Winter climbing is a Marmite activity, you either love it or hate it. Personally I come into the love it category. It’s a love affair that I’ve only recently (in the last 7 years and I’ve climbed for nearly 30) rekindled and nurtured and I’ve been rewarded with some of the best climbing memories I have. The beauty of the surroundings together with the physical and mental demands on my body are the motivational factors that drive me to make the early starts, long drives and late finishes feeling exhausted.
There was an hilarious thread on UKC about the the winter belay here: http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=276395. I think that sums up winter climbing nicely!
Winter climbing places extra demands on both your body and equipment that rock climbing doesn’t. More so than ever your equipment has to perform because the consequences if they don’t, although rarely fatal, can elongate what is already going to be a long and tiring day. It stands to reason then, when buying kit for winter climbing you should have the best you can afford and then add a bit (you can always go without beer for a week or two to pay that extra). Having good performing kit will pay dividends in the long run, especially in winter.
This CGR Buyer’s Guide focuses on that staple item the harness: a harness is the link between your body and your protection. It also has to carry all that extra gear and be comfortable on extended belays whilst your partner is scratching their way up some desperate Grade VI trying to uncover some elusive gear placement. Here we will go through some important points to consider when looking for a winter specific harness.
You’ll spend a lot more time in your harness during a winter day out than you would summer rock climbing; winter days out are not uncommonly 8 or even 10 hours and you’ll be doing a variety of other activities like walking or even skiing in it. So with this in mind you should be looking for a nice wide waist belt, most modern harnesses will have a wide back which tapers towards the buckle. Wide leg loops will also pay dividends if your hanging off an ice fall for 2 hours. So make sure you look for this feature; a super thin, narrow sports climbing harness isn’t going to cut it in this environment. Ventilation isn’t so much an issue as you have so much clothing on that losing heat through a harness isn’t as critical as say an alpine day out.
Whilst being comfortable and supportive though, winter climbing harnesses do not need to be of the super padded variety though and many of the more modern harnesses are taking their inspiration from both sport climbing and ski mountaineering racing, even up to the point of getting rid of adjustable leg loops or going for the simple nappy style system. You have to remember that a lack of padding can be made up for as you usually wear more clothing and the lack of adjustable leg loops means you might need to be a bit more organised when kitting up. These lightweight harnesses are not for everybody but the weight conscious climber has a few options to go for these days, the Petzl Hirundos and Arc’teryx M270 mentioned at the end of this article being just two of them.
Another comfort issue is the dreaded toilet visit (I don’t know what it is with me but as soon as my harness is on I need the loo) – your harness should definitely be easy to unclip the leg loop adjustments (these are at the back of the harness). If the worst should happen and you need to make a toilet visit it should be easy to go whilst still in the harness.
You need to size your harness for both summer rock climbing and pay attention to the extra layers you’ll be wearing during winter. Most harnesses now have a good range of sizes but if you fall into the crossover size category (i.e. you’re a large medium) then err on the larger size. The waistbelt should adjust so that the gear loops sit symmetrically on either side of your waist.
Buckles should be glove friendly – this is the number one consideration as you don’t want to handling metal with bare skin in sub zero temperatures. You should be able to undo the buckles completely and easily, especially the leg loops.
I’ll give you a personal example of why: I was walking into Coire –an Lochan is the Scottish Cairngorms a few years back to have a look at Hoarmaster with a good friend. Conditions were typically early season Scottish with a huge plume of spindrift blowing off the tops. I put on my crampons and walked steeply up to the base of the route and then tried to get my harness on. I was already feeling blasted by the conditions and was hopping around and teetering trying to get my fixed leg loops over my harness. I suddenly lost my footing and nearly went for a 200m slide but just about steadied myself. Needless to say I went out and bought an adjustable leg loop harness for my next trip.
The incident could have been avoided by putting on the harness before climbing to the base of the route or by undoing the leg loop buckles. I often keep the leg loop buckles fully extended or undone and this makes the job easier.
Many modern harness designs now include self-locking buckles for both the waist and leg loops. This is great for convenience but do be sure you can still undo them easily and remember to re-thread them back the correct way!
Gear Loops and Ice Clipper slots
Although 4 gear loops are adequate for any climbing I prefer 5 for winter climbing. I carry a little extra gear for UK winter such as pegs, warthogs, bulldog and ice screws so I feel an extra gear loop spreads the load. I like to keep all my belay stuff on the back loop so I’m not faffing with my gloves on at the belay, it’s important to be efficient at the belay as your partner is likely to be frozen and keen to get going.
Gear loops should be complemented by the addition of ice clipper slots. These should be burly in construction as you will be removing them often to rock climb in the harness. They are very useful for ice climbing and I even use them mixed climbing as I can often access my wires easier off an ice clipper when wearing gloves.
Other considerations to think about could be – packability; if you like to go small and light then a mesh type harness or thin fabric packs smaller. Snow shedding fabrics – some manufacturers include a surface fabric that helps shed snow, this can help drying the harness out when climbing several days on (there’s no point carrying unnecessary water to the route is there) and inclined gear loops for efficient gear selection.
Here’s a selection of harnesses that we at CGR feel are suitable for winter climbing. Some will be reviewed throughout the season so watch out for those in-depth reviews!
The 2013 Renegade is the third evolution of our premium adjustable leg harness. It now has an improved racking system designed to work with both summer and winter racks, a narrower belay loop for better compatibility with small belay biners and skinny rear elastics that are light whilst still holding their position well.
CGR says – a good looking all rounder that looks like it’s at home on Gogarth or The Ben. We’re looking forward to trying it out on both. It certainly feels lighter and those 7 gear loops will come in handy.
This is our top of the range all-round harness for women. The combination of the Renegade’s feature set with the women-specific fit and distinctive styling make this a comfortable and supremely functional harness. Hard redpoints, trad adventures, winter and summer – the Puma can deal with it all.
CGR reviewer Kasia offers her intial thoughts : First impressions of the DMM Puma 2 harness is that it’s comfortable and neat and I love the floating waist pad so that I can easily centralise my rack no matter how many layers I’m wearing – and in winter that tends to be quite a lot for me. I haven’t quite got my head around what I’m going to do with all 7 gear loops (5 on sizes XS and S) but I’m sure I’ll work out what works best for me as time goes by. An opportunity hasn’t arisen as yet to try the ice clipper points– but I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the harness performs this winter so I can give you an update.
The Edelrid Orion is a harness designed with comfort in mind. It uses EDELRID’s 3D-Vent technology, a combination of a wide waist-belt and ergonomic leg loops along with air-permeable ventilation holes, which allow for both excellent pressure distribution and breathability. The Orion features 4 gear loops as well as 2 ice screw attachment points for organised, convenient racking and uses a plastic abrasion protector for additional durability at the tie-in loop. The Orion also features adjustable leg loops and a single waist adjustment, which ensures that the tie-in loop and gear loops remain centred at all times.
CGR reviewer Richie Allen offers his first impressions: Though the Orion from Edelrid is billed as an ‘all-rounder’ suited to sport or mountain use its design is slanted more toward the trad and winter climber. Ample racking by way of four asymmetric gear loops and two low profile cunningly concealed ice clipper slots (which it appears they have had to label so you can find them!) should cope with most racks. What sets this harness apart is its ‘3D Vent’ technology which shapes the very wide foam padding ergonomically whilst using thin webbing strips to support the foam and allow ventilation. The waist-belt is a similar width to my other harnesses but definitely more ‘shaped’ whereas the leg-loops are significantly wider. This certainly seems to aid comfort when just hanging in the harness and it will be interesting to see how they feel on longer winter routes.
The new four buckle Summit is a multi tasking monster built to chase big goals, where adjustability, capacity and integrity are the watchwords.
A rare combination of features and performance, including Wild Country’s classic double buckle waist, our new ‘Load Spreading Technology’ laminate belt and Ziplock buckles throughout, makes for an instant classic. Designed for multi-pitch, mountain, Alpine, big wall & guiding.
Features: New ‘Load Spreading Technology’ laminate belt, New DWC500 durable outer, New 20mm Ziplock double buckle waist, New 16mm Ziplock leg loops, Seven new moulded gear racks, ‘Batwing’ belt shaping, 22kN Belay loop , Haul loop, Two ice racks, Two sizes, SML, REG.
CGR reviwer James Parkinson with his initial thoughts: The Summit is a very comfortable harness for all-round use. Seven gear loops mean that you can carry everything you’d ever want (some might think them overkill!) although if you use the two ice clipper slots you will lose two large gear loops.
The two buckle waist belt means the harness is very adjustable for different seasons and clothing systems although it is not as straight-forward to use as a simple one buckle set up.
All-in-all, the Summit is a well built piece of kit that will work well for all types of climbing in all seasons.
Lightweight, comfortable harness designed for performance-focused ice and mixed climbers.
CGR says: a pretty minimalist harness with just enough gear loops for ice climbing, alpinism or continental mixed and plenty of ice clipper slots too. I’ve not used it on a big Scottish mixed pitch yet but a bandoleer may be required to help carry my rack. It features fixed leg loops but these are built to accommodate clothing and work fine so far for me. At 270g it is super light and packs small! Sexy!
The Hirundos is Petzl’s ultralight, super compact harness designed to maximise climbing performance. Aimed at sport climbers, yet versatile enough for all-round use, the Hirundos features Petzl’s Frame Construction with breathable monofilament mesh evenly distributing pressure, providing support and comfort. Woven mesh on the inside of the harness wicks moisture, while perforated closed-cell foam increases breathability. The ‘DoubleBack’ buckle is pre-threaded and adjusts with a single pull. Rigid, inclined front equipment loops give easy access to gear while flexible rear loops stay out of the way while wearing a backpack. There are two CARITOOL slots for winter use, and the elasticised leg loops have a large range of expansion for correct fit, while staying in place on the thighs. Sizes: S, M, L . Weight 270g (size S).
CGR says: an iconic and established harness from French company Petzl. Seen on the waists of many of the great and good. Just don’t expect to have your normal UK massive rack hanging from it!
Ice routes in Canmore. Sport climbs in Rodellar. Splitters at Indian Creek. For those who climb it all, all year long, the Black Diamond Aspect provides four-season performance and comfort with our Dual Core XP Construction™. Dual Core XP features a waistbelt with two thin bands of webbing around the outside of the frame and an EVA foam insert to evenly distribute load without pressure points. The Aspect is designed with 4 Ice Clipper slots to accommodate your tools and screws, plus 4 pressure-molded gear loops and a 12 kN-rated haul loop. We also added pre-threaded Forged Speed Adjust buckles on the waistbelt and leg loops (to accommodate varying layers through the seasons) and Bombshell abrasion patches (which are 20 times more durable than standard nylon).
CGR says – this is great looking all round harness, we love the skinny rear gear loop, which is large and inconspicuos. It looks great for winter mixed as well as sport climbs and we’re looking forward to testing it out on both!