Outside magazine, June 1995
With the invention of the laminated-foam climbing harness, hanging after a fall or during repeated long rappels has become almost tolerable. Firm but conforming, foam greatly reduces the pinching and binding that a climber can suffer in the grasp of nylon webbing. Where foam chafes is in the pocketbook: A laminated harness can run as much as $100.
But now REI has made laminated-foam comfort available at webbing prices in two new harnesses: the Spire, for all-around climbing, and the Sentinel, specifically for sport climbing. The $49 outlay for either is reason enough never to get caught in webbing again.
The Spire and the Sentinel share a basic configuration: a firm belt and leg loops lined with CoolMax to dry quickly and prevent chafing, a sturdy loop of webbing to clip into for belaying and rappelling, and a tapered design that's wide in back and narrow in front for comfort and freedom of movement. Both also have droppable leg loops so that you can answer nature's call without going off belay, a particularly convenient feature for women. The Spire is cut about an inch wider than its sibling, for greater support, and has four rigid gear loops. The trimmer, lighter Sentinel has two gear loops, supplemented with a pair of hook-and-loop "jet tabs" that let you speedily rip out a quickdraw when you're quivering on a 5.11 nubbin and want to lock into the nearest bolt as quickly as possible.
Both harnesses fit well and are easy on the waist and legs. Long, semirigid nylon tongues make buckling secure, and the belay loops reduce clutter around the waist when you're belaying a partner. The thoughtful, safety-conscious design--along with the great price--make the Spire and the Sentinel terrific bargains.
From REI, 1700 45th St. E., Sumner, WA 98390; 800-426-4840.