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Woody Valley XAlps GTO
September 25, 2011
We have started getting our first shipments of the Woody Valley X-Alps GTO after production delays due to significantly higher than expected demand. This harness is pretty hot right now. Order wait times are about 3-4 months right now.
This is truly a groundbreaking harness. It only weighs 4.965 kg, which includes the LTF certified foam back protection. There are 3 machines around the world that are used to test harnesses for the certification process. One is owned by DHV, the other is owned by the testing agency Paracademy, and the 3rd is owned by Woody Valley. This enables Woody Valley to work on the design of the back protection more efficiently than other brands. I was in Italy in June 2011 visiting Woody Valley and was fortunate enough to check out their testing machine. Woody Valley had a piece of back protection that was sliced in half down the middle to show the technology that is used in their back protection. The guts of the back protection has much more engineering than I had presumed, having never cut one open to look at the inside.
I have been flying a Woody Valley X Rated 5 harness (their pod from 2009), and instantly felt more comfortable the first time I sat in the GTO. The seatboard is significantly more narrow than what we are used to seeing, but the fabric on the sides of the seatboard does not squeeze the pilot's hips as you might expect. One of the most significant improvements that I see in this harness is the back support adjustments. There are 3 adjustments for the pilot to play with. The pilot can adjust the lower back, middle back, and upper back. The upper back support adjustment rides pretty high, just underneath the armpit to give the pilot a good amount of upper back support.
These back support adjustments cannot be adjusted during flight. The design of these adjustments is aimed at preventing any movement while flying, so once you have the harness adjusted during flight, it will not change. The shoulder strap and chest strap can be adjusted during flight. The XR5 had problems with the shoulder strap becoming loose during flight, but since most of the weight of the upper back is on the upper back adjustment on the GTO, it is less of an issue than it was on the XR5, which had more upper back support tied into the shoulder strap.
To reduce weight, Woody has improved a few things. First, the pod is made of Lycra instead of Neoprene. The Lycra is significantly lighter than the neoprene, but not as warm. However, we have asked some pilots who have been flying with the Woody Valley Leg Cover accessory, which is also made of Lycra, and they said if they were to put a number on it, they would guess that the Lycra is 60% as warm as the Neoprene. Another improvement from the XR5 for weight and volume is the change from a foam nosecone on the end of the pod to a valve that inflates from airflow when you are flying. The valve deflates completely when you pack the harness away. Additional weight has been reduced by using a lightweight material for the rear fairing. this material runs from the end of the Lycra Pod all the way back to the rear of the fairing. The XR5 also had polyester webbing than ran from the carabiners and end of the seat board to adjust the angle of the foot board. To reduce weight, the XAlps has polyester cord that is used to adjust the foot board.
As far as storage space goes, it seems that the pocket in the rear of the harness has more volume than the rear pocket of the XR5. I would guess the volume has been increased by 20-30%, but I can't confirm this. The rear pocket is located inside the cavity of the rear fairing. The rear fairing zips up as well, so there is more storage space in the fairing, but the fairing won't inflate correctly if you place items in this area. Within the rear pocket, there is another nylon pocket, that is cinched with a piece of elastic that is centered in the rear for even weight distribution if you put a water drinking bladder in this area. If you have a water bladder with a hose, the hose can exit around the shoulder area for use while flying.
Each side of the Lycra pod has a large pocket which can fit more than enough items. You could probably stick your arm deep enough into these pockets that your elbow will be inside the pocket. There are also 2 pockets on each side of the flight deck that can fit a small radio, or some snacks.
The removable flight deck is the standard size on previous Woody Valley pods, and has a zipper compartment on the inside to store personal items either during flight, or while carrying your flight deck on the ground.
A new feature on this harness is a shackle on the main waist strap that enables you to connect the flight deck to the pod. This feature prevents the possibility of hooking up your flight deck without hooking up with waist strap first. There have been some accidents over the years of pilots forgetting to connect their waist strap. This feature is a little difficult to work with when you are wearing winter gloves. If you don't like this design, you can easily connect a small carabiner to the pod and use that to connect the flight deck.
In conclusion, this harness is a breakthrough in design. We have entered a new era in lightweight paragliding equipment, with this lightweight pod. If this harness isn't lightweight enough for you, check out the XAlps Race version which doesn't have any back protection, and only weighs 2.3kg.