The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is a stretchy, highly mobile and durable softshell that's perfect for aerobic activities requiring a helmet and a harness or pack. It provides decent weather protection, excellent breathability, and, while on the slightly heavier side, doesn't feel cumbersome and packs down small enough to not be a nuisance in your pack. We had a great time in this shell hiking through frigid temperatures and climbing in both sun and wind and feel this is an excellent layer for the price point for any swing season adventure.
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
#4 of 9
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is one of the best layers in our review for highly active adventures requiring natural movement and excellent breathability. This shell was obviously created with climbing and skiing in mind - the hood is adjustable and helmet-compatible, the cuffs are wide and adjustable, and the hand pockets remain accessible when wearing a pack or harness. While a few other pieces had better weather protection, overall we feel this is a fantastic layer for the serious outdoorswoman at a very reasonable price.
This shell was highly breathable, but the trade-off was that it wasn't quite as warm as other layers in our review. While it kept the wind at bay, we could feel the temperature when it was cold more often than in models like the windproof Marmot Moblis, our Best Buy winner and The North Face Apex Flex GTX, a Gore-tex rain jacket/softshell hybrid. But when we were moving and keeping our heart rate up, the Dawn Patrol was great, even in pretty extreme wind and cold. Layering strategically underneath can also make a huge difference in bumping up the warmth factor of this jacket.
Regarding water resistance, the Dawn Patrol was a slightly mixed bag. The body seemed to keep water out efficiently, but the arms and upper chest area allowed water through almost immediately. We're not sure if this was an anomaly or if those areas are constructed slightly differently to aid in breathability. Bottom line, while this shell will keep moderate moisture out for a bit, it's not going to protect you from any serious rain. But that tends to be pretty typical of a softshell and why it's a good idea to own a hardshell first.
For the best weather protection in our test suite, we like the Ascendant Hoody, our Top Pick for Warmth, a puffy-like layer that both protected and breathed like a dream. Our Editors' Choice, the Gamma MX Hoody was also excellent, as was the hefty Rab Upslope and stiff but protective Patagonia Adze Hoody.
The Dawn Patrol is excellent for breathability, and is one of the better performers in our entire review. While this lessened its weather protection a bit, it meant this layer was excellent for high exertion activities. Even when climbing on a mild day in the sun, we didn't feel overheated or stifled.
If you plan to use your softshell in tame weather and want an excellent thin and durable layer, check out the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Crosstown, our Best Buy on a Tight Budget. If you want to stay thin and light but need a more serious and feature-rich layer, the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody, our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, is a stellar choice. For our favorite combination of weather protection and breathability, we recommend either the Gamma MX or the Ascendant Hoody.
We honored the Dawn Patrol with a Notable for Mobility because of how well it performed in this category. Constructed with underarm gussets from four-way stretch fabric, this was noticeably the most mobile jacket in our review. Combine that with a generous, almost baggy fit (this may be a jacket you want to size down if you're in between sizes), and we had a pretty winning combination. No matter what we were doing or what other accessories - helmet, harness, backpack - we needed along the way, the Dawn Patrol felt like we had on a favorite comfy sweatshirt, not a highly technical softshell jacket.
Other top performers in this category included both of our Arc'teryx jackets, the Editor's Choice Gamma MX and our Top Pick for Climbing, the Gamma LT. The excellent tailoring and material on both of these shells were evident when we were active. And both of our Outdoor Research models were also excellent for mobility. The simple and fun Ferrosi Crosstown was super lightweight and comfy, and the plush Ascendant Hoody stretched and moved with ease.
The Dawn Patrol weighed in at 20.2 ounces, the 5th heaviest jacket in our review. We felt like the weight was well-distributed though, as the jacket did not feel overly heavy or bulky and was able to pack down to a manageable size to fit in a pack or a stuff sack on your harness.
If you want something super light and packable (but not as warm as other models), check out the 10.9 ounce Ferrosi Crosstown. For the most impressive combination of warmth and lightness, be sure to read about our Top Pick for Warmth, the 11.5 ounce Ascendant Hoody.
Our favorite feature of the Dawn Patrol was the combination of four-way stretch material and underarm gussets. This is what provided the fantastic mobility that we loved so much for all our active outdoor adventures. In addition to having the stretchiest material in our review, this jacket offered zippered harness-compatible hand pockets, two mesh un-zippered internal drop pockets, an adjustable helmet-compatible hood, and nice wide velcro-adjustable cuffs.
We loved the generously-sized hood on this jacket, finding it one of the easiest to fit over helmets and heads of all shapes and sizes. It only adjusts one way - from the back - but we found this sufficient because of how evenly the back cinch tightens everything down around the face. The one potential drawback of the size of this hood is that, when not wearing a helmet, the extra fabric that gets cinched up when tightened creates "wings" on the side that can slightly impede peripheral vision.
One other notable mention about the Dawn Patrol is that the primary fabric - that stretchy one we loved so much - is also Bluesign approved, a certification for sustainable textile production. The Patagonia Adze Hoody was the only other piece in our review that shared this certification. We appreciate the effort and intent that goes into positive environmental choices such as this.
We scored style for the Dawn Patrol right about in the middle of the pack. This is a nice looking jacket for sure, but it is pretty techy looking and also has a bit baggier fit. If you're in between sizes, we would recommend sizing down unless you want the extra room for layering.
Our highest scorers for style were our two Arc'teryx jackets, the Gamma MX Hoody and Gamma LT Hoody. They are both well tailored, providing an attractive slimming profile. We also really appreciated the fun sweatshirt-look of the Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody.
Because of the amazing stretch and breathability this layer offered, combined with the large hood, harness/backpack compatible pockets, and excellent sleeve and torso length, we feel it is best suited for rock and ice climbing, skiing, skinning, snowshoeing, and all manner of hiking. If you want to move, stay relatively warm, and not get stifled while you do it, this is a perfect layer to consider.
The Dawn Patrol retails for $199, and we think this is a fantastic price for the quality of jacket you get. It may not have been the warmest layer we tested, but it was adequate. It provided superior mobility and breathability, and the amazing stretchy fabric was highly durable, so this jacket should have no problem lasting you for years to come.
We were impressed on almost every level with the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, finding it nearly impossible to come up with any criticism. This jacket had an excellent sleeve and torso length which was great for climbing and other highly active endeavors. It had the stretchiest, most mobile fabric of any piece in our review and also some of the best breathability. It was slightly less warm than some other pieces, and the larger cut gave it a more technical look, but the extra room also meant we could easily layer underneath to boost the warmth factor. The internal pockets don't have zippers which would be a nice addition, but we appreciated having them nonetheless. All in all, we thought this was a superb jacket and highly recommend it for anyone looking for an excellent-yet-still-affordable softshell.
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Most recent review: December 26, 2017
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