Mike Kimmel works as the Department Head for English Language at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, a public high school that works exclusively with competitive skiers and snowboarders (ranging from Alpine skiing, freeride, all forms of snowboarding competition, and nordic). He is also a climbing coach and primary routesetter for the Vail Athletic Club, and a guide for Adventure Travel Guides. He’s worked as a setter and coach for 10+ years, and has sent many young climbers to USA Nationals, and a few kids to Continental Championships.
‘Did Petzl send me a pint glass?’ was my initial reaction when I stopped at the post office and found a small box waiting for me. I shook the box, wondering what could be small enough to fit in the cardboard: a set of quickdraws? A GRIGRI? I had no recollection of ordering any hardware, and the box felt much, much too light to contain anything metal.
My curiosity was alleviated when I opened up the package to find the Petzl Sitta harness compressed into a tiny stuff staff. I had heard that the new design Petzl was releasing was ‘ultralight,’ but did not realize exactly how light it was until I saw the harness itself. It’s rare that I’m as excited to test out a harness the same way I would be with climbing shoes, but after initially seeing this, I had to find out if it would be comfortable to climb in something that literally weighs half a pound.
How is the Sitta so light? Petzl uses a technology they call ‘WireFrame,’ essentially utilizing strands of Spectra webbing through the waist and legs to create support while eliminating weight. Lots of other small details abound to assist with weight reduction: smaller buckles, extremely thin straps from the leg loops to the waist, thin and flexible gear loops . . . the list goes on. But a savvy consumer can research this on their own, so I’ll focus on what we most care about: how does the harness hold up while climbing?
My initial reaction to climbing in the Sitta has been one of amazement. I was already a fan of Petzl harnesses, using the Calidris as a route-setting harness, and the Sitta has the same high-quality aesthetic as the rest of the Petzl line. Aside from the fact that it compressed into a space about ½ the size of other harnesses and creates significant extra room in my pack, there are several other small features that create some major bang for the price.
The gear loops are cleverly designed, with variable stiffness based on positioning. The front two gear loops also have a removable divider, which is useful for racking different types of gear or lengths of quickdraws. I found myself using the divider mostly to rank draws with different sized carabiners. While it does not sound like a huge deal, having something there to prevent large carabiner quickdraws from ‘swallowing’ the smaller ones is a godsend when you desperately want to pull out the right one to clip. There is a small rear haul loop, great for pulling up an extra line when guiding to set up a nearby top rope, or pulling up a static line to be jugged up. The leg loops are elasticized and fit well regardless of layering, and the harness feels just as comfortable in shorts as it does against insulated pants.
Even though there are all these features designed to cut down on weight and size, the Sitta is still very well-featured in terms of durability and safety. Like all of Petzl’s climbing harnesses, the waist loop is pre-doubled back to prevent a (surprisingly common) serious mistake that climbers can make. Tie-in points are reinforced for wear, and the methodology used to sew the Spectra throughout the waist and legs is designed to most evenly distribute the pressure from the climber, preventing certain spots from gaining wear early.
Despite all the advantages of the Sitta, there is no one harness that is the ideal for everyone, all the time. The rear loop on the Sitta is great for hauling up a line, but is not a full-strength haul loop to be carrying significant weight. While very comfortable for its size, and while it is a harness I am very happy with using for full days in Rifle, I will not be attempting to routeset or develop in the Sitta. Spending hours at a time hanging on the thinner material definitely becomes less comfortable than a designated big-wall harness, and I don’t believe the Sitta is purposed to fill that niche. If pack weight is not an issue, the Petzl Sama is an alternative that feels similar on the body when climbing, and while it weighs a little more, it’s significantly cheaper and, like the Sitta, also an incredibly well-made harness.
However, if you are pushing for a lightweight, forget-you-have-it-on level, and looking to gain extra space in your pack (like traveling for an extended period), then I sincerely believe you can’t find much better than the new offering from Petzl.