Sock it to ’em … “Yes, it fits you like a sock.” Marcus King dips his toe in
It’s no secret that AirDesign’s Sock shares its base with the Little Cloud Grasshopper Mk2 that I reviewed in the last issue. AirDesign’s French office saw Little Cloud designer Tom Bordeau’s prototype, liked what they saw and agreed a cooperation where they would help with production in return for being able to use the base of the harness. I had both the Sock and the Grasshopper at the same time to compare.
The first obvious difference between the two harnesses is the colour. While Little Cloud’s Grasshopper is vibrant green, AirDesign’s Sock is subtle grey with a coloured fairing. The colour depends on the size: large is green; medium blue; small red.
Like the Grasshopper, the Sock is a hammock-style harness with two leg-loops sewn into the seat area. Running up the outside of the seat area are two bars that stiffen the seat front to back. The back area has air channels running up it and a middle mesh-covered area. High-density foam shapes the back and shoulder areas.
Underneath the seat a pocket holds the inflatable protector. It’s accessible from the front via a zip, and the inflation tube is routed into the rear pocket. Inflation is by using your lungs or with the storage bag. A connector at the bottom can be pushed onto the tube – slightly awkward when the tube is cold – and the bag used to trap air and push it in. When fully inflated the protector adds to the stiffness of the seat and is rated at 35G.
AirDesign also recommend storing your rucksack in the under-seat pocket in front of the back protection, as they have verified it gives a higher level of protection. The inflator goes up round the corner of the back but not all the way up to the shoulders; here the only protection is the foam in the back, what is in your back pocket plus any air trapped in the rear fairing. Alternatively, this underseat pocket can be used for storing ballast, with holes on each side of the pod for the ballast tube (or an XCPee tube, if you use one of those).
In terms of adjustments things are again familiar with back and seat angle adjustable, plus the shoulder straps. Chest-strap length is fixed. The footplate is supported with four cords that are adjusted with prussik knots. Funnily enough, AirDesign’s harness designer, Alexis Coudurier, had me sit in the final prototype at the Coupe Icare last year and, as result of my long legs, extended the cords slightly, so they are slightly longer than those on the Little Cloud version.
On the whole adjustments are best made on the ground as they are fiddly in the air. But once dialled in the harness gives good support and leg support is stable. An easy-to-use three-step speed bar is attached to the footplate with elastic cords, keeping it tensioned in the air and held off the bottom.
The reserve is the first area of major difference. The Sock has a front-mounted reserve but has bridles running through a zipped channel on the right-hand side to connections on the shoulders. This means you aren’t dependent on the main karabiners but it does mean you should throw to the right; some also argue it puts you in a better position when coming down on reserve.
It’s good to see an easy-to-grab high-profile handle right in front of you. There is a Velcro area on top of the reserve for your instruments, which is a little larger than on the Little Cloud Grasshopper and can accommodate one large instrument or two smaller ones. A mesh pocket on the back can be used for a power bank or snacks.
There is also a handy hook-knife in a pocket, while another Velcro section to the left near the pod closure is for your radio or tracker. One more Velcro patch is found on a shoulder strap.
With the reserve bridles running up the right-hand side the closing system is somewhat different. The two leg loops have metal T-bars that you pass through material loops, similar to the Ozone BV1 but without the elastic keepers. If your fingers are cold they can be slightly fiddly as they are rather slippery. There is a plastic clip for one side of the pod, then a material loop on the other side goes over the leg-loop metallic T-bar.
Although there is no connected anti-forget strap, you should notice if you haven’t clipped the leg-loop at this stage. There is also a chest-strap to keep the shoulder straps in place.
The Sock has a 40-litre pocket within the rear fairing. This has an internal mesh pocket for your drinks bladder and three hanging points plus a tube pass-through to the right shoulder. There is also the large pocket under the seat in front of the protector.
The Sock also has two zipped pockets, one on each side, with tie-offs and a larger elasticated pocket on the right. The harness also features an inflatable nose cone and, unusually, there is a zip so you can store soft and light items inside. AirDesign warn against putting heavy items here as they can alter the angle of the harness easily. Overall, there is plenty of storage for vol-biv adventures. The solar-panel attachment points on the pod will also be useful for adventure pilots.
In the air
In the air the harness feels identical to the Grasshopper, not surprising as they share the same geometry. It’s more stable than I had expected and sits somewhere between the Supair Delight 4 Sport and the Woody Valley GTO Light 2 in terms of roll stability, with the Delight 4 being the most stable. In terms of yaw stability they all feel pretty similar with similar-sized rear fairings.
Being a hammock the fitting is tight. Yes, it fits you like a sock. My hips happen to fall exactly at the same point as the speedbar pulleys and I did feel a little pressure here, although over a longer flight I didn’t find it a problem. In fact I found the harness comfortable and supportive, especially in the back and shoulders. Applying bar there are no obvious pressure points with the extra load spread across your back well. I flew the harness predominantly with the AirDesign Volt 4 and the pair seem to work well together, making for a stable and relaxing feel in the air, but with enough information to tell you what the air is doing.
Like the Grasshopper Mk 2, the Sock is a lightweight harness suitable for everyday use as well as vol-biv adventures. The one you choose will depend on how you prefer the reserve set-up and pockets.
There is no doubt that the Sock does feel a little more mainstream. As with its sibling I found the Sock’s compact packed-size made walking to our local launch easier as I could use a smaller sack and I didn’t feel like I was making any real compromise in terms of comfort or function. I would be happy to use this as my daily ride.
AirDesign say: “Light, comfy and robust. An everyday pod harness that will take you from your all-day long XC, hike-and-fly training, XC competition to your vol-biv project”
What is it? Semi-light pod harness
Sizes: S, M, L
Weight (kg): 2.4, 2.75, 2.9
Protection: Inflatable – 35G rating
Published in Cross Country issue 240 (June 2023)