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Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's Review

This comfortable jacket will keep you protected and stylish, from climbing with friends to hanging at the coffee shop
Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
Photo: Black Diamond
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $165 List | Check Price at Backcountry
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
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 24, 2021
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 15
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 9
  • Water Resistance - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond Alpine Start is a comfortable windbreaker that performs well and looks great, making it our Top Pick for Versatility. With a thicker feel, we are impressed by this jacket's combination of breathability and wind protection. Its flattering cut makes it something we are as excited to wear running errands as we are running trails. It's also one of the most comfortable jackets we reviewed. Somewhat lacking in water resistance and rather expensive, we still love wearing it. If you want a windbreaker that looks as natural under a harness as it does under a purse strap, we think you'll love this versatile jacket from Black Diamond.

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Pros Very flexible, flattering fit, long torso, comfortable cuffLightweight, very breathable, comfortable fit & feel, flexible, great cuffsHelmet compatible, lightweight, extremely packable, dries quicklyMany pockets, more waterproof, excellent wind protection, snap to allow unzipping during wearDecently wind resistant, moderate precipitation protection, lightweight, less expensive
Cons Gets wet very easily, thicker fabric is heavierSlim fit difficult to layer, not ideal for really cold windNot the most waterproof, can see through thin fabricElastic cuffs harsh, thin fabric can be seen through, large packed sizeSleeves a bit short, small pockets, sloppy construction
Bottom Line This comfortable jacket will keep you protected and stylish, from climbing with friends to hanging at the coffee shopA highly breathable, protective, and packable layer that will keep you moving whatever the weatherA true featherweight model that continues to impress, combining excellent performance with great valueA blend of minimalist design and technical features, this jacket offers solid protection from the elements at a reasonable priceA simple, casual jacket that's best for mild days and small budgets
Rating Categories Alpine Start Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - W... Waterproof Hooded
Wind Resistance (30%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Breathability (30%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
4.0
Weight And Packability (20%)
6.0
9.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
Versatility (10%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Water Resistance (10%)
5.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
5.0
Specs Alpine Start Houdini Air Patagonia Houdini -... Rab Vital Hoody - W... Waterproof Hooded
Weight (oz) 6.2 oz 3.4 oz 3.1 oz 4.3 oz 6.6 oz
Material Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with Eco-Repel Bio® Technology 90% nylon (51% recycled), 10% polyester double weave with DWR treatment 100% nylon ripstop with DWR (durable water repellent) treatment Hyperlite and nylon outer 95% polyester, 5% spandex
Pockets 1 chest 1 chest 1 chest 2 hand, 1 inner zip and 2 inner open-top 2 hand
Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cuffs Elastic Half elastic Half elastic Half elastic Elastic
Stuffs Into Pocket Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Safety Reflective Material None Reflective front logo Reflective logo on front and back Reflective logo on front and back None
Fit Slim fit Slim fit Slim fit Regular fit Relaxed fit

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond Alpine Start is a full-zippered, hooded windbreaker made of stretch-woven nylon. It features a single chest pocket and a slim fit in slightly stretchy fabric.

Performance Comparison


In the woods or around town, we like wearing this flexible...
In the woods or around town, we like wearing this flexible, comfortable, breathable jacket.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Wind Resistance


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 of the other models we tested — not just a drop hem in the back. This helps protect the wearer from breezes 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. Overall though, the Alpine offers reliable protection and extended coverage against the wind.

Warm enough for a snowy spring day in the mountains; breathable...
Warm enough for a snowy spring day in the mountains; breathable enough to snowshoe in the sunshine.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Breathability


The Alpine Start 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.

The cuffs of this jacket are smooth, soft, and exceptionally...
The cuffs of this jacket are smooth, soft, and exceptionally comfortable to push up when warm.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 on the heavier side of average weight among jackets we reviewed. While a matter of 6.2 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. But if weight is no matter, then we think you'll be pleased with the portability of this hooded windbreaker from Black Diamond.

The Alpine Start stuffs easily into its own chest pocket for quick...
The Alpine Start stuffs easily into its own chest pocket for quick, painless transport.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Versatility


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. It does lack hand pockets, if that matters to you, and its slim fit 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.

The Black Diamond Alpine Start has a fit and feel that we love...
The Black Diamond Alpine Start has a fit and feel that we love wearing for hiking as much as we do meeting friends at the beer garden.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Water Resistance


Black Diamond touts this jacket as having Eco-Repel Biotechnology 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 Start 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. Though no windbreaker we tested can withstand serious rain, many others performed far better and kept us far drier during our testing. Once soaked, this jacket also took far longer than almost every other jacket to dry out again. If you expect to encounter rain on your adventures, this isn't the windbreaker we'd recommend.

Though it beads water for a while, after just a few minutes, the...
Though it beads water for a while, after just a few minutes, the drops start to soak the fabric of this jacket.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


The Alpine Start is not a cheap purchase and is actually one of the most expensive options we tested. If you're looking for something minimalistic or to protect you from light precipitation, this jacket is unlikely to be 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.

There's a lot to love about this flexible windbreaker that wears...
There's a lot to love about this flexible windbreaker that wears almost like a sweatshirt but blocks the wind like a pro.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Conclusion


The Alpine Start is a deceptively functional jacket. Though Black Diamond markets it mainly to climbers (which is an excellent paring), we are impressed by just how many activities this jacket handles with ease. Its wind resistance and packability are above average, 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.

From around town to around the mountain, the Alpine Start is a great...
From around town to around the mountain, the Alpine Start is a great choice in a lot of different situations.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Maggie Brandenburg