Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
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Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
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|$54.50 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Softshell fit and feel, oversized storm hood, designed for freedom of motion||Low price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coating||Ultimate breathability, next-to-skin softness||Superlight, tiny packed size, unique perforated back for improved breathability||Affordable, PFC-free DWR, elastic hood|
|Cons||Expensive, relatively heavy, odor retention||No feature to stow away the hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activity||Cold in a strong wind, expensive||Short cut torso, perforations allow water in during rainstorms||Stuff sack instead of zippered stuff pocket|
|Bottom Line||An ultra-lightweight alternative to your normal softshell, this jacket is warmer and more comfortable than many without sacrificing breathability||The best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standard||An ultralight, breathable, versatile layer for those who live by the mantra of fast-and-light||An impressively packable, highly-technical jacket that is perfectly designed for light and fast missions||A lightweight, versatile, DWR-coated nylon shell, all at an affordable price|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Alpin...||Patagonia Houdini -...||Patagonia Houdini Air||The North Face Flig...||Rab Vital Hoody - M...|
|Wind Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability and Venting (30%)|
|Weight and Packability (20%)|
|Fit and Functionality (10%)|
|Water Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond Alpin...||Patagonia Houdini -...||Patagonia Houdini Air||The North Face Flig...||Rab Vital Hoody - M...|
|Measured Weight (size M)||7.3 oz||3.9 oz (size L)||4.0 oz||3.7 oz||4.8 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||94% recycled nylon, 6% recycled polyester with non-PFC DWR finish||20D Atmos woven nylon with fluorocarbon-free DWR|
|Pockets||1 zip chest||1 zip chest||1 zip chest||None||2 zip 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)||Reflective logo on chest and back||Yes, reflective logo on chest|
|Stowable Pocket?||Yes: chest pocket||Yes: chest pocket||Yes: chest pocket||Yes: collar pocket||No; included stuff sack|
|Cuff Style||Elastic||Half Elastic||Half Elastic||Quarter Elastic||Half Elastic|
|Hood Fits Over Helmet?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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