Well, I suppose it is appropriate that I headed out for a ski tour at dawn the day after I picked up the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket and Pants. The forecast called for gale-force winds to pick up through the day shortly after I would hit the ridgeline traverse of my tour. While I was unlikely to find good skiing, this would be ideal shell testing weather. The Black Diamond hybrid jacket and pants are clearly designed for the uphill. Boasting four directional stretch, the materials really make movement a focus. Both jacket and pants have an athletic fit and allow full twisting, reaching, and kicking at everything you might find in the boot pack or skin track.
With uphill focus this jacket really shines at dumping excess heat. One of my personal favorite features that sets this jacket apart from the rest is the full front zipper venting. The jacket is lightweight and, while I have yet to completely put it through the wringer, it seems to have a tough enough build to put up with all of the typical shenanigans of backcountry skiing (e.g., rock scraping, bushwhacking, coffee staining, and the like). To be clear, I am a hot (temperature) guy on the uphill and need to maximize ventilation. I have never been one to hike in a shell but have found it possible with this jacket. On my initial wind-blown ridge walk, I found the jacket to be not only light but ample shelter from the gusts. The hood and overall shell allowed excellent refuge from the winds that were no joke; that day they nearly knocked me over at one point! Black Diamond is proud of the combination of waterproof, breathable and windproof qualities this kit boasts with their Empel Breathable Water Protection Technology. I have yet to get out in a wet storm in the gear, but initial testing shows excellent waterproof beading while shedding heat better than any shell I have used in the past. The pockets are all thoughtfully placed with two large, harness compatible, chest pockets sized for cold skins. And, best of all, I was able to keep my shell on through the whole tour. One less piece of gear to fiddle with on the transition and keeping everything moving right along. Other reviewers have expressed issue with the lightweight wrist-gaiter, I had to wrestle my watch out from beneath it a few times but otherwise, I found it quite helpful. Time is the ultimate test for durability since weight savings are often at the cost of longevity with outdoor gear, but I have yet to find any points of significant criticism with the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket.
Much of the above praise for the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Jacket are shared with the pants, of course. The similar lightweight, tough, water and windproof material makes sliding uphill a breeze. I am a fan of the dedicated avalanche beacon pocket on the right thigh. The pocket is padded with a longer-than-usual leash to attach a beacon, which would be handy, fast, and secure in light of an active search. The side vents are easily accessible, and the zippers slide with one hand without missing a step in the skin track; another feature that keeps the focus on the upward momentum. An additional aspect of the pants I find thoughtfully designed is the integrated low-profile belt. The belt buckle is thin and goes beneath backpack or harness straps without notice, not to mention it does a great job of keeping the pants up. Black Diamond also makes some suspenders to further buoy the pants, but I have not found them necessary. The reinforced panel on the cuff of each pant leg allows good coverage against the likes of ski edges and crampon missteps. Black Diamond placed side zips for accessing ski boots with two buttons for various ski boot cuff sizes. I would prefer just a bit more room in the cuff with the zipper sealed up for my boots in tour mode to fit within, but they did work very well.
Outerwear Quiver of One?
I have been quite impressed with the performance of the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid jacket and pants I was able to find some beautiful smooth, edge-able wind board snow on my first dawn patrol in this kit. The winds blasted from the East, which is rarely a good thing here in Tahoe, especially after fresh snowfall. Thus far I have logged around 25 miles and 15,000 feet of testing this stuff and find it to be top-notch. With the ability to use this piece as an uphill and downhill shell this may be the elusive “quiver of one” jacket and pants. Good from the cold mid-season pow missions as well as the hot late-spring slog. Excellent mobility for those kick turns, protection from the elements, and lightweight durable ventilation. Nice work on this one, Black Diamond!