I used to think heavy softshell pants like Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Touring pants were stupid, a needlessly heavy and expensive version of the lighter and more versatile pants I’ve been using for hiking, climbing, and everything since I was ~20 and the hundred or so dollars taslan pants ran was no longer excessive. By contrast, the Dawn Patrols MSRP at 299, which in my book sets the bar for cost/utility high indeed. But a little over two years ago I got (literally) nauseated after (literally) freezing my nuts on another ski your, and decided more serious protection might be worth the investment. The pants have been, and as I finally tore a hole in them on the most recent outing they are worthy of some words.
The DPTs are meant for backcountry skiing and climbing. They’re made from a 91/9 nylon/spandex weave, at 260 grams per meter, with a schoeller nanosphere DWR treatment. They have a hi-rise inseam with suspenders and belt loops, two front zippered pockets, and a zippered pocket on the right thigh. Long zips on the legs, with dual sliders, allow for venting at the top, and fitment over ski boots at the bottom. There is an integrated gaiter, and large nylon kick patches on the inside of each lower leg.
The main thing I’ve learned from these pants, and the biggest reason I like them so much (besides the color), is that the fabric provides a remarkable blend of breathability and weatherproofing. They don’t provide wind protection on the level of a hardshell, or a softshell laminate like windstopper, but they provide more protection than anything else I’ve used that comes anywhere close in terms of breathability. Unless windchills are multiple digits below zero, I simply wear a midweight pair of synthetic or merino boxers under these, and am all set. The leg vents, which work far better than I would have supposed, take care of warmer conditions well above freezing. Wind briefs and light long underwear take these pants down into very cold temperatures, the kind I only see a few times a winter. All of this, and they still dry fast (especially for such a heavy fabric), as I found out this past week.
The suspenders have been a pleasant surprise. Hi rise pants keep snow out during crashes, but for me any pant whose rise is greater than my own inevitably leads to sagging. Suspenders fix this definitively, and the BD ones are comfortable (I’ve slept in them often) and easy to use (the metal hooks allow for efficient pooping). Most importantly, the fit is excellent. Trim, without enough room for light layering, and enough room in the cuffs (just) to operate the upper buckles of my AT boots without unzipping. BD has been seriously hit and miss when it comes to the fit of their clothing, and the DPTs are a good example of how when they get something right, BD gets it very right.
The cuffs are a bit complex, with two different snaps, a drawcord to cinch the outer layer, and the zipper, but the whole thing works. I occasionally snap the inner to the outer, and would prefer it the whole deal were simpler, but this is a minor complaint.
The first hole happened while crawling through deadfall, which has been the sole source of pant death since moving to Montana. It’s a small hole, and it took long enough to get, so the DPTs are well above par here. The other durability issue has been one of the waist snaps pulling out, due to lack of a secondary backing where they’re pressed in.
BD gets details right. The Nanosphere DWR is as good or better than anything I’ve used, and as shown still very functional after 2.5 winters of use and launderings. They also put a nice fat zipper on the often used thigh pocket, and build the upper pockets out of a slick nylon, on the side facing the body, and a mesh on the other side. This makes them light, airy, fast drying, and slick while layering. These pocket do need to be a wee bit lower, when zipped up the slides makes for a nasty pressure point under a hipbelt.
Pants like these are not the best way to spend money. The function per dollar had from things like good base and wind layers, which are used on almost every outing, is much better, and cheaper options work nearly as well as the DPTs. But they are really nice, thoughtfully designed and built, and will last a long time. BD will presumably bring something similar back come fall, and when they do there will far less functional ways to participate in capitalism.
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