Black Diamond Women’s Ethos Harness
Stated Weight: 360 grams
Size tested: Small
Reviewer Info: 5’8”, 135 lbs; Waist: 28”; Quad circumference: 23″
Color: Coral Reef
Leg Loops: Fixed
- Pre-threaded Speed adjustable waist buckle
- Women’s-specific bullhorn-shaped waistbelt
- “Kinetic Core” construction
- 12kn rated haul loop
- Adjustable, removable elastic risers
- Four large molded gear loops
- Designed for trad and sport climbing
Test locations: Tetons, Wind River Range, Independence Pass, Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, various sport crags around Idaho and Montana.
Days tested: 40
The Ethos is Black Diamond’s top-of-the-line women’s trad climbing harness. While it is based off of the popular men’s Chaos harness, the Ethos has a women’s-specific fit. It excels at long multi-pitch climbs in the mountains, but is equally comfortable for shorter crag venues as well.
Sizing and Fit
I have relatively large thighs compared to my waist; this makes buying harnesses without adjustable leg loops a bit tricky, but I’ve always preferred non-adjustable leg loops for simplicity. Although my waist size just barely falls into the size Small for the Ethos (XS would be better), my leg circumference is solidly in the Medium range. I was unable to try the harness on before buying it, so I went with a size Small hoping that it would work.
Black Diamond’s harness sizing is similar to their women’s clothing: great if you have stick legs, not so great if you have strong, athletic legs as many climbers do. At first, the elastic on the leg loops was noticeably tight; not quite to the point of being uncomfortable, just slightly annoying. Fortunately, the elastic stretched a bit after a couple of months (I had even thought about cutting the non-structural elastic, but I’m glad I waited), and the leg loops are now no tighter than those on my other harnesses. However, depending on your waist-to-thigh ratio, you may not have this issue at all.
I have to cinch the waist all the way down if I’m wearing just a tank top under the Ethos, but the gear loops are still in the right place, and I have plenty of room to add layers beneath the harness. Even though the leg loops are still a little tight, the stretchy elastic makes it comfortable enough to wear over one layer of pants.
I have also worn the Ethos over long underwear and softshell pants for ice climbing, and while the leg loops fit, they were a little uncomfortable. This harness is not meant for ice climbing, however (determined by the lack of ice clipper loops and adjustable leg loops), and if it’s cold enough to be wearing long underwear while rock climbing, you’ll probably find me on the ski slopes instead.
The Ethos’ Kinetic Core Construction is meant to distribute weight evenly rather than just padding a single piece of webbing, which can typically cause pressure points. The Ethos does a fairly good job of this, but I don’t notice a significant difference in weight distribution between it and other harnesses I’ve used. The construction is similar to my Arc’Teryx R280 (I have both the first and second generation of the R280 harness), but the Ethos does have more padding. The extra padding is definitely noticeable, especially in the leg loops while hanging for long periods or belaying from the ground.
One thing that I do find somewhat uncomfortable is the rise of the harness. The rise is the distance from the leg loops to the waistbelt, which is usually longer on women’s harnesses than men’s. Even though the leg loops are tight, the waist rides up around my ribcage when I’m hanging in the harness. I have this problem with a few harnesses, including my second generation R280.
The Ethos’ padding is lined with a comfortable mesh on the inside. I wouldn’t say I get more sweaty in the Ethos than most other harnesses, but it probably isn’t the most breathable one you can buy. Even so, I still prefer the simplicity and durability of the Ethos to the lightweight mesh harnesses.
The Ethos has the best gear loops of any harness I’ve ever used. They are some of the largest I’ve seen, especially on a women’s harness. I prefer to rack gear on my harness, and the loops on this harness have ample room for a double rack of cams and plenty of quickdraws. I don’t like when harnesses have slanted gear loops that are supposed to bring the gear forward so you can reach it better. All this really accomplishes is squishing your carabiners together so that you have trouble getting to the one you need. The Ethos’ gear loops are molded to remain completely horizontal, with slightly larger front loops than rear ones.
Another thing I love about the gear loops is how they are sewn into the bottom of the waistbelt, rather than into the middle like most harnesses.
At first I couldn’t figure out why Black Diamond had done this, and I was worried that the gear would hang too low and create uneven weight distribution, or allow the carabiners to dig into my hip bones. Then as I started using the Ethos for guiding (where I frequently wear a pack while climbing), I realized how brilliant the design is: I can easily carry a large backpack and buckle the pack’s waistbelt without covering up my gear loops, and I have had no issues with comfort and the location of the carabiners.
So far, I’ve used the Ethos for a season of guiding in the Tetons and Wind Rivers; new routing in northern Wyoming; a dozen or so days of cragging in various places; and some gym climbing. The tie-in points don’t show any abnormal wear, and the outer fabric is still in great shape. The only wear I can see is purely cosmetic; the teal green coloring on the outside of the harness is starting to peel off. The elastic in the leg loops has also started to stretch, which has been a good thing for me, and will happen on any harness with elastic in the non-adjustable leg loops.
The Ethos’ performance is on par with other high end harnesses in terms of comfort, durability, and functionality.
The haul loop is full-strength, and while it’s debatable whether that really matters or not, I like the way it orients the carabiner (flat against your back as opposed to perpendicular) for chimneying.
The Ethos packs down to a respectable size inside my pack, and is lighter than other harnesses in the category. It’s not as small and light as my Arc’Teryx R280, but it is quite a bit more comfortable, and I’m ok with that trade off when I know I’m going to be climbing a route with a lot of hanging belays.
The Ethos has also been great for sport and gym climbing. The extra padding makes belaying a larger person more comfortable, and I don’t feel like the harness is overkill at all.
I do have a few small gripes with the harness. First, the two elastic risers in back attach with a small metal hook through a small elastic loop. These are difficult to hook back in place on your own after answering nature’s call. I wish all women’s harnesses were equipped with a single plastic buckle in the back that both risers attach to, like the newly updated Petzl line (Selena, Adjama, etc.).
Second, the “Speed Buckle” isn’t really all that speedy. The webbing used in the waist buckle is so soft and supple that it’s very difficult to work it back through the buckle to get the harness off (which happens to be the only other solution for peeing while wearing a climbing harness – very annoying). I’ve found that it’s easiest to grab only the small outer buckle piece and pull it out while feeding the webbing back through.
The third thing that I’m not thrilled about is the length of the Ethos’ rise that I mentioned before. After hanging in it for a while, the harness always rides up around my ribcage, although that may be more a result of my body type than an issue with the design.
I would recommend trying on the Ethos before buying it because of the fit issues I discussed. Is it worth the extra money? I think so. Other than your shoes, a harness is probably your most used piece of gear. The Kinetic Core construction makes this harness more comfortable than others in the same category.
If you’re just getting into climbing and aren’t sure whether you need to spend the money, there are several good options that come in at half the price (or less) that have very similar features, including the Black Diamond Primrose, the Petzl Selena, and the Black Diamond Lotus. For a stripped down version of the Ethos, you could also take a look at the Black Diamond Aura harness. While it’s a bit thinner and narrower with no haul loop and is specific to hard sport climbing, it still features the comfortable Kinetic Core construction.
The Ethos is a lightweight, comfortable, and durable harness that excels at trad and sport climbing. Its versatility and high quality construction make it a good choice for advanced and expert climbers, as well as professionals who spend a great deal of time in their harness.