The harness is your connection with your paraglider. Maybe more than many realise, it influences not only your comfort and safety in the air, but also your control over the glider and the way the glider feels in the air.
When selecting a harness you need to define what you will use it for. Are you a weekend pilot who stays local, or an XC-hound chasing distance? Do you always get a lift to launch or do you hike?
According to Yoann Chavanne, harness designer at Supair, it also makes a difference whether you are a new or experienced pilot. “A beginner harness needs to be easy in all respects. Easy to put on with lots of hints how to do up the buckles, easy to walk with, to take-off, to sit in after take-off and to get out after landing. It needs a lot of protection, good support and good security.”
Types of harness
The classic harness is an open, seated harness with a seatboard and foam back protection. You sit in an upright position with your legs down. These types of harnesses are used for school, but they are also perfectly suitable for longer flights.
A small downside to the standard harness may be its weight of up to 5kg. A reversible harness will reduce weight. This is a backpack that turns inside out to reveal the harness. The cover doubles as an airbag. Some of these save weight by replacing the seatboard with a hammock or split-leg seat, bringing the weight of a standard reversible down to around 3kg. In flight these fly in a similar way to classic harnesses.
A pod harness can be as simple as a classic harness with an optional bag for the legs, up to a full-blown competition harness with cockpit built in, face shield to reduce drag, two reserve pockets, ballast and thin Koroyd protection; everything optimised for low drag and high performance. Pod harnesses can weigh as little as 2kg up to almost 10kg.
Finally, specialist harnesses are available for acro pilots, tandem pilots, tandem passengers and even for kids.
Regardless of the harness type, it may come with a seatboard, split-leg or hammock-style seat. Most experts agree that a harness with a seatboard gives the best control in flight. It is also the best harness to learn on because of this. Leaving out the seatboard saves weight and space but requires some adjustment in flying technique.
Whichever harness you choose, it is important that you check it regularly, said Yoann. “Look at the webbing, the structure and the protection, also on the inside where you can not see it directly. Check the seams and any other damage. It is difficult to predict a lifespan for a harness. This depends on your findings during the inspection.”
Types of protection
Many harnesses on the market come with EN or LTF certification, which ensures the quality and safety of a harness. They are loaded with a crash-test dummy and tested for strength. Most regular harnesses will have back- and hip-protection built in, and these are tested as well. A harness with a dummy weight in it is dropped from a certain height. The forces on the dummy may not exceed a limit of 50g – equivalent to a fall from about 2.5m height. Remarkably, a harness can still be EN-certified without protection, but it will not get LTF certification.
Classic polystyrene foam protection consists of a layer of 15cm or more foam wrapped in fabric to keep the air in. This also gives a fairly rigid structure to the harness.
A new type of rigid protection is Koroyd. This honeycomb-structured polymer is light and absorbs more energy, meaning it can be thinner than foam to give the same protection. Any protector should be inspected after a crash or hard landing, but especially Koroyd panels which may be damaged and need to be replaced after impact.
An airbag saves a lot of space when packed, but the inflated airbag needs more volume than foam to provide the same level of protection. The challenge for designers is in providing safety during take-off when air hasn’t entered the compartment yet. Most solve this by pre-inflating the airbag with a spring or wire.
A new type of airbag uses airbed-like pads, which you inflate through a tube prior to launch. These are very compact and light when packed and provide protection at all stages of the flight. Before packing up, you can let out the air again through the tube. The downside of these may be that you forget to inflate them, so they are less suitable for beginners.
When you buy a harness, go and sit in it and adjust it properly. “It is very important to choose the right size and adjustments,” explained Yoann. “Then, the best advice is to go fly it with your wing, preferably more than one flight.”
It is well known that the settings of the chest strap and the height of the attachment points influence stability and weightshift. But there is much more, said Yoann. “A rigid harness with foam or Koroyd is more efficient in turns. It follows the glider better. A flexible harness is more difficult to design with the right stability, because all movements of the pilot and glider influence the stability.
“In addition, the tension on the ABS system influences the stability on the roll axis. If a harness is to be flown with an EN-B as well as a CCC glider, the stability must be a good compromise between those gliders. Not too stable for EN B, not too unstable for CCC.”
Lighter weight and more security
Computer aided design has changed the way harnesses are designed completely, said Yoann. “We used to draw a new design on paper. Now we have 2D and 3D CAD for the structural design, dynamic computer analysis for the stability and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) for the aerodynamics.”
Together with materials like Dyneema, this has resulted in safer harnesses, that are more comfortable to fly and perform better. This development will continue, said Yoann. “An example is the development of the BASE system for acro paragliding as a great new security system. We look at karabiners from climbing, design from sailing and materials used in other sports. That will give harnesses lighter weight, more security, more comfort and more performance in the future.”
If you liked this article it was taken from the Cross Country Gear Guide 2021
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