The Black Diamond Alpine Start is an impressive windbreaker that performs well under a myriad of conditions and situations, making it our Top Pick for Versatility. With a thick, heavy feel, we are impressed by this jacket's combination of breathability and wind protection. Its flattering cut and long torso make this jacket something we are as excited to wear running errands around town as we are running trails through the woods. It's also one of the most comfortable jackets we reviewed. Though it's lacking in water resistance and comes with one of the highest prices on the market, we're fans. If you too want a windbreaker that looks as natural under a climbing harness as it does with a purse over your shoulder, we think you'll love this versatile jacket from Black Diamond.
Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Very flexible, flattering fit, long torso, comfortable cuff
Cons: Gets wet very easily, thicker fabric is heavier
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond Alpine Start was one of the most versatile jackets in this review. To see how it performed in the other metrics, keep reading.
The Alpine Start does a pretty good job of protecting you from the wind. It's constructed of thicker-feeling fabric that blocks out most breezes. A thick storm flap inside the zipper adds extra protection against the elements as well. The Alpine also has a longer torso than most the other models we tested — not just a drop hem in the back. This helps protect the wearer from breezes as it is and can also be cinched tight to keep out strong gales.
The hood is large and flexible enough to be worn over a helmet, and a cord on the back allows you to adjust its volume, so it's not too big if you're not wearing a helmet or thick hat. But it can feel comically large on a bare head, and really begs to be tightened down or worn over a hat or helmet or not at all. The neck also zips up more snuggly than any other model we tested, which doesn't feel claustrophobic because the material is so stretchy.
The Alpine Start doesn't feel like any other windbreaker we tested, and its fabric isn't quite as windproof as some of the ripstop jackets we tested like the Rab Vital or Patagonia Houdini. Overall though, the Alpine offers reliable protection and extended coverage against the wind.
The Alpine is made of Schoeller stretch-woven fabric, which makes it a thicker feeling, less waterproof jacket with enhanced breathability. The entire jacket stretches as you move. Underarm gussets add to its mobility, and the lack of DWR treatment helps air escape as you exert yourself. This jacket collects less sweat than the more waterproof windbreakers we tested.
As a bonus, it's also less swishy sounding when you move, which we love. Another underrated feature of the Alpine Start is its comfortable elastic cuffs. Unlike other jackets' bunched elastic wristbands, the Alpine has smooth cuffs that don't dig painfully into your arms when you push them up.
While this jacket's unique, stretchy fabric allows for better breathability, it's also thicker than most windbreakers on the market. This comes in handy for wind protection but isn't quite as friendly on a warm windy run. We welcomed hilly days and brisk mornings in the slightly-warmer-than-average Alpine Start. We weren't as excited to sweat our way up a sunny granite face. So, even though it's more breathable than any other windbreaker we tested, we wouldn't choose the Alpine for a hot day due to its thickness and weight.
Weight and Packability
Like so many of the windbreakers in this review, the Alpine packs neatly into its own chest pocket and features a sturdy loop to attach it to your climbing harness or backpack. While larger than some other windbreakers, it's a nice compact little package. (We also appreciate the large size of the chest pocket it packs into). One of our favorite things about this jacket is that it doesn't wrinkle as easily or hold wrinkles as long as the other, swishier-sounding models do.
Due to the Alpine's thicker fabric, it's among the heaviest jackets we reviewed. While a matter of 4 to 5 ounces may not make a big difference when you're carrying a whole harness of carabiners and climbing paraphernalia, you may feel differently about carrying them 2600+ miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. For those who value weight and packability, we think you'd be better off with the featherweight Patagonia Houdini. But if weight is no matter, then we think you'll be pleased with the portability of this hooded windbreaker from Black Diamond.
Truly the shining glory of the Alpine Start is in its impressive versatility. So many of the windbreakers out there, and nearly all the ones in this review are fairly technical or are tailored to a specific set of circumstances. While many can handle multiple sports, none make the transition from intense outdoor activity to polished urban excursion as seamlessly as the flattering Alpine.
Its fabric is thick enough that no one can see through it, and the feminine cut and longer torso give this jacket a chic, polished look. We felt equally at home wearing this jacket to mountain bike and boulder as we did grabbing a coffee or seeing a movie.
In fact, we are so impressed with the crossover ability of the Alpine that we had a hard time finding anything bad to say about its versatility. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that the fitted style makes it difficult to layer over bulky sweaters or baggy sweatshirts. But pairing it with a form-fitting base layer and a scarf is no problem!
Black Diamond touts this jacket as having Nanosphere technology that repels water, dirt, and oil. Upon feeling the first drops of rain, we noticed they beaded up on the outside of this jacket. However, after only a few minutes of a light sprinkle the Alpine quickly soaked up water and transferred it readily onto our clothes underneath. In our paper towel test, after only a few minutes, all the water had soaked the back of the jacket, the paper towel underneath, and left a healthy-sized puddle on the floor below.
We also subjected this jacket to a head-to-head comparison of wind and wave protection while adventuring in the Caribbean. While we recognize it is not a rain jacket, and we weren't expecting to stay dry in the salty spray, we hadn't anticipated getting quite so sopping!
In comparison, the Rab Vital transferred much less water in the same conditions. It kept the tester's hair dry! It also dried out in a fraction of the time it took for the Alpine to become wearable again. So if you live in a place with frequent and unexpected downpours, the Alpine Start may not be the right choice for you.
This flattering, and high performing jacket from Black Diamond is an excellent choice for activities where flexibility and coverage are key. From the flexibility you'll receive as you reach for that next rock hold to the flexibility to wear the same jacket to meet your grandparents for dinner later that night, the Alpine Start is sure to please.
The Alpine is not a cheap purchase. Retailing for $159, it's one of the most expensive jackets in this review. If you're looking for something minimalistic or to protect you from light precipitation, this jacket is unlikely worth it for you. However, if you're after a jacket that you can wear cycling or sailing all day and out on the town at night instead of buying and carrying two jackets, we think the price of the Alpine Start is warranted.
The Alpine Start is a deceptively functional jacket. Though Black Diamond markets it mainly to climbers (which is an excellent fit), we are impressed by just how many activities this jacket handles with ease. It's wind resistance and packability are on par, and its breathability and versatility are top-notch. For rainier climates, this jacket is not going to be a crowd pleaser, but for crisp sunny mountain days and chilly alpine evenings, we found it hard to go wrong with this comfortable, chic little number that is our Top Pick for Versatility.
— Maggie Brandenburg