UKC

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody & Alpine Light Pants Review

From winter walking and climbing to spring cragging and via ferrata, Toby Archer tests a lightweight softshell combo from Black Diamond


Alpine Start Hoody - £130

I think the Alpine Start Hoody is great - usable in lots of different conditions for different purposes, even for different sports. Its RRP of £130 doesn't make it cheap, but think of it as an investment: owners will get loads of use from one; they seem tough and well made, so should last as well as being versatile.

Exploring the limits of its DWR over the winter, 222 kb
Exploring the limits of its DWR over the winter
© Toby Archer

What is it for?

At 250g (size M) this could be considered an ultralight softshell jacket or a rather heavy windproof. Through a long testing period that's lasted from autumn 2017 through winter and now into early summer, I've found I have used the Alpine Start Hoody in place of both a lightweight Pertex windshell (when hiking, mountain biking and mountain rock routes - where you don't want too much weight with you) and a heavier softshell (mainly for cragging on gritstone where both its weather-protection and abrasion resistance is good). I've done a lot of winter climbing in the Alpine Start Hoody now too, particularly wearing it on walk-ins and when moving quickly soloing climbs, so generating plenty of warmth.

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Alpine Start Hoody in the cold dank slate quarries
© Toby Archer

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Wearing the hood without a helmet underneath
© Toby Archer

For mountain days the Alpine Start Hoody is a bit heavier and bulkier than a light nylon wind shell when in your pack, but not by much, and as the weather worsened through the autumn I found myself wearing it more and carrying it less. For cold windy days up at Stanage, or more recently on a very raw day at Turningstone Edge, the Alpine Start Hoody has been on all day, and shrugging off both the wind and all attempts to damage it with arm bars or trying to find holds deep in cracks.

Fit and features

The Alpine Start comes in both men's and women's fit. It's a relatively simple jacket, quite slim fitting and with only one chest pocket that the jacket also packs away into, meaning the packed jacket can then be clipped onto a harness. The gusseted arms allow good freedom of movement without hem lift, making this well suited to pairing with a harness. It does have an excellent roomy hood which is easily adjustable, allowing it to fit well both over a helmet and when you are not wearing one.

Testing its water and wind resistance (good) on a wintry Snowdon, 183 kb
Testing its water and wind resistance (good) on a wintry Snowdon
© Toby Archer

Fabric

The material is "Schoeller® stretch-woven with NanoSphere® Technology", which put simply is a stretchy textured fabric. I think the texture of it makes it feel less clammy against the skin than smooth nylons like Pertex can feel, and it seems to wick sweat well. It might not be quite as windproof as a denser weave nylon, but over a baselayer and microfleece I was quite comfortable on Crib Goch in sleety drizzle and a strong wind when the temperature was only just above freezing, particularly with the hood up over my hat and helmet. Over the winter I found it worked well in colder, snowier conditions too.

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Tough stretchy fabric
© Toby Archer

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Winter climbing in the Alpine Start
© Toby Archer

I understand that the 'NanoSphere® Technology' is some sort of DWR treatment, and so far this seems to work well despite my having put the hoody through the laundry quite a number of times now. I would still take a lightweight waterproof with me for most UK trips as heavy rain will defeat the Alpine Start's water resistance, but particularly if you are working hard it is amazing how much protection it does offer. In very cold conditions, where rain is not an issue, I could see me using the Alpine Start as my main shell layer.

Summary

All in all, for a climber or scrambler - be that single-pitch cragging, big mountain routes, alpine scrambles, or UK winter mountaineering - the Alpine Start Hoody is a really useful layer. Additionally I've used mine for hiking, mountain biking and even some brief runs! In short, it's a great all-rounder.

Black Diamond say:

Ultralight and incredibly versatile, the Alpine Start Hoody uses Schoeller stretch-woven softshell fabric to provide highly breathable, weather resistant protection for alpinists and other weight-conscious climbers. Gusseted construction allows complete freedom of movement, and the hood fits over your climbing helmet for added weather protection when the wind picks up in the afternoon. This highly packable jacket stows in its own chest pocket when not in use, and a carabiner loop lets you clip it to your harness and take it up a route.

  • Sizes: S - XL (men) XS - XL (women)
  • Weight: 250g (size M)
  • Fabric: Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere® Technology (80 gsm, 93% nylon, 7% elastane)
  • Adjustable, climbing-helmet-compatible hood
  • Stows in internal chest pocket with carabiner clip loop
  • Underarm gussets for added range of motion
  • Lightweight stretch cuffs
  • Drawcord hem
  • Primary fabric is bluesign approved

For more see eu.blackdiamondequipment.com

Alpine start hoody prod shot, 28 kb

Alpine Light Pants - £90

The Alpine Light Pants are lightweight, super-stretchy softshell trousers that I've used for a bit of everything for several months now. It'd say they're best suited to warmer conditions.

Fit and features

These trousers are available in both male and female fit. I went for size large as my waist is 34 when I measure it, but actually I think BD are being a bit flattering with their sizing and I have to do the belt up reasonably tight. Also the legs are a bit a baggier than they need to be on me, perhaps the medium would have been a trimmer fit - at least I can easily layer them over baselayer leggings. Having said that, the cuffs at the bottom of the legs are adjustable by a drawcord and I've done loads of routes in the Alpine Light Pants now and have had no problem with them being too baggy at my feet. When hiking in them I've mainly been using gaiters, so again no problems at all.

Finding the Alpine Light Pants well suited to a warm and breezy via ferrata , 149 kb
Finding the Alpine Light Pants well suited to a warm and breezy via ferrata
© Toby Archer

You have a zipped thigh pocket, big enough to take a larger smart phone, two standard pockets at the front and two drop pockets at the back over your bum. I never use back pockets on outdoor trousers, or even on just normal jeans, and as these two pockets have no closure on them I'm not really sure what the designers thought people would do with them. The Alpine Light Pants come with belt loops but I've found they are not needed; Black Diamond have come up with a very effective hidden, internal belt that closes on what they call a ladder lock system. It works very well and causes no irritation under a climbing harness. The button is also suitably low profile and doesn't rub under a harness - a trick that the makers of a few different pairs of climbing trousers I own could do with learning!

Fabric

The material is a lightweight softshell which feels nice next to the skin and on hot days, but also does a decent job of keeping the wind out on colder days. The nylon/elastane mix is very stretchy for freedom of movement, and also seems relatively hard wearing for its light weight. I've climbed a fair amount in them now, mainly on gritstone, and even my poor style and the occasional leg jam has left them unscathed. The DWR treatment also works well; they are not waterproofs, but a bit of drizzle causes no problems.

Summary

I wouldn't buy the Alpine Light Pants specifically for winter climbing or walking in the UK, although with thermals underneath and some hardshell trousers to pull over if the weather really turned, I'm sure they would do OK. But for hiking and rock climbing for the rest of the year in Britain, or for alpine scrambling and via ferrata overseas, these are great softshell trousers. If the weather's nice enough for shorts then they are light and compact when packed away in your sack, too.

Black Diamond say:

An ultralight wind barrier, the Black Diamond Alpine Light Pants are the three-season solution for light, packable weather protection. Designed with a single-weave, four-way stretch fabric, they pack down so you can shove them deep into the recesses of your pack, and the DWR treated finish gives you a layer of shelter when light precip rolls in. Two rear drop pockets and zip thigh pockets stash essentials, and a ladder lock belt with belt loops and adjustable cuffs dial in the fit.

  • Sizes: S - XL (men) XS - XL (women)
  • Weight: 290g
  • Fabric: Four-way stretch woven with DWR finish (150 gsm, 85% nylon, 15% elastane)
  • Ultralight single-weave construction
  • DWR treatment
  • Two rear drop pockets
  • Zip thigh pockets
  • Seat gusset
  • Ladder lock belt with belt loops
  • Adjustable cuffs
  • 32-inch inseam
  • Fit: Regular

For more see eu.blackdiamondequipment.com

Alpine light pants prod shot, 64 kb

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