If you have ever been kiteboarding or kitesurfing, you’ll know how important it is to get the right kind of harness. The big challenge when you are starting as a beginner is just staying upright. As you get more expert, the next level of challenge is getting real speed in freeriding and pulling stunts in freestyle. Now, I just dropped in some jargon there without explaining them and I’ll stop doing that just in case you are new to the sport.
In fact, for anyone new to the sport and doing your homework about what equipment to buy, here’s a quick run-through of what the sport is all about with a bit of jargon thrown in.
Think of Kiteboarding as three steps up from skateboarding. In skateboarding, it’s about balance on a solid surface which is tricky enough. The next step up is surfing, which is all about balancing on a more tricky rapidly changing surface. Then you have windsurfing when you have to do all that plus deal with the forces of the varying wind acting on you in two dimensions via the sail. Then we get to kiteboarding which has all of that plus now the wind is acting in three dimensions.
So, everything is changing in Kiteboarding in every dimension. Sounds tricky? It is – at least until you get the hang of it. It’s a sport that has become popular recently but has been around since 1903, when some crazy Edwardian guy, famous western cowboy Sam Cody, Kiteboarded across the English Channel.
When I first got onto a Kiteboard, I’d already fallen off a lot of skateboards, surfboards, and windsurfers. With enough time, I got reasonably OK at all three, especially surfing and windsurfing. So, it was a familiar experience struggling for a while with my technique and also finding the right equipment that suited me, including the seat harness. The good news is that water is pretty forgiving when you fall, which you will. Over and over.
You’ll find it is a relatively inexpensive watersport compared to sailing or water skiing (if you don’t have access to a speedboat). It’s not cheap though – the price of equipment and other costs can be roughly similar to the upper end of the more popular windsurfing, though of course there are premium brands as well as discount Kitesurf deals to be had.
Types of Kiteboard Harness: Seat, Waist, and FullN
Now in this article, we’re concentrating on water-based kitesurfing. A lot of what we say applies to land-based kitesurfing too, except if you are going to kitesurf on the land, you need to get a protective specialist kitesurfing vest, like the well designed NP impact vest or the Mystic Star Site vest. Landing on water is one thing but does not take the risk of kitesurfing on any other surface – even snow can have hidden stones etc. From experience, forget the macho stuff and just get a vest. They aren’t expensive and a lot better than the pain and inconvenience of being off work, hospital bills, laid up at home, etc. so land-based kiteboarding is a different niche.
Each has pluses and minuses:
- Seat harness designs, like their name suggests, are mainly putting a load on and around your butt area, which is a popular design. Some seat harnesses look more like seats, while others look a bit like short pants. A seat harness tends to pull you upwards a little more than a waist harness.
- Despite being popular, think of your physics (and biology) and be a little aware of where on your body that big force from the kite is being exerted. Are you with me? That leads us to one alternative, which is the waist harness.
- In a waist harness, the pulling force of the kite is in practice being applied to the lower back and also the sides of the waist. So a waist harness feels a bit more like it is pulling you along.
- Waist harnesses can have a slight (or not so slight) tendency to ride up the body during kitesurfing and different manufacturers have different solutions. Just tightening a waist harness up gets pretty uncomfortable. There are other solutions to this potential problem, which for example can be additional straps. That leads us to our third design, the full harness.
- In a full harness design, straps pass all over the torso and sometimes around the upper legs. This style is less used than either seat or waist and these are sometimes used for training only.
The key factor to take into account which type to buy is how each style feels when you are wearing it. They should never be uncomfortable or have a single pressure point. Generally speaking, the more distributed the force coming from the kite is in the harness, the more comfortable it will feel to wear.
If you do quick apples for apples comparison between seat harnesses and waist harnesses, it comes up roughly like this:
Seat Harness Pros and Cons
Here is a more detailed rundown of how the two designs shape up.
- The attaching hook is lower on a seat harness than on a waist harness. That gives a lower center of gravity to the applied force and you are a bit less likely to be pulled over. You can push your body away from your kiteboard with your legs and – up to a point -lean back.
- If you are on the larger side or are wearing a bulky lifejacket this kind of harness works better than a waist. The attaching hook is below the belly and straps between the legs will help keep it in place.
- A seat harness stays put – it is much less likely to slide around than a waist harness can and a seat harness cannot ride up the body.
- Some people find a seat harness is a bit more of a hassle to get in and out of than a waist harness.
- Some designs can be more uncomfortable than a waist harness, in some people’s view, as more pressure can be put on sensitive areas of the body. Enough said?
- They don’t look very cool to wear. At least some people think that. Generally, I disagree, although some do look a bit like German Lederhosen. Of course, if you are planning to eat sausage and drink foaming steins of beer while kitesurfing, that problem won’t bother you that much. Now that gives me a thought for a kitesurfing party. I wonder how hard it would be to get a German oompah band?
Waist Harness Pros and Cons:
- For more experienced kiteboarders, the fact that waist harnesses allow somebody movement can sometimes be a plus. For example, you can turn your body so that you are more directly facing the sailing direction.
- Waist harnesses are very easy to use when you want to get in and out of your harness lines, due to the higher position of the hook. They are just generally easier to get in and out of.
- Some folks think they look cooler that seat harnesses.
- Waist harnesses are not compatible with most life jackets. In locations were wearing a life jacket when kitesurfing is compulsory, this is a big con for the waist harness (and the full-body harness) and a big pro for a seat harness.
- A waist harness design can sometimes slide up to your chest, or slide around your waist, or both, all of which is annoying if it happens repeatedly. Trust me in that. Tightening them up to stop them riding is a pain too. So if you are going for the waist harness option, it is well worth you considering one of the optional harness seat extension products as an add-on.
- As we previously mentioned, big bellies can be an issue. Of course, lots of kitesurfing is going to help you lose those pounds – right?
Finally, we should mention that a few people use hybrid harnesses, like the ones in the Chameleon range from Dakine, which use kind of a combination – basically, these are waist harnesses that incorporate elements of the seat design too. In Dakin’s case, the seat part is removable.
How To Choose The Right Kiteboard Harness For You
Any kite seat, waist, hybrid or full-body harness, is doing several jobs. First, it is delivering the power coming from the wind and via the kite to your body and from there to your board, so you, the board and the kite all move through the water (or through the air once you start pulling stunts) in majestic co-ordination, impressing everyone else on the beach. At least that’s the theory. As a beginner, you’ll probably spend quite a bit of time ‘tea bagging’ i.e. being dunked in the water, getting up then being dunked again. Which is where the second function comes in which is making sure you and the kite keep connected.
In theory, you could kitesurf like people waterski or windsurf – simply hanging on with your hands. In reality, if you do that you are going to get tired out pretty quickly and you are going to lose a lot of kites. As your kite blows gracefully away out to sea, or back inland, only Kite manufacturers are going to be happy about that. Now you need a new kite and it’s also possible your kite will get tangled up with something or someone else. So you won’t be winning any popularity contests.
You might in the past have read some strange reviews, written in poor English (“good woman seat“ sic) which at least to me suggests that the reviewer is trying to say there is a ‘best’ Kiteboard harness, or when a reviewer creates an arbitrary 1-10 or whatever number rating system.
It’s best, in my view, to ignore a review like this, as there is no such thing as a ‘best kiteboard harness’ per se – it’s down to what suits you, including what level of experience you are, what kind of conditions you will be in, how much money you want to pay, etc. There are also design differences, like those between a kitesurfing seat harness vs. waist harness.
When I buy anything like a skateboard, surfboard, BMX or mountain bike, kiteboard, or a kiteboarding harness, if possible I ask friends and acquaintances – men and women – if I can try out theirs – I don’t necessarily rely much on their opinions, as their experience might be different from mine. Also, if possible I go to a specialist store first, to have a good look and feel and talk to the folks in the shop. Now this is 2020, so unless the store offers an amazing deal, there’s a good chance I make the actual purchase online but that’s not the point. My top tip is you have to think about then choose what’s right for you.
With that in mind, here are three top suggestions both for men and for women, then we’ll look at some other worthy candidates.
TOP-10 Harness For Kiteboarding
#1 Mystic Aviator Seat Harness
2 point system kiteboarding seat
This is a top candidate for ‘best’ kiteboarding seat harness but like all these kiteboarding seat harness reviews, it depends on you too. The harness is nicely padded and feels comfortable to wear, including over longer periods. There is plenty of support across are Neoprene leg straps with Neoprene buckle covers and a basic spreader – 2 point fixation system. There’s an integrated handle too. All in all the ergonomics are well done.
On a longer run, with the Aviator, you can comfortably lean in and sit back and enjoy. When pulling stunts, especially when getting airborne for a while, they don’t move around too much, which I guess is why the marketing folks at Mystic decided to go with the ‘Aviator’ name. They are OK on a hot day too – some seat designs are a bit too warm for my taste, although of course if you keep falling in, getting too hot is not going to be the biggest problem in the world.
The Mystic Aviators are also reasonably priced for what you get – you can pay a lot more and not necessarily get something that is a lot better.
#2 Mystic Driver Kitesurf Seat Harness
Great fitting kiteboarding seat harness
The Mystic Driver is a seat harness with good back support and a micro-adjustment system, which allows you a lot of latitudes to adjust the harness. I found that pretty easy to do and the triple padding feels very comfortable. The leg straps are also very comfortable and pretty simple to adjust. One thing I liked is that most edges are covered with a soft neoprene to avoid skin contact with any abrasive surfaces. Some of my older harnesses were not so well designed and I’d often spend a happy evening rubbing various oils and creams into my battered skin after a long day riding.
You are well covered for sizing too. Some brands come in only three sizes but the Mystic Mecto (where did they get that name?) sizing range is XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL.so, it will not constrict you like a Driver (where did they get that name too?). Oh and you can have it in any color you like, so long as it is black.
While we are on the subject of the mysterious mystic naming, if you are into the Mystic brand, they also make a Mystic kiteboarding car seat cover they make a range of them.
The folks at Mystic marketing also have come up with Mystic kitesurfing knives, Mystic semi-waterproof car bags (a range), Mystic roof racks (another range), Mystic towels (yet another range) and Mystic Ponchos (yep -another range).
Then there Mystic Backpacks….Mystic pumps, bags (lots and lots of different models of these), armbands….Mystic hydration packs…impact vests…beanies…hats..wetsuits..jackets…you get the picture.
Oh, and there are other Mystic kiteboarding harnesses too. I just reviewed two of the range here, not all of them.
I like the Mystic kit a lot and all their products are good quality and well-designed in my experience – but equally, if you are heading down the beach you could end up being entirely Mysticised.
So, let’s look at some other great Kite Harness vendor products too.
#3 ION RADAR 2020 Kite Seat Harness
Short pants style kitesurfing seat harness
In a nutshell, the ION 2020 radar kite seat harness looks great and it does the job. I found this short-pants design very comfortable. I especially liked the leg straps, which allow free movement and which don’t chafe, as ION have managed to mostly eliminate the common leg strap issue of pressure points.
They are pretty easy to get into and set up. There is an exchangeable metal hook, and a well-designed tension lever, which you use to tighten the harness without the need to change how the buckle is set up.
Now there are other shorts designs out there. What makes the ION Radar 2020 stand out is their longer leg design, which looks like a pair of high-tech boardshorts. This approach is way more comfortable than some of the very short designs and is less prone to ride up on your butt.
The spec is very good, with a supplied push button spreader bar, kite knife, and bar-keeper belt seat harness. Sizes range from 25-29” (XS) up to 34-37”(XL)
Put simply, if you don’t like the way most seat harnesses look, or you don’t like their feel, the ION Radar 2020 offers you the looks and convenience of what are in reality board shorts – but with a great Kiteboard harness system built-in.
So, that’s our top 3 but now I want to throw in some alternatives, especially kitesurfing seat harnesses based on waist designs.
#4 Dakine Men’s Chameleon Harness
The waist-based hybrid alternative to a pure seat harness for kitesurfing
This waist-based harness for Dakine works with a detachable seat harness too, to give a ‘best of both worlds’ approach at least in theory. In practice, it’s the waist part that you will rely on most however the seat part does a very good job of stopping the waist section from riding up, which would otherwise be a very typical problem with a waist based design. There’s a lot of thought that has been put into the feel and comfort of the Chameleon’s fit and I especially liked the lumbar support, provided via the foam lumber pad.
You can hook up easily with the kite and there are an integrated handle and leash attachment plus Left and right side leash attachment rings. It’s also Maniac spreader bar compatible and Option spreader bar compatible.
For a very reasonable price, you get all that plus a push-button hammerhead spreader bar, shape spreader bar pad, and a hook knife for emergencies.
#5 All-Weather Sports Kitesurfing Harness
Full body harness alternative to seat harness for kitesurfing
This is a full-body harness that works well for kitesurfing but also Paragliding, Powered kites, etc. I like this kind of thing as it has more than one use and I do more than one active sport.
In this case, the weight is loaded all over the torso by a range of straps. It’s a bit intrusive to put on and wear but on the other hand, it’s well-made and it does the job. There’s a very high degree of adjustability too, so you don’t have to choose between the typical small/medium/large options of other products. This is important if you are on the larger side of the size spectrum, as some other harnesses might not be such a great fit if you are on the larger size. It is rated up to 6’5″ and 350 lb, so most folks should find this OK.
Experienced kiteboarders might see this design type more as a training aid but in reality, it works just fine for some folks.
It’s only 4.4 lbs to wear, so that’s not an issue and the design also puts a lot of loading on some well-specified and nicely thought out back support straps, rather than straps digging into the upper legs, which can be an issue with some full-body harnesses.
That said, it’s personal taste whether you are happier with seat harness kiteboarding designs, whether more of the pressure is placed on the butt and it’s a bit more like sitting down. There are six adjustment points, a padded waist belt, and D-ring lanyard keepers. It’s a general-purpose design and includes hammer loops – a personal tip is don’t kitesurf with hammers…
#6 Dakine Vega Kiteboarding Seat Harness
Short pants or seat harness – you decide
Another design type again is these very short short-pants type of seat harness, which kind of like, well short pants. Here the weight is taken on the butt and lower back. You are pretty much wearing a pair of adjustable shorts, with leash attachments for the kite.
This sort of solves the kiteboarding harness seat vs. waist choice at provides some waist support. The Dakine Vega also is compatible with the use of a Hammerhead or Option spreader bar – which is essentially designed to stop the sides of your harness from squeezing in and therefore from uncomfortably squeezing you. This last point is important and sometimes missed in a normal kitesurf seat harness review.
#7 Ocean Rodeo Session Kiteboard Harness
A good clean waist-based design
Ocean offers a nicely-thought-out clean waist design. Some folks worry with harnesses etc. that snagging can happen but there’s little risk with this Ocean brand design. I’ve had some bad experiences with tangled lines (so-called ‘kitemares’ if you want to use the jargon) and they can ruin your day in so many ways.
On the other hand, so far I have been lucky and not been lofted. That’s when you get vertically lifted right up in the air by a really strong gust. It’s not great when that happens over water but nasty if you get dumped back on the shore. Touchwood I haven’t faced that yet. Maybe because I’m personally prone to be cautious about kite sizes – the more surface area a kite has, the more lift a kite generates. So you need to figure out kite capabilities concerning your body mass. Now we all like kites with high performance because of the greater the speed you can get and the better the stunts you can pull. However, what you also need to remember is that with a high-performance kite, the potential risk of lofting goes up, unless you can de power the kite quickly.
Anyway, back to Ocean. It’s a straightforward product, offered in a range of sizes and each size is adjustable, so most folks will find these a comfortable fit, which is especially important on longer sessions or a full downwinder (a long ride and then a very long walk back). There’s also quick disconnects and a hook knife, for if you get into real bad trouble and need to cut the kite connection quickly, as we were just discussing.
So overall a very safe design and well recommended if you are planning to go out on a day with especially strong winds.
#8 Ride Engine Red Carbon Katana Elite Kiteboard Harness
A kiteboard waist harness that includes a built-in spreader bar
Now we wouldn’t be telling the truth if we didn’t mention that Kiteboarders can be, well, a little bit image-conscious. Truth be told, they aren’t as bad as some weekend road cyclists or mountain bikers who spend thousands of dollars on bikes made of hand-crafted unobtanium and shorts made from space shuttle tiles, to impress/look down on other cyclists.
Have you ever noticed these cyclists stopped in groups to ‘admire the view’ or ‘take a break’? In reality, they are checking out each other’s kit and there is a cycling equipment pecking order like you get with a group of ducks or chickens.
But that said, kiteboarding does involve a certain amount of striking a pose, though no actual pecking is involved. That’s the niche that the Red Carbon guys like to aim at – or so it seems – with this Carbon Fibre and Kevlar product, that scores high on looks but also has the more practical benefit of a built-in spreader bar.
They are not the cheapest harness on our list but that’s also kind of the point. You don’t buy a sports car because it’s cheap either. Or try getting engaged and telling your partner – “I bought you this ring darling, it got a great discount”.
Anyway, if a bit of techno-bling is your thing then these could be right for you. They do work well as kiteboarding harnesses too, which is a bonus.
#9 Mystic Passion Seat Harness for Women
If ‘hot pants’ are your thing
So next on our list is an out-and-out fashion statement again from Mystic. I must confess here that I have not worn these designed-for-women kiteboarding “hotpants” myself. I include them in this list from a sense of balance and because I’m told that their 4-point design, which includes the use of neoprene, is pretty good. Pay no attention that they are lower down the list, we already said in the introduction that parking is a pretty silly idea anyway.
That said, do you want to be going into a store to buy a pair and asking if they have something called a ‘passion seat’ ?. All the more reason to shop online, IMHO. Where does the Mystic team get these names from?
#10 Liquid Force Kiteboard Waist Harnesses
If you want something a little left-field.
Our final place on the list (not the lowest place, just to be clear) is a couple of slightly different designs from the Liquid Force brand. There is the straight Liquid Force waist kiteboarding harness and the Liquid Force Arc kite harness. They are both comfortable to wear, inexpensive and pretty rugged. The Arc Kite is my personal preference as it looks cool, has a nice spread loading design, plenty of adjustment via customizable foam inserts and it is really easy to get in and out of.
I like the Liquid force Kiteboard range. As well as several more harness models, they have a couple of lifejacket designs and a protective vest that I or friends have used, which are all designed to work in a kiteboarding environment where you are wearing a harness and a standard lifejacket design is maybe going to be a hassle, or simply not possible to wear at all.
Now as I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m the slightly more cautious type. Not cautious as I wouldn’t go kitesurfing but have a good think about specialized lifejackets if you are kiteboarding in the sea or a bigger lake. Even if you are a strong swimmer, things can happen that can leave you incapacitated. It’s not a lot of money to spend.
Summary so far
So on that note of caution, here’s a quick summary of the key points so far:
- There are two main kiteboard harness design types, waist, and seat.
- Waist types have a higher center of gravity, are a bit easier to get in and out of, allow some useful intentional twisting body movement and look (to some people) cooler than seats, but tend to ride up the body and also (unintentionally) slip around the body. They aren’t suitable for some lifejackets and having a big belly can be an issue.
- Seat types have a lower center of gravity, do not ride up the body (though some can ride up the butt) and are less of an issue with lifejackets. Some people don’t like their look but there are also ‘cooler’ designs which are shorts.
- There are also hybrid waist/seat types and also full body strap types.
So I figured at this point it would be useful to lay that all out in a comparative table:
|Seat||S / M / L / XL / XXL||Good back support and plenty of adjustment|
|Seat||XS / S / XL / XXL||Easy on the legs and good looking|
|Hybrid||XS / S / L / XL||A waist harness but also with a removable seat|
|Full||Up to 6'5" and 350 lbs||A general purpose harness, mainly used on kitesurfing for training|
|Seat||L||Specifically designed for women|
|Waist||XS / S / M / XL||Good safety features|
|Waist||S / M / L / XL||Kevlar, carbon fibre...bling in a word|
|Seat||XS / L||Designed for Women|
|Waist||XS / S / M / L / XL||Inexpensive and rugged|
So, plenty of choice on offer here and some quite different kiteboarding seat harness designs for different ‘niche’ use cases. I don’t like choosing a ‘best’ or doing ratings but my top three – the Mystic Aviator, Mystic Mecto Boa and ION 2020 in my view are all good models that most people will be able to get on with.
Personally, if I were a beginner again, I’d start with seat designs, just because it can be a bit irritating when a waist design rides up your body or slips around your body. Also, a kite knife is a must, so if you are buying a seat harness from this list that does not have one as standard, make sure you get one (and factor that into your cost). On the subject of cost – I deliberately haven’t mentioned specific prices, as things can change and they can be deals to be had but again if you are a beginner, you might want to go for one of the lower-priced models on this list, just to see how you get on.
I specifically don’t recommend going for really cheap harnesses or buying secondhand from someone who you don’t know. Kiteboarding is a fun sport but like any action sport, there is a certain amount of risk. Plus don’t forget that lifejacket.
Also just to repeat, if you plan to do some kiteboarding as well on the land (including snow) make sure you have good protective gear. A helmet and also an impact vest as a minimum.
So, what do you think? Please let me know if you have any comments, views or experiences you want to share below. I hope you found this useful and unbiased but let me know – good or bad.
Questions and Answers
A: Sure, and that’s a good question. A spreader bar is a personal choice and they don’t suit everyone but I would personally always use one as they are a useful safety feature. If you are kitesurfing with a non-rigid harness, then the spreader bar is necessary for your safety and comfort, even when for example you are using a pulley on a line for something like a gybing wave harness.
A spreader bar will prevent the harness from squeezing and therefore compressing your body, specifically the torso.
I know some people who have chosen to remove their spreader bars for a non-unhooking gybing wave harness, have sometimes had bad or sometimes actually very bad injuries. I knew one guy who got a rib fracture after he took his out and that’s not fun. Remember this is supposed to be a fun sport that keeps you fit. Sitting at home in bandages isn’t fun and isn’t going to get you very fit.
So I don’t think they are a waste of time. I don’t think you should go on what other people say either. Some of them just may not have had an accident yet.
A: Kiteboarders all know that good life jackets are difficult to find that fit well with your harness, especially a waist harness. However, a manual inflating (including a belt-bag type) lifejacket may be most practical.
I remember one incident where I ended up in deep water for what felt like 20 minutes trying to relaunch my kite. After than happened I got the message and I decided to buy and then start wearing a vest. I was using a seat harness at the time and the life vest rode high enough it was not a problem. I got one that is normally used by the water ski community. It had a loop I could feed my spreader bar strap through.
When you are in the water it’s good not to worry about sinking. Some guys get very macho and say ‘hey why would I need a vest, it just gets in the way’ – well the answer is you normally don’t need a life vest but if for any reason you are stuck in the water for a longer time, you will appreciate it. I speak from experience. Also don’t forget a normal life vest, which you often find works with a seat harness, is also going to give your torso some basic impact protection too.
You may also want to get a light helmet. You hear stories of a busted eardrum from getting smacked on the water on the side of the head by your gear. A lightweight safety helmet would stop that from happening. If you are using a board leash, the potential is there to get whacked on the side or back of your head by your board, so a helmet is a good idea however you look at it…
A: That’s another good question. Here’s my take:
Never kiteboard alone. Always be around other people, in case you need help and support.
Check out the spot that you are going to do your kite surfing from so that you know its downward points.
Check the weather forecast and do not go kiteboarding if there are offshore winds.
The size of your kite must be compatible with your body mass and the prevailing wind conditions.
Make sure that you always get into the habit of a ‘pre-flight check’ of your kite for its safety systems.
Don’t leave your gear unattended on the beach for some A-hole to find as it could be stolen outright, or damaged, ‘or borrowed’ by an inexperienced person.