Sweet Gear Review: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right

7 09 2009

Memorial Day was just around the corner and I was in need of a new all day harness. I had been checking out the Arc’teryx WST harnesses for the past year and wanted to wait until the new Black Diamond harness came out before decided which to buy.

When I started multipitching all of my partners and I had the Misty Mountain Cadillac and I enjoyed having the beefy webbing and the 6 gear loops. In an attempt to get a similar harness I bough the even larger Yates Shield which had more gear loops than I knew what to do with.  I used this harness when climbing The Vampire and Cloud Tower in 2008 but found it to be way too bulky. I tend to sweat while trying hard and the thickly padded leg loops left bands of sweat around my pants.

At $125 the Arcteryx R320 is a big investment for a harness  and I was unsure that it could really live up to the hype. I had gotten Lizzy a R-280 for Christmas and she had been fairly content with the fit and feel but didn’t like the gear loops.  One of my good friends had taken an R320 up the Nose and raved about the comfort. Living in a harness for three days sounds like a good test to me.

Smith Rock - June 09 097

Getting ready to take some falls on Pure Palm in the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock.

Racking up for Sheer Lunacy in Zion, I had a lot of cams on my harness and could feel their weight pulling on the thin WST webbing but I was still comfortable. As the day wore on the harness stayed comfortable and my only complaint was that the cams tended to fall in front of my leg.

Spending a week climbing in Smith Rock in June I took only my R320 and was very happy climbing both sport and trad. On the hot days I could wear the harness without a shirt despite the super thin waist band.  At Smith I hang dogged for an extended time, took falls and even climbed a multi-pitch putting the R320 through a full suite of tests. I still had an issue with the gear falling over my leg so I ended up switching the orientation of the front two gear loops.

Smith Rock - June 09 234

Leading up Wartley’s Revenge with a full rack at Smith Rock

In July and August my R320 accompanied me on over 40 pitches of alpine climbing in the Sierra on the Incredible Hulk and Temple crag. The harness still is looking new and I finally felt ready to give it a review. Switching the gear loops, (so the angle of the loop tilts back) makes the gear sit much better for trad climbing, in my opinion, and I can easily fit 12 quickdraws and a double set of cams.

One of the initial reasons I stayed away from the R320 was the fit.  For a 5′ 8″ male I have relative large legs but a smaller (~30 inch) waist. I had to buy a medium to get a comfortable fit in the non adjustable leg loops. When I pull the waist band all the way tight I still have a little bit of room. This issue does not interfere with my climbing so it has not been a problem.  I have heard that the waist versus leg size  issue could be solved by trying the women’s R280, which I should have tried on before buying the men’s version. If it comes down to fit I suggest looking at both models.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 238

Sporting the R320 while climbing Postitive Vibrations on the Incredible Hulk

Overall the R320 is amazingly light and does not hinder your movement. The design of the gear loops is a bit floppy since they are plastic over webbing instead of a stiffer molded plastic (used in Petzl and Mammut harnesses).  A strange thing we also discovered is that the size of the gear loops is proportional to the size of the harness. Thus Lizzy has less space in her gear loops on the extra small harness compared to my medium.

Darkstar - July 09 063

Getting ready to hike out from the Summit of Temple Crag. I had been wearing the harness for ~12 hours when I arriving back at the  base.

After around 100 pitches of climbing in the last four months my R320 still looks fairly new which was my biggest concern. I’ll make sure to either comment here or write another post to discuss the long-term durability after I have had the harness for a year. The only two problems I have seen,  on other R320’s, is that plastic part of the reversible gear loops can pop off.  I added a piece of electrical tape to prevent this from happening. As well the attachment point for the haul loop on a friend’s harness is getting pretty worn after a year or so of climbing. I expect this is due to abrasion on the back of the harness from climbing chimneys and descending from alpine routes.


  • Very lightweight and moves well with your body.
  • Comfortable to wear while hiking and descending from long routes.
  • Breathes well and is soft enough to wear shirtless.
  • Gear loops are reversible and large enough for a double rack of cams plus quickdraws.


  • Gear loops are somewhat floppy and the plastic can become detached.
  • Gear loops are proportional to the size of harness. The smaller sized harnesses have less room for gear.
  • Adjustable leg loops are only available on the A300a and the  X350a, the alpine WST harnesses.
  • Expensive: the R320 or R280 (women’s trad) are the middle of the range at $135. The S240 sport climbing harness is the cheapest at $99 and the alpine X350a clocks in at an astounding $159.

Feel free to leave questions or  comment about the Arc’ teryx WST harnesses.





9 responses

8 09 2009
Kate C

Awesome review!

I’ve been wearing the R280 all summer, and I’ve been surprised at how much I like it. I might add to your pro’s list: packs down extremely small. I know it’s obvious, but when you’re a smaller person, you can’t wear the giant climbing packs. I finally have a harness that doesn’t take up half of my pack. Plus, I stashed it in my carry-on for the trip to St. Louie last weekend in case we stopped by a gym, and it took up no space at all.

The non-adjustable leg loops could be a problem for some people. I tried on men’s and women’s versions, and I think men should feel comfortable doing the same thing.

And just a note, the R280 has held up better to a summer of offwidths, chimney’s and butt-sliding in Vedauwoo and RoMo better than any Petzl I’ve owned so far. It looks flimsy, but it’s actually surprisingly sturdy.

8 09 2009

Thanks Kate! I totally agree about the packing size. The size/weight is also nice on overnight climbing trips where each ounce and bit of space counts.

8 09 2009
Twitter Trackbacks for Sweet Gear: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right « Dream in Vertical [dreaminvertical.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

[…] Sweet Gear: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right « Dream in Vertical dreaminvertical.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/sweet-gear-arcteryx-r320-harness-light-is-right – view page – cached #RSS 2.0 Dream in Vertical » Sweet Gear: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right Comments Feed Dream in Vertical all about the karakoram A ‘Brief’ Personal Climbing History — From the page […]

10 09 2009

Between a BD Chaos harness and the R320 which would you suggest to a friend. I have always had BD harnesses and was tempted to try the R320. I tried it on, but cannot seem to convince myself that it actually work, it seems so ‘delicate’. Can you attach a hammer holder to the harness?

10 09 2009

Due to the complex construction of both the new BD Chaos and the R320 I would be concerned about attaching a hammer holder (ie penetrating the fabric) on either.

I will be doing a review of the BD Chaos harness over the next few months and will be posting my thoughts. All I can suggest at this point is to go with the harness that fits best.

14 09 2009
Sweet Gear: New Reviews Coming Soon! « Dream in Vertical

[…] Also after wearing the Arc’teryx R320 for many pitches from Zion, to Smith Rock and the Sierra I feel ready for a review. […]

3 10 2009
Greg Pfeil

I wonder if your comment, “Gear loops are proportional to the size of harness. The smaller sized harnesses have less room for gear.” should be considered a pro instead of a con. If you change the second sentence to “The larger sized harnesses have more room for gear.” it sounds positive. The real question is whether the small has less room for gear than other small harnesses, or the large has more room for gear than other large harnesses. The former would be a con, the latter a pro.

I’m considering the R320 as well, so I’m sincerely curious about this.

4 10 2009

The small arc’teryx harness definitely does have LESS room for gear than other comparably small harnesses (me being the one who wears the small harnesses). I have a Mammut harness I use for trad (rather than my comparable womens arc’teryx harness) because the gear loops are close to ~50% bigger. I guess if you’re not wearing a small harness, it isn’t necessarily a con, though, as you point out. I think Luke wears a mens medium. Mine is womens XS.


8 10 2009
Sweet Gear Long Term Review: Black Diamond C3 and Oz + Petzl Reverso 3 « Dream in Vertical

[…] in top belay mode, is proportional to the size of the biner that is being used.  After getting my Arc’teryx harness I switched out my belay biners for the Black Diamond VaporLock which I usually use on my daisy […]

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