Black Diamond Sharp End Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Durable, good weather protection
Cons: Tight, uncomfortable collar, small hood
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This jacket manages to be super durable with 70D shell fabric and stays competitive weight wise, though folks who are weighing their kits will want something lighter like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL. In terms of weather protection and features, the Shap End is nearly on par with the highest scoring models.
Gore-tex Pro, combined with a 70D nylon shell fabric, keeps out precip of all kinds, from driving rain to pelting grapple. The hood on the Sharp End only has a rear adjustment point, where most of its competitors feature drawcords in the rear and the front of the hood to secure and position it in the most optimal spot to keep precip out of your face. The one rear adjustment is adequate for hiking around, and we didn't experience any leaks during our shower testing; however, we prefer hoods with the front adjustments for skiing and climbing in the worst conditions.
Weight and Packability
The men's size large Sharp End Shell we tested weighs 16.8 ounces according to our scales. That's right in line with similar models including the stretchy Patagonia Galvanized Jacket. While we don't consider this "ultralight" (check out the stripped-down Arcteryx FL if that's your game), this jacket has plenty of features without being too heavy. The shell fabric isn't especially packable, so we're only likely to carry this jacket if the forecast suggests we'll be wearing it for the majority of the day.
Mobility and Fit
This jacket provides plenty of mobility through the shoulders, and the arms are of adequate length; we never experienced the sleeves riding up when climbing or skiing. The tight fit of the collar is a major flaw in the design of this jacket and results in a low score in this metric. Even without wearing any mid-layer or a helmet, the collar presses uncomfortably into our neck when we zip the jacket all the way up. Putting the hood up doesn't make it feel any better, and the overall experience is a claustrophobic one. We could size this jacket up and potentially get some more room in the collar, but the shoulders and torso fit well and allowed for plenty of room for a mid-layer - so we feel we ordered the proper fit.
Venting and Breathability
Breathability is a challenging metric to measure. Gore-Tex requires the humidity inside the jacket to be greater than the humidity outside the jacket for moisture to diffuse through the membrane. Gore-Tex Pro is on the more durable and less breathable side of the Gore-tex spectrum. To keep you from becoming too sweaty in the first place, the Sharp End features two 15" pit zips; open those suckers at the bottom of the hill so you won't be clammy at the top. Opening pit vents negate the moisture diffusion process, but it cools us off in a substantial way we can feel.
The Sharp End has some sweet features for easy operation when it's cold, number one being the large, rigid plastic zipper pulls. These are very easy to grab ahold of while wearing gloves, even when you can't see them because the jacket is zipped up all the way, or you're feeling around for the pit zippers. The cuffs also employ a stiff molded plastic tab for the velcro closure. They keep the cuffs in place, seal in warmth, and are easy to adjust while wearing gloves or mitts. For pockets, you get two hefty sized handwarmer pockets, an external chest pocket, and an internal chest pocket. BD refers to the internal pocket as a stretch pocket with a cord port, but the version we purchased doesn't have a porthole, and it's not at all stretchy. Still, it's nice to have options for storing the small items you need to keep dry.
The Sharp End is designed for alpine and ice climbing, and purely in terms of weather protection, it's more than up to the task. Little features like big zipper tabs are much appreciated in cold weather. Gusseted underarms prevent the jacket from riding up while you swing ice tools over your head. For the weight, we would only use a jacket like this for alpine conditions and go with a much lighter rain jacket for backpacking trips.
A $550 investment gets you a durable weatherproof layer and isn't an insane amount of money for a garment that uses the Gore-Tex Pro membrane considering that there are $600+ offerings from Arc'teryx and The North Face. For a better, less expensive choice for alpine climbing, we suggest the Patagonia Glavanized Jacket.
The tight collar and small-fitting hood are both big deal breakers for our testers. For this kind of money, you don't want to make many compromises, and even though this jacket provides excellent defense against the elements, the fit is not something we want to compromise. Should you have the opportunity to try this model on and the hood and collar don't bother you, then you should feel great about purchasing this tough and functional jacket.
— Matt Bento