When I first saw the Black Diamond Vision Harness, which hit the market earlier this year, I assumed it was only a sport-climbing harness because it was so light and minimalistic. The four plastic-coated gear loops were thin and seemed a little flimsy, the leg loops weren’t adjustable, and the fifth loop on the back wasn’t protected by plastic and felt as if it could get cut easily.
I had to rethink how I was using the harness when I saw the description on Black Diamond’s website: “Built to trim every possible gram for ultralight performance on technical alpine routes, the Vision is the lightest fully functional harness we’ve ever made.”
By then I already knew that the Vision was lightweight (224g) and simple (only one buckle) and that it compacted well when I stuffed it into the top of an overflowing backpack, thanks to the ergonomic waist belt and leg-loop design that eschews padding (the harness can wad into about the size of a large cordalette). Most importantly, the harness was comfortable for what it is. My back was well supported throughout the hours and hours of epic hang-dog and belay sessions that are the norm at Rifle Mountain Park.
But how well does it rack gear?
I was skeptical because the gear loops didn’t even seem to hold quickdraws that well. Sometimes, when I went to unclip a draw, it would get tangled in the thin gear loop that was so light it seemed to rise and fall on a breath of wind.
But the loops actually performed better when they were weighted down with a proper amount of gear, such as a double rack to 3 inches with 18 draws, lockers, a nut tool and a cordalette. The waist belt carried the weight solidly, and there was just enough room for everything if I doubled up some of the quickdraws, clipping two together instead of clipping each one individually to a loop. This is actually a pretty decent alpine harness after all! I thought, as I shook the gear around like a metal hula skirt.
The Vision also has four slots for Black Diamond’s plastic Ice Clippers, which are designed for racking ice screws. Moreover, the lack of padding means that the harness won’t absorb water–a nice thing when you’re stuck in the middle of a chilly runnel.
The Vision has its limitations, though. It certainly shines for casual cragging and can work well for longer routes, depending on how light you’re willing to go or if you supplement it with a gear sling and/or backpack. At some point, you’ll probably want something a little more substantial. I won’t be using this for any big walls, but it’s a great option to have for that Grade III 5.9 with a two-hour approach.
I have two small, picky details about the Vision. The first has to do with the speed buckle. It’s not so speedy. The nylon webbing is a bit stiff and doesn’t feed smoothly through the buckle; it takes some fiddling to get it started, whether I’m tightening or loosening it. Having a tight, stubborn system is certainly preferable to having one that’s too loose, though, and I’d bet this is by design. At least I know I don’t have to keep rechecking the waist belt to ensure it’s properly snug. The other picky detail has to do with the elastic straps that hold up the back of the leg loops–there’s no way to adjust them. Over time, as the elastic wears out, the loops are likely to sag lower and lower on the back of my legs. Worse, yet, what about the climber whose frame doesn’t fit the factory specs? An adjustment system on the elastic keepers wouldn’t add much of any noticeable bulk or weight, and would improve the longevity of a $150 harness. For that matter, the leg loops themselves are not adjustable, but elastic straps on the inside of the loops keep them snug and accommodate a range of leg sizes or added layers well enough. Still, it seems a shame that the harness may lose its proper fit once these thin elastic straps wear out.
As for that fifth gear loop on the back, it’s so thin I’m reluctant to clip a tagline to it, or any other gear I wouldn’t want to lose. It’s most likely an unfounded fear, but I have visions of the shoelace-thin loop getting ripped off on an edge or crystal while I’m worming my way through a godforsaken squeeze chimney. But it’s probably fine, as all the gear loops are well bar-tacked and designed to carry some weight. Just my paranoia speaking, here. Rigid-stem Friends were still on the market when I started climbing, so all these new, ultralight gear designs freak me out a little bit!
Derek Franz is the digital editor for Alpinist.com. He got his first harness at 11 years old and was probably more excited than when he got his driver license.
Simple and compactable
Versatile–carries a basic double rack well and includes four slots for Ice Clippers
Lack of padding on waist belt and leg loops means the harness won’t absorb water if you get wet
The nylon webbing through the speed buckle is a little stiff, making it less speedy to operate
Leg loops aren’t adjustable
Gear loops feel a little flimsy