Light is right has been the mantra of Wild Things for the last 26 years. Wild Things, run by Marie-Odile Meunier and previously her ex-husband John Bouchard is a North Conway, New Hampshire based designer and manufacturer of lightweight extreme cold-weather alpine gear using cutting edge technology and materials. Similarly Ray Jardine, the inventor of Friends, has been pushing home-made lightweight hiking and backpacking equipment for a comparative amount of time.
'Across the outdoor industry the Light Is Right philosophy has become the gospel for modern outdoor gear.'
Across the outdoor industry the Light Is Right philosophy has become the gospel for modern outdoor gear, aided by new materials and innovations in the design process that allow gear to be stripped down to its most basic whilst still performing. It's not just a fad, the lighter you go, the more you can do and you can perform better. Lighter means faster which means less fatigue and increased safety.
From the hills to the mountains and crags, we can walk and climb unencumbered.
This is being seen clearly in climbing hardware too where weight isn't an issue anymore. A full rack used to pull your harness down below your hips, now with lightweight gear you can carry more if need be and if you do happen to fall there are no excuses for not having placed the right piece to protect you - because you can surely carry it up with you. Across the board, from nuts to cams and on to carabiners, everything has been shaved of excess weight without any loss in strength.
Standard carabiners, due to such innovations as wire gates, hot forging and I-beam construction, have been whittled down from in excess of 50g to, in many cases below 30g. Screwgates used to weigh up to 250g, now you can get screwgates that weigh just above 40g. Cams similarly have seen a considerable drop in weight, up to 50% in some cases compared to earlier designs, with camming devices now weighing in between 50 to 300g.
In the last several years harnesses have seen a similar drop in weight. The first sit harnesses were basically a belt and leg loops made out of webbing, like alpine harnesses today and the Whillans harness of yesterday. To this simple design was added padding for comfort, an array of metal buckles for adjustment, multiple gear loops, rear elastic loops that join the leg loops to the waist belt and in some cases a haul line loop. Harnesses got bulky and complicated, and sometimes just darn uncomfortable.
What climbing companies have done recently is to integrate the webbing waist belt with the padding either by using new materials (BD's Kinetic Core Construction) and/or by splitting the webbing (Arc'teryx's WARP Technology and Petzl's FRAME Technology). Kevin Avery our Gear Editor will be describing some of these innovations in a future article.
Essentially the load is spread across the waistbelt and legloops and the harness is comfortable if you fall or sit in it. Material has been eliminated so reducing the weight of the harness but without compromising comfort and strength. The lightest harnesses now range between 180 and 400g, whereas they used to be twice that - some still are. Again strength is not compromised and all these harnesses conform to UIAA standards (UIAA 105). Add in better ergonomic design, quite often breathability to reduce hot spots and sweating and it is clear that harness design has been improved.
C.A.M.P Italy are advocates of the light is right movement across their product range, from ice axes and crampons to their Nano 23 carabiner - a paperweight at 23gs but with a strength rating of 20 kN.
'The AIR passed that test alright, I actually got in my car to drive home with it still on.'
Now C.A.M.P have brought out a lightweight harness weighing in at just 233 grams, about 8 ounces. The AIR is ergonomically designed, wafer thin, is ventilated and is a full strength harness.
First thing I did with it was put it on to check if the rise was good for me. The rise is the distance between the leg loops and the waist belt and it varies between manufacturers and is different for women's harnesses, women are longer from waist to thigh (the rise is longer proportionally). The rise is very important for correct fitting and is one of the reaons you should always try on a harness before purchase. Men also tend to wear their harness lower on the waist than women, virtually like hipster jeans in some cases. The correct rise means that the harness sits comfortably on you allowing freedom of movement and so there is no pulling between your leg lops and waist belt. If there is some pull on your leg loops, slacken the rear elastic loops that join the leg loops to the waist belt or the opposite if they ride to low.
The next thing I did was to walk about in it, make a cup of tea, and sit at my computer working with it on. Alan James at UKC joked that I didn't really need to be wearing a harness whilst working at a desk because he really didn't need me tied down whilst working on UKC stuff. But there was method here. One sign of a good modern lightweight harness is that you don't notice that you are wearing it. The AIR passed that test alright, I actually got in my car to drive home with it still on.
Construction wise, the fixed leg loops and waist belt are made from perforated 2mm EVA foam with soft polyester mesh on the inside and a more durable mesh on the exterior, the structural integrity coming from thin webbing sewn at the edges of the foam, also called the binding. This is similar to Petzl's FRAME Technology. On the waist belt this edge webbing is sewn to the buckle tape to which there is a pre-threaded metal buckle: adjusting the waist belt is a cinch. The waist belay is tested to 10kN - about a tonne. The belay loop, tested to 15kN, is what C.A.M.P call a "No Twist" belay loop - this has a loop for your screwgate carabiner that holds it firm so avoiding any cross-loading. Cross-loading carabiners considerably weakens them.
OK, climbing in it. I've been using the AIR since April on single and multi-pitch sport climbs in Mallorca and El Chorro, been single pitch cragging with it at places like Stoney Middleton and various grit crags, and in the Lakes.
It's simple design means that it is simple to put on. The more paraphernalia on a harness and the easier it is to get things twisted, to put your leg through the wrong loop, and the more chance of getting frustrated if you are eager to get climbing. When climbing my movement was unrestricted, and with all these lightweight harnesses, you do not realise you are wearing it.
The racking system is simple, 4 gear loops, two plastic-coated, taking up to 16 quickdaws comfortably. I have used it for short single-pitch trad climbs and found the four gear loops adequate. Whilst two of the gear loops are plastic coated and stand proud of the harness facilitating racking, the other two are just pieces of cord. It would have been better if these were also plastic coated. For longer trad routes you could use a gear sling to rack extra gear, although I wouldn't really recommend this harness for trad multi-pitch routes. I have done sport multi-pitch that included hanging belays and found it comfortable for short hangs. It is comfortable to fall in. I haven't taken any massive lobs in it but for short falls the lack of any traditional thick foam padding makes no difference, because of the design the load gets distributed across the waist belt.
Durability. So far so good. The AIR has had some use by me and I've checked for any fraying of stiches and wear and found none. It's always a good idea to regularly check your harness.
The AIR is a good lightweight harness, it is in the mid-price range of £62 (harness prices range from £30 to £100). If you haven't tried a lightweight harness, unencumbered by adjustable buckles, just stripped down to the basics, it is quite a revelation.
CAMP Air Harness
Weight: Only 233g
Size(s): XS, S, M, L, XL
XS: Waist - 58-68 cm, 23-27 in | Leg - 48-52 cm, 19-20.5 in
S: Waist - 65-75 cm, 25.5-29.5 in | Leg - 52-56 cm, 20.5-22 in
M: Waist - 72-82 cm, 28.5-32 in | Leg - 56-60 cm, 22-23.5 in
L: Waist - 79-89 cm, 31-35 in | Leg - 60-64 cm, 23.5-25 in
XL: Waist - 89-96 cm, 35-38 in | Leg - 64-68 cm, 25-27 in