January 10, 2010
Many moons ago I was working in a climbing shop. One day a certain - rather rotund - hardware manufacturer’s sales rep came in with an idea he wanted to run past us. He explained how the company had been looking into designing a new alpine/winter harness, which was proving taxing, as everyone seemed to buy the BD Bod or DMM Alpine. But this rep had thought up an idea that he believed to be a winner - one that would have climbers all over the world saying “how did I get through life without this?”, and no doubt trump every other design on the market.
Now I bet you’re sat thinking ‘what was this great invention or design’, no doubt because you can’t remember any startling alpine harnesses that have cropped up in the last ten years.
Well, the idea - or concept - was simple, and like all great designs was aimed at eliminating a problem that most people were unaware of; namely that their harness fell down when winter climbing. The design this rep had come up with was startling in its simplicity, namely a bog-standard alpine harness - but with braces attached.
As he spilled the beans to us - we privileged few - a hush went around the rock counter, each person taking in the magnitude of this innovation. Then someone said - a matter of factly - “Your harness falls down because you’re a fat knacker and your belly’s too big” at which point the spell was broken, and no doubt so too were the dreams of a would-be designer and we all fell about laughing.
Now this story is an important one for me because when some design idea or technique comes into my head, I always ask myself the question “is this just a harness with braces?”. Stupid ideas are where innovation comes from, but they are ideas that are best developed and tested cerebrally first; because once you share them they are no longer stupid; you are.
I read about a web design company a while back that had a great approach to design, in that anything was sayable, but if you knew it was a stupid idea you could put your hand on top of your head to prove that you knew it. A good example of this would be to ask “why not have pockets sewn upside down, so the contents fall out when you unzip them”, a very stupid question that would be expressed under the protection of hand head. But stupid ideas get the flow going, and soon you may be thinking of others things that may work better the wrong way round (this is how the recurved ice pick came about). They also kept a note of all ideas - good and bad, because ideas often come before their time.
So why am I rabbiting on about such things? Well for a while I’ve been having a braces kind of idea about a piece of kit that’s missing off many climbers clothing; but one I wasn’t sure that was actually needed.
What it is is a crotch strap (calm down at the back), a strap that goes through your legs and is attached at the rear hem at the back, and beside the front zipper, made from either nylon or elastic. Buffalo where the first to use this idea with their Big Face shirt, followed by the Montane Extreme smock, Moonstone, and even Patagonia, who thought it good enough to include it one season’s speed ascent jackets.
What it does is keep your main layer in place and stops it slowly riding up and exposing your midriff, a pretty important feature when most climbers are wearing trousers these days.
Of course, a great and unrestricted arm lift should reduce the importance of this, and a big baggy softshell or shell reduces the need further, but never the less, the action of binding layers and normal movement will see a slow rise in layers, forcing you to keep pulling your hem down - especially in well fitted soft shells.
A crotch strap can also stop snow from being forced up into your jacket hem when in very deep snow, or skiing in powder, generally keeps everything neater, and will reducing ‘bagging’ of fabric at chest level (which restricts visibility of your rack and feet).
To make a removable crotch strap you’ll need a 2-foot length of 15mm strong elastic (you can use thinner elastic, or webbing), a length of velcro to match and some thin tape (5mm or 10mm). Sew a loop on the rear hem (1 inch up inside, so it won’t be exposed and potentially snag), and another loop on the front, offset from the zipper. The loop should be sewn so it creates an open loop that corresponds in width with the strap you’re using. Now sew the velcro to one end of the strap (don’t scrimp on velcro - as you want it to be strong), so it can be attached and removed, then get the length right before you do the same on the front of the strap. When fitting don’t go for something that’s got G string tightness, just go for something that’s snug when you’ve got your hands above your head. You can add a tri-glide buckle if you want some adjustment.
Is this a stupid ‘braces’ kind of idea, after all, if it was so good wouldn’t all manufacturers use it? Unfortunately, it’s a prime example of one of those very functional features that suffer from also being very uncommercial and super unsexy; just imagine some Range Rover driving car coat buying punter being told that his jacket has a built-in crotch strap!
Maybe I am wrong - but to be honest I don’t really care if this sounds stupid, because as I type this, I’ve got one hand firmly planted on my head.
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