I recently found myself in the market for a new harness, as the Black Diamond Gumbyface AL I’d been climbing in for the past few years wasn’t really cutting it anymore. It was a little too big for me, the leg loop buckles had an alarming habit of loosening themselves over the course of the day, and in my clumsiness I managed to constantly snag the surprisingly flimsy gear loops on things, each new tear bringing me one step closer to a realization of my ultimate nightmare: watching all my gear free falling several thousand feet into oblivion when my left front gear loop finally gives out on El Cap. Big wall climbers rack everything on a single harness gear loop, right? Nevermind that I’ve never climbed a big wall. It’s the principle of the thing.
Despite all that though, harnesses are basically indestructible, and although I might be annoyed by the old faithful BD Momentum, none of those minor quibbles really impact my safety or comfort when climbing. The imperative reason I needed to replace the harness is that I saw an opportunity to shave 6 oz of weight while wearing a piece of gear made in the US by a company with some cachet. For a punter like me, it’s crucial to both save weight and boost my street cred whenever possible, since my climbing definitely isn’t going to impress anybody.
Enter the Misty Mountain Bolt. Misty Mountain, like Cold Cold World, is a small shop with a reputation for making minimalist, bomber gear that works great and has no extra frills. From their workshop in North Carolina, the folks at Misty make a variety of harnesses and crashpads to order, and will happily make any customizations you need. Although they’re known mostly for their Cadillac harness, a trad-daddy harness with six gear loops and a reputation for being incredibly comfy, I decided to grab the Bolt harness since that suits my needs better. Weighing in at 12.8 oz with a more standard four gear loops and fixed leg loops, the Bolt looked ideal for my diet of mostly sport climbing: lightweight, no frills, and hopefully as comfortable as Misty’s reputation suggested.
- The Bolt’s padding is a little thinner, although not by as much as it looks. They’ve shaved weight by removing the padding near the belay loop, as that part of the harness isn’t bearing weight when you fall anyway. The gear loops also fold flush with the waist belt, making them lower profile when packed.
Despite the crushing realization that I’ve become hooked on artisinal climbing gear and am now a climbing hipster, or clipster, I was still psyched to escape the moist armpit of Oregon this past weekend and head up to Vantage with Laura to put the harness through its paces. Mike Grimm, co-owner of Misty, assured me that I could send the harness back and have the fit customized if need be, but happily the default medium was a perfect fit. The Bolt is much less bulky than my old Momentum, and packs down better, occupying about half as much space in my pack. For those of you who know the ridiculously tiny pack I usually crag with so I don’t have to carry the rope, this was very nice. It’s not the snazziest looking harness, but that suits my no-nonsense, humble approach to climbing.As it was Laura’s first time lead belaying with a Grigri, I took a bunch of practice falls so she could get comfortable catching me. The falls were every bit as comfortable as those in my Momentum, despite the thinner padding. Later that day, I decided to top-belay one of the routes in a semi-hanging stance to get a better feel for the long-term comfort of the harness, and it was very comfortable, with no hotspots anywhere. For comparison, the Arcteryx R320A, another ultralight harness coming in at about 1.4 oz lighter than the Bolt, is in my opinion extremely uncomfortable to hang in even for short periods of time. This is not so much due to the lack of padding in the R320A as it is the extremely hard edges of the waist belt and leg loops which dig into your skin.
The construction of the harness is really top-notch. The gear loops are well stitched and covered in a very rigid plastic. The elastic bands holding up the leg loops are easy to adjust, which is a small detail that many harnesses totally botch. It reminds me a little of Metolius gear in that it just feels really solid. I can’t rationally explain why I love #3 Mastercams so much it borders on a sexual fetish, but something about them just feels really bomber. In the same way, the simple no-frills design of the Bolt is very confidence inspiring. The fact that they’ve made such a great piece of gear at such a low weight says a lot about their understanding of their market. They’ve pared away everything they could to save weight, but left just enough material to ensure comfort. I’m too lazy to look it up, but imagine I inserted some fancy quote here about sculptors removing everything from a block of marble that doesn’t look like an elephant. Hopefully that made me sound sophisticated; if not you need to imagine harder.
Really the only negative thing I noticed is the position of the gear loops. They’re shifted about two inches back from what I’m used to, so the front loops are exactly on my sides and the back loops are more or less at my kidneys. This makes the back loops really hard to see, especially if you’re wearing layers. That said, this is a sport harness, and usually the rear loops are just for anchor rigging or a rappel device. Given that those front two loops see 90% of the use when sport climbing, it makes sense to shift things back in order to get the gear out of your way. By the end of the weekend I was already readjusting and was mostly able to clip the rear loops without looking, although it was still a problem if I caught a shirt or something in the biner.
Well, I’ve written nearly a thousand words now about a climbing harness. Obviously I must be pretty impressed. Misty’s reputation is deserved, and I don’t hesitate to recommend them.