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Arc'teryx WST Harness Editorial Review


Submitted by vegastradguy on 2008-01-27 | Last Modified on 2008-01-28

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by John Wilder


By vegastradguy

Click any image for a larger view.

The Arc'teryx WST Harness. Photo: Arc'teryx.

At last summerís OR show, Arcíteryx showcased its first major harness change since it first developed harnesses more than a decade ago. As is typical of Arcíteryx, it was a big change, and not only that, it pushed the envelope of what we thought as possible for harness construction- and then it ripped the envelope to pieces and laughed as it set it on fire. Arcíteryx calls it WST- warp strength technology- a completely new approach to how webbing is used in harness construction and it thinks it will redefine how climbers thing of comfort in their harness. As chief gear guy, I of course wanted this review badly, especially after I got a small taste of the harness at a special climbing event at the OR show.

First and foremost, the specs. Arcíteryx has thrown away all of their old harnesses and completely replaced them with a new line of 5 harnesses: alpine (A-300a), sport (S-240), ice/mixed (X-350a), and gender specific all arounds (R-320, R-280). Each of them incorporate the same basic features: WST swami belts, autolock buckles, reversible gear loops, and a wear safety marker. Where they differ is in fit, number of gear loops, leg loop style, and of course, weight. The S-240, R-320, and R-280 all have non-adjustable leg loops, the others have adjustable ones. The S-240 and A-300a only have two gear loops, the rest have four (the ice/mixed has three ice screw clip loops). As for the weight, well- while they may differ in weight, I would argue that weight in this harness line isnít much of an issue, but Iíll mention it anyway. The S-240 harness clocks in at a mere 8.7oz (244g), while the Ďheavyí X-350a sports a bulky 12.2oz (347g) frame. Yeah, these harnesses are light. Really light.

Despite a request to review the X-350a or the R-320, due to overwhelming demand, I was only able to get my hands on the S-240 model. I was pretty bummed out at first, mostly because I was stuck with a harness with only two gear loops, and Iím primarily a trad climber- meaning I was going to have to compromise a bit. However, when I received the harness, my doubts began to fade as I slipped it on and did the obligatoryóďooooooÖ.Ē, because, despite any shortcomings that may come up during the review process, this is one cool looking harness! I rummaged through my pile of webbing and fashioned a small loop of supertape to serve as a makeshift haul loop, where I keep my prusik and obviously clip in the trail line. After that, I put it to work, completely replacing my other two harnesses and it has been my exclusive harness for almost five months now- Iíve done it all in this thing- everything from whipping off of sport projects, spending time in hanging belays, hangdogging tough sport routes, and groveling up the wide stuff, this harness has not been treated lightly.

Comfort

Letís cut to the chase. We know the harness is CE/UIAA certified, so letís talk about comfort, since after all, thatís actually the entire point of this new concept from Arcíteryx. First, Iíll explain WST for those who havenít heard about it yet. Pick up your harness and have a look at it. Notice the two primary components of the waist belt- the webbing that wraps all the way around to buckle in the front and the padding that the webbing is stitched to that provides comfort. Okay, as anyone who hangs in any harness long enough will tell you, no matter how much padding you have, eventually, you can feel that tiny piece of webbing cutting into your kidneys. So, to remedy this, Arcíteryx decided that, instead of relying on padding that will eventually fail anyway, why not widen the webbing to the full width of the harness? Doing this would eliminate pressure points that develop from the padding folding over where the webbing isnít present. But how to do this? Those folks at Arcíteryx came up with quite possibly the neatest solution to this problem ever.

Webbing, as it turns out, has two types of fibers. Warp fibers and weft fibers. The warp fibers run the long way and provide the strength for the webbing. The weft fibers run the short way, and provide structure for the webbing. So, the folks at Arcíteryx developed a process where they take a single piece of ĺĒ webbing, and using a process that no one is talking about, remove the waft fibers from a set length in the middle of the webbing, leaving only the warp fibers behind. The ends, though, maintain their waft. Once thatís complete, the warp fibers are spread out to a 3 ĹĒ diameter and laminated several times and wrapped in Schoeller fabric. This creates a waterproof swami belt about 1/8Ē thick, and, according to Arcíteryx, able to withstand loads in up to 30kn!. Notice that I didnít mention padding on the harness- thatís because there isnít any. None, zilch, nada.

An illustration of the WST system. Photo: Arc'teryx.

Is it comfortable? In a word- yes. Ridiculously so. My first weekend with the harness, I did a long first ascent just to the left of Crimson Chrysalis, probably the most popular route in Red Rocks. The climb itself had plenty of ledges, but the only descent option was to rappel Crimson, and as anyone who has climbed Crimson can tell you, that would be a descent filled with hanging belays (thereís one sort of stance at one of the belays). All of the anchors are uncomfortable, but the harness met all expectations- this thing was more comfortable than my Yates Shield harness! Once down, my partner immediately stripped off his harness and uttered a giant sigh of relief. I, on the other hand, finshed sorting gear, pulled the ropes, coiled them, and had my pack completely packed up before I remembered that I was wearing my harness, at which point I took it off. After months of climbing, Iíve decided that the comfort comes from two places. The first is obvious- the harness gives you full support- 3 ĹĒ of support- a generous thickness by any measure, it feels like you have two hands cupping your lower back as you weight the harness (it actually weirded me out when I first lowered off a climb in Little Cottonwood on our trial day). The other level of comfort is in the lack of padding. This part is counter-intuitive, but itís true. Padding insulates, and as a result, if Iím hangdogging or rappelling for a long time, especially in warm weather, I get really hot and sweat up a storm around my lower back. This is uncomfortable at best. With the S-240, I have yet to sweat in it at all- and this includes a long day in Little Cottonwood in August, in the sun, and an unseasonably warm fall in Red Rock where temps did not drop below 85 until the middle of November.

Cruxing with no pro, but at least the harness was comfortable! Photo: Christine Cauble.

The S-240 does, however, have a downside. The leg loops do not have the WST, instead, they have a lightweight mesh with edge-banding for strength. This was done in order to shave the weight down, as the intended use of the harness is for redpoints. As a result, while my waist and back were always comfortable, I found that after a while, my legs would feel some pressure from the lack of support in the middle of the leg loop. That said, the discomfort as minimal, and only noticeable after a fair amount of time hanging in the harness. If youíre redpointing in this thing, this wonít be an issue.

Durability

Heading into the squeeze- a thicker harness would have been a problem, but the WST easily slipped through. Photo: Larry DeAngelo.

So, okay, the harness is comfortable, big whoop. How does it handle the offwidth grovel? I actually figured that the harness wouldnít do so hot in the wide world, as the total lack of padding and the use of ĺĒ webbing rather than the standard 1 1/4" might mean a premature death for this harness. Well, as any of my partner will tell you, I actually like the wide- in fact, the Disciple (the FA I did on the first day of use with this harness) had a nice 5.9 squeeze on it just before the face climbing crux. After that, several weekends were spent on my project- the link-up of the two pitches of the Schwa, which includes a nasty 5.10d offwidth up high, as well as a nice little squeeze job last weekend where a thicker harness actually would have caused problems. Combine that with general Red Rocks groveling on both approaches and descents, chimneys, and general 4th class groveling, and I feel like I definitely put the thing through its paces. And the result? Not a blemish- the damn thing looks like I just took it out of the bag. Not even a little fuzz on the Schoeller face. I swear I tried. Iíll add a comment on durability to this review in a few months, but as of right now, I have no qualms on the durability of this harness.

The harness after 4 1/2 months- the only visible wear were some light scratches on the buckle. Photo: John Wilder.

Features

As usual with Arcíteryx, when they make something, they generally donít just stop at the one really cool feature. In addition to the WST stuff, theyíve also added some really thoughtful features to their harnesses. None of them are rocket science, but they add a nice finishing touch to the harness. First are the reversible gear loops. The gear loops themselves are fixed to the harness and are made of fabric. The injection molded plastic covers, though, are reversible, allowing you to have your gear fall forward or back, depending on which you prefer. The X-350a, and the R-320/R-280 have a haul loop as well- a nice feature for us trad climbers. All of the harnesses except the S-240 have a drop seat built in, another very nice feature for long days out.

The reversible gear loops made it easy to set up for photos of the harness, but definitely presented problems when climbing the crux with all the gear in the way. Luckily, a quick change of orientation and the loops are back to normal. Photo: Christine Cauble.

Also, in light of recent harness safety concerns, Arcíteryx has incorporated Wear Safety Markers on all of its harnesses at the tie in points and belay loops. Basically, the tie in points and belay loops are webbing wrapped with an orange fabric and then covered with ballistics material. Once you wear through the ballistics and can see orange, its time to replace your harness. After five months of use, my harness has yet to show any wear at all on the ballistics material, and, just from past experience, I have no reason to doubt that the tie in points would last anything less than a long, long time- they are seriously the most beefy tie in points Iíve ever seen on a harness this light. The belay loop looks standard, but then, all belay loops are nicely beefy and this one is no exception. Also, all the buckles are self-locking on this harness line- something that Iíve never used before and wasnít excited about, but Iíve come to really like on my S-240.

Of course, all good things have their price, and Arcíteryx is no exception. These harnesses are spendy- the cheapest one (S-240, I think) clocking in at $100 USD- and the most expensive (X-350a) at around $150! Most of the time when I see something really expensive, Iím sort of offput by it- mostly because itís just a shiny version of something cheaper; however, my friends and I all agree- this harness is probably worth the money simply based on the technology it uses as well as the comfort it provides, and most importantly, how far out of the box it is. That said, while I doubt these harnesses will be omnipresent at the crags in the near future due to their price, I do think that they will become the gold standard in harness construction- the comfort and quality of manufacture alone sets a very high bar for others to aspire to.

Talk about comfortable, after a long day on the rock, the only thing on my mind is the beautiful scene below. Photo: Larry DeAngelo.

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this item provided it free of charge to rockclimbing.com who in turn provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his review.

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25 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 sticky_fingers
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 2008-01-27
Great review! Thanks for doing this, cuz I've very much considering getting of the Arc'teryx harnesses.
 sticky_fingers
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 2008-01-28
Good Lord was I tired when I wrote that. Sorry for the bad grammar/lack of proofreading. "...cuz I'm very much considering getting one of..." jeesh.

I really like the buckle-less legs loops, too.
 larryd
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 2008-01-28
not to quibble over details, but wasn't that FA to the LEFT of Crimson?
 caughtinside
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 2008-01-28
Thanks for the good write up. A couple questions: are there only two gear loops on all of these models? Also, it seems like the primary difference between this and a normal harness is that it is thinner and lighter. Is this correct? It looks like it fits the same as a normal harness.
 JackAttack
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 2008-01-28
5 out of 5 stars great job, definitely one of the better reviews ive seen on this site. For a while I was considering getting one of these, but I decided that they probably wouldnt be as cool and great as they claimed, so I got the petzl corax about 2 weeks ago. Based on this review it seems like they do everything they claim to do, and do it well. Oh well, maybe this will be my next harness if there isnt something better when that time comes. The corax is still nice.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-01-28
no, the only model with two gear loops is the S-240 and the Alpine version. the rest have 4 loops. I would actually argue that the primary difference between this harness and a normal harness is a significant level of comfort when hanging in it- this is by far and away the most comfortable harness i've ever hung in by a significant factor. as far as the fit goes- yes, there's no difference between this harness and any other.

larry- good catch- i'll edit accordingly....
 peakchaser
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 2008-01-28
...was my belay hand still on the rope during those shots? juuuuuust kiddin'. Great review!
 caughtinside
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 2008-01-28
Thanks. I've been quite curious about these harnesses, and look forward to trying one on when I see them in stores.
 mistymountainhop9
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 2008-01-29
Dynamic Earth Equipment in Kansas City, KS and Springfield, MO has the new R320's in stock early. Come in and check them out! 913-851-2244
 cchildre
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 2008-01-29
As always, great writing by John. Until now, all I have looked at has been the Petzl, mostly because of the double-backed buckles. Happy to see other alternatives coming out.
 vegastradguy
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 2008-01-29
thanks for all the kudos, folks- i really appreciate it!
 superbum
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 2008-01-29
Arcteryx's website has not updated their info to include this harness line! Unbelievable, considering there are online reviews allready and I've seen them in shops too! I am curious about the sizing range...I do really want one (the X350a) but deffinately want to get the size right. Any insider info on sizing?? Also, the haul loop on the R320 (the one i've seen in da shops) looks kinda chincy...hopefully the X350a might have a beefier one??
 sesser125
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 2008-01-29
I have the R 320 and it sizes just like the Arcteryx Vapor or BD Momentum. I have been the same size in all three of these harnesses. The R 320 is basically the replacement for the old Vapor, but far superior.
 shoo
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 2008-01-30
Moosejaw and mgear.com both have the new line of harnesses in. If anyone finds a place in the Boston area I can try one on, let me know.
 fbmx
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 2008-02-05
Pictures of all the harnesses here: www.arcteryx.com/warp/
 henrikh
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 2008-02-06
looks pretty good!
 defygravity
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 2008-04-21
While the use of WST technology is new, it seems to me that the concept of spreading weight across a larger area of the harness instead of padding is not (ex. Black Diamond Alpine Bod and comparble products). Therefore the real issue here seems to be weight and the new design, correct?
 vegastradguy
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 2008-04-25
um, sort of. i would say though that Arc'teryx has done a better job with the WST on the larger area- the Alpine Bod only has 2" or so of webbing, whereas this harness has 3 1/2"....
 vegastradguy
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 2009-01-17
I figured I'd post an update since I posted this review a year ago, the harness has been in a friends hands and in constant use- and it's still in amazing shape- no noticeable wear and tear on any of the WST material, and only minor wear (to be expected after a year of use) on the exposed webbing. I've since switched to the R320 (in March), and can happily report that the leg loops of WST are definitely the way to go for hanging belays, and almost 9 months in, again, no wear can be reported on the harness and the comfort is still incredible.
 harpo_the_climber
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 2009-03-14
vegastradguy, are the leg loops on the X 350a the same WST contruction as the R320 or are they the same construction you had on the S240 you reviewed initialy?
 stlamarc
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 2009-10-21
I've enjoyed the R320 for about a year now. This is a very nice and very comfortable harness. If you are think about buying it, but not sure it's really worth the $$$, think again. This harness is a big leap over any other.
 vegastradguy
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 2009-12-21
Durability update- well, my R320 finally died this weekend- almost two years later- about 3 months shy of it, actually. The bottom tie in point (on the leg loops) started to wear through and orange was visible underneath. The belay loop was also starting to show some wear. The rest of the harness is pristine- which leaves me to note that dont let the overall condition of the harness lull you into not inspecting it closely- the belay loop was the culprit on my wear issues- the movement of it combined with the rope over time resulted in the breakdown of the tie-in point sheath. Overall- i'm happy with the time I got out of it, so much so, i went and purchased another at Desert Rock Sports saturday afternoon!
 Lucool
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 2009-12-26
great Harness
 scottfritzen
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 2010-08-21
What about their lifetime guarantee? were just wondering if you were not able to get them to replace due to the wear
 scottfritzen
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 2010-08-21
also wondering if you could do a quick comparison of R320 vs. the S240? Is it clearly better to go for the R320?

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