A growing trend in the world of alpinism the progression towards Fast and Light travel. Mountain athletes are seeking lightweight, packable and minimalist gear and they strive to mitigate their risk my minimizing their time exposed to objective hazards. These alpinists want gear that allows quick, unencumbered movement without sacrificing safety. This trend is, in part, being ushered by the proliferation of skimo and the growing popularity of high-alpine mountaineering. Petzl has been leading this revolution with a new line of super-lightweight products designed specifically for this breed of athlete including the new Petzl Altitude harness. Weighing in at a scant 160g (sz M/L), the Petzl Altitude is currently the lightest harness of it’s kind in the world.
Initial Impressions of the Petzl Altitude Harness
The harness looks bigger packed than it actually is. A quick squeeze and you can compress it much smaller. I immediatly noticed the weigh savings over my old Black Diamond Couloir (230g) and even the new Couloir (215g).
Out of the bag I found the material a little crunchy and the folds from packing held their shape for quite some time, making it loud when walking and pretty uncomfortable if a sharp edge dug into your skin. I’m pleased to say this went away quickly after the initial folds worked themselves out.
Like other glacier travel harnesses, the Altitude unbuckles completely, allowing you to put it on with ease, even while wearing skis or crampons. This is of particular importance if you find yourself in a precarious position with the need to rope up. The waist strap is held while the full strength belay loop is passed through your legs and secured in front with a lightweight aluminum doubleback buckle, which is easy to operate with gloves on. The adjustment strap is ribbed to keep the strap from loosening through movement.
I soon came to love the dyneema construction as it held a supportive shape very well while maintaining a low profile and moving naturally as I walked or climbed. And while I’ve never soaked out a nylon harness, it’s comforting knowing that the dyneema construction won’t absorb any water.
While diminutive in stature, the Petzl Altitude is fully rated to harness specs by the UIAA which requires a belay loop meet a 15kN standard. Since most harness far exceed this number I’d be curious to see the strength tests on this one.
There are no conventional gear loops or haul loops to be found on the Petzl Altitude, rather two vertical loops of Dyneema can be found on either side. While they appear minuscule, they’re actually stronger than any of the gear loops found on any of the other recreational harnesses produced by Petzl. The vertical design allows them the loops to side flat for comfort when used in conjunction with a pack and the unique design actually stacks carabiners quite well. Those seeking a technical alpine climbing harness will be left wanting but the four loops proved sufficient for glacier travel, mountaineering and carrying all the gear needed for moderate alpinism.
There are no designated ice clipper slots to be found. Double loops of reinforced elastic on each leg immobilize a single screw, preventing damage to both the screw and the pack. Screws are easy to access, quick to deploy and simple to stow. This was a unique feature to Petzl, from which others have followed suit and I was pleasantly surprised at how well these worked.
If you really felt the need to add extra screws to this harness, the new Petzl ice clippers enable you to add more wherever you please. I’ll be interested to see if these fold the lightweight waist band through.
With all lightweight mountaineering harnesses, one expects a trade off in weight vs comfort. Not so with the Altitude. Petzl uses high-strength Spectra threads, know as Wireframe, running along the waist belt and leg loops to create a stiff alternative to conventional foam and provide a surprisingly comfortable and supportive feel. This construction design prevents pressure points and contours beautifully to the body without compromising freedom of movement. This also locks the harness in place and prevents unwanted movement or abrasion, which I believe will be reflected in the increased lifespan of the harness.
Usually, when one dons a harness of this type, it usually remains on for the duration of the objective and it is most likely high-exertion. I hardly noticed this harness was on. This is the harness’s designed purpose and it wouldn’t be particularly comfortable hanging or falling.
The lack of extra material, while comfortable, could equate to durability issues if not used for e intended purpose. If you’re using the Petzl Altitude for mountaineering, ski touring or light summer alpinism, all while limiting excessive abrasions on rock, durability shouldn’t be a concern.
This packs down to the size of a beer can and doesn’t monopolize valuable pack real estate when not in use. The stiffness of the waist and leg loop made it reclaim it’s harness shape immediately when pulled out of the included stuff sack. Anyone who has discovered a seemingly unknown twist in their old Black Diamond Couloir can attest to the frustration a lack of structure can cause. On the flipside, the bag is appropriately sized to repack with ease, particularly with cold, gloved hands. This made it perfect for those who may not need a harness all day but want to pull one out for the occasional rappel or roping up for a tricky section.
Petzl Altitude Tech Specs
|Sizes||S/M, M/L, L/XL|
|Legs||55-67cm, 60-73cm, 66-79cm|
|Waist||64-86cm, 74-96cm, 84-108cm|
Who Would Benefit From The Petzl Altitude?
If you’ve ever debated bringing a harness along, your excuses are now void. At a mere 160g for a size medium/large, which is roughly the weight of two Clifbars, there is never a reason to be without. At $100 CAN there are more affordable models available which offer comparable performance but none measure up to the Petzl Altitude in terms of weight, water resistance, durability and all day comfort. For those seeking an all-round harness capable of rock and ice climbing, this isn’t for you. But for serious ski mountaineers, alpine touring in glaciated terrain or alpine climbers looking for the occasional rap, this is an awesome option. When used in conjunction with the Petzl Ride ice axe, Petzl Leopard crampons and Laser Speed Light screws, it would be difficult to get lighter. Those seeking a more budget friendly alternative may wish to checkout the Petzl Tour, which offers all the same features with a conventional nylon construction at $69 CAN.
Pros – Ultra lightweight, packable, comfortable
Cons – Break in period, limited racking capabilities, expensive
If you’re in the Bow Valley you can find the Petzl Altitude for sale at Vertical Addiction for about $140 and I think it’s worth every penny. Has anyone had any experience with the Petzl Altitude? I’d love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below.