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Hands-on Gear Review
Petzl Sama Review
Cons: No ice clipper slots, not the lightest
Bottom line: The best rock climbing harness that you can buy.
Weight (size medium) (ounces): 13.7 oz.
Gear Loops: 4
In the winter of 2018, Petzl updated their already popular Sama harness, improving the fit and comfort level while holding on to what made it one of our favorites. We now think that it is the best overall harness for climbing that money can buy, and are happy to bestow upon it our Editors' Choice Award for Best Overall Harness. The Sama is a fixed leg loop harness designed for sport or gym climbing, but also includes a feature set of large gear loops and a rated haul loop that make it an ideal choice for trad cragging or long free routes as well. Whether hanging, climbing, or belaying, it is hard to find a harness more comfortable than the Sama, one of the major reasons it was our highest rated in comparative testing. If you need a new harness versatile enough for all styles of rock climbing, the Sama is where we recommend you begin the search.
RELATED REVIEW: The 8 Best Climbing Harnesses
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The changes made to the newest version of the Petzl Sama are unquestionably improvements that helped boost our opinion of this harness even higher. Most noticeable is a shift away from the dreadfully ugly old bright orange colors to a soft grey denim-esque fabric pattern that looks both fashionable and unassuming. Also reworked is the elasticized section of the fixed leg loops that now include a larger, looser fit that is more comfortable and allows for greater mobility without constriction. The leg loops have also been made slightly thinner and less bulky, and have a tapered design toward the front that makes this the single most comfy harness for extended belay duty. Lastly, the configuration of the waist belt has changed, with larger rigid front gear loops than before, rear gear loops that are closer to the front for easier access, an easier to clip haul loop, and a removal of the ice clipper slots.
Compared to the other harnesses in this review, only the Black Diamond Solution could match the comfort level for hanging and climbing found on the Sama. While both were designed with sport and gym climbing specifically in mind, the Sama also works well for trad cragging and multi-pitch, where the Solution does not. If you need a harness only for sport or gym climbing, we would opt for the Solution, as it's lighter and lower profile. On the other hand, if you want a harness that is the best for all forms of rock climbing, check out the Sama.
When it came to hanging comfort, the Sama was close to the best. With its newly redesigned fixed leg loops, we found that the majority of our body weight felt reasonably well distributed across our legs. The truth is that no harness is super comfortable to hang in for very long, but we found that this harness certainly had more comfy leg loops than the Arc'teryx AR-395a.
When hanging at a belay or on route or while rappelling, we estimate that the leg loops will hold 60% of your weight, and the other 40% rests on the lower back supported by the waist belt. The Endoframe construction of this waist belt is essentially a very fat strap that runs across the top, with a much smaller subsidiary strap that splits off to the bottom of the waist belt to help with load distribution. These two straps are padded on the inside, and the result is quite comfortable, but not quite as form fitting as the less padded, wider waist belts found on the Arc'teryx or BD Solution. When hanging, we found that the waist belt tended to ride up a bit into our kidneys in a way similar to the Petzl Aquila, but not nearly as severe as we experienced with the Petzl Corax. Overall this was one of the "least uncomfortable" harnesses to hang in, and so we gave it 8 out of 10 points.
Standing Comfort and Mobility
The newly designed fixed leg loops on this harness are noticeably more comfortable than the previous version, allowing for a much wider range of un-constricted mobility, as well as accommodating climbers with thicker thighs better than before.
When holding a full rack on the gear loops, the extra weight produced no sagging, nor did it cause the waist belt to drop away from the waist at all, and this was the most comfortable harness we tested for this purpose. However, with its bulkier padded waist belt, we found that it didn't sit quite as comfortably underneath a pack's waist belt as the AR-395a. Overall we felt this was one of the weakest aspects of this harness, but it still scored middle of the pack, roughly the same as the Black Diamond Chaos.
After using these harnesses at climbing areas across the country, we concluded that the Sama has the best feature set of any harness we tested. While it no longer has any ice clipper slots, like the Arc'teryx AR-395a, or adjustable leg loops, we never-the-less could not find anything to complain about with any of its features.
We loved how the tie-in point is specially reinforced with slippery polyethylene fiber, and that the lower tie-in loop has a red wear indicator that lets you know when you need to move on to a new relationship, uh, harness. It has two gear loops on each side, with the front ones offering convenient rigid clip-ability, and the rear ones providing a more considerable amount of space for all-day adventure essentials.
The haul loop is easy to blindly clip and go. Finally, its single auto-locking waist buckle was simple to use and worked great, in contrast to the much-too-easily-released buckles found on the Petzl Aquila. We gave it 9 out of 10 points.
With nearly a lifetime of experience holding the rope for other people, we have learned that harness comfort while belaying has a large part to do with how the leg loops sit against the inside of your legs while standing. With its newly designed, thinner, and perfectly tapered leg loops, there is no doubt that the Sama was the most comfortable harness that we tested for logging belay duty.
Despite the design that has the leg loops pinching down to a thin connector as it rides around the inside of the leg and over the femoral artery, the shape didn't allow for the gouging we felt while belaying for long periods of time in the Arc'teryx AR-395a or the Edelrid Zack. In fact, only the BD Solution could match it in this department, with a slight edge going to the Sama.
When it came to versatility, the Sama was one of our top choices, behind only our Top Pick for Versatility, the Arc'teryx AR-395a. Our only knock against its versatility was that it employs fixed leg loops instead of adjustable ones, and that it no longer has ice clipper slots, which are very handy to have when ice climbing.
The Sama's large gear loops, easy to clip haul loop, and exceptional comfort made this harness an excellent choice for any style of rock climbing, and make it a great choice for climbers who only want to buy one harness, but never want to be held back.
The Petzl Sama is designed to be used primarily for sport climbing and in the gym, and for that purpose it works excellent. However, its comfortable fit and perfectly designed features also mean that it is an ideal choice for long free or alpine rock routes, as well as simple trad cragging. For any style of rock climbing, this harness is an optimal choice. If you are looking for a harness for ice climbing, mountaineering, or alpine mixed climbing, we don't think you should consider the Sama as your first choice, and we direct you instead to the Arc'teryx AR-395a.
The newly re-designed Sama retails for $70, up $5 from the previous version. This makes it about $20 more expensive at retail price than the most affordable choices we reviewed, but is still far more affordable than the collection of purported "high end" harnesses available today. As the cream of this crop, you will certainly find good value in this purchase.
The Petzl Sama is the highest rated harness in this review, leading us to award it our Top Overall Award. It is the most versatile climbing harness for rock climbing, and is being sold at a pretty reasonable price considering the performance. The new improvements will be appreciated by both longtime users and those climbers new to this harness, and we had a nearly impossible time finding anything that could be improved upon while testing it.
— Andy Wellman
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