Hands-on Gear Review

Arc'teryx AR-385a Review

Price:  $159 List | $118.99 at MooseJaw
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Pros:  Versatile, mobile, and compact
Cons:  Thin leg loops dug into the back of our legs when hanging
Editors' Rating:   
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Designed for these Disciplines:  Sport, Trad, Ice
Weight (size small):  13 oz
Gear Loops:  4 (rigid with flexible attachment points)
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx

Our Verdict

Arc'teryx has completely redesigned their harness line for spring of 2015. Gone is our old Top Pick for Sport Climbing harness, the R280. Instead, Arc'teryx has released three new models: an AR (all-around) and FL (fast & light) option, available in men's and women's versions, and a unisex SL (superlight) harness. Due to previous issues with the fixed leg loops on the R280 fitting only those with very skinny legs, we decided to test out the new Arc'teryx AR-385a, which has adjustable leg loops. This harness uses the same Warp Technology as previous Arc'teryx harness, making them easy to recognize at the crag. The waistbelt is ultra-thin but very wide (4 inches), and surprisingly comfortable. The load feels evenly distributed over our waists, and we didn't notice the lack of padding. What was not so comfortable were the leg loops. Even though the edges have been softened a little, they still dug into the back of our legs and made this one of the least comfortable harnesses to hang in. It has some great all-around features, like four ice clipper slots and supreme compactability. Ultimately, however, this harness fell short compared to the Camp Supernova and Black Diamond Lotus, both of which we prefer as all-around models.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Cam McKenzie Ring

Last Updated:
Tuesday
March 17, 2015

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The Arc'teryx AR-385a has a 4 inch wide waistbelt made with its "Warp Technology." Instead of placing padding around one or two bands of webbing which carry the load, this construction distributes it across the entire harness, which has no padding at all. There are four, plastic covered rigid gear loops with flexible attachment points, and a non-structural loop in the back for a haul line or extra gear. There are also four ice clipper slots sewn to the outside of the harness.

Performance Comparison


Climbing in one of the new harness offerings from Arc'teryx. We found this model easy to climb in and we like the extra wide waist belt  but the thin leg loops dig into the back of our thighs when hanging.
Climbing in one of the new harness offerings from Arc'teryx. We found this model easy to climb in and we like the extra wide waist belt, but the thin leg loops dig into the back of our thighs when hanging.

Standing & Hanging Comfort


The Arc'teryx AR-385a scored near the top of the list for standing comfort. The waistbelt and leg loops are so thin that you almost forget they are on, and while the harness is an impressive four inches wide at the back, it tapers around the sides of the hips towards the front, contributing to its comfort. When it comes to hanging, however, this harness had mixed reviews from our testers. While we all found the waistbelt to be very comfortable to hang in, with no pinching or pressure points, the leg loops were a different matter. The material is so thin that it cut into the backs of our thighs, creating a painful spot. While other light sport-specific harnesses, like the Black Diamond Siren, made our legs go numb after about 10 minutes of hanging, this one actually hurt! Arc'teryx says that they used softer edges on theses redesigned harnesses "to eliminate cutting and binding" and you can see where there is a 1/4 inch edge all around the waistbelt and leg loops, but in practice this didn't seem to make much of a difference. If you plan on doing lots of long routes with hanging belays, or hang-dogging a lot while sport climbing, you'd be better off with our Editors' Choice winner, the Camp Supernova, which was a lot more comfortable to hang in than this model.

While the 1/4 seam around the leg loops and waistbelt softens the edge a little by rolling when you weight this harness  the thin material still dug into the back of our thighs and was very uncomfortable to hang in.
While the 1/4 seam around the leg loops and waistbelt softens the edge a little by rolling when you weight this harness, the thin material still dug into the back of our thighs and was very uncomfortable to hang in.

Discipline-Specific Features


The Arc'teryx AR-385a has many features that we like for an all-around harness, and a few that we don't. The gear loops are large enough to hold many quickdraws or lots of gear if you prefer to rack on your harness. Because they lie flat, it is more comfortable to wear a pack over this model than the Black Diamond Primrose or Black Diamond Lotus. The leg loops are easy to drop if need be on a long route and the hook attachment has a slim profile that won't create a pressure point when pressing your back against the rock. However, the rear gear loops are pretty far towards the back of the harness, and they might get in the way if you're doing some serious chimneying. The rear haul line loop has a tag that says 0 kN, which is probably a good way of letting you know not to use it as a clip-in point. This is not much of a deal breaker — we can think of virtually no times that we've actually used a rear point to secure ourselves — but it is nice to know that the loop that you've attached your tag line to is strong enough to take that weight. We are assuming that this small loop is still engineered to carry the weight of a rope.

The rear haul loop is rated to 0 kN. Hopefully it can carry the weight of a rope. While we loved the 4 inch wide waist belt  the rear gear loops are positioned a little far back and are hard to access.
The rear haul loop is rated to 0 kN. Hopefully it can carry the weight of a rope. While we loved the 4 inch wide waist belt, the rear gear loops are positioned a little far back and are hard to access.

This harness comes with four ice clipper slots that are sewn onto the outside of it. The slots are not as tight and secure as the ones on the Black Diamond Lotus, which are cut into the fabric of the harness. Depending on which style of ice tool carabiner you use, you might have a lot of extra movement with these slots. This harness weighs 13 ounces in a size small, and is a little heavier than the former R280 which weighed only 10.5 ounces. It is still extremely compact, however, and though it takes a bit of finagling to actually get the harness in the tiny carry bag, it will save a lot of room in your pack once you do, making this harness a good choice for light and fast missions.

This harness compacts down much more than the Black Diamond Lotus  even though they weigh the same. This saves some room in your pack for other gear.
This harness compacts down much more than the Black Diamond Lotus, even though they weigh the same. This saves some room in your pack for other gear.

Mobility


The Arc'teryx AR-385a scored very high for mobility, on par with the lightweight harnesses in our review like the Black Diamond Siren and Mammut Zephira. The material on this harness moved with us easily, and it was not stiff or restricting.

The AR-385a ranked high for mobility; we were able to heel hook our way around this roof with ease.
The AR-385a ranked high for mobility; we were able to heel hook our way around this roof with ease.

Versatility


We ranked this model very high for versatility as well. If you are looking for a harness that can easily transition from sport to trad to ice, this is a great choice. Even if you mostly sport climb, you never know when the opportunity to try something new might arise. The adjustable leg loops and ice clipper slots give you the option to use one harness for everything. Due to the issues with the leg loops digging into our thighs, we would prefer to take the Black Diamond Lotus, our Top Pick for Trad and Ice Climbing, on longer routes that involve hanging belays.

Adjustability


The Arc'teryx AR-385a is very adjustable. The pre-threaded waist buckle cinches down with ease and stays there, and the adjustable leg loops give about 4 inches of play, so you can layer this harness over leggings one day, and long underwear and softshell pants the next.

The adjustable leg loops allow this harness to fit women of different proportions  and it also allows us to wear it over layers.
The adjustable leg loops allow this harness to fit women of different proportions, and it also allows us to wear it over layers.

Best Applications


This harness was designed as an all-around model, and we think it fits that bill pretty well, but it's not very comfortable to hang in for long periods, so perhaps it is better suited to light and fast missions in the mountains where you will be scrambling and hiking a lot with the harness on but not actually weighting it very often.

Cleaning a sport route on rappel. We like this harness for moderate sport climbing where you won't be hanging in your harness for too long  or fast and light missions in the mountains.
Cleaning a sport route on rappel. We like this harness for moderate sport climbing where you won't be hanging in your harness for too long, or fast and light missions in the mountains.

Value


The Arc'teryx AR-385a is the most expensive harness in our updated review. At $159, it is twice as expensive as the Black Diamond Lotus, and three times the cost of the Mammut Ophira. While we don't disparage spending more money for a quality piece of gear, in this case we are not sure it's worth it considering you can buy a more comfortable harness like the Camp Supernova with all the same features for half the price.

Conclusion


The new AR-385a from Arc'teryx is an impressive piece of engineering, and you're sure to get many compliments and questions about its design when wearing it. While we really liked many aspects of this harness, it didn't quite measure up to some of the other models that we tested. It's designed to be an all-around do-it-all harness, and while it does have all the necessary components to fit that slot, we just couldn't get past how uncomfortable the leg loops were while hanging. We found the all-around Camp Supernova much nicer to hang in, and it cost a lot less than this harness to boot. That said, if you're looking for a compact option for alpine missions, then this is still a good pick.

Cam McKenzie Ring

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Most recent review: March 17, 2015
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