Lightweight Sport Climbing Harnesses
For a dedicated sport climbing harness you will want something light, comfortable and fairly simple. In this group test the UKC team go through some of the best lightweight sport harnesses on offer.
"One of the reasons it's so comfortable is that it is produced using BD's Kinetic Core Construction, technology found in NASA's spacesuits..."
Black Diamond describe the Xenos as their 'premier harness for ice and mixed climbing' but I believe it is much more than this. Yes, it handles ice and mixed ground with ease but it is also ideal for sport routes as it isn't bulky or cumbersome. And, with numerous racking possibilities and the comfort of Kinetic Core Construction (more on this later), it is also perfect for UK trad. I have used my Xenos for ice climbing in the Alps, mixed routes in Scotland, trad-ing on the local grit and sport climbing at Malham. I simply love it, in fact I'm thinking of getting rid of my other harnesses and just using this one for everything!
To start with you get four strategically placed pressure-moulded gear loops. These don't lose their shape when fully laden and each one takes up to ten quickdraws (see image). In between each gear loop is an ice-clipper slot, which means you can attach BD's ice clipper racking device (one is provided with the harness but you can attach up to six) to rack your ice screws and keep them close to hand. Third party screw carriers such as Petzl's Lute and Caritool also fit the clipper slots. In short the Xenos lets you carry lots of gear, easily!
Message from Black Diamond -
An issue found with 2009 Xenos Ice Clipper Slots
"It has come to our attention that the construction of some of the Ice Clipper slots on our 2009 Xenos harnesses are not satisfactory. This is NOT A CUSTOMER SAFETY ISSUE, as it won't affect the harnesses' ability to hold falls — it's a performance and durability issue that we are not happy with and want to resolve as quickly and efficiently as possible..." Read more here.
The fabrics that are used to produce the Xenos breathe well when aginst your skin but don't absorb moisture very readily on the outer face. This means you don't feel sweaty when wearing the harness against your skin for summer rock climbing, and the fabric also sheds moisture from snow and drippy ice in a winter environment.
The Xenos features an adjustable waistband and leg loops. The buckles are pre-threaded (Speed Adjust) meaning they don't need to be undone. You just slip the harness on and pull them tight. This is great in winter when threading buckles with freezing fingers (or gloves on) can be a real pain. If you do want to unthread them though, for example to put the harness on whilst wearing crampons or if you are standing in a precarious position and don't want to balance on one leg, then you can. The buckles can be un-threaded and re-threaded, then done up as normal.
Another useful feature is that the leg loops can be dropped at the rear via two plastic buckles on the retainer straps. This makes going to the loo when caught short much more convenient.
The Xenos is a comfortable harness. Maybe it's not as comfortable as my Chaos, but comfortable enough. I generally measure a harness's comfort by how much wriggling I do on hanging belays when summer rock climbing, and how much it feels like it's cutting me in two while I'm dogging my sport projects - the Xenos doesn't cause me to feel any of these things. When it's over the top of my winter action suit it's like a comfy chair. One of the reasons it's so comfortable is that it is produced using BD's Kinetic Core Construction, technology found in NASA's spacesuits.
"The traditional manufacture of climbing harnesses from webbing plus padding was completely replaced with the new KC2 technology. Our process employs several liquid crystal polymer fibres (LCP) distributed evenly along the horizontal axis in the harness core. Those are the load-carrying components. They are laminated between two light taffeta layers and hardened. This construction allows distributing loads over the entire structure of the harness so no more thick padding is needed. Only a light nylon upper and a pleasantly breathable space-mesh lining serve as a cover for the KC2 construction. The LCP/taffeta layers change into normal webbing at the front and allow a normal closure system with a speed adjust buckle. Further details are four ergonomic gear loops made of form-pressed PE tube with an internally reinforced nylon webbing."
The Xenos is my perfect all-round climbing harness. It is well made and well thought out. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a 'Jack of all trades' climbing harness and whilst at £105 it doesn't come cheap, I would say that something of this quality is most definitely worth it!
MORE INFO: on the Black Diamond Website.
Kevin Avery is 30 and lives in Wilsden, West Yorkshire. He has climbed obsessively for 15 years now and would like to think of himself as a bit of an all-rounder enjoying all aspects of the sport equally. He is a teacher by trade but also dabbles with writing articles and gear reviews, coaching down the local wall, and even taking the odd photograph when time allows.
Kevin can be regularly found sport climbing on the local limestone, scaring himself on trad, freezing on frigid winter belays and bouldering (or is that blundering?!) on the grit. Highlights include climbing the famous Brandler-Hasse route in the Dolomites (on-sight) last year, the beautiful ice of Repentance-Super in Cogne back in February, linking three big ridges on the Ben in a day, oh and managing to on-sight F7c+ and redpoint F8b.