Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell - Women's Review
Cons: Fits a bit large, interior pockets do not zip, not as warm as some other contenders
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Dawn Patrol is a decent active softshell, ideal for backcountry adventures that require natural movement and high breathability. While it is the heaviest active softshell in our review, it moves well while climbing, because it is designed with climbing and skiing in mind. The hood is helmet-compatible, the cuffs are wide and adjustable, and the Napoleon-style hand pockets remain accessible when wearing a pack or harness. While a few other pieces offered better weather protection at a lighter weight, this is a great layer at a reasonable price.
This layer is highly breathable, but the trade-off is that it's not quite as warm as other pieces in our review. While it keeps the wind at bay, you will be able to feel the temperature when it's cold more readily than in thicker, more wind-resistant models. For winter hiking, cross-country skiing, skinning uphill, or other aerobic activities, this shell is great, even in pretty extreme wind and cold. Layering strategically underneath will also make a huge difference in bumping up the warmth factor of this jacket.
Regarding water resistance, the Dawn Patrol is a mixed bag. The body seems to keep water out effectively, but the arms and upper chest get saturated more quickly — which is the opposite of what you need if you consider the parts of your body that come into contact with rainfall first. While this shell will keep moderate moisture out for a bit, it is not going to protect you from any severe rain. But that tends to be pretty typical of a softshell, and this is why it's a good idea to own a hardshell or rain jacket as well.
The Dawn Patrol scored well in terms of breathability, making it a great layer for high exertion activities. Even when climbing on a mild day in the sun, we didn't feel overheated or stifled. If heart rate-inducing outings are your jam, this shell can keep up.
Constructed with underarm gussets from four-way stretch fabric, this jacket is very mobile. Combine that with a generous, almost baggy fit (this may be a piece you want to size down if you're between sizes), and you have a pretty winning combination. No matter what you're doing or what other accessories — helmet, harness, backpack — you need along the way, the Dawn Patrol feels like having on a favorite comfy sweatshirt, rather than a softshell.
The Dawn Patrol weighs 20.2 ounces for a size medium, which is heavy compared to other jackets in this review, and especially when compared to other active softshells in our review. However, as long as you're wearing the jacket, you won't feel the weight. The weight is somewhat well-distributed as the jacket does not feel overly bulky. It can also pack down to a manageable size if you need to stash it into your pack.
Despite being rather heavy, it is a reasonably versatile layer. It's well-featured, very durable, and appropriate for a lot of different endeavors. Our favorite feature is the combination of four-way stretch material and underarm gussets. This helps provide fantastic mobility for all your active outdoor adventures. In addition to having some of the stretchiest material in our review, this jacket offers zippered harness-compatible hand pockets, two mesh un-zippered internal drop pockets, an adjustable helmet-compatible hood, and nice wide velcro-adjustable cuffs. It also has a very generously sized hood, one of the easiest to fit over helmets and heads of all shapes and sizes. The one drawback is that, when not wearing a helmet, the extra fabric that gets cinched during tightening creates "wings" on the side that can impede peripheral vision.
The Dawn Patrol is well-priced for the quality of the jacket. It may not be the warmest or lightest-weight layer we tested, but it is sufficiently warm for most aerobic outings — especially if layered correctly. This jacket provides excellent mobility and breathability, and the stretchy fabric is highly durable. The Dawn Patrol should have no problem lasting for years to come.
Overall, we are pretty impressed by the Dawn Patrol, other than the fact that it is on the heavy side. This jacket has an excellent sleeve and torso length, which is great for active endeavors. It offers some of the stretchiest fabric of any softshell in our review, and it features decent breathability. It is slightly less warm than other jackets, especially those of similar weight, and the larger cut gives it a less technical look, but the extra room also means you can easily layer underneath to boost the warmth factor if needed. The internal pockets don't have zippers, which would be a nice addition, but we appreciate having them nonetheless. All in all, we find this to be a very decent jacket and recommend it to anyone looking for a stretchy and roomy softshell.
— Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett
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