The Petzl Aquila is a high-end harness that is minimalist in design but is also highly adjustable. It embodies a "less is more" ethos by combining a thinner waist belt with smaller gear loops, very low profile ice clipper slots, and small auto-locking buckles. Despite its relatively skinny waist belt, it was among the most comfortable harnesses we tested for hanging and belaying comfort, sinking the notion that to be comfortable, a contender must have a super fat waist belt. There is a lot to like about this harness, and it surely would have ranked higher in our overall scores if it wasn't for an odd and not super functional set of features, exacerbated by some pretty slippery buckles. We also have to point out that this was the second most expensive harness in our review. For the right person with a specific purpose in mind, this could be a great option, but for most people, it isn't the first one we would recommend.
Petzl Aquila Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable to hang in, low profile, comfortable for walking, highly adjustable
Cons: Expensive, auto-locking buckles easily loosen, gear loops too far back
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Aquila has a narrower waist belt than any other harness in this review, and surprisingly this didn't seem to detract from the comfort we found while hanging and belaying with it. What did detract from this harness was the location of the gear loops and ice clipper slots, but even more so, the slipperiness of the auto-locking buckles. Petzl's small aluminum "DoubleBack HD" buckles are found on both legs, as well as the on the waist, and compared to all of the other buckles you can find in this review, come loose by far the easiest.
While they use a similar design to most other auto-locking buckles, it seems like the two pieces are not sewn together optimally, or the top portion is just a hair too small, as these buckles end up relying on webbing-to-webbing friction to hold their tension. While this is still a safe means of keeping a harness closed, it also means that even the slightest change in the orientation of the buckle relieves this friction, allowing the webbing to loosen up all by itself. We found this to be more of an issue on the leg buckles than the waist, and it was only a real concern if the tail ends of webbing weren't long enough to be held under the elastic keepers. Again, compared to the competition, these buckles were problematic, and the correspondingly low score for features kept this harness from being one of the better ones.
The waist and leg loops of the Aquila are constructed using Petzl's FUSEFORM technology, which they claim minimizes pressure points and effectively distributes a climber's weight. While conducting our hanging comfort tests, it was obvious to us that this method of construction does work as advertised. While there was some pressure underneath our legs across the hamstrings while we hung, this was no worse than we experienced with any other harness. We also noticed that the waist belt seemed to fit snugger, and stayed in place better than the waist of the Petzl Corax, which rode up a bit into our kidneys. We thought this harness was equally as comfortable for hanging in as the Petzl Sama, although not quite as comfortable as the Black Diamond Solution. 8 out of 10.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
While merely standing around, the Aquila is comfortable, snug around the waist and hips, with no pinches or rub spots anywhere. However, when we loaded it up with a full rack of cams and other gear, we experienced some pressure on our hips and especially noticed the tendency for it to sag in the back away from the body. It has a decent amount of foam incorporated into the waist belt, so wearing a pack wasn't super ideal, but also not uncomfortable.
When it came to mobility, we found it to be more mobile than either the Sama or the Black Diamond Chaos, both of which have fixed leg loops. There is no doubt this is a comfortable harness for walking in. However, the issue with the loose leg buckles also affects the mobility, especially when wearing lots of clothing on the legs. Despite having adjustable buckles on the leg loops, we found these would automatically loosen themselves unless the tail end of the webbing was kept secure in its elastic keeper strap. This had the effect of lessening the range that we could adjust the legs, as we had to keep them tight enough to have a long tail. Taking all these factors into consideration, we only gave it 6 out of 10 points.
This harness received the lowest overall score for features, based largely on the performance of the buckles that we have already discussed, but also because of gear loop issues. First, let's talk about what we liked. We loved the heavily reinforced, slippery Dyneema coated belay loop and tie in points that minimizes wear over time. We also liked that the ice clipper slots are very low profile (although we didn't like that they rest under the front gear loops, making for an awkward sit when ice clippers are in place). Adding a strip of grippiness to the inside of all the elastic keeper loops was a nice touch, and we liked how easy to clip the rigid front gear loops were.
On the flip side, we had severe issues with the adjustable buckles, as described above. Beyond that, we felt like the rear gear loops were too small, much like the BD Chaos, and they also lived way too far back on the harness, so far back in fact that they are impossible to see, so only non-crucial gear can go back there while leading. Also, we felt like unless this harness fits you perfectly, the gear loops would not end up centered, forcing us to tighten up the waist belt more than we might have liked. Simply put, virtually every feature felt like it could be improved upon, and didn't offer the impressive versatility inherent in the Arc'teryx AR-395a. 3 out of 10 points.
When it comes to comfort while belaying, the critical part of the harness is where the leg loops wrap around the inside of the leg and rise to join the belay loop, as this is where the force of holding a climber is concentrated. The Aquila was relatively comfortable for this purpose, roughly in line with the BD Chaos, and simply seemed to fit well in this area of the body. It didn't quite live up to the standard set by our Best Overall Harness for Sport Climbing, the Black Diamond Solution, but it was pretty good. 7 out of 10.
The Aquila is designed to be highly versatile, as it is a modified version of the Petzl Hirundos harness with accommodations made for carrying ice screws and wearing extra warm clothes. The fact is, the Aquila can be used well for any purpose other than trad climbing, making it one of the more versatile harnesses in this review. However, its poorly performing features mean that it wouldn't be our top choice for any style of climbing, especially compared to the ultra-versatile Arc'teryx AR-395a or the Petzl Sama. 7 out of 10 points.
With its versatile feature set, the Aquila can be used for most styles of climbing, with trad being the one style that we would avoid due to not having enough usable racking space. It is probably most suited for alpine mixed climbing and mountaineering, provided your warm clothes don't force you to loosen the leg loops up too much. It also makes for a pretty nice sport climbing harness, and it would work well in the gym as well.
This harness retails for $130, making it the second most expensive harness in the review. We can only assume that the price is due to advanced technology used in the FUSEFORM construction, otherwise, we don't understand how this harness could cost so much more than the Sama. As a harness with some poor design flaws, we don't think this presents a good value, especially at the high price point.
The Petzl Aquila is a highly versatile harness that is also super adjustable, light weight, and comfortable. Unfortunately, it has the poorest feature design of any in our review, and for this reason alone we wouldn't recommend it for most climbers. It is also far more expensive than it seems like it should be — another knock. The fact of the matter is that compared to the competition, the Aquila's flaws became very evident.
— Andy Wellman