In 2008 Arc’teryx was first to market with a new way of building a climbing harness. Petzl had developed a similar technology with the Frame Harness, but it did not offer the weight savings present by the Arc’teryx’s Warp Technology. A few months after the release of the R320 and companion models, I heard a rumor that Black Diamond was developing a lightweight harness with similar technology. I am a fan of most Black Diamond products and had to wait until this new harness came out before I committed to getting a new harness.
Finally in May of 2009 the Chaos harness was available and I eagerly went to REI to check it out. I did a in store comparison with the Arc’teryx R320 and chose the harness with the larger gear loops, the R320. You can see my review of the R320 here. Fast forward to September of 2009 and I was still curious to look at the Chaos and was presented with the opportunity to do a review.
I immediately put the Chaos to lots of use with several trips to Yosemite, climbing the Free Blast, and then climbing it again to continue up the Salathe Wall to the Ear (about 17 pitches). Next I wore the Chaos on the 14 pitch Original Route on Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks where it performed beautifully. Over Thanksgiving, the Chaos was the only harness I brought to Indian Creek for seven days of cragging. To finish out 2009, the Chaos accompanied me up Levitation 29 in Red Rocks and the first 9 pitches of the Nose on El Capitan. Since I wanted to offer a good comparison in this review, I took a few opportunities to wear my R320 during this time, including climbing Freerider.
Out of the box I had immediately liked the R320 because it was super light and fit well. The Chaos, however, dug into my waist on my first multi-pitch climbs in Yosemite. This made me wonder if the Kinetic Core Construction really worked. The stiff waist band did not flex to fit my contours and was uncomfortable during long belays. The R320, right out of the box, formed more of a curve and felt much better on my waist. After wearing the Chaos for a month or so, the waist belt broke in and started being more and more comfortable. I could no longer feel the stiff waist belt digging into my sides during hanging belays and long hang-dogging sessions. The fabric of the Chaos waistband, which is a bit taller and more substantial than the R320, takes a bit of time to break in but becomes equally comfortable.
From the specs you know this harness is pretty light at 14 ounces though not as tiny as the 11.4 ounces of the R320. I think it is important for trad climbers to be able to carry a full rack of gear comfortably. This is one of the ways that the Chaos is superior to the R320. Since waist belt is a bit taller and more importantly stiffer it does not sag at all when loaded with a double set of cams or more. The super thin fabric of the R320 suffers when fully loaded and it feels like the waist band wants to slip off. Without gear, however, the R320 is barely noticeable, such that I’ve even forgotten to take it off.
The R320 and Chaos have similar features. Fixed leg loops, a haul loop and four gear loops. Both harnesses have speed buckles that allow for fast on and off. The details of these features vary. The gear loops on the R320 are large and directional (gear slides forward or back) but floppy. The Chaos has much stiffer gear loops that are nice to clip gear to but are almost 25% smaller. The style of the webbing on the Chaos is much more coarse than the R320. On the Arc’teryx harness the webbing would slip through a bit during a day of climbing, requiring me to constantly tighten it. The webbing on the Chaos holds the harness closed and I haven’t had to re adjust it while climbing.
Black Diamond makes a few other harnesses with Kinetic Core Construction, called the Aura and the Ozone. These sport climbing specific harnesses feature two gear loops but each loop is much larger than the loop on the Chaos. A combination of one large and one small gear loop per side would have been much better in my opinion since I would like to have more space on the gear loops of the Chaos.
Due to the smaller gear loops I changed my racking from gate facing in (my preference) to gate facing out (which racks better on the Chaos). When I first tried to rack up a double set of cams and quickdraws for the Free Blast I couldn’t fit everything with the gates facing in. This may not be an issue for those who use gear slings but I prefer to rack all of my gear on my harness unless climbing a chimney or an long route with many belay change overs.
I got used to the gate facing out method of racking but noticed that it led to another small concern. Occasionally when removing biners from the gear loop, a notched nose would catch on the plastic tubing. I use wiregate biners for my cams, mainly BD OZ’s, and this may be part of the problem. This is not a big deal but just something that I don’t remember happening on any of my other harnesses.
In its second weekend of use the Chaos went up on El Capitan and suffered though my lead of the Hollow Flake. With 80+ foot fall potential you want to be securely wedged in the squeeze chimney. This continuous wedging and wiggling of my hips, and thus my harness, put a small hold in the Chaos at the connection point of the front gear loop. Luckily, and likely due to good construction, this hole has not cause me any problems in the following six months of use.
The only other problem I have had with the Chaos is the fabric on my left leg loop had started to peel back, which I noticed in December. The stitching had worn off and the lightweight fabric had opened up. This is not a functional or safety problem but more of an aesthetic complaint. I am pretty sure this is due to aggressive leg jamming on offwidths which happened both in Yosemite and during my week at Indian Creek.
A few people will find the fixed leg loops of the Chaos to be a problem. Black Diamond does offer a KCC harness with adjustable leg loops called the Xenos. This harness is geared towards ice climbing with many ice clipper loops. I find the fixed leg loops to be comfortable and I had no problem climbing the Nose wearing long underwear and lightweight softshell pants in December. I don’t ice climb or mountaineer so I don’t have the need to put on too many layers on my lower body. If you expect to be using lots of ice screws and climbing in cold climates the Xenos might be the ticket.
Compared to the R320, the haul loop on the Chaos is more durable and in a better orientation. When a carabiner is clipped to the haul loop it is allowed to lay flat, which creates a lower profile. This design is not perfect since the biner still rubs behind you so I would often relocate the haul line when chimneying. Having the haul line snag is not a real complaint since it could happen with almost any harness.
In the end the R320 and Chaos have different features and benefits. The most important thing with a harness is fit and the ratio of waist band to leg loop size varies between these harnesses. I have been happy wearing both harnesses on all day climbs, which in my mind puts them to the comfort test. Both sets of gear loops have disadvantages and I can hope that the next generation will show some improvements. In terms of durability, I have been really impressed with the R320 since it has shown less wear than the Chaos. Only time will tell if they will continue to age at the same rate.
I’d love to hear some other opinions if there are things that I have missed. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.
For reference I wear a size Medium in both the R320 and the Chaos. I am about a 31 or 32 in men’s pants and am 5′ 8″ and 155 pounds. I have to tighten the R320 as much as possible to get it small enough to stay on. The Chaos adjusts smaller so I don’t have to tighten it quite as much.
- Comfortable once broken in.
- Full strength haul loop
- Waist belt does not sag with a full rack on.
- Very durable webbing in speed buckle does not slip.
- Small Gear loops
- Light-weight material lacks durability
Full Disclosure: Black Diamond provided this harness to DreamInVertival in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed above are my own and reflect my experience with this harness. Feel free to leave comments regarding your opinion of the Chaos.
For more Sweet Gear reviews from Luke and Lizzy check out our Gear Reviews page.