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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell Review
Cons: No internal zippered pocket, large fit makes it less versatile, tight fitting hood with ski helmet
Bottom line: Designed for use above treeline, this jacket is a superb choice for backcountry and resort skiing.
Scoring well overall, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol jacket quickly became a favorite among our testers who were heading out on a day skiing at the resort or in the backcountry. Most noticeably, it offers a practical combination of precipitation protection and ventilation. Its breathability is sufficient for chilly alpine hikes and skinning up mountains, keeping us dry and blocking the wind almost completely. While not as weather resistant as the Arcteryx Psiphon FL, our Editors' Choice Award winner, and not as breathable as the Rab Torque, it has an impressive balance of both these qualities. While we have no major complaints about the Dawn Patrol, some of our reviewers wish that the pockets were higher.
For $199, we consider this jacket a good deal if you're looking for a technical softshell for all-mountain use. It's also an ideal choice if our $239 Editors' Choice winner is a bit over your budget. If you're looking for an even more affordable softshell, check out the Best Buy winning OR Ferrosi, which retails for $99 but isn't as impervious to weather.
RELATED REVIEW: The 11 Best Softshell Jackets for Men
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is an excellent jacket for technical mountain use, explicitly skiing. We loved using it in the backcountry, and it performed well when ice climbing, especially in drier climates like Colorado and California. This model excels where you don't need quite as much weather resistance and benefit from the added breathability that the Dawn Patrol offers.
The Dawn Patrol protects the user against an impressive amount of wind and water. Although this jacket isn't constructed with a water or wind-resistant membrane, we could have been easily fooled when fighting through freezing, 50 mph winds above tree-line. Similarly, the NanoSphere DWR coating resisted short afternoon showers when we forgot or neglected to bring a rain jacket.
The Dawn Patrol uses Schoeller stretch-woven softshell fabric that is much more substantial than the material used in the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. The Dawn Patrol LT fabric feels much thicker and resists weather better. Neither of these jackets features any insulation; they are meant to be worn over a light fleece or base layer, which makes them more versatile and more usable for four-season use. By comparison, their fleece insulated counterparts like the Arc'teryx Gamma MX are too hot to use in warmer weather.
The Dawn Patrol is slightly less weather resistant than the Patagonia Adze Hoody. Both jackets are water resistant, but the Adze features a fleece liner that adds significant warmth. In winter conditions, both jackets will resist snow almost indefinitely, but snow that melts on your shoulders can eventually seep through. Overall, the Dawn Patrol was one of the more weather impervious shells we tested and is an excellent pick for any outing where you need an active layer that provides moderate protection from the elements. When backcountry skiing, we found ourselves reaching for this jacket often.
One great advantage of softshell jackets without wind resistant membranes is their increased breathability. The Dawn Patrol strikes a wonderful balance between weather resistance and breathability. We never felt clammy inside this jacket like we did while wearing The North Face Apex Bionic 2, but it wasn't quite as breathable as we'd like for super high output activities, like mountain running or cross-country skiing. But, when you pull the adjustable cuffs up to your elbows and unzip the main zipper, it's easy to cool down and vent.
For ice and rock climbing, the Dawn Patrol breathed adequately during the climb. When used for backcountry skiing, the jacket was breathable enough to wear the whole day without overheating. If you tend to run warm and need a super breathable jacket, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi is more breathable but isn't nearly as weather resistant.
Mobility & Fit
With arms that are cut super long and a technical fit to match, we found this jacket highly mobile, even without its stretchy material. When you have to strain and stretch for those out-of-reach holds and pick placements, you'll be glad you're wearing this jacket that doesn't expose your wrists to the elements as you're making your move.
Though the Gamma MX has been a favorite in the past, our reviewers felt a tad more mobile in the Dawn Patrol. That said, the Patagonia Adze was more mobile than either - a surprising feat considering its fleece liner. In all, even lanky reviewers were happy with the Dawn Patrol's fit and mobility.
Our scales measured this jacket right at 1.4 pounds. It feels neither overly heavy or bulky. Still, it is far from the lightest shell in the review and isn't designed to be a piece that you throw in your backpack just in case. The Dawn Patrol is designed for alpine use and abuse and is meant to be worn more continuously (thanks to its solid breathability). The extra few ounces compared with lightweight shells like the Rab Torque was a negligible disadvantage for most of our reviewers.
We think that simple, well-designed features make a jacket stand out. Our favorite features are the two internal stash pockets for gloves or small items. Stash pockets are super useful when you need to take your gloves off for a few minutes and want to keep them warm against your body. Many of our reviewers wish these were common on more jackets, and they were happy to see them on this one. The chart below shows how this model stood ahead of most other jackets in this metric, tying for second with the Gamma MX, behind the feature-rich Mountain Hardwear Dragon.
While there are internal drop-in pockets, we hoped for a zippered internal pocket to keep our phone warm while riding cold ski lifts. While some helmets might fit underneath the hood of the Dawn Patrol, our Smith Camber helmet was a very tight fit, and it was much less comfortable when fully zipped up than the Dragon. Previous models of this coat have used a fleece patch on the neck and chin, but with only Schoeller fabric now, it is not as cozy as it once was, and we recommend wearing a Buff or similar neck gaiter when needing to zip this up all the way.
When it comes to style, it depends on what you're going for. If you're going for a super technical alpine look, then this jacket fits the bill. The hem is long, the sleeves feel longer, and the bright green we tested begs for sweet ridgeline shots. If bright colors around town aren't your style, you may find it looks out of place in coffee shops. We give this jacket a 6/10. While it looks great mid-adventure, it isn't a softshell that we'd likely wear around, though style is subjective. But if you want other people to know that you climb/ski/adventure, wear this jacket to your next social gathering.
The Dawn Patrol is especially suited to backcountry endeavors. It performs well when ice climbing as long as the conditions are fairly dry. We also recommend using it for rock and alpine climbing when you need a jacket that's durable and mobile. It does not excel at mountain running.
The Dawn Patrol boasts a great balance between breathability and weather resistance, making it a solid choice for alpine uses and is a great choice for skiing.
For just $199, this top-scoring jacket is a fantastic bargain if you're looking for a technical softshell to face a myriad of alpine conditions. If you want a jacket that performs well and doesn't break the bank too much, the Dawn Patrol is an excellent choice. If you're really on a budget, consider the Best Buy winning Outdoor Research Ferrosi that retails for $99 and scored slightly higher than the Dawn Patrol. The Ferrosi is more breathable, less water resistant, and slightly less mobile.
The Dawn Patrol is a super versatile jacket that we loved skiing in. It maintained an impressive level of breathability for its water resistance and kept us comfortable longer than many other jackets. If you want a jacket that you can keep on all day this winter, look no further than this model.
— Ryan Huetter
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