The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody

Surely, the windshirt quest will never stop. Finding an ideal active layer for days which are neither warm nor arctic, neither calm nor storming fiercely, involves delicate balancing of contradictory attributes. The shirt must be significantly wind resistant, but quite breathable. It must be light, but tough, especially given that a windshirt will be used more than just about anything else aside from undies and socks.  It must resist rain, and in a durable fashion, not absorb much moisture, and dry quickly when it does.

Conventional windshirts are made from lightish, tightly woven nylon fabrics. The good ones succeed at most of the above, having only suboptimal breathability and durability (though they’re tougher than most think). An example would be the Rab Cirrus, which I discussed here. The recent trend of light softshells, like the Rab Zephyr, typically use a poly/spandex blend. They breath well and the good ones are very tough, but the fabrics tend to suck up and hold on to water in a manner which makes them a liability in multiday wet conditions.

As discussed in the first link, Pertex Equilibrium promises to hit almost all these metrics, save durability. Much though I liked my Rab Alpine jacket, the fragility just wasn’t going to stand. Ergo the continued quest.

IMG_2654

The recent BD Alpine Start hoody is the closest thing I’ve yet found to an ideal windshirt.  It’s more breathable than a Cirrus, and more wind resistant than a Boreas or Alpine jacket.  The Schoeller fabric is 93% nylon, and 7% elastane (spandex, in essence).  The weave is exceptionally tight, and the fabric thinner than you’d expect for the weight (80 g/meter), all of which gives me high hopes for durability.  The nansphere DWR is (thus far) very good.  I’m not calling this a proper review, as these two things aren’t subject to meaningful comment until after months of heavy use.  Most importantly, it dries very fast indeed.

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Thus far I would change nothing at all about the fabric, and the fit and features are 96% good to go.  The hood is big, big enough to go over a smaller helmet, and has an interior channel for a drawcord, with cordlock adjustments on either side of the face.  It cinches down tight over a bare head, and moves with you.  There’s a single chest pocket which is fabric backed, a slim/athletic fit (medium is in line with a company like Rab or Montane), elastic binding at the wrists, and a full circumference drawcord at the waist.  Nothing else is needed in a windshirt.  The main zip is a nice metal #5, one of my favorite things.  My medium weighs 7.2 ounces after cutting out the tags and trimming the hood drawcords.

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The hood is the major thing I would encourage BD to change.  The bottom/chin area could go a little higher for max protection, and the whole hood feels set a hair further back and is completely natural.  When my pack pulls the shoulder back a hair, the zipper presses on my neck.  Not a big deal, and easily dealt with, but less than ideal.  The cordlocks and excess cord are hidden inside the hood, and I’d prefer them outside.  Exterior cordlocks can be used without unzipping the hood, and exterior anchors for the excess don’t flap around and get caught in the zipper.  As seen above, my standard procedure with this sort of think is to tie knots that hold the hood with a little tension (a good default setting for general use) and then trim the cord so that most of the time their is no excess flapping around.

To further the nit-picking, ideally the chest pocket would be backed with mesh rather than fabric, to save a few grams and maximize breathability.  I also wouldn’t mind another 1/2″ or length in the sleeves to make a better seal over gloves, though the current arrangement would stay out of your chalk bag nicely.  The wrists are flexible enough to roll up over my elbows, and the armpit articulation is fantastic.  The hem does not ride while cycling or during the most exaggerated pole plants.

In short, the Alpine Start hoody is close to ideal, an impressive first effort on a demanding garment.  Construction is as good as or better than any top brand you might name.  As mentioned, arm articulation is massive, and most of the seams are felled and then double-stitched.  The only drawback is the price, a rather egregious 149 dollars.  It makes more sense to spend big bucks on a windshirt than on a raincoat, as the former will be used more.  Nonetheless, I’d have hesitated long and hard at full retail on this one.

Zip detail:
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26 thoughts on “The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody

  1. I just stick with the Patagonia R1; seems to cover my bases, though if it’s cold enough for that, I’m probably wearing a jacket too anyway. And I’m really turned off by BD’s launching a line of soft goods without bothering to make stuff for women. Lame. Guess that wouldn’t bother you much though 😛

    1. The women’s line comes out this Summer (along with climbing, hiking, cotton, etc., etc)… I think the men’s skiing/ice climbing stuff was something of a soft launch. Then again, I’m a Pata-hoochie, so I don’t really care.

    1. It’s pretty awesome. Unfortunately, I managed to loose mine in the woods back in the fall. Not so good with breathability, but very tough.

  2. I owned a Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody but returned it. Black Diamond needs to work on its fit: the diameter of the neck area was so small that, during a hike, the jacket slowly but certain became uncomfortable to wear when fully zipped up (read: the zipper constantly pressing against my Adam’s apple). I normally wear a size medium but this problem also occurred wearing a size large.
    I found the RAB Boreas and RAB Alpine significantly more comfortable to wear: the Boreas has more stretch and the Alpine is less athletic (which I find a plus).

    I’ve written a first impression review on BPL: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=87696&startat=60&id=AJrQqjSq:81.82.37.100

    I am very curious how the Nanosphere DWR would hold out on the long run.

    Wim

    1. oh, PS: while the BD website state the fabric is 93% nylon and 7% elastane, the tags of the jacket tell otherwise: 93% polyester and 7% elastane. It was difficult to assess which statement is correct.

    2. Thanks for weighing in Wim. The AS is quite fitted. I think the neck opening could be moved forward rather than enlargened, thankfully I’ve not had issues of the magnitude you have.

  3. > It cinches down tight over a bare head, and moves with you.

    Actually Dave, I do not agree with you at all on that point. For me, when I turn my head, the hood wants to stay in place, and the fabric rubs across my forehead. I would rate the hood as useable, but well-below average. (I have no idea about how it is with a helmet.)

  4. You mention the metal zip, and the photos you posted show what appears to be a reverse-coil zipper used for both the main zip and the pocket. The photos on the BD site and some of the sites selling it show what appears to be a molded Vislon zipper for the main zip. Do you know if you have a pre-production version? Maybe some of the zipper issues you experienced have been addressed?

    1. I misspoke. The slider is metal, the teeth are plastic. I bought mine through normal retail direct from BD, albeit within 48 hours of it being listed as available, so I assume it is the same as the rest out there.

      I eventually sucked it up and turned mine into an anorak (using the method described elsewhere), with an 18″ deep zip and the zipper removed beneath it the stiffness in the torso is much improved. Given how breathable the hoody is, I see no disadvantage is doing this.

  5. Thanks for the quick reply. Still, could you compare the way your zip looks (https://bedrockandparadox.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/img_2569.jpg) to this:

    or look at it in high quality at the 57 second mark here:

    It looks very different that your photo or the photo at Zappos here:

    I’m only being picky because the large plastic toothed zipper (Vislon) is more reliable and easier to use, in my experience, than a metal or plastic reverse coil zipper.

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