Also in This Area
Also in This Style
Ocun WeBee Bigwall Harness: Bridging the gap between super light and bulky
Posted on: July 8, 2022
There are only a few harnesses designed specifically for big wall climbers, so I was very excited when asked to review the Ocun WeBee Bigwall harness.
In 30 ascents of El Capitan (Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La), I've been disappointed by nearly every big wall harness I've used. The gear loops on one harness broke from the forces generated during a long fall and key pieces of our rack plummeted to the ground. On another harness that was advertised as "indestructible," one of the elastic straps connecting the back of a leg loop to the swami belt ripped out after just a few routes. Gear loops, buckles and other design features have been disappointing on the rest of the available harnesses I've tried. Recently, even on multiday and aid-intensive routes, I have used my sport climbing harness with a few strategy changes to account for any shortcomings: a chest harness adds racking options, and a belay seat makes long belays comfy. I was content with these changes and resolved to wait for a better option.
Lance Colley begins Pitch 8 of Tangerine Trip on El Capitan (Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La). [Photo] Lance Colley collection
Some of the components separating big wall harnesses from those designed for other climbing disciplines are extra racking options, a full-strength haul loop and multiple belay loops. Durability is another priority for a big wall harness because it gets worn for many consecutive days, gets frequently thrashed up chimneys and its gear loops carry heavy iron pitons and hammers. Ideally the harness would also be light and low profile to make transitions from aid to free climbing slightly more friendly. Lastly, if the leg loops are completely removable, then climbers can sleep more comfortably with only the waist belt on.
The WeBee waistbelt technology immediately defines the harness and separates it from any other in the big wall category. The waistbelt and leg loops are composed of a foam-like mesh that resembles a see-through honeycomb pattern. The waistbelt is lighter, more breathable, and more supple than any other big wall harness, making it an excellent choice for climbing in hot weather and on routes with demanding or frequent free climbing. The waistbelt and leg loops are as wide as any other big wall harness but don't feel as supportive as designs that use thick foam. The WeBee would be a poor choice for snowy routes because the holes would certainly hold snow, ice up, and soak the climber's waist area, but this is only a problem for a small group of climbers taking on remote high-altitude walls.
Colley shows off the abundance of gear loops on the Ocun WeBee Bigwall Harness before climbing the first pitch of South Seas on El Cap. [Photo] Lance Colley collection
Seven large gear loops distributed around the waist of the WeBee make for an impressive amount of space for racking gear. Five loops are on an equal plane encompassing the entire waist; these loops are integrated into the weight-bearing components of the harness, a design that inspires confidence in their durability. But the rearmost loop straddles the haul loop, and it was frustrating to use these two features simultaneously. If you clip a haul line to the haul loop over the gear loop, the gear loop becomes trapped and difficult to access. If you clip gear to the gear loop over the haul loop, it becomes very difficult to find the haul line—especially with tired hands. Two more loops are on a slightly higher level and positioned at the back of the harness immediately to either side of the haul loop, these two loops are stitched into the face of the harness and are potentially more vulnerable to being ripped off in a big fall. The back of the WeBee is a complicated place when fully loaded with a haul line and with all the tools needed to climb a difficult aid pitch. I found the gear on the rear loops difficult and strenuous to access. For me, these seven gear loops cross the line from convenient and accessible to cluttered and overly complicated. I would like to see a harness that has six symmetrical gear loops: three loops on either side with the third loop on each side located near the back and positioned below the two main loops. It's also been my experience that fabric-wrapped gear loops, like those on the WeBee, show wear faster than plastic-wrapped gear loops.
The WeBee fortunately has quick-adjust buckles on the waist belt and leg loops, which remain tight all day even with a heavy rack. A second, lower-profile belay loop stays out of the way and is hardly noticeable, but it's nice to have when you're managing complex big wall tasks such as rappelling with a haulbag and performing lower outs. Unfortunately the leg loops are not completely removable, which means that, if you're like me, you must sleep with the leg loops off but still attached.
The Ocun WeBee certainly isn't the harness I dream about while lying on the portaledge, but it is a welcome addition because it bridges the gap between a light cragging harness and the extreme bulkiness that defines nearly every other big wall harness. The Nose or Salathe are perfect routes for the WeBee because these routes are characterized by relatively straightforward aid and free climbing. Aid routes like Zodiac, Tangerine Trip or the West Face of Leaning Tower would be no problem for this harness, either, but the lack of belay stances on those climbs and the lesser support of this harness might result in a slightly more tired back at the end of them. Using a belay seat or flagging your portaledge would help.
Other aid routes requiring big iron racks might be too much for this harness. There is no full-strength point for tying your hammer off, and I worry that a gear loop could break if a hammer is dropped repeatedly onto it. I have only found one harness with a dedicated hammer loop, so I can't fault the WeBee for lacking this feature, but it is a feature I would like to see on more harnesses. It's also a little unnerving to clip a heavy rack of beaks to the gear loops on this harness. Losing a hammer or any rack on those types of routes can be devastating.
The Ocun WeBee is a great addition to the lineup of harnesses specifically designed for big wall climbers because it bridges the gap between a common trad or sport climbing harness and the big wall models that are almost too burly. It could easily serve as a trad climbing harness for climbers who want to bring a lot of gear and find the extra gear loops useful. Durability was my main concern with the WeBee, but it still looks great after I used it on Tangerine Trip (VI 5.6 A3) and Zodiac (VI 5.7 A3) on El Capitan this spring. I'm excited to use the WeBee on the Salathe later this summer.
Lance Colley has been living in Yosemite Valley since 2018 and working for the National Park Service, most recently with the Yosemite Search and Rescue team. He has ticked a multitude of routes on El Capitan and holds three speed records.
Colley begins Pitch 3 of Zodiac. [Photo] Lance Colley collection
Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.