Skywalk is clear in their marketing that the RANGE XALPS 2 is for top level performance: “for pilots who want to go to the limit in competitions or who insist on extremely light gear”. If you’re a podium contender for an upcoming hike and fly race, it looks like the one to have. But is it a practical option for general XC pilots wanting a lighter comfortable pod? Let’s find out.
Skywalk RANGE XALPS 2: Construction
It arrived in a small and very flat red bag that weighed only 1902g (M size, on my scales). For a fully featured pod harness with integrated reserve pouch, instrument panel, large rear fairing and fully certified back protector including karabiners, that is outstanding.
As soon as you handle the glossy black cocoon you notice the superb finishes and detailing that lift it well above the original XALPS harness. Reinforced stitching, narrow webbing straps, smooth-edged carbon fibre footplate and just the whole product design gives you confidence. It is a beautiful piece of ultralight engineering.
The reserve pouch is great: front mounted (the best position for safety) it accommodates any single-bridle modern reserve without a fuss. The closure system is neat. The flight deck offers ample space for a few instruments, at a reasonable angle that could be improved by being a bit steeper.
The reserve strop is sewn into the shoulders so only works for standard (single point) reserves. If you have a steerable system you could bypass it by attaching maillons into the gap in the shoulder attachment points. With a bit of muscle, I could force a 5mm maillon in there (push a pen through first). Unfortunately, although the Beamer3 lite fits nicely into the pouch, you’ll run into a problem when trying to fit the lines and brake handles into the narrow gusset (thanks to Jakob Uszkoreit for alerting us). To make it work, you would have to modify the gusset by stitching in a short expansion seam to accommodate the bulge. The Beamer3 lite can be connected to the main carabiners instead, using extension strops.
The excellent standard of manufacturing was only marred slightly by the unfinished (fraying end) speedbar line, the Velcro reserve strop channel (could be zipped) and occasional loose threads.
RANGE XALPS 2: PermAir protection
I first used an inflated sealed back protector in a light harness in the early 90s. It lasted well but because it was heavy plastic I eventually ditched it. By contrast, the Skywalk permair protector at 340g is one of the lightest certified back protectors available, so weight is not a concern. The real benefit is the reduction in pack volume. A smaller and particularly flatter bag moves the centre of gravity much closer to your back, which means better walking comfort and less strength drain.
Filling the protector requires a minute of hefty blows, or three scoops from the clever rolltop airbag bellows. Take care to only do this on soft surfaces or your bellows will become limp. For added protection you could even stuff the inflated bellows into your rear packing pocket to fill whatever space remains there.
There is a risk when landing on sharp rocks of puncturing the protector, but when considering the weight, the area covered, and the inflation system, I’m giving the protection 5 stars for being an innovative solution to ultralight safety.
In my review video I commented that it takes some time to deflate, but in practice if you open the valve and then pack your wing away, the harness will be flat when you come to it.
RANGE XALPS 2 for Volbiv?
Yes indeed. In a game where the grams really matter, your starting weight is great with this pod harness. If you’re comfortable with the idea of removing your certified protection (not advised) you could take out the airbag. Insert your sleeping mat, tent, clothes and food into the bellows bag, and slide it into the liberated space. This won’t upset your comfort because like the original XALPS, the main harness hammock is mostly independent.
Alternatively, clever packing into the rear storage pocket would allow for shorter volbiv trips in the Alps. It is easily accessed and is more voluminous than the original XALPS (it’s larger than something like the Supair Strike). When you add the two side pockets, the walking pole pocket and the underseat ballast pocket, you get more storage than many current harnesses offer.
My only concern for volbiv use is the lightweight ripstop fabric, not well suited to harsh environments. You’ll need to take extra care of your launch selection and packing surfaces.
RANGE XALPS 2: on the launch
I usually leave all the buckles connected and step through my harness. Because of its negligible weight and the inflated backprotector, the shape of the XALPS2 is particularly suited to this technique which is fast and ensures no disconnected straps.
As soon as my wing came up I could feel the difference. The original XALPS cut into your groin area and did not allow you to hang in the straps, to the point that I found my landing setup being compromised because I was subconsciously avoiding getting my legs down. By contrast, the XALPS2 is comfortable enough due to webbing that is just wide enough and better positioned. This also means that for SIV situations you won’t avoid pulling your legs under your seat (for better yaw control) – this is quite comfortable and stable.
There’s a bungee cord beside the footplate, which helps you to slip into the pod and also prevents the light footplate from inverting during your launch run. On the whole I found entry and exit effortless.
RANGE XALPS 2: in the air
The flying position is fully reclined, a feeling of standing up while lying down, very familiar to XALPS 1 users. The straps were adjustable in flight and offer a good range of comfort setting. Although I’m in the size range of the M at 175cm, I felt I would prefer the S size.
It feels pitch stable (better than the XALPS 1) and remarkably comfortable for something so light. However, it still has the wallowy feeling of a harness without a seatboard made with ultralight fabric that leaves the pilot in a bit of a fabric ‘pit’ with reduced contact with the wing. It’s responsive to pilot roll inputs and transmits turbulence information, but the contact with your wing is reduced when compared to heavier pod harnesses. This makes flying a high performance wing slightly more demanding. For this reason I don’t recommend the XALPS 2 to non-competitive pilots who just want a bit less weight.
For top level pilots who can handle the demands, it offers exceptional performance to weight ratio. As Skywalk say, it’s the “ultimate harness where every gram counts.” I found it required added workload on core strength corrections in roll and footplate work to correct yaw, or you need to stabilize yourself with your thumbs sliding against the risers.
Bear in mind that I’m not currently racing, I fly for pleasure, and contact with my wing and resultant safety is the most important factor for me, so I have chosen to stay with a seatboard design with a more stable geometry.
There’s no doubt that the fairing is aerodynamic – it hardly flutters, and it incorporates the research that has resulted in so many PWC pilots demanding the faired design for top performance. The harness is also incredibly sleek and the flying position is optimised. I’d put money on it that this is the highest performing harness in the ultralight class.
RANGE XALPS 2: Who’s it for?
The ideal match for this harness is X-Alps pilots and ultralight racers with skills to fly at a high level. Alternatively, linking it up to a stable wing will help regular XC pilots of moderate ability to handle the altered feedback and fine control required. It’s an aerodynamic winner with outstanding design, packed with technical innovation, superb protection, ample storage space and functional material choices that will lead many hike-and-fly races this season. Ultralight, done right.