The RANGE X-ALPS is an ultralight competition harness designed for the Red Bull X-Alps 2015. It has an eye-catching aerodynamic rear fin and a narrow fit, offering maximum performance through reduced drag. At 1,5kg* it’s currently the only harness available in its class (ultralight racing pods) as Advance have not released the Lightness X-Alps (it requires custom tailoring), neither has Kortel released its Kolibri Pro (over concerns about durability). This puts Skywalk at an advantage with pilots competing in hike-and-fly races, but is it suitable for the wider adventure-flying market, or even as a regular harness for experienced XC pilots wanting to minimise?
As such it competes with the current winner for bivi pilots, the Kortel Kolibri, which at 1,8kg* is only 285g heavier in standard configuration (including foam protector). A utilitarian design in rather eye-watering orange and green, it features a large airbag and large packing space, offers comfortable split-leg support and Kortel’s innovative splice-lock trimming system (which the RANGE X-ALPS shares).
In this article we compare the two and highlight advantages to help you decide which one is right for you.
* A note about weights: The weights used are the complete harness weights, allowing a like-for-like comparison, using ready-to-fly harnesses. The RANGE X-ALPS must be used with the supplied carabiners; light dyneema links are not permitted due to concerns over friction. The removable noshbag and flight deck have been included because the Kolibri has a flight deck and a pocket. In XC configuration: 1518g (RANGE X-ALPS) vs 1803g (Kolibri). In bivi configuration (foam removed): 1210g (RANGE X-ALPS) vs 1510g (Kolibri).
Skywalk RANGE X-ALPS
It’s sleek and is clearly designed for racing. For general XC, there’s just enough space in the back to wiggle in a carefully folded light backpack, your lunch bag and your hat. Pilots who like to carry extra clobber are going to get the mutters. The pouch on the skirt of the pod is just large enough for a pair of summer gloves. The only other pockets you have available is the stick-on nosh-sack which made me feel a bit like a racehorse with a nosebag. I suppose if you are racing it’s nice to have your 5,000 calories in your face to remind you to eat!
Adapting it for bivi flying, I was able to pack my full ‘Alps light’ kit in the harness, but it required careful positioning of the minimalist gear. If this is your first foray into bivi flying or you’re doing extreme adventuring requiring a tent, sleeping bag and a stove, it’s likely you’ll find the packing space too limited.
I put the flat-folded foam camping mat, hat, hiking poles and tent poles in the rear. I had to be very careful to ensure nothing poked through the delicate ripstop pouch. Because the main harness is a separate layer, I was able to slip my backpack between the back support and the rear pouch – there’s enough free play between the two layers that this did not compromise my comfort, and it didn’t seem to stress the harness. You might choose to do this for general XC flying too.
I do wish they’d made the back pouch a bit bigger, with a zipped expanding gusset and a wider mouth.
The large foam protector positioned under your butt is easily removable, and the zipped bag it comes in is perfect for loading the remaining bivi gear: I put in my tent, raingear, clothes, toiletries, first aid box and about three days of dry food supplies. I suspended my waterbag on the carabiners, where it sits comfortably, even with 4 litres.
As there are no buckles, you must step through the leg loops to get in, but this was easy. When in place it hardly feels like the harness is there. The leg ‘straps’ are just thin dyneema cords and the seat area is just soft fabric with limited support, so it’s not a harness for groundhandling – you want to get on that footplate as soon as possible!
Getting in and out of the pod is easy, and once my legs were straight I settled in really nicely. The rear fairing takes 20 seconds to fill. The multiple trim cords allow for a perfect fit in the hammock. After pulling almost every adjustment as tight as they would go on the SM (including shortening the pod), I found a place of peace. I’m average height at 1.74m or 5′ 8½” – so this harness is not for small pilots.
It didn’t feel very active, if anything I’d say there’s some loss of contact with the wing. Occasionally I found myself pitching back slightly due to the sensitivity of the balance point, but this might be the settings. Roll was softened and a little wallowy, but when I wanted a tight turn I could load the inside quickly with good authority. There was no yawing. Overall, a relaxing harness to fly, I felt very chilled out on glide, and confident during thermaling, wingovers and spirals.
Engaging the speedbar was super easy, and the two-step setup is perfectly spaced. However, you do feel the lightness of the construction as a narrow cord tightens across your lower back when on bar.
After a few hours of soaring and thermaling I was still just as comfortable as when I launched, which is remarkable for such a lightweight product. It will require special care if used for regular general XC flying, but for racers, adventurers and ‘go light’ aficionados it’s an exciting advancement in optimised minimalism blended with streamlined performance: a hammock for heaven.
- + multiple adjustments make for a perfect fit
- + easy to step into
- + when loaded for bivi flying, not cumbersome
- + streamlined
- + leg fairing fabric seems durable
- + speedbar easy to engage
- + comfortable leg position, relaxing
- + reserve handle is out of the way of lines
- + air scoops work all the time, don’t need to be zipped into position
- + large area covered by foam protector
DISADVANTAGES (added after 50 hours of use)
- – stitching not reinforced – speedbar pulley attachments and pod tabs on footplate pulled out and required repair
- – splices slip, require stitching
- – rear pocket difficult to access
- – lots of loose fabric (it flaps when accelerated)
- – modification required to stow steerable reserve bridles
- – Skywalk carabiners chew into the string straps (replaced with maillons)
By contrast, the design of the Kolibri is clearly focused on bivi flying, so if performance and weight are not an obsession it offers some clear advantages. To be fair it also smoothens out the airflow nicely in the lee of the pilot, but it omits the head-fairing and has a more rounded taper. It also has a deeper profile as the airbag/foam extends further down beneath the harness, but the plus side of that is better safety offered by the airbag, which claims certified impact protection even with the foam replaced by a sleeping bag.
With the exception of the flimsy fabric in the leg fairing, it’s very sturdy and is more suited to harsh mountain environments. The packing space is the largest of any harness I’ve encountered – it simply swallows gear (24 litres more than the RANGE X-ALPS). It is possible to sit upright (you’re held on comfortable split-leg rubber-lined scoops) so groundhandling and relaunching is easier. The Kolibri cannot be used with karabiners; there’s only enough space through the rings for softlinks, or maillons. Although this helps to save weight, it can be a hassle if you change wings often, disconnect, or get in a tangle.
The splice-slip fasteners on the dyneema cords save weight, but the adjustments move when not under tension (when the harness is packed away), so it’s recommended to stitch some of the cords in place when the right settings are found. Especially the leg fairing, which is tricky to set up, and should be knotted down.
- + instrument panel is integrated, solid and well-positioned
- + extra packing space: underseat (+12 litres), rear (+12 litres)
- + rear fabric is durable and packing area has a wide mouth
- + upright flying is comfortable (good for SIV situations)
- + warmer, especially at hips where rubber scoops protect body from pod skin
- + shoulder straps are more secure in flight, don’t slip off or require chest-clip
- + slightly better roll authority and contact with wing
- + new Karbon ring is very light, so footplate doesn’t bash against shins when walking
- + superior airbag protection
- + big accessible side pocket
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