The Petzl Fly is an ultra-light harness that fits the size of some clif bars and was specially developed for ski mountaineers and alpinists.
I admit, I don’t belong to any group of ski mountaineers or alpinists, but I am a splitboarder on tiptoe in steeper, more technical terrain. Last month I had ample opportunity to record the time in the Petzl fly during an expedition to Denali National Park. Our crew camped on a glacier, navigated through it, and drove in rows for a week.
In summary: The Petzl Fly Harness is ultra-light. But there is more. (For example, removable padding, great support, and lots of gear loops.) Find out why it is now the first choice for one of our testers for glacier travel.
Why ski or ride with a harness?
This won’t come as a surprise to winter travelers in the hinterland, but glacier trips are complex and make harnesses mandatory for daily use in the Alpine regions. Avalanche hazards are not your only concern.
Instead, you’ll also have to grapple with obstacles like seracs, bergschrunds, and gaping crevasses, often shrouded in snow and invisible to the naked eye.
Constant wearing of a harness is accepted as a minimum safety requirement – similar to a Beacon, shovel and probe – so that a crew can rope up at any time.
If you or a teammate fall, a harness is critical to successfully rescuing a crevasse. Of course, rocking a harness can also be helpful outside of the glacier when it comes to more technical approaches, abseiling, and more.
Weighing Your Options: The Petzl Bow Tie is a light weight
At first I was attracted to the fly because it is even lighter than that height, a popular Petzl harness that many ski and snowboard mountaineers rely on. The height weighs 160 g (size M), while the bow tie weighs 130 g (size M) with padding.
And the padding – a few millimeters of solid foam padding – can be removed to reduce it to 100g. While there are some lighter straps on the market, a lack of padding seems standard if you want to drop below the 130g mark.
I’m not a masochist or hardcore gram counter so I toured with the padding all week. The weight and design of the harness made these 30 grams barely noticeable.
And it provided impressive support when I had a standard glacier rescue kit with me: a couple of automatic lockers, a couple of wiregate carabiners, ATC, sling, Micro Traxion, and Tibloc.
The fly harness is packed small.
The Micro Traxion and Tibloc come with Petzl’s RAD kit, which also includes a thin 6mm x 30m RAD line in a small pouch the size of a football.
A couple of times – including approaching a bergschrund when our guide tried to abseil – I toured with the pouch attached to a gear loop for quick access. This was the only time I noticed the strap slack during the tour.
That is, the belt has two longer horizontal gear loops; four additional smaller vertical loops; and two silicone ice screw holders – more than enough for an organized approach to glacier travel.
I was able to easily access all of my equipment (with gloves!) Both in exercise scenarios and while abseiling on the glacier. However, I imagine that some mountaineers will ask for more lifting capacity than the Fly, as the Fly is specifically designed for quick and easy travel.
Easy entry and exit
In contrast to a couloir with a bergschrund floor, the entrance and exit of the fly is quite straightforward. It’s a minimalistic drop seat style with a toggle that secures the strap around the waist.
This attachment can be a little fussy, especially with gloves on. So I decided to hang it up in my tent vestibule on cooler mornings. Still, it got easier and easier over time.
The leg loop attachments are simple – a belt coupling on one side pulls together over a knotted cord on the other. Best of all, this combo allows you to easily tighten the harness by wrapping it around your body in bulky boots, boards, or skis rather than doing that awkward, gradual shuffle.
Uphill and downhill comfort
I’m not a big guy – 5’9 “, 145 pounds – and I tested a medium. Despite my skinny frame, I found it most comfortable to tour with the leg straps in their widest position.
However, when I got back from my voyage, I was belted off my deck for 10 minutes. (Fortunately, I didn’t fall into a crevasse in Alaska, nor did we knock on any lines, so I tested the comfort at home.)
When I was hanging, I felt most comfortable when the leg loops were a little tighter for more support. If you were to embark on an adventure that meant more airtime – longer abseiling, for example – I’d definitely keep the padding and tighten the leg loops.
If you’re looking at an even longer airtime, like hanging fusesYou might want to consider something with a touch more support.
While I rarely enjoy the climb, my main driver is the descent. And I was pleased to find that the Petzl Fly did not affect my freedom of movement while riding.
I hopped down a few steep lines and even found the confidence to throw some impromptu threesomes with the glacier rescue kit that jingled on my hip.
Of course, driving a fly isn’t quite as liberating as driving in a straight line down a snow groomer no pack, but felt like an average day of splitboarding – a big win in my book.
Tie to the bow tie
When I was talking to my team on the glacier about the intricacies of the harness, an experienced alpinist pointed to the double connecting loops and said, “I don’t know how I feel when shit slips into both loops, the fan.” Instead of a single connection point this belt has a loop on both sides of the fastening system.
Its point is, for example, if you fell into a crevasse and, due to injury or by mistake, are only tied in a loop, the harness will be completely ineffective. In contrast to a wire harness with a single connection loop or two redundant connection points.
If you tie into one of two redundant loops, the harness will still retain its functionality – it’s just less secure and less comfortable. On the flip side, if you just tie in one of the bow tie’s loops, the harness will fail catastrophically and tear you off like an NBA player’s warm-up sweat.
Though his point had merit, I found it easy to tie myself securely to both loops – although admittedly, I was never inside a real pickle. I could see that this is a bigger problem when you’re maxing out the size range as a wider waist would make it harder to pull the loops closer together.
Long story short, it is a wise decision to size these dishes at home before putting them in the field.
Petzl Fly Review: Final Thoughts
I found the Petzl Fly harness ideal for glacier travel and splitboarding. I can’t speak to more advanced or alpine intentions just yet, but for my intended use, the fly will continue to be my port of call.
It’s comfortable, lightweight, and you pretty much forget about wearing it while skinning, boating, and horseback riding. Then add in the cute packability and the fact that you can put on the harness with skis or a board. Result.
One thing is for sure: I’ll be thrilled to dump it here on the Lower 48 if more technical entrances or exits are on the menu.
Check the price at REI
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