Stated Weight: 345 g
Size tested: Large
Leg Loops: Adjustable
- FuseFrame design
- DoubleBack HD buckles
- Adjustable leg loops
- Reinforced tie-in loops
- Two rigid side gear loops
- Two flexible rear gear loops
- CariTool ice tool holders
- Rear loop for haul rope
Test Locations: Indoors & outdoors all over Colorado; Yosemite, CA; Vedauwoo, WY; Moab, UT
Days Tested: 60
Petzl’s Aquila harness is designed around the ideal of versatility — the do-it-all cousin of Petzl’s rock-centric Hirundos strives to be comfortable and competent on both rock and snow.
After several months of use spanning everything from alpine climbing to clipping bolts to climbing ice, I can say that it largely succeeds, and that its success is built on well-executed details and the avoidance of any major detraction rather than some novel head-turning feature. It isn’t super striking, it just does all the little things well — and I appreciate this.
I want a harness to be safe, reliable, and out of the way of whatever I’m trying to do. Your harness is like your digestive process — you’re only really thinking about it acutely if there’s a lot of discomfort involved, or things are about to go disastrously awry. And I didn’t find myself thinking about the Aquila too much.
The Aquila is simple without being limited in terms of functionality. It has a slightly thicker waist belt than the Petzl Hirundos or most other rock climbing harnesses, adjustable leg straps, four gear loops, a haul loop, and a couple slots to accommodate tool/ice screw holders. It’s a fairly complete package of features no matter what type of climbing you’re after.
The waist belt of the Aquila is a bit thicker than some others out there, presumably for comfort. And this is a comfortable harness, but it’s not game-changingly different than other top end free climbing (read: not big wall) harnesses out there like the Arc’teryx AR-395a or Black Diamond Chaos.
While there are generally more or less comfortable harnesses out there, the often passed over fact here is that comfort in a harness, like a shoe, is specific to each person. It behooves you to try on harnesses in a store, ideally hanging in them from the tie-in points.
Stepping off my soap box now, the Aquila keeps pace with its peers in the comfort department for my body type. I have a relatively slim build, but at 6’3” and 190 pounds, I don’t have an especially small frame. A size Large fits such that the hip belt sits cleanly above my hip, which helps keep chafing down. I wore the Aquila for several days straight on El Cap recently, and was pretty psyched to get out of it by the end. But this is true of every free climbing harness.
The gear loops on the Aquila are durable, and don’t stick out much on either side where they might get in the way. I like their downward orientation, but I’ve got mixed feelings about their location on the hip belt. Compared to most harnesses I’ve used in the past, the gear loops on the Aquila seem to have migrated toward the back of the hip belt.
This is good for two reasons:
(1) It keeps the anterior part of the harness clutter-free, so there’s no gear-related interference between my hips and the rock.
(2) The loops are ever-so-slightly more out of the way of pack straps. However, the tactic of having the gear loops attach at the bottom of the hip belt (a la Black Diamond Chaos, Ozone, etc.) is much more effective at untangled gear loops and the waist strap of a pack.
The downside to the location of the gear loops is that your back gear loops are firmly behind you. While most of the gear I need is usually at or near the front, finding something at the very back can be an imperfect, iterative process, particularly at first before you’ve had a few climbs to get used to the arrangement. Ultimately, I can see why Petzl went with this orientation, and there are things that I love about the gear loops on the Aquila. But it’s not perfect.
The other central feature of the Aquila is the adjustable waist and leg straps. All three adjustment points use the speed buckles that have become nearly ubiquitous on modern climbing harnesses. On the Aquila in particular, they’re fast to use and cinching them down is incredibly smooth. Compared to any other harness I’ve used, I have never have to fight to push the strap through the dual buckle.
That said, I could hear an argument that the buckles are a hair too smooth: the buckles, particularly on the legs, can loosen over the course of multiple pitches. But this sounds like a bigger deal than it is. Once or twice on super long days I’ll tighten down the waist belt while somewhere along the way abandoning my effort to keep the leg loops tightened down. At the heart of it seems to be the near-frictionless texture of the waist / leg straps. While this makes the Aquila the easiest harness to put on of any I’ve ever used, I would sacrifice a little here to have Petzl add a little more texture to that strap / buckle interface to keep them positioned.
The other nice aspect of the adjustable loops and buckles is that the Aquila is fairly easy to put on without stepping through. If you’re on skis or you’ve spaced it at the bottom of an ice pitch and already put your crampon on, it’s fairly trivial to undo the loops and re-assemble the harness around your waist and legs. This, more than anything else, is what makes adjustable leg loops key for winter-use harnesses.
Buckles and Other Considerations
As for other minor details, the straps of the Aquila all have retainer loops that can be passed through to keep the strap ends from hanging down and getting in the way, the tie-in points are reinforced with polyethylene to reduce friction and mitigate wear, and the total package is a respectable 345 g (for the Medium).
Most harnesses that are light enough for you to notice a difference are oriented for rock climbing only in that they’ve eschewed adjustable leg loops, and occasionally only have two gear loops. These ultralight harnesses are great for what they are, but they’re not winter ready and don’t have the versatility of the Aquila. Relative to other do-it-all harness, the stated weight of 345 g situates the Aquila as lighter than the Black Diamond Chaos (360 g) and the Arc’teryx AR-395a (394 g). Of course it’s not as light as a dedicated winter/mountaineering harness like the Black Diamond Couloir (215 g), but harnesses like the Couloir don’t have the feature set to make them a good candidate for pure rock or ice climbing or year-round use.
As a total package, the Aquila is the best all-around harness that I’ve worn in quite some time. It’s not perfect, but if Petzl makes some minor adjustments to the stability of the leg straps, this could be a difficult harness to top.
In its current incarnation, the Aquila is everything you need to climb year round, and nothing you don’t. On top of all that, it packs down easily and has held up well. If your climbing is summer-only, you could probably slim your harness down even further and skip the adjustable leg loops by getting something like the Petzl Hirundos or Black Diamond Chaos. And there are lighter and simpler harnesses for winter use. But for those looking for one harness to use year round, the Petzl Aquila is one of my favorite on the market.