There’s a cooking show called “In Search of Perfection,” in which one of the world’s best chefs, Heston Blumenthal, seeks to create the perfect version of an iconic dish. From a classic American burger to a seemingly straightforward steak & salad, Blumenthal travels the world to find the best ingredients to create the ultimate dish. But whereas recreating the perfect meal is (at its core) simple enough — all you need are ingredients and basic cooking utensils — creating the perfect harness is a bit more laborious, and for people without access to industrial sewing machines, i.e. most of us, myself included, quite frankly impossible to accomplish.
My personal “Search of Perfection” is for the ideal ice- and mixed- climbing harness. The requirements are quite simple, really: four ice-clipper slots, two on the side for screws, two towards the back for tools, hammer, etc.; four gear loops to keep me organized; a fifth gear / stash loop at the very back to keep all my less-used gear such as cord, ascender, knife and the like; and a strong, separate, haul-loop for, well, hauling stuff. Ideally, all of this should be attached to a lightweight, easily packable waistbelt and, either, adjustable leg-loops, or fixed-size, elasticized leg-loops that will accommodate layers as needed. It doesn’t sound complicated, right?
It sounds simple, but is apparently incredibly complicated to execute. The closest I’ve seen, and used, to this perfection are the newly redesigned Black Diamond Aspect (men’s) and Lotus (women’s) harnesses. The only point these harnesses miss are four properly located ice-clipper slots. To wit:
The harness has four ice-clipper slots, however, two are on the side, and two are located towards the front, over the leading edge of the forward-most gear loop. When the waistbelt is snugged up, these two forward ice clippers lie directly over the upper thigh. Even without screws, I find ice clippers in this spot annoying during more acrobatic mixed moves. Add screws, whose teeth love to snag pant fabric with even the slightest leg movement, and you’ve got an annoying, sharp mess to deal with.
The forward-most ice-clipper slots place the screws right over the user’s upper thigh: not an ideal location. The secondary, over-the-hip slot is in an excellent location, with easy access but enough out of the way to not interfere during climbing. Women’s version – the Lotus – pictured.
The bizarre thing about this design is that I’ve talked to various hardgoods designers from very well-known companies who say they not only get constant requests from customers for these over-the-leg ice-clipper slots, they actually use them themselves. Curiously, I’ve yet to talk to a single local climber who agrees on this placement (and living in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the locals tend to climb a lot, and hard).
The harness could easily accomodate two more ice clippers at the trailing end of the second gear loop… Note the large gear/stash loop at the back – though it is thin 2- or 3-mm cord, it can handle at least 75kg of load (I’ve hung off the loop on my harness.)
Other than this single, questionable, design trait, this is an amazing harness.
There are four gear-loops, nicely rigid and decently sized. Though they are bendable, the loops are quite rigid and tend to stick away from the waistbelt a little bit, making clipping a quick, mindless affair.
There is a massive rear stash loop, probably my favourite feature, ideal for clipping an extra pair of gloves, V-thread cord or self-rescue kit. This is something that should be on every harness made from now on. Weighs nothing but makes life that much better. Below the stash loop is a 12kN-rated haul loop. Awesome.
Men’s version – the Aspect – loaded down, and showing two extra ice-clipper slots attached. Note that the ice-clippers are looped through the stash loop so that even if the attachment broke, the clipper would stay on the harness. (I’ll post a detailed how-to on this site.)
All of this is attached to a very comfortable waistbelt and roomy, adjustable leg loops. And it all still packs down and compresses small enough to fit into my helmet, with ice clippers attached (my test for packability of a harness…)
That’s all the remaining boxes ticked, then.
I love this harness, I really do. I’m actually using it more often now than my Arcteryx M-280, which is quite a feat. It’s light, packable and — with a small mod** — has all the features I’m looking for. The perfect ice- and mixed- climbing harness? Almost.
Pros: comfortable, packable, four gear loops, large stash loop, strong haul loop, two usable ice clipper slots
Cons: two of the ice-clipper slots are useless
Overall: my new favourite harness for ice and mixed.
NOTE: The sizing of Black Diamond’s new harnesses appears to have changed. Whereas previously I fit a medium (Momentum SA 2009, Aspect 2010, Xenos 2011), I had to get a large in the Aspect 2013. I suspected that maybe I’ve gained weight, but I’ve talked to at least three others who have found a similar change in sizing.
**I’ve recently figured out a way to securely attach two ice-clippers on the trailing edge of the rear gear loop, making this the perfect ice harness. Separate post detailing the attachment coming as soon as I get home in a couple of weeks!**