In an outerwear category that evokes images of long walks on the beach, the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell is helping to dismantle the classic 'windbreaker' and redefine expectations for the 'wind jacket'. Designed with the mountain-athlete in mind, we were only uncomfortable wearing this ultra-light (read: see-through) jacket around town. Otherwise, it excels at any outdoor activity in which you want to go faster and lighter — from ski touring to trail running, to backpacking and alpine climbing. With an MSRP of $129, the Distance carries the price tag of a highly technical piece. But if you're looking for top-quality craftsmanship in the form of one of the lightest, hooded jackets on the market, the Distance is helping to define the new standard set by our Editor's Choice, the Patagonia Houdini
Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Lightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocket
Cons: See-through material, under-performing DWR fabric
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
As an option that rivals the Patagonia Houdini in terms of lightweight and amazing packability, the Distance was gunning for the title of Editor's Choice. But this jacket fell just short of that mark in a few key areas, namely water resistance. When traveling fast and light in the mountains, you want to know you're covered when you get hit with a quick-passing rainstorm. Unfortunately, the revolutionary DWR fabric built into the *Distance* significantly underperformed in our testing.
But you can be certain that this one layer is going to both breathe during your high-output adventure and do its job — block the wind. On a few morning ski-tours, we found that the fabric dumps heat well on the uphill. At the top of the climb, the jacket holds onto just the right amount of warmth to keep you cozy and protected from the elements while transitioning. In warmer weather, the jacket is so light it's hardly noticeable on your body while trail running. In any activity where you want to push your physical limits, know that the Distance will comfortably keep pace.
The Distance is built with an unbelievably lightweight nylon ripstop with a grams per square meter rating of 30 — that's comparable to tissue paper — But compared to other single-layer nylon options like The North Face Flyweight Hoodie or KUHL Parajax Jacket, this piece is lighter AND does a better job standing up to winds pushing zero-degree wind chill.
Similar to the Houdini, it is difficult to force air through this jacket with one's mouth, and both options are just as hardy in gusting winds on an alpine ridgeline. However, the Distance does a better job facing winds head-on, thanks in part to the draft-flap behind the zipper.
Breathability and Venting
As a trade-off for properly blocking the wind, single-layer nylon jackets generally do capture some moisture, and the Distance is no exception. Although overall it is less clammy than the Parajax, the lightweight material is visibly damp after a run. But in a magic trick similar to the Houdini, this jacket seems to dry out enough in a steady breeze to continue to wear comfortably.
Just like the Houdini, the best option to improve venting is to push up the sleeves or unzip the jacket partway. Thanks to fully elastic cuffs, pushing up the sleeves is more comfortable than the half-elastic cuffs of the Houdini. But the weight of the material means that the Distance feels billowy when partially unzipped. Regardless of how you decide to weight this fact, this jacket scores highly in terms of breathability and venting.
Weight and Packability
As stated a number of times now, the Distance is insanely lightweight; our size medium tips the scales at 3.5 ounces, the lightest wind jacket in review and as far as we can tell, one of the lightest options on the market today.
Very comparable to the Houdini in terms of packability — it's actually hard to tell which packs down smaller — this jacket readily hangs off a climbing harness or easily stuffs into a mountain bike top-tube fuel tank.
Fit and Functionality
Expecting an ultra-tight fit to fit its ultralight image, we were happily surprised how versatile a size medium fit a 5'10", 165-pound, skinny mountaineer's frame. The Distance feels comfortable as a stand-alone outer layer over any base layer and easily pulls over a synthetic puffy. And when it comes to running in warmer weather, this jacket feels as light as air with plenty of room to move. The ultralight material means the jacket feels billowy in a steady wind, and in particular, the hood whips around during a ski descent or in a heavy crosswind.
Like the Houdini, the Distance is a minimally built jacket. The main difference between the two, and where this jacket loses points is that it looks like a minimalist jacket: the material is see-through to the point where it causes lapses in self-confidence. That being said, the Distance is purposefully built for endurance adventures. An elastic hem on the hood means it can be pulled over a climbing helmet without unzipping the jacket, unlike the Houdini or Flyweight Hoodie. Full elastic cuffs keep sleeves in place, and single drawcord cinches both the hood and the hem when the weather calls for the jacket to be sealed up tight.
Although the Distance has no hand pockets, a big advantage over the practically comparable Houdini is a larger chest pocket that easily accommodates any size cell phone. Another major plus is the draft-flap behind the zipper, a thoughtful addition that could have been ditched to save a few grams, but one that is appreciated by all who will use this jacket in the high mountains or on a chilly bike-commute.
What makes this new jacket a standout is the revolutionary engineering technique developed by Green Theme International, creating a DWR that is fused into the fabric. This new manufacturing process uses no water and is completely PFC-free, making it incredibly eco-friendly compared to traditional methods.
While a few months of testing isn't quite enough time to test their claims of never needing to refresh the jacket's DWR, the Distance does not seem to support superior water-repellency. In a drizzle, the material will bead off some water, but by the end of our hose test, this jacket soaked through the shoulders and neck — performing only slightly better than the Marmot Ether Dri-Clime.
Black Diamond touts that the Distance is "tailor-made for fast and light mountain adventures," and without a doubt, this is exactly where it excels. It is the perfect piece for ski mountaineers, alpine climbers, long-distance trail runners, or anyone who wants the freedom to move quickly through the mountains in a jacket that will not weight them down. A highly technical piece that you probably won't wear out on the town, but will be psyched to have attached to your harness on a summit.
The Distance has a retail price of $129, comparable to the insulated Ether Dri-Clime and Patagonia Tezzeron (which is essentially a softshell jacket.) Compared to other single-layer nylon jackets it is pricey — $30 more than the analogous Houdini and nearly $50 more than our Best Buy winner, the Flyweight Hoodie.
If you are an ultra-athlete who demands the best in class, the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell is your ticket to going further in the mountains, faster than ever before. If you are an aspiring uphill athlete, this is the best-in-class training piece that doubles as an ultralight option for a rain jacket. And if you are simply a gear head, then this jacket is simply the lightest in the category with the coolest eco-story.
— Aaron Rice