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Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

An ultra-lightweight alternative to your normal softshell, this jacket is warmer and more comfortable than many without sacrificing breathability
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
Photo: Black Diamond
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Price:  $165 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Softshell fit and feel, oversized storm hood, designed for freedom of motion
Cons:  Expensive, relatively heavy, odor retention
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond Equipment
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 6, 2021
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68
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 13
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability and Venting - 30% 8
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 4
  • Fit and Functionality - 10% 8
  • Water Resistance - 10% 4

Our Verdict

Certainly a stand-out design relative to fabric selection, the Alpine Start Hoody is one of only two jackets in this review that utilizes a thin, stretchy material for a remarkable blend of comfort and wind resistance. Softshell jackets are renowned in the alpine setting for their mobility, breathability, and weather resistance. With the main exception of water resistance, the Alpine Start Hoody takes all of those components and boils them down into a much more reasonable, 7.4-ounce package. The simple design of this windbreaker is likely to appeal to the weight-conscious athlete looking to go fast and light. This jacket is comfortable, breathable, and above all, lightweight and packable, affording no excuses to not wear it for your next alpine climb or ski tour.

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Pros Softshell fit and feel, oversized storm hood, designed for freedom of motionLow price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingUltimate breathability, next-to-skin softnessLots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brimAffordable, mesh-backed ventilation, large zippered hand pockets
Cons Expensive, relatively heavy, odor retentionNo feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activityCold in a strong wind, expensiveGoofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR treatmentRelatively heavy, lack of water resistance, oversized stuff sack
Bottom Line An ultra-lightweight alternative to your normal softshell, this jacket is warmer and more comfortable than many without sacrificing breathabilityThe best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standardAn ultralight, breathable, versatile layer for those who live by the mantra of fast-and-lightBest-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell, all at an affordable priceA price-point option that balances wind resistance and breathability, but lacks in terms of weather proofing
Rating Categories Black Diamond Alpin... Patagonia Houdini Patagonia Houdini Air Rab Vital Windshell Flyweight Hoodie
Wind Resistance (30%)
8.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
Breathability And Venting (30%)
8.0
8.0
10.0
7.0
9.0
Weight And Packability (20%)
4.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
4.0
Fit And Functionality (10%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
Water Resistance (10%)
4.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
3.0
Specs Black Diamond Alpin... Patagonia Houdini Patagonia Houdini Air Rab Vital Windshell Flyweight Hoodie
Measured Weight (size M) 7.3 oz 3.9 oz (size L) 4.0 oz 4.7 oz 7.6 oz
Material Schoeller stretch-woven: 93% nylon, 7% Elastane, Schoeller Eco-Repel Bio DWR 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 90% nylon (51% recycled) / 10% polyester double weave, DWR finish Hyperlite nylon WindWall: 100% Recycled Polyester woven with DWR finish
Pockets 1 zip chest 1 zip (chest) 1 zip (chest) 3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal) 2 hand
Safety Reflective Material? No No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) Yes, reflective logo on chest and back No
Stowable Pocket? Yes: chest pocket Yes: chest pocket Yes: chest pocket Yes: internal pocket Yes: hand pocket
Cuff Style Elastic Half Elastic Half Elastic Half Elastic Elastic
Hood Fits Over Helmet? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Alpine Start Hoody is designed as a crossover between softshell and windbreaker jackets. While many nylon windbreakers can feel tarp-like, the stretch-woven Schoeller fabric is much more comfortable next-to-skin and just as, if not more breathable, than the competition. This jacket is specifically designed for alpine activities like climbing, with underarm gussets for improved reach and an oversized hood to easily fit over a climbing helmet.

Performance Comparison


The Black Diamond Alpine Start works well through the heat of the...
The Black Diamond Alpine Start works well through the heat of the day too, thanks to a stretchy shell that offers a nice balance of breathability and wind resistance.
Photo: Jill Rice

Wind Resistance


Not quite as thickly cut as your standard softshell, the Alpine Start Hoody still manages most of the wind and weather resistance, without any of the extra weight. Oftentimes, designers opt for impermeable fabrics in order to block wind, which can leave a jacket feeling stiff or plastic. But the particular nylon-elastane weave of this Schoeller shell strikes a comfortable balance between wind resistance and comfort. The slightly heavier-weight of the material keeps this jacket from billowing while crossing exposed ridgetops, and also helps cut the chill of the shoulder seasons. The cords on the oversized hood wrap around the back, sides, and brim, and do an exceptional job of securing the hood to your head.

An oversized hood is one of the few that is clearly designed to...
An oversized hood is one of the few that is clearly designed to cover a climbing helmet when fully zipped up, while at the same time affording enough room to actually look around.
Photo: Jill Rice

Breathability and Venting


The unique softshell material deftly balances wind resistance and breathability — not an easy feat for most windbreakers. These two metrics are normally mutually exclusive, since many simple fabrics allow for equal airflow in both directions. The extra material weight is a small sacrifice for the best of both worlds, and indeed the Alpine Start Hoody is just as comfortable walking in an early-morning approach as it is climbing throughout the heat of the day. Whereas other nylon shells can feel plastic-like, this stretch-weave shell is much more comfortable wearing next-to-skin. It is particularly comfortable wearing over just a non-cotton tee, which places less material between you and the outside air. This fact, combined with the efficient moisture-wicking capacity of this thin shell, makes the Alpine Start Hoody a superior option for thermoregulation through a variety of temperatures.

Though not our go-to for running because of the weight (more feel...
Though not our go-to for running because of the weight (more feel than scale-weight), this softshell does a nice job of dumping heat when you're working up a sweat.
Photo: Jill Rice

Weight and Packability


Although this shell is exceptional in many aspects, relative to the competition it could easily be considered heavy and bulky. That may seem ridiculous to many — our testers included — but when compared side-by-side with the rest of the field, the 7.6 ounce Alpine Start Hoody weighs nearly twice as much as a number of other options in this review. While this is one side of the glass, the other side is that it weighs less than 1/3 of the weight of most softshell options. It is certainly much more packable than the latter, easily packing up into its ample chest pocket. In its stowed form, this alpine-inspired jacket features a large carabiner loop, which makes it especially easy to attach to a harness.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Fit and Functionality


While other jackets may look or feel like they are specifically designed for athletics, the Alpine Start Hoody is as equally functional as the rest, but much more stylish. It has the sleek, european-inspired cut of a true alpine piece — one that comfortably transitions from a day in the mountains to a night out on the town. A medium perfectly fits the 5’10”, skinny mountaineer’s frame of our head tester. However, friends of a similar height with broader shoulders or chests found the slim fit of this jacket much more constricting.

Flatlock seams and articulated panels only increase the mobility of...
Flatlock seams and articulated panels only increase the mobility of this stretch-woven jacket.
Photo: Jill Rice

We enjoyed wearing this shell for longer spring ski tours. It is sized perfectly to accommodate a variety of layers underneath, which can often change in the mountains as quickly as the weather. The high collar keeps just the right amount of warmth around your core, and the helmet-compatible storm hood is one of the few that is comfortable over a helmet when fully zipped up. Besides the adjustable cord locks on the hood and hem, and the single chest pocket, the Alpine Start Hoody is minimalist — a concept rooted in the natural simplicity of alpine climbing. The Schoeller fabric is also resistant to scuffs and scrapes, making this lightweight jacket an ideal companion for any adventure in the mountains.

A large carabiner loop makes it easy to rack up this lightweight...
A large carabiner loop makes it easy to rack up this lightweight jacket on the wall when it warms up in the middle of the day.
Photo: Jill Rice

Water Resistance


In addition to its stand-out softshell feel, the Schoeller stretch-weave is embedded with a proprietary ecorepel Bio durable water repellent finish. Design engineers with the company were inspired by the natural water-repellency of leaves, and created ecorepel Bio as a PFC-free alternative. The thin biopolymer film wraps the individual fibers, which allows them to efficiently shed water droplets, and maintain efficacy for longer than face-fabric washes. Despite the intriguing technology, this thin shell is set up better to block moisture in the form of snow than it will against rain — like many soft, supple jackets we’ve tested, the fabric tends to quickly soak up water, even in a light rain.

While some water beads off the face of this shell, much of the water...
While some water beads off the face of this shell, much of the water that impacts the shoulders immediately soaks into the softshell fabric, rendering this jacket practically useless in the rain.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


Though it is a lightweight jacket at heart, looking at the price tag of the Alpine Start Hoody, it may be more convincing to consider its value as a two-in-one piece that splits the difference between softshell and windbreaker. The difference in weight and packability are minimal, and are more than made up for with regard to performance, comfort, and durability.

Comfortable, practical, and stylish, the Alpine Start Hoody pairs...
Comfortable, practical, and stylish, the Alpine Start Hoody pairs particularly well with their award-winning Merino base layer, the Solution 150.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


If you are an alpine enthusiast seeking an all-around lightweight shell that will carry you through the mountains from before sunrise through the evening, then the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is a jack-of-all trades. Only slightly heavier than the rest, the ability to balance warmth, breathability and wind resistance sets this soft-shell inspired windbreaker apart from the pack.

Aaron Rice