line.


The ARC'TERYX WST Harness Line

The harnesses are delineated by a letter and number (the latter of which conveniently refers to the weight of the harness in grams). The lowercase “a” designation indicates adjustable leg loops:

  • X-350a: An all-round harness with adjustable leg loops, four gear loops, a drop seat, haul loop, and slots for racking ice climbing gear. MSRP: $149.

  • A-300a: A mountaineering/ski touring harness with adjustable leg loops, two gear loops, and a drop seat. MSRP: $135.

  • R-320: An all-round harness with elasticized leg loops, four gear loops, a drop seat, and haul loop. MSRP: $125.

  • R-280: A women-specific version of the R-320. MSRP: $125.

  • S-240: A minimalist, high-end redpointing harness with more traditional leg loops (non-WST) and only two gear loops. MSRP: $99.

All the harnesses come with a storage container and should be available in March, 2008.

www.arcteryx.com

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By Nate Oakes
Dec 16, 2007
~2000' above Boulder.
Thanks for the comprehensive and well-written review! You've definitely given some helpful info, and since I'm contemplating a new harness soon, I'll be giving Arc'teryx harnesses a closer look.

What's a drop seat?

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By Deaun Schovajsa
Dec 19, 2007
You wanna' look like this when ya get old!
Great review. I am glad to hear that Arc'teryx is updating their harness line. I have been climbing in the Vapor harnesses for the past 10 years, and still consider the Vapor to be the best harness out there (at least for me). I am looking forward to trying out the new technology!

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By sesser125
From Boulder, CO
Dec 19, 2007
Thanks for the info. I have been trying to get info from Arcteryx for about a week about this harness.

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By waltereo
Feb 11, 2008
I'm wondering if Arcteryx plan for a similar harness with a doubleBack buckles instead of one side buckles. Double are so convenient to center the harness !

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By a2112drummer
Feb 18, 2008
I'm stoked. I work at REI in NC and we had a Arc'teryx rep come in and explain everything about it and I just ordered one today. Can't wait to have it come in. I'll revise my posting with my reviews of the harness.

~Nick~

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By Sam Lightner, Jr.
From Lander, WY
Feb 19, 2008
The Shield
There is one thing to be mentioned about this harness that I have not seen in a review yet... The slots for the ice-screw racks are perfectly placed. Most harnesses accept the plastic ice screw holders, but this harness has slots designed for them. Those slots are in a place where you can see the screws, but they are not so far forward that they get in your way. WHen your gripped on a pillar, the ability to spot those screws easily without twisting your body is very important. This is done (in design) by placing equal value on the placement of those screws as the placement of the quickdraws, and that makes sense as one is not useful without the other. Most harness place the quickdraw rack in a way that the screw placement becomes an after thought.

This is a good all around harness, but it truley excels with winter climbing. You can walk for hours without noticing its on. The designers are hard-core ice climbers, so its function iin winter stands above the rest.

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By Tom T
Apr 7, 2008
I recently purchased one of these bad boys (R-320). As i expected, it is the most comfortable harness I've ever had on. Its virtually weightless and fits perfectly. It was everything i expected from an Arcterix product (read: from something expensive as hell).

However, my excitement faded slightly when one of the rear gear loops started falling apart. The stiff plastic shell pulled away from its connection at the loop's base on the second use and now clipping to that loop is slightly cumbersome. You can reattach it but it just falls apart again after a couple outings. I find myself clipping biners through the dangling plastic rather than the actual loop. I racked only some standard trad gear and never snagged it on anything. I have to say that after several more uses (probably 20 over the past 2 months) the gear loops seem to be pretty flimsy. I also learned the ring for the trail line will only hold aprx. 11 pounds. How can they hit such a home run with the overall design of the harness and whiff soooo bad on something stupid like gear loops? I expected more for the price....but its still a really comfortable harness that i'll keep using.

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By Kevin Craig
Apr 7, 2008
KC on Fields (medium).  Photo (c) Doug Shepherd
Ditto what Sam and Doug have said, but I REALLY wish you could open up the leg loops all the way (like on the Blizzard) so you can put the harness on without stepping through the waist/leg-loops. It's been ages since I've had to do that and it blows - especially on a small snow ledge or some such.

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By Joseph Crotty
From Broomfield, CO
May 20, 2008
Maltese cross.
I have been rock climbing in an R-320 for almost a month now and am delighted. The overall fit and weight simply can not be beat. You hardly know it's even on. I would say it's eats into the hips an extra 10-20% at hanging belays, but that's worth it to me for the freedom of movement it presents. Didn't notice anything different on falls. The gear loops are well placed and large. Buckle system is easy to operate and the extra webbing from the waist draw webbing tucks away nicely.

It is not all positive as there are a few things to quibble over. The rear haul loop is a joke - I wouldn't even think about clipping a second rope to it on an alpine climb as it's only rated to 11 lbs. And good luck dropping the rear leg loop elastic risers with the harness on.

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By Brian Clendening
From Springfield, MO
May 31, 2008
I've been looking at the R-320 for a little while now. I currently use the Vapor that I love, and a guy that got into it and started climibng with me got the R-320. Anyhow, Has anyone had any issues, comfort or anything else, with the buckles on these? On my Vapor the harness has the velcro then the webbing and buckle, that is the only thing I do not like about this harness, but I have not tried it and thought I'd ask.

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By Galibier_Numero_Un
From Erie, CO
Jun 15, 2008
Thanks for the time you put into this project, Josh! This is a great initial write-up of a seminal product.

On Friday, I went into the Bent Gate to pick up a "guest harness". We're getting toward the time of year when visitors are likely to be overwhelming chez Galibier. I was (and am still) very happy with my Wild Country Elite Syncro Ziplock, and was looking for a bare-bones harness to press into service for visiting climbers passing through.

Well, I tried on the X350a and was smitten ...

One correction to a follow-up post above. The Arc'teryx manual states that the haul loop is good for 15Kg. (33 Lbs.). The stated recommended load on the gear loops is, however the mentioned 5 Kg. (11 Lbs.). I too would prefer a bit more beef here. I suspect these are conservative numbers - to discourage bone-head mistakes like treating the loops as anchoring points.

I've only used it for one day, so I can't comment on durability.

As far as ergonomics are concerned, its four gear loops hold a ton of gear - more than any loops I've encountered. Even when used for rock, the ice-clippers (the ones between the pairs of gear loops) are still available for use, and can be pressed into service to hold more gear.

This harness truly has the potential to be (for me) to be a "do everything" rig - from trad to sport to ski mountaineering (likely not big wall, however ... dunno, never done any).

If you're a multi-harness guy (by season or inclination), then this harness could actually end up being a cost savings. Time will tell.

Oh yes ... both the WST "a" series (adjustable leg loops) as well as the Wild Country Elite Syncro Ziplock permit you to get out of your leg loops without un-tying. Try it!

Cheers,
Thom

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By 1Eric Rhicard
Jun 15, 2008
It is a good sized roof. Photo: Jimbo
Bought the S-240 for hard sport redpoints and to keep up with my partner tech wise. I have taken 15-20 whippers and had long sessions of belaying folks working out moves. It is as comfortable as any of the many harnesses I have used in the past. The light weight and fit really are nice. As stated above you hardly know it is on until you are tied into it and have some draws in the loops. Was bothered at first by the elastic in the leg loops but not any more. The snug fit keeps the loops in place and I used to the feel now. The gear loops are big enough to hold l0-12 draws a side. There are not too many clip up routes that need more than that. The price was steep but but I sold some of my buddies new Petzl Spirit draws on ebay so I could afford it.

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By Brent Coe
From La Mesa, CA
Aug 1, 2008
I have the A-300a (the "mountaineering" one). Its an awesome harness just like the review says... BUT I wanted to share with potential users that the drop seat is basically unusable unless you have needle point fingers and are not wearing gloves. The clip is a tiny, metal, thin hook that I can barely undo even while not wearing the harness. It should be a big fat plastic quick release so I won't have to fear staying hydrated. So, if you have to relieve yourself half way up that icy col, I have one word for you: Depends.

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By NjC
Sep 24, 2008
The reviews here and on rc.com were excellent! Thanks for taking the time to post.

I have a R280, and have only "hung around" my home in it, trying to see if I keep it. As many say, the fit and lack of bulk is wonderful, and gear seems to hang nicely on the loops. The drop seat is manageable for me, similar to the Petzel Hirundos, though a quick release is a much easier system. The haul loop is pitiful (Arc'teryx should be a little embarrassed to release the harness with that!), but I'm thinking I can tie a line between the 2 rear gear loops and be happy.

My main concern is with the leg loops. They don't seem as comfortable as my padded harness when I'm hanging in it. They also seem a little on the tight side right now, but I'm thinking the elastic will stretch and provide the slightly increased sizing I'd wish for. I wonder if comfort will improve as well with use and stretch.

It's been 7-9 months since the reviews by Josh here and vegastradguy on rc.com. I'm curious what others think about the leg loop comfort question, and updates on general durability and satisfaction with the performance of this harness.

I appreciate your comments!

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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Oct 1, 2008
Artist Tears P3
I should have my review of the Black Diamond Big Gun harness up on the site in about a week.

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By Tom T
Oct 1, 2008
Has no one else had any issues with the gear loops? Since my original post in this thread, the plastic casing on two additional loops has started falling apart. I know its not a super heavy duty harness meant for tons of abuse....but IMO it should be able to hold some basic trad gear without deteriorating.

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By NjC
Oct 1, 2008
vegastradguy wrote:
you know, i talked with arc'teryx about that gear loop, and it turns out that the plastic buckle is a deterrant factor to keep people from clipping their belay devices in it (along with the 0kn rating). that said, the buckle tests to like 400lbs or something ridiculous,


Unless there's something I'm missing, that doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe it's just a way to save face, "There really was a sound reason for such a ridiculous set-up!"

But it is good to hear it will hold up to 400 lbs...I just wish there was more usable space to hang extra gear.

Also good to hear you are still loving it. Anyone else have troubles with the leg loop comfort...or the plastic on the gear loops?

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By Dan Dalton
From Boulder, CO
Oct 1, 2008
Working the sick hand-jams on Stemwide aka Big Dihedral (5.8) at North Table. Photo courtesy of Scott Borger.
Arc'teryx has a new harness out(M-280), designed specifically for mixed climbing. Check it out, kinda a mix of the sport harness and the X350: arcteryx.com/product.aspx?M-28...

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By Peter L K
From Cincinnati, OH
Oct 1, 2008
rrg
NjC wrote:
Unless there's something I'm missing, that doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe it's just a way to save face, "There really was a sound reason for such a ridiculous set-up!" But it is good to hear it will hold up to 400 lbs...I just wish there was more usable space to hang extra gear. Also good to hear you are still loving it. Anyone else have troubles with the leg loop comfort...or the plastic on the gear loops?


My leg loops took about 3 months to stretch and be comfortable. The plastic gear loops haven't been as bad as I thought they would be. This harness would be perfect if it had a better haul loop, a quick release drop seat, and traditional gear loops.

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By NjC
Oct 2, 2008
Peter Kananen wrote:
My leg loops took about 3 months to stretch and be comfortable.


That's encouraging!


Jed Pointer wrote:
What more could you want in the haul loop? It holds a biner. I was figuring 100 lbs or so, but hearing 400 makes sense - certainly more than a rope, which is where I think they got the 11 lbs from.


I clip my PAS, belay carabiner & ATC, and sometimes an equalette on the haul loop. It's out of the way and separated from draws and pro. I guess I could clip these to a biner there, but I've always liked that the tactile difference between a biner and haul loop helps me identify that I'm clipping where I want. I suspect this will be improved on future models (and maybe improvements in the drop seat too), but I think tying a new line will also work fine.

Thanks for commenting on my concerns!

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By J. Fox
From Black Hawk, CO
Oct 2, 2008
Me too!
vegastradguy wrote:
you know, i talked with arc'teryx about that gear loop, and it turns out that the plastic buckle is a deterrant factor to keep people from clipping their belay devices in it (along with the 0kn rating). that said, the buckle tests to like 400lbs or something ridiculous, so its absolutely adequate for a trail line or haul line. just dont use it for aussie rappels!



I'm a bit confused (sorry), are you all talking about the gear loops on the side, of which there are either 2 or 4 depending on what model, or are you talking about that little plastic ring/tab on the very back? I doubt that little piece of plastic would hold 400lbs.!

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By NjC
Oct 2, 2008
I have been referring to the lexan D-ring which ArcTeryx identifies as the haul loop in my posts. Actually, when I first read it tested to 400 lbs, it struck me as a whole lot of weight, but I quickly dismissed it because it wasn't relevant to me, given the miniscule amount of weight I'd place there.

It's a good question to clarify.

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By Kai Larson
From Sandy, Utah
Jan 5, 2009
Tour Ronde North Face
I've found that the drop seat on these harnesses is pretty much impossible to use. The tab that the buckle goes into is too tight to easily release the buckle. Initially, I thought it was just my harness, but I checked out others, and they all seem to be that way. Even with the harness off, it's difficult to undo the buckle, with it on, I find it to be impossible.

I replaced the Arcteryx buckle with a Petzl buckle. Works much better. I can now drop the leg loops while wearing the harness.

vegastradguy wrote:
nice review, josh! i'm testing one of these bad boys out for rc.com at the moment as well and so far, its been alot of fun. i can only hope my review is as well put together as yours! nate- a drop seat is where the tethers that hold the leg loops to the back of the swami have a quick release, thus allowing you to do your business without removing your harness....a good thing for full day routes and/or big walls....

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By Tits McGee
From Boulder, CO
Jan 5, 2009
How I Send
I can't believe no one has mentioned the durability (or lack there of) - I have returned two of these because of what I would consider lack of quality construction - especially for the cost. Has anyone else had issues with this?

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By Geoffrey M
From St. Louis, MO
Jan 5, 2009
I think I tried to operate the drop seat once and found found it rather difficult. Adjusting the length of the leg loop straps (the rear ones, attached to the drop seat clip) is also a major pain, and virtually impossible to do yourself with the harness on (which, of course, is how you need to do it to get the length right).

I have not found the leg loops to be uncomfortable, nor have I had any problems with the gear loops. They are made to pop apart so that you can reverse them. Perhaps, the person (people?) who had problems with them falling apart got a defective unit on which they do not snap together correctly?

I also have never used the "haul loop" because it didn't look like it would hold the weight of a locking biner, let alone a rope.

Additionally, I have found the buckles on both the waist belt and the leg loops (I have the X-350a) to loosen gradually over time, and require periodic tightening. I have heard of other people having similar problems with other harnesses, but never had any such problem with my previous harness (sorry, can't remember the model or manufacturer right now).

That said, I love the harness. It takes up a small fraction of the space in a pack compared to my old harness, weighs next to nothing and is as comfortable as anything I've used. When trad climbing, I use ice clippers attached to the slots between the gear loops to rack nuts and tri-cams, and find that I can manage a pretty unreasonable large rack in a well-organized and easily accessible manner.

There are several kinks and opportunities for improvement, but none of them make me want to go back to my bulky old harness.

FLAG


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