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Shell Jackets

Black Diamond Alpine Start Jacket

The Black Diamond Alpine Start jacket is a great, breathable wind-layer for alpine rock climbing.

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Best For: Light and fast alpine rock climbing

MSRP: $149.00

When I’m going multi-pitching—be it for a romp up a moderate in Eldo or a big alpine mission in Rocky Mountain National Park—I bring a jacket. Doesn’t matter if it’s a zero-percent chance of rain and 80-degrees. Things can change fast, and being cold at a windy belay is not my idea of fun. But, on the other hand, I want something super light and easy to carry; not something that I need to jerry-rig onto my harness or stuff into a pack I wouldn’t otherwise bring.

All this is the background for why I love Black Diamond’s Alpine Start Jacket. At just 6.5 ounces (men’s), it is an ideal garment to bring out on a light-and-fast rock mission. It packs into its lone chest pocket and zips shut to about the size of a grapefruit. It has a small sewn loop that you can use to clip it onto your harness with a carabiner. I hang it off one of my rear gear-loops and while it occasionally gets in the way in an awkward chimney, by-and-large I rarely notice it is there…

…until I need it of course. Then I’m all too happy that I took it up. When a buddy and I went to do a desert tower in May, expectations were that we would get blazed off the side of the climb by the sun. Still, I brought up the Alpine Start. And when we got into the shade on the second pitch, the wind was cutting. I put it on, and instantly, the chill disappeared. The feel of the material is one of its biggest selling points. The nylon is stretchy and gentle on the skin. It is breathable, so it doesn’t end up sticking to your body as some of those garbage-bag-like rain shells do, but it is also water resistant in case that zero-percent rain forecast was made by the weatherman-in-training. The Alpine Start is not meant to replace a full-fledged rain-shell though, so don’t expect it to keep you completely dry in a downpour. I personally would have liked an additional pocket or two at about the rib level (so as not to be blocked by a harness), but the single chest pocket is plenty big for an energy bar, a headlamp and any other little things you want easy access to.

I’ve worn it primarily for trad outings, and the Alpine Start has held up dutifully as I scum up dirty, rough, granite corners. At $149, this isn’t the cheapest offering on the market, but neither is it going to break the bank. And when that wind whips up, you’ll be stoked to have it.

——Michael Levy

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