Climbing mountains and skiing down is oh so fun, but only if you aren’t cold, wet, or bogged down by too much weight. To prevent such travails, I am a big fan of the layering system. The more options you have the better you can rework your outfit with changing conditions. To that end, here is a look at some of the backcountry ski touring clothing by Black Diamond.
Before moving into my review, a few notes. . .my jam in the mountains tends to be something like the following:
In the spring the mittens might get swapped for extra gloves, on an expedition long johns or puffy pants might make an appearance, and depending on temps my insulation layer and puffy might turn into one jacket, three jackets, or vary in weight.
There are of ton of options out there these days for layers to take in the mountains. I had a chance to take quite a few Black Diamond layers into the mountains this spring and this review is focused on BD clothing options that I think work especially well for ski mountaineering.
I am 5’11’ 180lbs and BD jackets tend to fit me in a Large and BD pants fit in a Medium.
Okay, so I tend to think synthetic Ts all act pretty much the same, so jumping into the midlayer Black Diamond offers the Coefficient Hoody. This layer is a stretchy Polartec performance layer similar to the ever-popular Patagonia R1.
What I really like about the Coefficient is that it is a full zip hoody. No pull over needed. The hood also feels very warm to me (I personally like hoods more than hats).
Possible con is that the neck could go a tad higher. Check out Lou’s review of the Coefficient.
The Wind Shirt
Moving on, the wind shirt. Often in backcountry skiing I think people mistakenly assume the trick with a clothing is staying warm. An equally important task for your gear is to keep you cool. Think about a layer not for warmth but as something to keep sun, wind, and the elements off your back when moving up hill or when it’s hot out. I have been seeing people embrace this layer more and more in the mountains. Black Diamond’s Alpine Start Hoody is a killer option.
I have been wearing this jacket for a few years and it has done everything for me from Denali to dog walking. It is a great outer layer when its’ hot, part windshirt, part softshell, but light enough to leave on and layer on top of. Just about the only layer I always have with me. 250 grams.
On to insulation. In addition to the fleece/midlayer a light puffy jacket can be used as a mid layer when things get cold on the move or as an outer layer when hanging out in warmer snow-playing temps. The BD Access Lt Hybrid Hoody is an excellent lightweight synthetic option. Personally I like keeping my big puffy filled with down since it really only comes out when the temps are frigid. Even so, if moisture might be a factor a synthetic insulating layer is perhaps a better option for a lighter smaller jacket, though moisture resistant down can work unless you’re expecting total saturation. Which leads to…
The Black Diamond Access Lt has soft shell fabric under the arms (Schoeller) for easy movement, durable enough nylon for exterior use (Pertex Quantum), a big hood, and packable Primaloft Gold insulation. I love carrying things that have a wide range of uses and I have found the Access Lt to be extremely versatile. Thumbs up.
One possible con with the Access could be the sizing for some. A medium fits me well as a mid layer, or warm weather outer layer, but if you wanted to throw it over lots of other layers the sizing might get a bit too trim.
The Hard Shell
On to the hard shell. I don’t like hard shells, but alas they do seem necessary. I often find them restrictive, stuffy, and bulky. Solution: Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell. This is a brilliant jacket that’ll bring out the minimalist in anyone. Paclite offers a waterproof breathable option that still vents to at least some degree while still feeling bombproof. It also wads small in the pack. Big cuffs that fit easily over gloves, a big hood tents your helmet, two way pit zips bring in the wind. Not much else is there to bulk things up. Simplicity makes the Liquid Point perfect.
The size large Liquid Point has also proven big enough to fit over a few layers quite easily for me. That being said, anyone who likes a tighter fit in their shell might find the cut boxy (personally I like this in a shell, but you might get weird looks in Europe.).
Like I said, I don’t like hard shells — I like the liquid point. How’s that for an internal contradiction?
The big puffy layer really depends on the mission for me more than any other layer. Do I need an expedition parka? Is it springtime in Colorado where I might not need more than the above? Find the weight that works for the day… on to pants.
I generally carry a shell pant but rarely wear them, so I will offer a quick look at a soft shell pant option.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT is lightweight moving softshell machine. I have worn the Dawn Patrol for a few years, they are a heavier burlier soft shell pant. I wore them on the summit of Denali, have used them as my go-to winter climbing pant, and go-to multiday pant. The Dawn Patrol LT offers remarkably similar wind protection and warmth in a much more breathable flexible lightweight package.
Also they are cozy.
The waist on BD pants can be on the big side (belt required), but I like the fit. That said, some of the testers here at WildSnow dot com have found the Dawn Patrol inseam to be excessive and that the pants were constructed in such a way as to be difficult for a sewing service to shorten. As always, try before you commit.
A simple right side cargo pocket, reinforced cuff, and Schoeller fabric make for a winning design. This spring in AK my usual get up was silk weight long johns and the Dawn Patrol LT.
So, gloves. Liner gloves and lightweight gloves are awesome and there are a bunch of options out there (discuss in our comments?). Mittens are great for cold winter trips and multiday trips (I use a big old overmitt with neoprene inner mitt).
The layer that I find gets the most use and can be the most finicky is the ski glove. That ‘Goldy Locks’ hand layer, warm but dexterous, breathable but waterproof. The BD Patrol Glove is a great classic everything glove. Warmer and burlier than your $17 Kinkos, light enough that you won’t be pouring sweat on the skin track, great usability. I do think the powder cuff could be a bit bigger. If you can’t fit a cuff over your layers, than what’s the point? On the other hand, if a powder cuff is just right it’ll fit either under or over other layers; perhaps that’s what BD has in mind with this.
I took the Patrol Glove to AK, granted we had warmer-than-usual weather, but they held up incredibly well and were just about all I wore. I burn through gloves, these seem durable. I never sweat in them, but also managed to rarely put on mittens in AK.
Overall I really like the BD layers I have had a chance to use. I generally don’t like the ‘euro’ fit and style often paramount in ski mountaineering cloths. BD offers an American alternative.
With rear mesh ventilation, section construction, 7-stop adjustability, AND an articulated lid, the Black Diamond trucker hat for sun protection rounds out their collection nicely.
(WildSnow Guest Blogger Alex Lee is attempting to shred all his loaner Black Diamond review clothing so the company doesn’t want it back. We expect that’ll happen, he’s the perfect tester. Please see a variety or our previous Black Diamond clothing reviews.)
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Dr. Alex Lee lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching philosophy and environmental studies. He also works as a sometimes guide, naturalist, writer, and photographer.