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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx AR-395a Review
Cons: Very expensive, narrow leg loops bite when hanging or belaying
Bottom line: An awesome versatile harness that wasn’t quite as comfortable as some of the competition.
Weight (size medium) (ounces): 14.1 oz.
Gear Loops: 4
Some pieces of outdoor gear naturally lend themselves to the "quiver" philosophy. It's nice to own a couple of pairs of skis, for certain more than one jacket, lots of people have multiple different pairs of rock climbing shoes, but harnesses? Enter the Arc'teryx AR-395a. If you purchase this harness, we promise you that you will have no need for any other harness, regardless of the objective or style. The AR-395a is by far the most versatile harness that we tested and reviewed, and as such, we chose to award it our Top Pick for that reason. Whether you are planning a day of ice climbing, a huge alpine objective, or simply headed to the crag or gym, the AR-395a won't leave you wishing for features found on your partner's harness. We could easily have seen this being the best overall harness if it wasn't for the less comfortable leg loop design. As it was, it was the third best harness in our overall ratings and the only one that can easily do everything that involves a rope.
Overall, the AR-395a is by far the lowest profile harness we tested. An advantage of this design is that this harness is so thin that it disappears from thought as you're crushing your latest project. It is one of the most versatile harness we tested and excelled at everything except super extended periods of hanging. The biggest downside to this harness is definitely the steep price point. At $160, you could buy two discipline-specific harnesses (instead of an all-arounder like the 395a) and still have some cash left over to treat yourself at the end of a long climbing day.
RELATED REVIEW: The 8 Best Climbing Harnesses
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The AR-395a is the most expensive and heavily featured in Arc'teryx's selection of three harnesses. It is the only one that has adjustable leg loops, with the FL-365 offering much the same features with fixed leg loops, and the SL-340 cutting out even some of the gear loops to be lighter and more nimble for sport climbing. It features a wide waist and leg loop design with literally no padding at all, diffusing pressure using Arc'teryx's Warp Strength Technology. "WST" is a construction style that allows for no straps whatsoever running around the body that need to be padded for comfort. The effect is that the waist and leg loops are indeed one super fat strap, made of comfortable and flexible Burly Double Weave material. While this idea seems cool, the reality was that we experienced less discomfort when wearing the two top scorers: the Black Diamond Solution and Petzl Sama.
Comfort, especially while belaying but also while hanging to some degree, were what kept this harness from being the top overall scorer. The truth is that in order to differentiate between many awesome harnesses, we had to be pretty nitpicky in how we judged. Since wearing any climbing harness at all wouldn't typically be described as comfortable, there is a good chance that you won't be bothered by the comfort related complaints we make below. Regardless, the reason you should want this harness is that it has incredible features for all styles of climbing, so if that sounds like you, read on below.
When it came to hanging out for a long time in the AR-395a, we immediately noticed how comfortable the waist belt was, and how uncomfortable the leg loops were. In our estimation, hanging comfort boils down to about 60% performance of the leg loops and 40% performance of the waist belt. Understandably, then, this harness was not the top scorer when it came to hanging comfort.
Unlike the Black Diamond Momentum, we felt like the super fat waist belt did an excellent job of spreading out our weight comfortably, and we loved how it didn't ride up and put pressure on our kidneys like the Petzl Corax. To some degree, we thought this design helped us stay more upright when free-hanging. However, we felt that the leg loops bit into the hamstrings and inside leg more than perhaps any other harness. While the middle of the leg loops is super fat, where they wrap around the inside of the leg they taper to a thin, roughly 1-inch wide, strip. At this point, the loops have the thickness of a piece of webbing, with no padding, and to us, they just felt like a single strip of webbing biting into our legs. We noticed this the moment we sat down into our free-hanging test and verified it repeatedly. If not for this one design aspect this harness probably would have been the top overall scorer, but as it is, we gave it 7 out of 10 for hanging comfort.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
In our testing, we felt that this was the second best harness when it came to standing around or moving in, next to only the Black Diamond Solution. As a very wide harness, it is indeed a noticeable presence against the body, but not in an annoying way. As long as the waist belt is tightened up snug, it carries a rack very well. We loved how the entirely flat waist belt sat underneath the hip belt of our pack like a dream, making it an optimal choice for mountaineering and alpine climbing. And with its adjustable leg loops, it accommodated additional clothing very well.
When it came to mobility, we did notice a few things worth mentioning. For us, the elastic leg riser straps were a bit tight, especially when moving our legs as high as possible. We also noticed some rubbing of the waist belt on our hips when out trad climbing, but this may not be a common occurrence. We found it to be a shade more mobile than either of the fixed leg loop harnesses — the Petzl Sama or Black Diamond Chaos. 8 out of 10 points.
What features doesn't this harness have? It comes with a reinforced tie-in point and belay loop, both of which have wear protectors to indicate when you need to retire the harness. The auto-locking buckles on both the legs and waist worked like a dream. We loved the huge, plastic encased gear loops that were bigger than any other we tested. It also had by far the largest haul loop, which was great for clipping many other extras to as well. It has four ice clipper slots, which gives one more option for leading ice than any other harness. Lastly, the leg loops are fully removable if you want a bit of extra comfort while bivying and staying tied in on the side of your nightmare… uh, dream mountain.
While we thought it had by far the best feature set, this wouldn't be an unbiased, comparative review if we didn't point out the few flaws as well. We wish that the gear loops were designed to be flat, like the ones on the BD Chaos or BD Solution, instead of with a low point as they are. We find when we rack a ton of biners and cams on one gear loop, having a small point condenses them on top of each other and makes it harder to quickly and easily unclip the right biner under duress, although this complaint is minor.
We also found that the auto-locking buckles were a bit easier to loosen under pressure than most harnesses, although not as loose as we found the buckles on the Petzl Aquila to be. The design relied more on webbing on webbing friction to stay tight, rather than metal pinching webbing, and while we don't think this presents any safety hazard, we wouldn't mind having them lock a little tighter. In the end, we gave this harness 9 out of 10 points for features, the same score as the Sama.
If you don't do much top-rope or sport belaying, or you are always wearing many extra layers for winter climbing, then you should probably ignore our complaints about belay comfort for the AR-395a. As it was, we did our comparative testing in a light pair of climbing shorts and found this to be the least comfortable harness for holding someone while they dog for an extended period.
The main issue once again revolved around the thinness of the leg loops as they wrapped over the femoral artery and inside of the leg to meet at the belay loop. As we have found, belaying while standing localizes the pressure of your partner's weight almost 100% into the part of the leg loops that wrap around the inside of the leg. For us, this force amounted to the thin nylon loops biting into our legs next to our balls. While the Edelrid Zack and the Black Diamond Momentum were also not super comfortable to belay in, our discomfort didn't match what we found with this harness. 4 out of 10.
This harness wouldn't be our Top Pick for Versatility if it weren't super versatile! It handily beat out every other competitor in this department. Although it wasn't as light as the BD Chaos, it was still plenty light and super packable. Combined with its ridiculously low profile that makes it our top choice for wearing with a pack, and this harness is by far the best-suited option for use in the high mountains.
The enormous storage capacity of its oversized gear loops and haul loop make this an ideal choice for alpine rock or mixed climbing, as well as for long free routes in non-alpine venues. The options for placing your ice clippers either close to the front of the harness, or balanced in the middle (or both), was something that wasn't a choice on the Petzl Sama, Aquila, or any of the Black Diamond harnesses that we tested. Finally, its remarkable comfort and mobility make the AR-395a a solid choice for hitting the sport crag or gym as well. When it comes to versatility, we gave this harness a perfect 10.
Whether you are alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies, banging at the ice in the Ouray Ice Park, or racking up for the Grand Wall in Squamish, the AR-395a is an optimal choice. It will also serve you nicely on the clip ups at Red Rocks, or at your local gym. For mountaineers, the low profile offers a huge advantage. There is no doubt this harness will serve you well for any style of climbing, but we must say that if we were looking only for a sport and gym harness, we would probably make a different choice.
This harness retails for $159, making it far and away the most expensive harness in this review. Is it worth it? Well, the quality is top-notch, and the versatility is unrivaled. Those features are hard to beat. However, for that amount of money you could literally buy both of our two Editors' Choice Award winners — the Black Diamond Solution and the Petzl Sama — and still have some cash left over for dinner and a few beers. We're going to leave that call up to you.
The Arc'teryx AR-395a wins our Top Pick for Versatility because it is the only harness in this review that is ideally suited to every climbing discipline. However, due to comfort related issues with the leg loops, it was not the highest rated harness in our test. It is also by far the most expensive. Climber's who want one harness that can do it all, and don't mind paying a premium for it, should look no further.
— Andy Wellman
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