Seb Ospina is amazed at this latest high-end, lightweight harness
Skywalk’s new signature harness establishes a benchmark in super-light XC gear for everyday use. The production version of a harness developed for the Red Bull X-Alps 2017, where 10 of the 32 pilots used one, it has been available to order since May this year.
At first sight, it’s hard not to notice the remarkably small packing volume. Out of the box (a very small box) the harness comes with its own stuff-sack, which doubles as an aid to inflate the back protector.
Once open, the harness looks like no other harness I’ve seen before. Most of the outside is made of black, shiny, super-light fabric while the inside is mostly red. The black is Robic 32g double ripstop nylon; the red is heavier Robic 100g nylon.
When fully inflated, the design resembles a competition harness, with the main difference being that the Range X-Alps 2 only weighs around 1.8kg.
It’s hard not to notice the attention to detail and the eagerness to make the harness user-friendly. On the side of the pod there is a special compartment for walking sticks, an opening for a drinks tube and side pockets for snacks and camera. A compartment under the seat has enough room for a sleeping bag, and it has a fairly generous rear compartment. There is enough space on the cockpit for two instruments and a small vario.
When fitting the front-mounted reserve I was pleasantly surprised to realise that it fits a standard reserve. X-Pyr competitor Haydon Gray did not have the same luck when fitting his Beamer 3 Light, leaving the handles awkwardly sticking out but still functional.
The back protector is essentially an inflatable airbag that you have to blow up yourself. Skywalk call it the PermAir. It’s certified and being inflatable (and therefore deflatable) helps to keep the pack volume down, while offering good protection. It is also easy to inflate, but pilots must remember to seal it properly once full.
Some pilots seem concerned with what happens if you crash into sharp pointy rocks using this system. We asked Skywalk and they explained: “The harness has two outer layers of glider cloth, plus an additional layer around the protector – the harness will be destroyed before the protector will be destroyed.
“The protector can be pierced by sharp things, just like a conventional airbag protector. The advantage is that you know when the protector is damaged, on an airbag protector you might not realise it.”
They added: “For the homologation test you have to use the same back protection for two crashes, only then do you get homologation. We didn’t have any problems passing those test crashes with the PermAir.”
Clipping in is fairly straightforward for this type of harness. Adjusting the straps is no problem in the air too. For take-off, getting into the pod is fairly easy and the long fairing inflates within seconds.
Structurally, the harness has a frame which consists of two steel wires, one going around the seat and the other around the back. This is designed to distribute the forces better and provide extra comfort and control for the pilot. The wires feel very strong but I felt the need to be careful when packing the harness. The stitching and build quality seem very good but only time will tell.
Once in the air, it’s an intriguing combination of the snugness of a hammock and the control of a seatboard. The speedbar offers very little friction as you apply it. On glide, going into the coffin position and just controlling with weightshift and bar felt natural. Weightshifting for climbing and wingovers felt very fluid and dynamic. In general it made me feel closer to my comp harness than to a lightweight one.
When packing, it’s pretty easy to deflate the protection and bend the harness back into a tiny pack that looks like a folded bin bag. It is amazing that it holds the power to haul you across the Alps.
To conclude, I’m amazed by the technology and effort put into developing this harness and very pleased to see the benefits of inflatable fairings in super lightweight gear. The Range X-Alps 2 is a great balance of weight versus purpose, not only for the adventure racer and the vol-biv guru but also for weekend pilots looking for that magical combination of light weight plus performance.
Skywalk say: “Tailor-made for pilots looking for the ultimate, safe and amazingly comfortable harness for XC and bivouac flights”
Use: XC, vol-biv
Pilot level: Experienced pilots, pod harness
Sizes (cm): S (160-176), M (173-184), L (183-200)
Harness weight (kg): 1.7, 1.8. 1.9
Protector certification: LTF91/09
Harness certification: EN1651
RRP in Europe: €1,440, including sales tax
Seb Ospina is a professional pilot, who works as a tandem pilot and guide in Interlaken, Switzerland and his home nation Colombia