The Black Diamond Chaos is an excellent harness explicitly designed for trad cragging and long free routes. It uses Black Diamond's top of the line Kinetic Core Construction, which disperses the load in the waist using Vectran fibers instead of the strips of webbing used by nearly every other harness. Paired with fixed leg loops and slightly larger front gear loops, this harness is simple and durable and can hold more gear than other offerings by Black Diamond. However, the top of the line construction comes with a high-end cost of $125, and we aren't sure that there is any added performance to justify it costing double that of our Best Overall award winners. Never-the-less, the Chaos is a comfortable harness that works well for rock climbing.
Black Diamond Chaos Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Comfortable design, larger front gear loops are stiff and easy to clip
Cons: Expensive, less gear racking space than desired, no ice clipper slots
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Our takeaway from our time climbing in this harness was that it doesn't have as much gear storage as we would wish. This is a disappointing realization to have about a harness designed specifically to carry more gear. While we do recognize that the "oversized" front gear loops are ever so slightly bigger than either the rear gear loops or the standard gear loops found on both the BD Momentum and BD Solution, calling them oversized felt like an exaggeration. It takes busting out a tape measure to verify that they are indeed larger. We naturally found that both the Arc'teryx AR-395a and the Petzl Sama had significantly more available gear storage, which is why they ended up with the Top Pick and Best Overall awards, rather than the Chaos.
During our intensive side-by-side testing for hanging comfort, we came to the realization that while hanging about 60% of a climber's weight will be supported by the leg loops on their harness, and the waist belt will hold about 40%. The BD Chaos has fixed leg loops paired with a band of elastic that keeps them snug around the legs. While hanging, we found them to be neither super comfortable or drastically uncomfortable. By comparison, the waist belt was nicely cushioned, and the breathable mesh backing felt good against our skin, but like most harnesses, hanging caused it to ride up a bit and put some pressure on our kidneys. Overall, this harness felt about as comfortable as the Black Diamond Momentum while hanging, but wasn't nearly as comfortable as our Best Overall Harness for Sport and Gym Climbing, the Black Diamond Solution. 6 out of 10 points.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
The Chaos is undoubtedly a comfy harness for merely chilling in. Like the Petzl Sama, its padded waist belt leaves one feeling that they can indeed notice the presence of the harness, but it fits snugly and comfortably. When carrying a massive rack, it was very comfortable, with very little noticeable pressure against the hips, or sag of the waist belt. Despite being padded, it is thinner than most padded harnesses, so it sat a bit better underneath a pack's hip belt than the Petzl Corax, for example, but still wasn't as impressive for this purpose as the super thin AR-395a. And with its elasticized fixed leg loops, we felt like it became tighter and far more noticeable as we added layers of clothing on underneath it.
From a strict mobility standpoint, the Chaos felt remarkably similar to the Sama, that is, less mobile than harnesses with adjustable leg loops. However, while this snugness is noticeable chilling on the ground, we didn't once find ourselves inhibited or annoyed while climbing. Once again, the Chaos received the same score for Standing Comfort and Mobility as the BD Momentum, 7 out of 10 points.
Overall, the features on this harness were not quite as numerous or as useful as those found on the Petzl Sama, which is why that harness was our Best Overall for Trad Climbing, instead of the specialized Chaos. We loved how easily the single auto-locking waist buckle was to snug up, and how securely tight it stays all day long. We also like how the gear loops are flat rigid plastic that is easy to clip and unclip from and don't cause the biners to bunch up in a low point. Likewise, the haul loop is easy to blindly clip, and we liked that it was rated to 12kN for emergency use on a big route. Also worth mentioning is that the leg loops can be fully removed for more comfortable bivies on alpine rock routes.
However, we found that while the "oversized" front gear loops are just big enough, the two rear ones are still quite small for use on long free routes, where we need plenty of space for clipping our shoes, water bottle, windbreaker, and emergency climbing gear like webbing and a knife. We couldn't help but notice how these loops were as small as the ones on the sport-specific BD Solution, and also how there are about two inches of unused space on each side of the haul loop. That means that at least four inches of potential harness space is unused on a harness without enough racking space. Enlarging these two back loops would be great, but making all four larger would be even better! Also worth noting is that this harness does not have ice clipper slots for use in the winter or on mixed alpine climbs. 8 out of 10 points.
When it comes to belaying for long periods of time, most of the weight of your partner will be focused on the leg loops where they wrap around the inside of the leg. We found the Chaos to be about average in this department. The leg loops weren't super comfortable but were not nearly as painful as we experienced while belaying in the AR-395a or the Edelrid Zack. The waist belt stayed comfortably in place, so this harness ended up being a bit more comfortable than the Momentum for belaying. 7 out of a possible 10.
With fixed leg loops rather than adjustable ones and no ice clipper slots, the Chaos is not quite as versatile as the Petzl Aquila or Corax. Despite our complaints about the size of the gear loops, it is a good choice for most rock climbing adventures, big or small, we just think it would work a lot better with larger loops. If you only rock climb, mostly cragging, then this harness could be a "quiver of one." 6 out of 10 points.
Despite being specifically designed for trad climbing, we think this harness is also optimally suited for both sport and gym climbing. It has plenty of gear racking space for single pitch trad cragging, and will work ok, but not perfect, for long free routes or alpine rock climbs. Due to its fixed leg loops, we wouldn't choose to use it for mountaineering, and it lacks the necessary ice clipper slots for ice or mixed alpine climbing.
This harness retails for $125, making it the third most expensive harness in this review. That said, it costs significantly more than either of our Best Overall harnesses, which we think performed better. While this is a great harness to own, we have a hard time seeing where the added value comes from with such a high price.
The Chaos is a high-end harness. For long free routes, we wish that it had more gear storage, and actually think that it is ideally suited for clipping bolts instead. While this is a comfortable harness that uses some advanced technology to distribute forces in the waist belt, it also comes at a high price that we aren't sure is completely warranted.
— Andy Wellman