I’m a big fan of almost anything Arcteryx. Almost unilaterally, their jackets and pants fit and function as if they were custom designed for me, and their backpacks are among the most comfortable I’ve ever used. And although comfortable, packable and light, the design of their harnesses, as well as that of some other newly introduced items, sometimes raises some questions as to the direction of their hardgoods department.
The I-340a is Arcteryx’s newest ice-climbing specific harness. The redesign adds a wider waistbelt and leg loops, as well as fourteen – yep, fourteen! – ice-clipper slots arranged in two ‘strips’ on either side of the harness. Somehow, the harness also loses weight in the process.
Like other Arcteryx harnesses, the I-340a uses their ‘Warp Strength Technology’ to evenly distribute the load across the entire harness structure. Put simply, the longitudinal fibres are not bound together but rather allowed to mould to the wearer’s body. This creates an exceedingly thin and supple waistbelt that is comfortable without being bulky. Even with four ice-clippers attached, the harness easily folds up and fits into my helmet for packing. My scale shows the size medium to weigh 353 grams.
The leg loops are shaped to be most comfortable when weighted, sitting somewhat stiff and sticking away from the thighs when slack. As most modern harnesses, the buckles are self-locking (i.e. auto doubled back), and there are wear indicators embedded in the belay loop and tie-in points (these are essentially differently coloured threads inside the loops that will show up when the tie-in points are worn enough to warrant the harness being retired). In addition to a large haul / gear loop in the back, there are two soft, bendable gear loops on either side.
The fourteen ice-clipper slots, and their positioning, are perplexing, to say the least. At best, only four of these are actually useable, as the others overlap the existing gear loops, rendering either the ice clipper or the gear loop unuseable. Additionally, the ice-clipper ‘strip’ on the right side extends almost all the way to the tie-in point. Unless you like ice screws poking into your thigh every time you raise your leg, the four forward-most loops are absolutely useless. While a cool idea, the execution of the ‘ice-clipper slot strip’ is severely lacking in real life functionality.
My other major gripe with this harness is the stiffness of the lower tie-in point (the one that connects the leg loops). On most harnesses, the curvature of the leg loops is maintained by a sewn piece of webbing below the tie-in point that captures the belay loop. Arcteryx, however, have used a narrow strip of webbing with a simple flat buckle on one end. Due to the slipperiness of the webbing used, and the stiffness of the tie-in point, this bottom connector keeps on coming undone. While this doesn’t present a safety concern, it is annoying to say the least.
With an MSRP of $170, the I-340a is one of the most expensive harnesses on the market. To my knowledge, its price tag is only surpassed by another Arcteryx harness, the B-360a at $175 MSRP. The light weight, packability and large rear haul loop are all wonderful features, however they are severely overshadowed by awkwardly positioned ice-clipper slots and an overly stiff lower tie-in point.
Pros: light, packable, fairly large rear haul/gear loop, built-in wear indicators, lots of ice-clipper slots
Cons: (some) awkwardly positioned ice-clipper slots, stiff lower tie-in point, high price point
Overall: Good, but not great. Given the huge price tag, I find it hard to recommend this harness unless light weight and packability are at the top of your priority list.