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 easily one of the most versatile harnesses that we tested and reviewed and has gained a pretty wide following in the years since it was released. 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.
Arc'teryx AR-395a Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Awesome features for every style of climbing, comfortable fat waist belt, low profile, highly adjustable
Cons: Expensive, narrow leg loops bite when hanging or belaying, gear loops condense gear
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The AR-395a is the most expensive and heavily featured in Arc'teryx's selection of three harnesses. It is also the only one that has adjustable leg loops. 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 the very fat but also exceptionally thin design still has its drawbacks, and we don't find this the be the most comfortable harness for either belaying or hanging in. We also found that compared to the competition, many of its features, including the gear loops, had issues that made them slightly harder to use. Most of the people we know who own this harness rave about it, but we have the privilege of wearing all of the best harnesses you can buy, and simply don't find this to be the best one.
When it comes to hanging out for a long time in the AR-395a, we immediately notice how comfortable the waist belt is, especially where it wraps around our lower back, and how uncomfortable the leg loops are. In our estimation, hanging comfort boils down to about a 50% even split in weight distribution between the leg loops and the waist belt. With half of our weight held uncomfortably by the leg loops, it's understandable that this harness is not the top scorer when it comes to hanging comfort.
We feel like the super fat waist belt does an excellent job of spreading out our weight comfortably, and we love how it doesn't ride up and put pressure on our kidneys. To some degree, we think this design helps us stay more upright when free-hanging. However, we also feel that the leg loops bite into the hamstrings and inside leg more than perhaps any other harness. While the middle of the leg loops are 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 feel like a single strip of webbing biting into our legs. We notice this the moment we sit down into our free-hanging test and have verified it repeatedly. If not for this one design aspect, this harness surely would rank much higher in our overall scoring, but as it is, we feel it is no better than average.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
We feel that this is a pretty comfortable harness for standing around and walking in, although it is by no means light and featherweight on our body. 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 love how the entirely flat waist belt sits 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 accommodates additional clothing very well.
When it comes 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 notice some rubbing of the waist belt on our hips when out trad climbing.
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 work like a dream. It has huge, plastic-encased gear loops that can carry as much gear as any other we tested. It also has a haul loop, which is great for clipping in shoes or a tag line but is unrated. It has four ice clipper slots, which gives one more options for leading ice and adds to its versatility. Lastly, the leg loops are fully removable if you want a bit of extra comfort while bivvying and staying tied in on the side of your nightmare… uh, dream mountain.
While it sports a ton of usable features, 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 across, 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 low point condenses them on top of each other and makes it harder to quickly and easily unclip the right biner under duress. We also don't like how the keeper loops for the end of the main waist belt webbing lie under the gear loops so that this webbing gets in the way of our gear racking.
We also found that the auto-locking buckles were a bit easier to loosen under pressure than most harnesses. The design relies 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. While it has a ton of features, we are a bit bummed they don't perform as well as the seemingly far more dialed and Petzl harnesses.
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 is, we did our comparative testing in a light pair of climbing shorts, but then again in a pair of standard mountain pants, and found this to be the least comfortable harness for holding someone while they dog for an extended period.
The main issue once again revolves around the thinness of the leg loops as they wrap 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, not something we can claim to enjoy!
This harness is a great choice if you value versatility above all other considerations. Although it isn't anywhere near as light as the Petzl Sitta, it is still plenty light and super packable. Combined with its thin waist belt, that makes it a great choice for wearing with a pack, and this harness is one of the best-suited options 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 other harnesses. Its mobility makes the AR-395a a solid choice for hitting the sport crag or gym as well.
This harness is expensive — more than double the price of other harnesses that we have rated higher. Is it worth it? Well, the quality is top-notch, and the versatility is a big bonus. Those features are hard to beat. We can also point out that for exclusive rock climbers, our top-rated Petzl and Black Diamond harnesses are more comfortable choices for literally less than half the price.
The Arc'teryx AR-395a is one of the most versatile harnesses in this review and 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 one of the most expensive. Climbers who want one harness that can do it all, and don't mind paying a premium for it, should certainly give this one a look.
— Andy Wellman