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Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell Review

An ultralight jacket purposefully built for fast and light mountain missions
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Price:  $129 List | $97.86 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocket
Cons:  See-through material, under-performing DWR fabric
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 24, 2019
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 8
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability and Venting - 30% 8
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 9
  • Fit and Functionality - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 10% 4

Our Verdict

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


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $97.86 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$99.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$79.99 at Amazon$99.00 at Amazon$75.00 at Amazon
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Pros Lightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocketLow price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingLiner makes it warmer and helps wick moisture, great wind protection.Great pocket space, neck snap for venting, brim gives some sun protectionAffordable, breathable and ventilated, zippered-hand pockets
Cons See-through material, under-performing DWR fabricNo feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activityToo hot for most summer activity, not very packable, poor water resistanceHood brim is goofy looking, internal pocket low, not the best breathabilityHardly water resistant, heavier than many other jackets
Bottom Line An ultralight jacket purposefully built for fast and light mountain missionsThe best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standardA great layer for aerobic activities in cooler months, too much insulation for warm conditions.A solid jacket at a great price. The pocket options were best in class.This jacket presents a great value, with performance close to the best in our review, but available at a much lower price.
Rating Categories Distance Wind Shell Patagonia Houdini Marmot Ether DriClime Rab Vital Windshell Flyweight Hoodie
Wind Resistance (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
7
Breathability And Venting (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
8
Weight And Packability (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
7
10
0
6
Fit And Functionality (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
Water Resistance (10%)
10
0
4
10
0
8
10
0
3
10
0
6
10
0
3
Specs Distance Wind Shell Patagonia Houdini Marmot Ether... Rab Vital Windshell Flyweight Hoodie
Measured Weight, size M 3.5 oz 3.9 oz (size L) 8.1 oz 4.7 oz 7.2 oz
Material 100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology "Breathable Water Protection Technology") 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 100% Recycled Nylon 20D nylon 100% 20D nylon
Pockets 1 chest 1 zip (chest) 3 zip (2 hand, 1 chest) 2 external hand, 1 internal zip 2 zip (2 hand)
Safety Reflective Material? No No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) Yes reflective logos on chest, right arm, and upper left back Yes, reflective logo No
Stuffs into itself? Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in hand pocket Yes Yes, stows in hand pocket
Adjustable Cuffs? Elastic Half Elastic Elastic Half Elastic Elastic
Hood? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

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.

Performance Comparison



Although it is better suited for warmer weather (or higher output) activities  this wind shell has a newly designed DWR fabric in a lightweight package that is easy enough to throw into your pack when you forgot to check the morning forecast.
Although it is better suited for warmer weather (or higher output) activities, this wind shell has a newly designed DWR fabric in a lightweight package that is easy enough to throw into your pack when you forgot to check the morning forecast.

Wind Resistance


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.

A little extra material won't undermine the ultralight construction of this jacket  and adding a draft-flap behind the zipper to block those extra-strong headwinds is a throughtful feature.
A little extra material won't undermine the ultralight construction of this jacket, and adding a draft-flap behind the zipper to block those extra-strong headwinds is a throughtful feature.

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.

While the forearms and elbows seem to be a hotspot for holding moisture  overall this jacket does a great job of staying cool on extended trail runs.
While the forearms and elbows seem to be a hotspot for holding moisture, overall this jacket does a great job of staying cool on extended trail runs.

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.

Don’t be fooled by the size of the relatively larger chest pocket  at 3.45 ounces (listed on the scale as 98 grams) this jacket weighs in slightly lighter and packs up smaller than the Patagonia Houdini.
Don’t be fooled by the size of the relatively larger chest pocket, at 3.45 ounces (listed on the scale as 98 grams) this jacket weighs in slightly lighter and packs up smaller than the Patagonia Houdini.

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.

Moving around the mountains with students can be a lot of work. Thanks to the ultralight (and ultra see-through) material of the jacket  you won’t ever feel weighed down.
Moving around the mountains with students can be a lot of work. Thanks to the ultralight (and ultra see-through) material of the jacket, you won’t ever feel weighed down.

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.

An elastic hem on either side of the hood holds it in place in a howling wind  and allows you to easily pull the hood up over a helmet without having to unzip the jacket.
An elastic hem on either side of the hood holds it in place in a howling wind, and allows you to easily pull the hood up over a helmet without having to unzip the jacket.

Water Resistance


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.

Despite claims of a superior DWR fabric  our hose test showed that anything more than a light  passing rain will soak this jacket. Fortunately  it dried out completely in a little more than 30 minutes.
Despite claims of a superior DWR fabric, our hose test showed that anything more than a light, passing rain will soak this jacket. Fortunately, it dried out completely in a little more than 30 minutes.

Best Applications


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.

This jacket performed well as a single layer during high-output uphill travel  like on this ski tour in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. But it also layers pretty well over a synthetic softshell if temperatures drop.
This jacket performed well as a single layer during high-output uphill travel, like on this ski tour in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. But it also layers pretty well over a synthetic softshell if temperatures drop.

Value


The Distance has a retail price of $129, comparable to the insulated Ether Dri-Clime. 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.

Conclusion


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