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 is a reasonably expensive harness, with a price tag that may be outsized compared to the performance. 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. It is best suited as an alpine ice and mixed harness, due to its low weight and mobile fit, but wouldn't be our first choice for trad climbing.
Petzl Aquila Review
Compare prices at 2 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 very narrow waist belt, but 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 waistbelt on many other harnesses which rode up into our kidneys. Compared to the competition, this harness ranked in the middle of the pack for this metric.
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 some of the top-ranked harnesses that 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. While it is mobile enough to be considered for alpine climbing, we would honestly recommend the higher-performing Petzl Sitta for this purpose first.
This harness receives a low 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 like. We love the heavily reinforced, slippery Dyneema coated belay loop and tie in points that minimize wear over time. We also like that the ice clipper slots are very low profile (although we don'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 like how easy to clip the rigid front gear loops are.
On the flip side, we have severe issues with the adjustable buckles, as described above. Beyond that, we felt like the rear gear loops are too small, and they also live 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 feel like unless this harness fits you perfectly, the gear loops will not end up centered, which forced 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, a stark contrast to the other excellent Petzl harnesses.
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 is relatively comfortable for this purpose, and simply seems to fit well in this area of the body. It doesn't quite live up to the standard set by the most comfortable harnesses for sport climbing, but it's pretty good.
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, as there is always a better choice, which is also most often cheaper, for any given style.
This harness retails for nearly double the price of our Editors' Choice award winner, making it one of the most expensive harnesses in the review. We can only assume that the price is due to the advanced technology used in the FUSEFORM construction; otherwise, we don't understand how this harness could cost so much. 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, lightweight, 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