The Black Diamond Forge is designed with the alpinist in mind. It is made of more durable face fabrics and has thoughtful design features like an elastic cuff that make it easy to use with gloves. The stitching quickly showed signs of wear and tear, however, and some of the features were frustrating, like the hand pockets that were very difficult to zip and unzip. There is a lot of potential in the design of this jacket, so we hope to see some improvements in subsequent models.
Black Diamond Forge Hoody - Women's Review
Cons: Finicky features, less warm for weight, less compressible
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Forge is a rugged down jacket made for movement in the mountains—but it falls behind in our metrics for its heavier weight, lower compressibility, and less warmth. Down jackets are getting competitive, and this one just didn't quite keep up.
The Forge is made of 700 fill power down, which is Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified and DWR treated to give the down itself a little more weather resistance.
The Forge is not the warmest jacket in this review. Warmth is a surprisingly tricky thing to evaluate in down jackets, because one of the key factors, the quality of the down, is hard to see. You must read the specifications of every jacket to see if it is made of the highest quality down, and then assess the quality relative to the puffyness to solve the riddle of just how warm the jacket will be. The fill power of down indicates how warm it is for its weight, or, how well it insulates because it lofts better and therefore holds more still air within the feathers (which is how it insulates).
The Forge is not made of the highest quality down in this review, nor is it the biggest and puffiest to make up for the slightly lower quality down (which is a common solution to using lower quality down—just add more of it!). The warmest jackets in this review include the Arc'teryx Cerium SV, the Feathered Friends Eos and The North Face Summit L3.
The Forge is one of the heaviest jackets in this review. With durable fabric, some added stretchy fabric, and 700 fill power down, this jacket was made with a preference for durability and affordability over ultra lightweight. For a truly ultralight down jacket, check out the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer or the Arc'teryx Cerium LT.
The use of 700 fill power down in the Forge also makes it less compressible than many jackets in this review. Additionally, the sturdier fabric and addition of stretch fabric at the cuffs (which we love) gives the jacket a little more bulk. That said, this jacket is still plenty packable for your backcountry adventures and does very well on technical climbs in moderate temperatures as a standalone insulating piece, and in colder conditions, the fit is athletic enough to make it useful as a midlayer insulating jacket. It packs into its own chest pocket and clips easily to the back of your harness.
If you'll be stuffing and unstuffing your down jacket into tight spaces often, consider instead the Ghost Whisperer or the Feathered Friends Eos.
Our favorite feature on the Forge is the hood. It is one of the most comfortable hoods we have ever tested, retaining an excellent range of motion even when wearing a helmet underneath. The adjustment is simple, tightening with just the pull of one self-cinching cord in the back of the head. It seals the hood around the face, with extra material that provides a brim around the entire face helping to keep wind and precip out of your eyes, nose, and mouth—a great feature when you need a laser-sharp focus to give the perfect belay, or as you battle your way down a blustery midwinter street.
Our next favorite feature on the Forge was the elastic in the cuffs. This soft, stretchy fabric at the cuff ensures a snug fit, makes it easy to take on and off, goes under or over gloves easily, and makes an excellent snot patch for those cold days with runny noses.
The design of the hand pockets is not the best. The zippers were so hard to access and difficult to zip and unzip that it degraded our overall opinion of the jacket. For a down jacket that is otherwise very comfortable for even the most technical climbs, this made it very difficult to stash snacks or our phone in the hand pockets when on a climb.
Fortunately, the Forge does have a chest zipper pocket inside the jacket, which is an excellent and safe spot to stow your phone or any maps, topos, etc. you want to be sure stay warm and/or dry. The chest pocket is our favorite feature on jackets and it is just so useful.
This chest pocket also doubles as a stowable pouch with a carabiner clip loop. Just stuff the jacket into the chest pocket when it's your turn to climb out from the last belay anchor, clip it to your harness, and you'll start climbing warm and nimble—then you can deploy the jacket quickly again once you arrive at the next belay stance.
For all the features you might want in a down jacket, we recommend the Arc'teryx Cerium SV or the Rab Microlight Alpine.
The Forge is made of relatively durable 20 denier nylon ripstop, making it among the more durable jackets in this review in regards to fabric. However, early in our testing period, the seams at the cuff showed disproportionate wear and tear, with stitches stretching and giving way. This knocked the jacket down in what would otherwise have been a strong category for the Forge.
For a similarly durable jacket that is a little more well-put-together, check out the Kuhl Spyfire, which is more of a casual down jacket. And for a very durable but more strictly urban down jacket, you might like The North Face Aconcagua.
A down jacket is not meant to be waterproof, but since down loses its insulating properties when it gets wet (because the down gets matted, thus losing its loft), it is common for down jacket manufacturers to incorporate a durable water repellent (DWR) finish on the outer fabric and sometimes even on the down itself.
The Forge features both DWR on the outer fabric and on the down. This was its most impressive score in the review, proving that this jacket holds up well to technical climbing in challenging conditions. Arc'teryx jackets also tend to score very well for their ability to shed precipitation, so you might appreciate either the Cerium SV or LT.
The Forge is an excellent jacket for technical climbing or low-impact daily use around town. The main difference between the two will be how long you should expect it to hold up. This jacket climbs well in terms of movement and weather resistance but is not the most durable. Fortunately, it is also one of the more affordable jackets in this review.
As mentioned above, the Forge is an excellent value. It is not the most durable jacket in this review, but if it suits your needs, it might still be worth it—especially if the limiting factor in the life of your down jacket tends to be abrasion on rock.
Despite the relatively lower score of the Forge, we do think it has a high level of appeal, especially for active bodies. Black Diamond has a good sense of how to make their technical wear feel good, whether you're using it for technical climbing or wearing it around town.
— Lyra Pierotti