For a while I’d been thinking of swapping out my existing Ozium harness for something more suitable for my usual type of flying. This gave me the opportunity to try out for myself the service Flybubble give for harness selection and setup, and a perfect chance to gather information for the article explaining in more depth what is involved in finding and fitting the ideal harness.
The harness is perhaps a slightly overlooked piece of kit for the paraglider pilot. Carlo is of the opinion it is equally important as the wing in terms of its contribution to the handling and safety of a paraglider rig. Given that the harness costs a lot and has many parameters for adjustment there’s certainly a case to get the best one available and to take the time and attention to have it optimally set up.
Flybubble offer a Selection and Fitting service as part of any new harness purchase. Although you need to pay a deposit when booking your session, it doesn’t cost you anything as this gets deducted from the price of your harness.
As I was interested in buying a new harness the first step was to create a shortlist of ones to trial. Choosing the attributes of a harness involves a compromise, the trick is in getting the best blend or balance of features to suit your own personal needs such that the choice feels obvious by the end of the exercise.
My initial brief pretty much wanted it all. In comparison with my Ozium, I wanted a harness with more weight shift authority, more protection, and a better pod and cockpit design, which still has to be light and not cost the earth. I was clear in wanting a pod style and I want to be able to take it on an Alpine trip this year, so weight was a key consideration. That said, we discussed what type of flying I will mostly be using it for and I recognised that although Hike and Fly is an ambition, the harness will be used at most perhaps 10% of the time for that purpose, whilst the other 90% will be on XC trips which don’t involve so much walking.
A really useful tool to help define what qualities are most important is a radar diagram. After deciding on a weighting to give each of my personal priorities, my diagram came out looking like this:
Having identified UK XC as my usual type of flying, and also recognised an option to keep my Ozium 1 solely for Hike and Fly expeditions if required, we were able to prioritise my requirements more clearly.
With all this considered, the shortlist of harnesses to consider came down to just 6 (!) options, listed below (in weight order from lightest to heaviest):
- Supair Strike
- Ozium 2
- Lightness 2
- Supair Delight 2
- Gin Genie Lite
- Ozone Forza
Flybubble have a very large range in stock, and being a Medium/Medium actually had my size in every one of the shortlisted options. Now, 6 harnesses are too many to sit in during one fitting session as it just becomes confusing, not to mention time-consuming. Simply by holding them up and looking, we quickly ruled out the heaviest option (the Forza at 5.5kg) on the grounds of being heavier than I’d like for the usual UK XC retrieve, and the lightest (Supair Strike at 2.0 kg) on the grounds of it not having enough protection and being just too flimsy for sustained general wear and tear.
The first I sat in was the Supair Delight 2, at which point the value of the set-up part of the exercise became clear.
Ease of getting in and out was the first consideration as it is the first thing you’ll notice after launching! As far as comfort was concerned, we checked for fit to the hips, support to both the lumbar region and around the shoulder blades, and for an even pressure along the full length of the back with no obvious protrusions or steps to be felt or strange pressure points.
After selecting the right harness and speed bag sizes, adjustments were made to:
- Speed bag length
- Seat plate angle
- Angle of recline
- Lumbar support straps
- Shoulder straps
- Fine tuning the top chest strap
Each of these adjustments are interlinked, so getting the best possible setup is something of an art form. Flight parameters affected by the adjustments are myriad, especially with a pod harness. These include: Propensity to yaw and twist; Ease of weight shift; Comfort; Aerodynamics; Stability of the wing; Amount of effort to maintain stability; Feel for the air.
Carlo took the time to explain these factors and how different adjustments would affect each one. A further benefit for me of being observed on the ground was a discussion of methods of weight shift. Practicing different techniques with an expert instructor on hand was very informative and I came away with a very different weight shift technique to play with which involves pushing with my outside leg, using more lean to put my head outside of the riser, and bracing just a little on the outside riser. This should serve to save me quite a lot of energy in long thermals, as well as providing a little more feel for the wing and therefore movements of the air and location of best lift.
The fitting session turned out to be much more of a masterclass paragliding lesson than I expected and well worth the time for that reason alone.
Getting the right one
I liked the Supair Delight 2 as having a good blend of qualities for my needs.
I decided to check the Ozone Ozium 2. I’d very much enjoyed flying it with the Delta 3, but had discarded it on the basis of being too similar to the Ozium 1 and not bringing enough additional benefit in safety and roll authority. Hanging in one without the distraction of flying I noticed a difference in comfort to the other contenders. So, it was discarded once again.
Next, I back-to-back sat in the Delight 2 and Lightness 2. With fresh perspective it was illuminating. The presence of a seatplate in the Delight 2 for me decreased the comfort factor. The fit and finish also didn’t match the quality of the Lightness 2. Squeezing all of the back protectors showed a surprising difference in quality that the thickness and even weight might not have suggested, with the Lightness 2 having an advantage in this regard.
It was only by sitting in and taking the time to optimally adjust each one, that the ideal candidate stood out. Snug, very comfortable, with the design providing the right amount of roll authority, light enough but still with good back protection, and a pleasing fit and finish and smooth speedbar operation, it was for me the Goldilocks option; the Advance Lightness 2 was juuuuust right!
Final decision made, we moved onto the next part of the (surprisingly long!) process of setting up. Removing the reserve from the never to be used again Ozium, Carlo laid out the new equipment on the ‘operating table’. Observing the inner workings of the reserve deployment system was instructive, not to mention reassuring. We swapped a large and heavy maillon for one half the weight, and refitted the chute.
A compatibility check entails sitting in the harness and pulling the reserve handle to ensure it slides out readily and that I was pulling in the right direction – it is an outward rather than upward pull, which needs re-iterating as the instinctive way to pull is the direction in which you are strongest (up) but which actually results in a lot of friction and an inefficient portion of the effort actually acting in the correct direction. The yeti light reserve fits this harness perfectly, so no bother there (but that’s the value of a compatibility check, your reserve might not fit into the ‘ideal’ harness).
With the harness totally sorted, given the purchase includes a lighter rucksack, a quick packing tutorial followed (as over the years Carlo and Nancy have tried most wings and harnesses in most bags and worked out the best techniques in each case). A small thing, but still worthwhile.
I was a price shopper for many years, and really bought some old crap on eBay when I started flying. When I look back at it I don’t think I saved much money over buying good used equipment from a dealer and definitely didn’t get to fly as far or as comfortably as I wanted due to the kit I was flying and I can say it certainly held me back in my development and progress. Of course as I’m working with Flybubble I have some bias, but that said I really didn’t understand how much the subtle differences add up to a big performance difference and to a far more pleasurable flying experience.
I’m now the proud owner of an Advance Lightness 2 and after my first test flight on a perfect winter’s Bo Peep morning (which even served up some thermals in January), I couldn’t be more pleased with my purchase.
Even after 300 hours of airtime I still had plenty to learn from the session with Carlo and can now fly with my new harness knowing I have the very best one available on the market for my needs, that it is set up to give the best performance possible, and that I’m giving piloting input in the most effective way to control it.
My final conclusion from my harness selection and fitting session: it is very much worth the time and effort to get this key piece of equipment set up professionally. Without access to so many options and the time spent setting them up I very much doubt I’d have made the right choice.
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