As I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, the Black Diamond Alpine Start hoody is one of the better pieces of outdoor clothing one can buy.  The original version had a fabric which was as perfect as current technology allows; mine has stood up impressively well to lots of use in the past 20 months.  The only things holding it back from functional perfection where a few oddities in the cut (namely the neck) and a hood adjustment which just wasn’t right.

R0011599Thankfully BD has fixed at least the second issue with the newest iteration, while keeping the same excellent fabric.  As can be seen above and below they’ve gone from dual side cinches with internal cordlocks and no rear cinch to a single cinch which wraps around the sides to the back.  It is all but identical to the 2011-2012 Houdini in this respect.  It isn’t my favorite system, as tightening things up exposes rather than covers the backs of your cheeks, but this system does allow the hood to stay glued to your head, bare headed or thick hatted, even with the zipper done well down.  The awesomely articulated armpits remain unchanged.

R0011601I still wouldn’t call the hood truly helmet compatible; it will fit over a trim helmet, but not especially well or easily.

R0011604I can’t address the neck fit issue as I never really noticed it in the first place, and because my new Alpine Start is a large, rather than medium.  The trim fit of the medium is fantastic for active use, more shirt than jacket, but won’t fit over much in the way of insulation.  I wanted a new jacket for colder weather use, and as I couldn’t think of anything with better performance than the Alpine Start, just got another one.  The large is noticeably bigger than the medium, but not too much.  It fits over a few lighter insulating layers not problem, without getting in the way when worn over a t-shirt.  I do wish the cuffs on this larger, longer shirt had a way to cinch tight when needed, and may retrofit velcro tabs to serve that end.

Details, like the felled seams and secondary stitching to contour the dimensions of the chest pocket, are without exception exceptional.

R0011606Overall the Alpine Start is a premium piece of clothing; very functional, very well made, and very expensive.  It is worth it?  There is no useful way to quantify such questions.  You could, by way of example, buy a Sierra Designs Microlight 2 jacket in stead, at a third the retail cost.  The Microlight provides equivalent weatherproofing at a similar weight and bulk, but with much less breathability and less finely tuned fit and feature set.  The satisfaction in wearing one versus the other is at least for me drastically different, but I could make do with either and suffer little in terms of comfort and not at in terms of safety. I regard the Alpine Start as money well spent, but it was between having the Microlight or having no windshell at all, that would also be an easy choice.  A good rule for all gear/cost choices: while good gear is almost always worthwhile if carefully matched with preferences, getting out more and soon should always take first priority.