In my article “Kitesurfing Harnesses – What’s the Best Type to Buy as a Beginner” I describe the main types of kiteboarding harnesses and what types would be most suited to a beginner. Here I feature 6 of the harnesses I believe to be among st the best available for a beginner, or for that matter any kiter with a bias towards free-ride (all-round) kiting. Others are available, obviously, and there will be some great harnesses among st them. However, these are harnesses I’ve either used myself or have discussed in detail with kiters who are using them at present and whose judgment I can trust completely.
I haven’t featured any seat harnesses here, mainly because I feel it is a very small market-place these days with so many great waist harnesses available with innovations that eliminate most of the advantages that seat harnesses used to have over waist harnesses – mainly the tendency to ride up.
There are now 2 main choices in type of kiteboarding waist harnesses – “Hardshell” or “Soft”.
The hardshell harness was invented by Ride Engine and has now been adopted by a number of leading brands. They come at a bit of extra cost but for most kiters the advantages are clear. Because of their rigid construction they can be far less bulky and lower in profile, whilst offering the same or more back support than a larger profile soft harness. This offers more flexibility of movement.
Another major advantage is that they don’t distort and compress under pressure from the pull of the kite. This makes for a much more comfortable session overall.
That said, the “soft” harnesses I’ve featured here offer as much support as you can get without going to the hardshell option, and will give you hours of comfort in each kiting session.
A note on spreader bars – Most harness manufacturers now offer a choice of traditional fixed hook spreader bars or a variety of sliding spreaders. Whilst the sliding spreader has a number of advantages for more advanced riders, particularly for wave riding and toeside riding, they are slightly more complicated to use in terms of how you attach the chicken loop. They also take a bit of getting used to. If you’re a beginner I would recommend you go for the fixed option to start with. The spreader is an inter-changeable part so you can easily swap to a sliding spreader when you get further down the line in your progression.
Dakine has been at the forefront of harness design for decades, going back to the early days of windsurfing. And the Pyro reflects this. Whilst being a “soft” harness, the Pyro from 2017 onwards has a very rigid back-plate, and this has allowed it to be relatively slim in thickness for a soft harness. The back support is substantial, which is a good thing for most riders.
I’ve used a Pyro for years and never suffered any discomfort, even after kiting for 4 or more hours non-stop. And the newest models from 2017 onwards have some great innovations that make them a very close contender to the more expensive hardshell options.
- Large back support plate with pretty rigid construction (reflecting Dakine’s entry into the hardshell market).
- Thermo-foam interior padding which moulds to the contours of your body with body heat, creating a really snug fit that won’t ride up.
- Really robust waist-belt and dual compression straps which pull the outer structure and spreader bar together to create a tight but comfortable fit so that the harness doesn’t start to feel loose under strain.
- Rear handle/handle-pass strap.
- 2 “D” rings at the sides for leash attachment.
- Down-strap to keep the spreader bar from angling upwards.
- Choice of fixed or sliding spreader bars.
Ride Engine was the pioneer of hardshell harnesses and the latest Prime and Elite is the culmination of all the innovations from their earlier models. With maybe a few exceptions in style of riding (wave, some free-style) where the rider actually wants a harness that can be worn slightly loose and move around, The hardshell is probably the future of harnesses.
The main advantage is that, because the body of the harness is constructed from a rigid carbon polymer or fiberglass material, less bulk is required to offer the same or more support. The harness can also be slimmer in profile i.e less surface area.
Additionally, because the harness doesn’t distort under strain, there is less tendency to squeeze the torso when you’re riding full-out and powered up.
The early hardshell models had a slightly questionable fastening mechanism involving a PU tube loop that had a tendency to stretch. However, from 2018 onwards Ride Engine adopted a more traditional fixing mechanism that has solved the early problems completely. The interior and edges of the harness are nicely padded with memory foam and the hardshell backplate has a concave curve that hugs the lower back to prevent it riding up and to offer subtle yet firm lumbar support.
- Hardshell exterior. Two versions available – “Elite” is made of carbon polymer which is stiffer and lighter than the “Prime” which is made of fiberglass.
- Dual compression straps.
- Memory foam interior.
- Low-profile back-plate, offers comfort and flexibility without compromising on support
- Concave back curve, hugs the back and prevents ride up.
- Side D rings and rear handle-pass strap for leash attachment.
- Choice of fixed hook or sliding spreader.
The C-1 is Dakine’s answer to the hardshell.
It’s main body differs from the Ride Engine harness mainly in that the hardshell is in 3 parts with a back plate and side plates, with a flexible join in between. The hardshell has a little more flexibility than the Ride Engine harness and is designed to mould to your body shape within a few uses. It therefore offers a good halfway house between the full-on hardshell and soft harness.
The profile is minimal in shape so is great for those wanting a bit more flexibility, particularly for wave riding, but still offers hardshell levels of support.
- 3 piece hardshell, offers some flexibility and moulds to body shape.
- Dual compression straps
- Rear handlepass strap and leash attachment point on spreader bar
- Choice of fixed hook or sliding spreader
- Down-strap to stop spreader tilting upwards
The Mystic Warrior is the biggest selling soft harness on the market and is obviously loved by many riders for its comfort and support. And it’s basically a great all-round harness that does what it’s supposed to.
It has a good level of back support and a fairly minimalist amount of interior plastic moulding that does the job and is particularly comfortable if you’re riding without a wetsuit or with just a rash vest.
- Soft exterior offers great comfort and plenty of support.
- Dual compression straps with Mystic’s patented quick release slide and click fastening.
- Rear handlepass strap, side D rings and additional leash attachment on the spreader bar for short leashes.
The Mystic Diva is specifically designed for females and is a soft harness. It has a lower profile to fit the curves of the female body and has soft rubber back padding to hug the back and prevent ride up. It’s the most popular female specific harness on the market for good reason. Although I haven’t used one myself, my female kite buddies who do, swear by this harness for its comfort and support.
- Soft harness offers flexibility and comfort but with plenty of support.
- Interior soft rubber back and side inserts for comfort and grip.
- Dual compression straps with Mystic’s slide and click quick release fastenings
- Rear handlepass strap, side D rings and spreader bar leash attachments.
- Down strap to prevent spreader bar tilting upwards.
The Gem is Mystic’s most recent female specific hardshell harness. I’ve discussed this harnesse’s benefits with female buddies who have used both this and the Diva and whilst the Diva is a great harness, once they’ve tried the hardshell they wouldn’t use anything else.
The Gem comes at a higher price but will give years of hard use so is a great investment if you can stretch that budget a little bit.
It features “Bionic Core” hardshell material that allows a degree of diagonal flex where it’s needed but great stiffness and support. The hardshell support allows for a more comfortable low profile shape and the edges are nicely padded with thick neoprene and soft “flexknit” material to make it extremely comfortable when not using a wetsuit.
The interior has similar soft rubber moulding to the Diva to enhance comfort and grip.
- “Bionic Core” hardshell exterior, for low profile lightness and maximum support.
- Padded edges
- Soft rubber back and side padding.
- Dual compression straps with Mystic slide and click quick release mechanism.
- Down strap to prevent bar tilting upwards.
- Choice of fixed or sliding spreaders.
- Rear hadlepass strap, side D rings and front spreader leash attachment points.
All of these harnesses will give you great comfort and support. Which in a kiteboarding harness is exactly what you need to keep you on the water longer and in comfort.
If you can stretch to the hardshell options you won’t be disappointed, but the soft harnesses featured here will do a great job at less cost.
Make sure you pay attention to the manufacturer’s size guide and don’t be tempted to try to fit into the wrong sized harness because of cost or availability….it won’t work.
If you have any comments on this article or would like any advice on these or other harnesses, please do leave a comment or email me at email@example.com