What to look for when buying a harness.
I have spoken before about in flight confidence and the importance of a clear and positive mind to make good calculated decisions. I believe that your harness is another factor that contributes to a good feeling and thus more confidence and more enjoyment. Below are some points to make you aware of what I think is relevant in harness selection.
Now what you have to remember when choosing a harness is that you will probably keep it longer than the glider you're flying, so it is a good idea to make the correct choice. The harness is your interface between you and the glider, different types of harness will give different feelings when you are flying and ground handling. There are several factors to think about when you are looking for a good harness.
- Protection. If you have any understanding of the sport you already know that it is imperative that you have a harness with ample protection. Any form of protection is better than nothing, but there are many different types of protection on the market to choose from. I would strongly recommend that you fly with a harness that has been designed and tested with protection, if it has an official certification then even better (DHV or AFNOR). There are different types of protection ranging from mousse or foam to air, and the thing to remember is that they all work, it is just a case of deciding which you think is best for you. Do not worry about how you look or if your harness is massive, because if you are unfortunate enough to need your back protection the last thing going through your head will be "Do I look good?". Some of the Cygnus type harnesses are very large and look a little unusual but they work very well and at the end of the day that is what counts, not how you look!
- Comfort. Imperative that you are comfortable. Comfort in flight will help relax you and thus enjoy your flights more. When you are looking for a harness don't just sit in it for a few seconds, leaning from side to side a few times and say "yep, that fine". It takes at least half an our to feel the pressure points and the general comfort of a harness, so don't make a rushed decision.
- Reserve placement. Now this is really a personal preference, front, back, side or under the seat. Ok, I could go into the pros and cons of each type but at the end of the day there is a positive and a negative for all of them. Just make sure that the placement of the parachute makes it very accessible and easy to find, because when the shit hits the fan you will be very glad that it's easy to get to and use.
- Quality. Goes without saying your life depends on it so make sure that the webbing and the quality of stitching that connects it all together is good. On most harnesses these days all the main webbing junctions are either stitch or cloth reinforced. The shock opening of a reserve can put great stress on the harness, so inspect it well and make sure that it has a very strong reserve bridal attachment.
- Maneuverability. This is linked to comfort as well as it affecting your in-flight feeling. The geometry of the harness will affect the sensitivity in two ways - the amount of feed back you get from the air and the ease of it's weight shift capabilities. It is my personal opinion that it is good to have a sensitive harness as it will convey the air's movements to you and the more you know about what the air is doing the safer you are. On the other hand, I know that it can make some pilots feel uncomfortable if they feel too much through their harnesses but I urge them to try to get used to a looser feeling, as it is safer in the long run. Handling; it is also important that your harness is good for weight shift as this is one of the primary factors when initiating a turn properly. If the geometry is not good, weight shift can be very difficult and it will affect the feeling and turning characteristics of your wing.
Once you have decided on a model then it is time to set it up properly. Find a suitable place to hang the harness from and take time to try different settings until you find the perfect combination that you fell most comfortable with. Attempting to adjust the shoulder, lumber and waist straps while in flight is difficult and potentially dangerous and can give totally different sensations and feelings in the air; this is why we advise you to do all this in the comfort of your own home. This way you will have time to adjust and fiddle until your heart's content. It is also the perfect time to practice finding and throwing your reserve, a very sensible thing to do.
Buying a harness is just as difficult as choosing a wing, it takes time and research to find the perfect harness for your personal style and abilities. Remember you are the customer and as the customer you have the right to test fly before you buy; it would be foolish to buy before you fly, imagine buying a car without a test drive, of course not.
Oh, just one last point that I almost forgot to mention is that if you are using Cross Straps to brace your harness, it is time to stop! Yes, it is common knowledge now a days that Cross Straps are not a good idea and in some cases can make gliders more dangerous, so please take them off. It will feel very different in the beginning but you will soon get used to it and in the end you will love flying without them.
I really hope that some of this helps you out and helps you enjoy your flying even more.