Charlie King checks out this everyday reversible harness with full safety features.
The Xema² is Icaro’s new reversible harness. It’s the successor to the Xema, with a backpack that is sized for everyday use. Icaro say it’s designed with maximum safety in mind, and has an inbuilt under-seat reserve container that can be expanded from 4.5l to 5.5l, and an airbag with a pre-inflation spring that offers 100% protection before launch. There is also a pocket to take an additional Lightshield upper-back protector. It is suitable for beginners through to XC pilots, for everyday soaring and cross country, while still being light enough for hike and fly.
At 4kg in the M size, the Xema² actually weighs the same as my Advance Success 4, but it feels lighter than it is. Maybe because the airbag makes it less bulky, and of course the weight includes the rucksack. The material is a fairly light ripstop, in smart navy with light blue/green accents (which were starting to show a bit of grubbiness by the end of the test period) and lightweight compression straps. If weight is a priority, Icaro make a lighter version, the Xema Light. It’s just 2.7kg in the middle size and has a different airbag design with nitinol rods in place of the spring that partially pre-inflate it to 60% of its full protection prior to launch.
Made for carrying comfort, the rucksack is a decent size, and easily fitted my (admittedly small) Skywalk Arak Air wing inside, along with helmet, clothes, camera, instruments and two-litre water pouch. The bag is well shaped with good compression straps to tighten everything down. There is an elastic cord stowed in the top pocket that can be used to carry additional layers of clothing or a helmet. Two walking-pole holders have elastic toggles neatly stashed in pockets out of the way when not in use.
The rucksack carry system is comfortable, with a wide, amply padded hip belt and good shoulder straps. The load can be drawn in close with tightening straps at the top above the shoulders, and stretchy side-pockets are reachable when walking.
The Xema² is really simple to reverse. The rucksack front is soft and floppy, and the harness back is a separate, shaped and padded piece. To switch from rucksack to harness and vice versa you simply open the zippers, turn the whole thing over, tuck whichever section (harness back or rucksack front) is not required inside, and zip up again. One small gripe was that, when closing in rucksack mode, the zippers have a tendency to slide back down until you get them beyond a certain point. If you were trying to close a very full bag it might be a pain, but with my kit there was no issue as everything fitted quite easily.
The harness has a rigid polypropylene seat and a get-up safety system with Woody Valley buckles. The stretchy chest strap has a plastic whistle built in, and there is an SOS label attached to a shoulder strap, to write any information you might need potential rescuers to know. The hang loops are port and starboard red and green.
The back of the harness is well shaped with that padded section as the outer, and the back pocket has plenty of room for everything I needed to carry. Inside are straps for your walking poles, and room for a drinks pouch with tube routings. A top loop could be used to hang a drinks pouch on, but it is closed rather than Velcro, so you need a pouch with a hook or a separate means to hang it. The tube routes through the shoulder straps – a bit of a squeeze for my Platypus’s rather large rubber bite valve, but most valves are smaller.
I use a flight deck and it would have been nice to have loops to hang it from. I know from experience that repeatedly hanging flight-deck karabiners on the main harness straps eventually wears the webbing. Pockets on each side of the harness – one zipped Lycra and the other open stretchy mesh – have loops to attach lanyards to for a radio, GoPro-on-a-stick etc. The right-hand reserve handle protrudes slightly and is bright red, easy to see and grab. It is held in place by two pins, which are very easy to check before flight thanks to a large plastic window. All the seating angle adjusters are locked off and have to be set up before flight, although shoulder-strap length can be adjusted in flight.
The Xema² is comfortable on launch, easy to run in and easy to move from upright to seated and back. The sizing (I flew the M) was perfect for me, with the seat plate just the right length and width. In flight it feels neither wobbly, nor restrictive, and is perfectly weightshift friendly. I think an airbag harness is never quite as supportive for the back as a big wodge of foam – more deckchair than armchair, but it’s a trade-off for smaller pack size. The speedbar is great, with an elastic retractor and a slightly sticky coating so your feet don’t slip off. Plastic ‘doors’ give access to the knots that enable you to adjust the length, and the webbing loop is easy to catch with your foot
If you are looking for a reversible harness, sized for everyday use and with full safety and comfort features, check out the Xema² – for me, it perfectly fits the bill.
Icaro say: “Ideally suited for beginners to leisure pilots to cross-country pilots. For all pilots who want to combine the advantages of advanced airbag technology with comfortable flying”
Use: Soaring, XC flying, hike-and-fly
Pilot level: All levels
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Weight (kg): 3.8, 4.0, 4.2, 4.4
Certification: EN / LTF B