I like light pack-able gear so when I saw the new Black Diamond AirNet Harness I had to get my hands on one for a test drive. While this harness was designed and marketed towards high end sport and competition climbing (actually designed in collaboration with Adam Ondra for the Olympics) I’m willing to give up a few things for ultra-lightweight pack-ability. I now have three months of guiding with this harness and am ready to share what I think! Let’s start with the most noticeable features and then break down the minutia!
Without a doubt you’ll think they forgot to put the harness in the package when it arrives at your door. Manufacturer listed weight is 8.3 ounces (235 grams). On my home scale my size large weighed 9 3/8 ounces (264 grams). This is about an ounce (40 grams) lighter than the Petzl Sitta. This harness is truly featherlight!
The construction and materials used in this harness allow it to easily fit into the included storage sack when folded up with room to spare. The measurements of the stuff sack when are about 6 x 3 x 3.5 inches, so this harness only takes up about 60 cubic inches in your pack. It is super pack-able!
I went with a size large for my 34 inch waist. The patented “AirNet” technology definitely allows the full width of the waist belt (measured about 2 3/4 inches at widest) to distribute force during a leader fall or while hanging from a belay stance. Adjustable (via elastic) buckle-less leg loops (also measured about 2 3/4 inches at widest) distribute force when loaded but seem non-existent when just wearing the harness. In fact the harness is almost not noticeable when worn. I hiked many miles while wearing this harness and you can definitely forget you have it on.
Features I Liked
Other than the three things I mentioned above I liked the two pressure molded front gear loops, the auto adjusting butt straps (more like string), the great breathability of the material, and the unique “Infinity Belay Loop” which I’ve never seen before. Essentially it is low profile belay loop that is continuous and doesn’t have the traditional bar-tacking that can get caught when rotating it through the harness tie-in points. I also believe the Dynemma/Spectra type material the harness is constructed out of will lead to great than average life expectancy when compared to similar Nylon style harness!
Things I Would Have Liked
I wasn’t crazy about the super skinny low profile webbing used for the two rear gear loops. I understand this was a request from Adam who would cut his rear gear loops off to save weight (that’s dedication!). They worked for storing my “non-pro” things like cordelette, belay device, prussics, belay gloves, etc but they weren’t very easy to clip things to since they were so skinny and soft. And while this harness was not designed for ice climbing I would have loved two slits that I could add ice clippers to so I could carry this over to ice season.
Summary/Who is this for?
This is definitely a niche harness. Black Diamond states that this is the “ultimate competition and sport harness on the market” and it’s definitely a tough contender for that title! I also think those, like myself, who prioritize low weight and excellent pack-ability might be able to cross over into some traditional/alpine climbing use. I was able to comfortably carry my full rack up to a Black Diamond #3 Camelot with 10 alpine draws and my regular non-pro kit. If you’re carrying a double rack you’ll likely need to use a shoulder gear sling. If you need a more full featured harness for year round climbing check out my review of the Petzl Sitta.
If you’re looking to pickup an ultralight harness for non-winter use and don’t need enough space to carry a double rack you should check out the Black Diamond AirNet Harness!
A media sample was provided for purposes of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog and the author receives a small commission when you make a purchase through them. Thank you!
The Petzl Sitta (pronounced SEE-Tah) is a stand-out harness in the very small and exclusive class of high-end technical harnesses. I bought my first top-of-the-line harness back in 1995 when I realized I was addicted to climbing. The Petzl Guru was a stand out at that time both for its notice-able rescue orange color and its high price point (it was double what most harnesses cost in the 90’s).
Despite the price tag I never regretted the purchase as it was really comfortable for the era and served me well for the start of my climbing career from Red Rocks to the Rockies and back East. Since I retired it around 2000 I’ve gone through a steady stream of harnesses, almost always Petzl; Adajama, Corax, Calidris, Sama, another Adajama, then a Hirundos (review), and now the Petzl Sitta.
Let’s take a close look at this technically advanced harness!
Without question the first thing you will notice when holding this harness in hand is how unbelievably light it is. My size large weighs in at 10.5 ounces (or 294 grams) on my home digital scale. Manufacturer specifications indicate a size large is 300 grams (10.58 ounces), so I’d say the claimed weight is easily met! The only similar featured harnesses on the market in this category are the Arcteryx FL-365 which weighs in at 365 grams / 12.9 ounces (size not given) and the CAMP Air CR which weights in at 350 grams / 12.3 ounces (size medium).
That makes the Petzl Sitta the lightest full featured harness on the market designed with a broad spectrum of climbing disciplines in mind.
I’ve always preferred harnesses that pack up small. Since we usually don our helmets at the same time we put our harnesses on I’ve been in the practice of folding my harness up and storing it neatly inside my helmet like I show here in my Hirundos harness review:
I’ve started doing things a little differently with the Petzl Sitta. Like most harnesses the Sitta comes with a storage bag. With every harness I’ve ever owned I’ve tossed the storage bag or used it for something else; make-shift crampon pouch, random organizing stuff sack, etc. But the stuff sack that comes with the Sitta is a bit more utilitarian. First, it’s small:
The harness packs up so small I find the space inside my helmet is too large to store the harness snugly, so I started using the stuff sack to store the harness in my pack. It’s small profile allows for more efficient packing when trying to maximize available space. After gearing up I started using the stuff sack as a mini-essentials kit since there is a conveniently sewn loop on the sack allowing you to clip it to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground. I typically toss in some snacks, bug dope, small climbing knife, headlamp, phone & car keys!
While this isn’t re-inventing the wheel I think most harness stuff sacks are too big to really hang off the back of your harness. This one isn’t and the quality of the stuff sack material and zipper instills confidence. In fact you can clip a small loop from the zipper and the carry handle with one carabiner, which adds some redundancy and keeps the zipper closed when scumming your way up a chimney!
Reviewers all over the web have commented at length on how surprisingly comfortable this harness is and I’ll be echoing those sentiments. To quote Climbing.com’s review (which also granted Climbing’s Editor Choice Award to this harness):
“Lightweight harnesses aren’t supposed to be this comfortable”
I’ve worn the harness now for a little over two months and find it just as comfortable as the more padded Petzl Hirundos that I reviewed earlier this year. Petzl achieves a high degree of load distribution via their “WIREFRAME” construction. Spectra® strands are incorporated in the waist-belt and leg loops to aid with this. Basically Spectra® is a super strong static material. Because it does not stretch like regular nylon load distribution can be optimized with careful design. I would say this harness is as comfortable as any harness I have worn in the last 10 years! Another benefit of this high tech design is the harness is very breathable in hot humid weather and has a very sleek low profile when climbing with a larger backpack.
Elasticized fixed leg loops:
I’ve said it before that I prefer this style of stretchy leg loop. It offers excellent freedom of movement, less weight, and less bulk. I actually feel these shouldn’t be called “fixed” because they really are “auto-adjustable”. The stretchy adjustable part stretches up to 2.5 inches which is more than enough for me to add some long-underwear and soft-shell pants for this winters ice climbing season!
The reinforced tie-in points are made with high-tenacity polyethylene which resists fraying and wear from repeated rope movement at these high stress points. This really is a nice feature since I usually decide to retire my harness when I have notice-able “fray” in this area and this material will definitely slow any the harness “fuzz” development.
Here’s another area Petzl has really been innovative with! The Petzl Sitta has the traditional 4 gear loops but there are some important design considerations to take note of. First, the front gear loops are LARGE and RIGID! I can rack a standard rack easily on the right front gear loop. The rigid support facilitates clipping & un-clipping protection and quick-draws.
The gear divider is interesting, it can be adjusted forward or back to give you some customization. I keep it in the middle and rack passive pro and small cams in front, and every thing bigger behind the divider. I’ve found having the divider is a really nice “blind reference” when reaching for gear without looking down. Need a .4 Black Diamond C4? Find the divider and it will be the carabiner right in front. Need a .5? Find the divider and it will be the carabiner just behind the divider.
For ice climbing I plan on sliding the divider back since the Petzl Caritool slots are within the gear loop area. There is a spot for one Petzl Caritool on each side.
Different but related to comfort, how a harness fits is quite personal. We are all shaped differently, so to help you choose the correct size lets start with the official size chart from Petzl:
You really should measure yourself accurately before you order, but for your convenience here’s a quick conversion of the waist sizes:
Small is for 26-30 inch waist.
Medium is for 29-33 inch waist.
Large is for 32-36 inch waist.
I have a 34 inch waist, and the large waist belt fits perfectly. My thigh, measured at it’s thickest part, is about 59 cm. I still have plenty of stretch in the leg loops to accommodate thicker ice climbing layers.
The above features make this harness an excellent choice for a slew of climbing disciplines. I’ll briefly give a 1-10 rating with a short explanation based on the features for each discipline before jumping into a summary:
Gym Climbing 5/10– If all you need is a gym harness this is overkill. Get a cheaper harness.
Sport Climbing 9.5/10– I can’t think of what else a dedicated sport climber could want from a harness. This is an excellent pick for sport climbing!
Traditional Climbing 9.5/10– Again, this harness has everything I would want for multi-pitch trad climbing
Ice Climbing 8.5/10– I’m REALLY looking forward to this ice season but wish they added just one more Petzl Caritool slot, preferably under the back of the right rear gear loop
Mountaineering 8.5/10– A great choice if skis and glaciers are not involved!
Glaciers & Ski Mountaineering 7.5/10– Closed leg loops make this less than ideal for glacier travel and ski mountaineering, but it’s not the end of the world. Just wear your harness all day, with this one you will forget it’s on!
Bouldering 1/10– What are you thinking?
It’s really hard to fairly compare this harness with what else is on the market.
Price-wise it is at the far upper end in the recreational category, but its incredible light-weight pack-ability and comfort can make it easy to justify the purchase. As mentioned near the beginning of the review only the Arcteryx FL-365 and CAMP Air CR come close and I’m hoping to get samples of those to review here soon. For now I’m eagerly awaiting the cooler temps and early season ice climbing. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself and should just enjoy the quickly approaching foliage climbing season, definitely my favorite time to rock climb in the White Mountains!