CGRUK tests the versatile and improved Arc’teryx R320-a harness
Value for Money ****
I couldn’t begin to describe the excitement I felt when I bought my Arc’teryx X350-a harness, this was the the top of the range harness with state of the art WARP technology. I marvelled at the hyper-thin waistbelt and legloops; I revelled in the sheer beauty of it’s design and amazingly it came in a tin: for goodness sake a harness in a tin, with the Arc’teryx fossil imprinted on it! It felt that I had bought the most luxurious and decadent item of climbing equipment ever. That harness cost me £100 and was the top of the range, I have since used it for all my climbing activities from easy rock days, tough redpoints and ice climbing – it has performed in all the ways I would have expected a piece of Arc’teryx kit: brilliantly.
The new 2011 Arc’teryx R-320a dropped into the office to much excitement and discussion, it’s not the most expensive harness in the range (the R-360a Big Wall harness holds that accolade), but it is the most versatile. With the x350a being such a brilliant harness I was very keen to see how Arc’teryx could improve it.
The first and immediate notice was…no tin! The harness came in a standard netted package which would make it easier for product display. But hey, a minor point and I’ll have to find something else to put my cakes in. The R-320a, at 347g is 22g lighter but then doesn’t have ice clipper slots and the leg loop is put together in a different way and this all helps reduce the weight. It is important to point out that the R-320a isn’t marketed as a winter climbing harness (they have the über light M-280 for that and the X350-a is still in the range) but as an all round rock climbing harnesss and that’s what I tested it as.
The harness still uses the innovative Warp Strength Technology, for those who haven’t come across this it’s a way of spreading the webbing fibres over a larger surface area, this thins out the harness and allows a much broader waistbelt and leg loops for a much reduced weight and absolutely no loss in the rated kN. All very state of the art; the waistbelt was indeed very thin and broad and this made the harness much more comfortable than the X-350a. It was a dream on hanging belays: I never had to suffer an aching back or sore hips even when hanging for long periods. This was a definite improvement and by far the most comfortable harness I worn for hanging belays, great stuff.
The buckle system on both the waist and legs was very smooth, it was self locking and easy to tighten and loosen off, even with gloves on. The finish was outstanding and just the sort of subtle detailing you would expect from Arc’teryx. The excess tape was tided up with oversized loops, this was a real improvement on the older models as they could often be fiddly, especially with gloves on. The webbing did come out on occasion, particularly on the legloops as the loops were too wide to secure the tape tightly.
The gear loops had been improved by widening the front ones, this meant that I could put more hardwear where I needed it, I could easily fit a couple of sets of wires, some cams and 5 quickdraws on the front ones. The rear ones remain standard and could easily accommodate some more cams, quickdraws, belay plates, etc. The gearloop design was assymetrical and could be reversed. This was theoretically great as it meant I could reverse the loops so that quickdraws weren’t swinging around my thighs. In practice I could only do this using a Leatherman and it was very fiddly, not something that would be easy to do in the field.
The legloops were attached with very thin looking elastic, I’ve had my X-350a for well over a year now and the elastic still looks robust and shows no sign of wear, so I can only expect the same. They were attached to the waist belt with a small, polished, aluminium buckle; this made them easy to detach for toilet visits.
There was a small, plastic D ring on the back of the harness for clipping chalkbags into. I often use this for clipping my prussicks and ascenders into and I would like to have seen this ring made from welded aluminium, steel or even better and small sewn tape. No matter how well moulded the plastic ring it’s going to break eventually and so there is always a tiny worry at the back of my mind. This is a small detail that Arc’teryx should pick up on for future designs.
So a great offering from Arc’teryx and a real improvement on the previous models. The wider waistbelt is very welcome and it will excel in all rock climbing situations. With the addition of a couple of ice clipper slots it would also replace the x-350a and be a most awesome all round harness.