Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gear Review: Arc'Teryx I-340A Harness

Arc'Teryx I-340A
My old roommate had a dog named 'Teryx. Most annoying Weimaraner ever. That and the association with Arc'Teryx as pretty much the most expensive soft goods manufacturer in North America makes it hard for me to buy their gear.

The problem is their gear is sleek and strong, kind of like that dog! Unlike the dog it won't try and eat through the front door and cry piteously thru the night when it's owner doesn't come home. So when I won a silent auction at a Hera Climb4Life event for any Arc'Teryx harness I was pretty ecstatic. Especially since my old Arc'Teryx harness was pretty threadbare and I only ended up paying $60 for $170 harness. I never win anything.

If you don't want to read thru this whole thing I'll sum it up quickly. If you want the best harness money can buy then this is the one you want. It's the Ferrari of harnesses, a fantastic blend of form and function. You can always tie a harness out of webbing for $5 in the same way you can drive a Honda around town. It'll do but it's not much fun and you'll never be waving at the ladies to come check out your bare minimum rig.

Technical Details:
This is the ice specialist harness using Warp Strength technology, which came out a few years ago. If you aren't familiar with this basically they take out the fibers that cross the warp (weft) in the woven nylon fibers. This allows them to spread the force out on the weight bearing portions and use less bulky foam while maintaining comfort and strength.

Weight: 12.2 oz.
Fancy Stuff: Wear safety markers, 13 ice clipper slots, Warp Strength Technology
MSRP: $169.00
Where to get it: Arc'Teryx

First Impressions:
My first impression actually came with waiting for the harness to show up in the mail. I sent in my gift certificate in the summer and was told that it wouldn't show up til after Christmas. Wait what? Ok, I figured I could wait since the gift certificate was super cheap. Still I was giddy with anticipation and even though it didn't show up until after my AMGA Ice Instructor course in early January I was psyched to try it out on a trip to Vail.

Now of course it snowed three feet the day before so after wallowing up snow for several hours I did finally get to put it on and climb some ice. The main thing I noticed, and this is pretty common in the Arc'Teryx line of harnesses is it's like they're barely there. You don't notice them unless you're actually hanging. They're light and compact. I also noticed the new setup for the ice clipper slots. I prefer this design over the previous. On my previous version the slots were too big and not where I wanted them. Now there are multiple slots along both sides so you can choose where you put the ice clippers. I've read some complaints that they're still not in the right spot but for me they work perfectly. I wonder if the webbing will stretch at all leaving my ice clippers flopping around but that will have to be seen later.

It does seem like the tie in points are burlier than the previous iteration of Warp Strength harnesses. This was one of my few complaints about my old harness was how quickly I wore it out (2 years of near daily use in the summer and heavy use in the winter). It remains to be seen how the stiffness will affect the comfort and durability.

All in all they've tweaked a lot of little things and a few bigger things to really make some improvements. I don't expect people to be perfect but I really like when companies listen to the feedback they receive and make those changes.

Comfort and Fit:
Like the other Arc'Teryx harness I've used this one is very comfortable on the up. You hardly notice it is there. I'm a slim guy (150 lbs.) and everything fits me well. Now keep in mind this harness has no padding. You shouldn't really have a problem with that in winter because you're generally wearing more clothes. It's marketed as an ice climbing harness and that's where I intend to use it. I would not really say these are the best harness if you have big wall ambitions. Hanging for long periods of time, while not worse than any other lightweight harness, is not as good as a dedicated hang-around-all-day type harness with a huge waist and padding. Get the right gear for the style of climbing you're doing. They do have a big wall harness they're offering but I'm not much of an aid climber so someone else can take a look at that.

One thing I noticed on the old harness was the tendency for the legs to want to be asymmetrical when hanging. In other words one higher than the other. While I found that a tad bit annoying it's not uncomfortable per say. Arc'Teryx has redesigned the leg loops in two ways that address this and the other problem which was the tendency for the leg lifter in the back to come undone.

Close up of the new leg lifter attachment and haul loop.
  • One is how it attaches to the back of the harness. The old metal clip was horrible. Mine came undone all the time til I bent it shut. The straps always came out. Now the leg lifter straps (that run up the back of your leg to the waist)  clip in with small plastic clips. They don't seem to come undone unintentionally and so far the strap itself has not creeped through the buckle either.
  • Second because of the redesign of the leg loops and how they go through the belay loop the legs don't seem to flop around as much. I won't say they don't want to flop around at all but it's definitely much less pronounced than the previous versions.
Pros: This is a comfortable harness, period. Considering the lack of materials, the light weight, and the fact I can fold it up and put it in a large pocket it's really comfortable, exclamation point!
Cons: Nothing really. I can't complain about anything that's not outside of what this harness should be used for so far.

Score: Two thumbs up! This is a really comfortable harness.

Function and Design:
Futzing around for gear or getting stabbed constantly by your ice screws sucks. I think the redesigns on this harness are a vast improvement over the previous and many other harness designs.

One big thing for an ice climbing harness like this is the ice clipper slots, there's freaking 13 of them! I've seen some customer reviews complaining about them being in the wrong spot and it being a huge downfall of the harness and I will say I can see some possibilities of improvement but seriously, there are 13 slots, how can you complain? BD harnesses, 6. Petzl, 2, some don't even make them. So with the multitude of slots and options for carrying ice screws I really appreciate this design aspect. That said I think separating the gear loops by moving the rear one more towards the back would make the use of the ice clipper slots more functional. Although when I'm alpine climbing I don't really use the rear gear loops that much. Most of my draws are racked on the front two, ice screws on the clippers (farthest back for me), and if I have any rock pro it usually goes in the front as well. I may clip a couple cordelettes or lockers back there but that is it.

Other things I like:
Details of ice clipper slots and redesigned leg loop buckles.
  • Drop seat buckles are now actual buckles not some weird metal puzzle that comes undone.
  • Gear loops are still reversible (I prefer them to push things back, not forwards, but whatever floats your boat)
  • The haul loop on the back is more of a haul loop or extra gear loop instead of a weird little plastic thing.
  • They seem to have chosen a different webbing. The old webbing tended to creep through the buckles. That doesn't seem to be the case now.
Things I think need improvement or removal
  • Gear loops could lose a bit more separation. They sit nearly on top of each other and interfere with most of the ice clipper slots.
  • The loop on the left side. What is it for? I think it's to keep the tail of your webbing out of the way when you tighten your harness but it's worthless for that. Too far back and too big.
  • Colors are dull, put the blue on the outside. I have to look good when I send!
While I think there is room for improvement I think designers paid attention to the feedback of their customers with the previous design and incorporated it well. I don't expect things to be perfect but I do expect improvement. I also like that this harness has options that take into account that preferences for racking differ. 

Pros:This is a well designed harness that allows user preferences to change some things and really took into account feedback on previous designs to improve what I would of considered flaws in the previous harness.
Cons: Give the gear loops a little more separation and rethink the keeper loop for the webbing tail. Maybe add some color.

Score: Thumbs up. It's a good harness but needs a couple tweaks to take it towards perfection.

Short Term Durability:
Harnesses are a consumable item in climbing. Just like other softgoods, slings, backpacks, clothing. I also use my harness nearly daily and I am rough on gear. The webbing they are using seems different and the tie in points more durable but only time will tell. I was a little disappointed when my previous harness started to wear out after only 2 years. While that's a respectable amount of time I don't like having to replace it every couple of years. Are my expectations high? Maybe, but as materials and designs improve I expect manufacturers to take advantage of them. So far so good. This harness seems like it will last longer than the other harness. One thing I tend to do if I'm walking a lot with my harness on I loosen the leg loops. 

Long Term Durability:
Check back at a later date to see how long this harness lasted.

So far I'm pretty happy with this harness. It's better than the previous version and only a couple small things that keep it from being perfect. Even so I think it's one of the best harnesses on the market if you're doing a lot of ice/alpine climbing.

Pros: It's light, comfortable, and functional.
Cons: Could use a few small tweaks to make it great.

Overall Score:
Two thumbs up. I'm a big fan of this harness. It's comfortable, light, and functional. There are a few design alterations that could put it over the top but it's still a really good harness. I look forward to the next iteration where it's likely to be improved even more, and maybe they'll pull away from the dull grey.

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