Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
$149, 7.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s and women’s XS-XL
A breathable, ultralight jacket that sheds light precipitation can be the most versatile garment you own—something you wear almost as much as your skivvies. Over the past several months, I pulled on BD’s Alpine Start Hoody to combat wind, light rain, and cool temps on a 17-mile dayhike over the four summits of New Hampshire’s Northern Presidential Range in June; on a 25-mile, May dayhike in the Grand Canyon; trail running in the hills of central Massachusetts and standing on the blustery summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock in April; while climbing in February in Joshua Tree National Park; during a November overnight hike of The Narrows in Zion National Park; on a chilly, October hike and scramble up 9,820-foot McGown Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooths; and on numerous trail runs and rides in the Boise Foothills and bike commuting around the city. That list alone speaks volumes about the range of this sub-eight-ounce jacket.
The highly breathable Schoeller stretch-woven, soft-shell fabric blocked most wind, shed light rain, and dried within minutes from body heat in temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 60s. On a one-hour trail run in central Massachusetts, on an overcast, foggy day with light mist and temps in the 40s, I sweated enough to wet out my long-sleeve, midweight base layer, and yet the jacket got only slightly damp on the inside and never felt clammy.
Elasticized cuffs allowed me to push the sleeves up to my elbows while climbing, and the gusseted underarm panels let me reach high overhead without the jacket hiking up. The fit is athletic, not bulky, with room for a midweight base layer and a light vest underneath. The adjustable hood closes around your face to stay put in wind and when turning your head side to side, and fits over a helmet.
One of the beauties of an ultralight, very packable shell like the Alpine Start is the ease of bringing it along just in case: I stuffed it into a small hydration pack on a morning hike-run up Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree, when I never actually needed the jacket. And it stuffs into a zippered chest pocket, with a carabiner clip loop to hang it from a harness.
As long as you don’t expect steady, hard rain on a day trip, this is the only three-season shell you need.
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See my review of “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking Jackets” and all my reviews of ultralight wind shells, ultralight rain jackets, trail-running apparel, hiking apparel, and outdoor apparel at The Big Outside.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.