The gabbro on Skye's Cuillin is about as rough as rock gets. This makes it probably the perfect location for testing the durability of lightweight gear. Upon receiving the positively flimsy-feeling Petzl SITTA I was a little apprehensive that after a month of thrutchy scrambling and climbing there would be nothing left of it. Thankfully my first impressions were misguided and after two months of near constant use, on Skye and subsequently, the SITTA, apart from some light fluffing to the leg loops, is still going strong.
What is it?
In a nutshell the SITTA is a lightweight fixed leg loop harness designed primarily for mountain and big route use. It has four gear loops and a small rear haul loop; two attachment points for ice screw clippers; a reinforced belay loop (reassuringly there has been no weight saving here - thanks Petzl!); elasticated leg loops and an exceedingly comfortable waist belt secured by a single speed buckle.
Whilst the low weight of the SITTA is impressive, for me it is the compactness of the harness that is most noticeable. It folds up far smaller than any harness I have previously used, taking up a similar amount of space to a standard sized chalk bag. When you're packing for a big mountain day this is a real advantage.
Weight, construction and comfort
According to my kitchen scales my size large SITTA weighs 300g. This makes it lighter than other fully featured harness I have used, yet to hang in - on a hanging belay or abseil - it is exceptionally comfortable. Petzl achieve this low weight and high comfort level by using what they call WIREFRAME technolgy. "High-modulus polyethylene strands that are used in the waistbelt and leg loops give optimal load distribution without the use of foam" they say. I'm not an expert in harness building, but I can say that in use this certainly enables even load distribution and total freedom of movement, whilst keeping the leg and waist loops exceptionally thin and comfortable.
To hang in it is possibly the most comfortable harness I have ever used, which is amazing since it is also the lightest
The SITTA has four gear loops and a small rear haul loop. Whilst the gear loops do of course work, and I haven't failed on any routes because of them, their positioning is far from perfect, especially if you're carrying a massive rack. The front two gear loops are too far back, meaning that the rear two are even further back. This makes it near impossible to see anything on them, and I never rack stuff here that I might need in a hurry. I have managed, with a bit of Yosemite racking, to fit 14 extenders, three sets of nuts, a double set of cams and associated belay paraphinalia onto the SITTA's four loops.
Another negative of the gear loops is that they are made from a very thin cord, presumably to save weight and bulk. This works OK on the front two stiffened loops, but is annoying on the rear two, where the cord is unstiffened and quite floppy. A couple of times I have mistakenly dropped pieces when replacing gear back on my harness. Petzl say this is to make them more comfortable when worn under a rucksack, but if you're climbing with a pack you'd ideally have one that sits up out of the way of the harness anyway.
The two front two gear loops are quite large, which is good, but they also have a divider which enables you to subdivide the gear loop. This isn't something I had used before and it took a while to get used to. I have now taken to racking cams or wires in the front compartment and quickdraws in the rear. It works fine, but I could definitely live without it. On occasion it has been the cause of frustration, when I have clipped both the divider and the gear loop whilst re-racking gear in a hurry. This has made the gear more fiddly to remove again from my harness - less than ideal when lactic acid is burning in your forearms.
Whilst I've learned to live with them, overall I'd say the gear loops leave some room for improvement.
Coming in three sizes, the SITTA should fit a good range of climbers - but it's still not going to be ideal for everyone. Small fits a waist of 67-77cm and leg loops 48-53cm; Medium is 74-84cm/52-57cm and Large is 81-92cm/55-60cm.
Though more of a Medium in the waist I opted for a size large to accommodate my big thighs (this is the size I normally go for in Petzl). A large fits well around my legs, but is perhaps a little baggy around my waist. That's fine if I'm wearing a few layers, but less than ideal if I'm just in a tee shirt. Given the shape of many mountaineers - big legs but relatively small waist - it is a shame that Petzl do not offer the SITTA in medium waist with large legs, like some brands do.
When you're wearing the SITTA it is virtually unnoticeable, being so light, comfy and allowing for unrestricted freedom of movement. To hang in it is possibly the most comfortable harness I have ever used, which is amazing since it is also the lightest. There were no pressure points even after multiple hours hanging in it whilst belaying at Gogarth; I've climbed all-day rock routes in the Swiss Alps with no trace of discomfort or digging in. It's amazing to think how far the comfort of harnesses has improved in recent years. Only back in 2009 I purchased a mark 1 Petzl HIRUNDOS (see our old review). In terms of comfort it wasn't a patch on the SITTA and I can distinctly remember both multipitch abseils and hanging stances being exceedingly uncomfortable whilst wearing it. I wonder how comfortable the harnesses of 2028 will be?
Despite its flimsy appearance my review harness is still going strong after a month of thrutching on Scotland's roughest rock, and plenty of use elsewhere in the weeks since, both on UK crags and Alpine rock. There is some expected light fluffing to the leg loops, but no substantial damage. This is thanks to its tough exterior fabric and bonded construction (there's no stitching to wear), and is in stark contrast to the HIRUNDOS I owned nearly a decade ago, whose leg loops wore through in a single alpine summer.
Another way Petzl have increased the durability of the SITTA is by moving the attachment point of the harnesses' elasticated risers. Rather than being attached at the top of the leg loops, like on every other harness I've used, here they are attached on the inside of the leg loop, roughy two thirds downs. This seems to protect the elastic risers (I have snapped a couple in older harnesses), and may help prevent the bottom of the elastic from stretching out, which I have found is normally the first thing to go on a harness.
At £140 the SITTA is one of the more expensive harnesses on the market, around £20 more than equivalent offerings for Edelrid or Arc'teryx for instance. And whilst it seems surprisingly durable so far, niggles with the sizing and gear loops do rather let it down (especially considering the high price). However I think what really distinguishes the SITTA is its counter-intuitive combination of incredible lightness/compactness and exceptional comfort, and it's this that will appeal to certain users in particular. If you're in a situation where every gram counts and you expect to spend a lot of time hanging in your harness, then the SITTA would be hard to beat.
Designed for intensive use in climbing and mountaineering, the high-end SITTA harness is compact, lightweight and exceptionally comfortable. The WIREFRAME construction offers an extremely thin and flexible waistbelt that ensures total freedom of movement. The four equipment loops optimize the organization of all the gear required for progression on ice or rock. The tie-in points are made of high-modulus polyethylene for improved resistance to rope friction and for greater durability of the harness.
- Extremely thin and flexible waistbelt and leg loops. thanks to WIREFRAME technology; the HMPE (high-modulus polyethylene) strands that are used in the waistbelt and leg loops give optimal load distribution without the use of foam; the extreme lightness and comfort of the harness make it practically unnoticeable when worn
- Very compact
- The elasticized fixed leg loops and very supple leg loop bridge give total freedom of movement
- Waistbelt and leg loops equipped with DOUBLEBACK HD buckles in forged aluminum, offering good grip and fluid glide of the webbing for easy and quick adjustment
- Two very large rigid equipment loops in front for transporting a lot of gear and for easy clipping and unclipping of tools; movable separators optimize organization and quick access to quickdraws, nuts...
- Two rear equipment loops are flexible, for bringing gear to the front and for comfort when carrying a backpack
- Two slots for CARITOOL tool holder
- Rear loop for trail line or for carrying belay station gear
- Bonded construction in the waistbelt avoids pressure points and gives optimal wear resistance
- The lack of through stitching eliminates chafe and pressure points in the waistbelt
- Durable, abrasion-resistant exterior fabric
- Reinforced tie-in points in high-modulus polyethylene (HMPE) for improved resistance to wear from rope friction
For more info see petzl.com
Tom Ripley has been climbing for over fifteen years in both the UK and abroad: personal highlights include an ascent of Denali's Cassin Ridge and first ascents in Patagonia and Peru. Tom is dedicated to sharing his obsession for all types of climbing through his work as a climbing instructor and guide.
Currently, Tom is part way through the British Mountain Guides' rigorous training scheme. And, as a trainee guide, he is qualified to guide and instruct rock climbing and mountaineering throughout the UK.
Whether you are interested in making the transition from indoor climbing to real rock, working towards your first lead climbs, gaining self-rescue skills, or climbing a classic route that has so far eluded you, Tom can help you achieve your goal. Staying safe, patience and adventure are always a priority. He can be contacted through his UKC profile.