I wanted/needed a new jacket. The primary intended use of said jacket would be winter backcountry skiing and spring tours on the peaks. I didn’t know quite what I wanted in a jacket in terms of a soft or hard shell (definitely wasn’t looking for an insulating piece). Both types of shell construction have their advantages and disadvantages when you start talking breathability, durability, wind/water proofing, etc. I spied the new line of apparel from Black Diamond at last year’s SIA show and all the pieces looked fairly well thought out (would you expect anything less from the crew at black diamond, honestly?). After more carefully scrutinizing the BD product line, the dawn patrol hybrid shell stood out above all the other pieces.
The “hybrid” in the name means they use a hard shell (waterproof/windproof – breathable?) fabric on the front, shoulders, top of the arms and the hood, with a stretchy and very breathable soft shell fabric everywhere else (back, under arm and armpit areas). Both the hard and soft shell fabrics are designed by Schoeller and use their “nano-sphere” technology. Schoeller has been around since 1868 and were some of the first people to incorporate polyester in performance fabrics in place of wool fibers. They were also some of the first people to incorporate elastic and stretch fabrics in ski wear (think 1960’s soft shell pants) as well as some of the first people to utilize Kevlar in fabrics for hi abrasion resistant applications (think motor cycle jackets). In short, these folks know how to engineer and design bad-ass performance fabrics.
I’ve used this jacket several days in the backcountry and have already put it through a qualifying range of conditions – insanely windy days, partly cloudy, snowing and blowing snow, to sunny blue bird 50 degree days. In general the jacket performs as you would expect from any high end piece of gear (retailing for $350 places it in that category in my mind). It breaths enough to keep my sweaty back as dry as what can reasonably be expected, and every time I spill water on the front of the jacket, the water beads up and rolls off well (it’d be interesting to see how it would do in a rain storm….my sense says pretty well). During the insanely windy day, the shell cut through the wind marvelously and I didn’t feel a thing. On the 50 degree blue bird day it was a bit warm, but what do you expect when it’s 50 degrees and you’re in a solar reflective oven……
What about the features? The zippers seem very strong and the zipper puller thingy is large with a unique textured underside for easy grabbing. The operation of the zipper is flawless, doesn’t take a lot of effort, and is easy to engage and disengage (doesn’t get hung-up). The two napoleon breast pockets are roomy, but not cavernous. Inside the left breast napoleon pocket is a mini-pocket for a phone or music device. There are 2 hand pockets that sport a smaller zipper and overall profile (I forget those pocks are there some times), which is nice. The inside of the jacket has 2, what I call “kangaroo pouches”, that are large enough for a Nalgene. The hood is big enough for a helmet and can be synched down tight, but most importantly, doesn’t get in the way when you turn your head. I found the draw strings that synch the hood down a bit cumbersome and tricky to use, but I think I’ll get the hang of it the more it’s worn. A draw string also exists around the waist to keep the wind and snow out – a critical feature in my mind.
Now what about fit? Helmut tends to have fit issues with jackets due to his alien-like proportions (haha!). I don’t usually have fit issues (5’9” – 170 lbs), and I don’t have any with this jacket, but I have to say this piece is designed for what I’ll call a “performance fit” – It’s snug across the chest, shoulders and back, so if you’re looking for a baggy fit, this jacket is not for you. The arm length is appropriate as is the torso length.
When you zip the jacket all the way, there is plenty of room to bury your chin and not get strangled. With the hood down and zipper 90% zipped, my neck feels a little exposed but that’s not a deal breaker.
Lastly, what about packability and durability? After a pretty good schwak out of N. Willow Creek in the Gore where I snagged and brushed by several trees on the ski out, I can say the durability is pretty good! Of course more time will ultimately tell the tail, but all signs point to robust construction and materials. The packability of this jacket is excellent. It rolls up to almost nothing and doesn’t weigh much (medium measured 1.1lbs). All in all I have been very impressed with this piece and know that this jacket would make a fine addition to any arsenal!