Black Diamond Men’s Ski Mountaineering Clothing — Long Term Review

Post by blogger | June 22, 2015      
Testing out the BD clothing while doing a belayed cornice cut in Alaska this spring.

Testing out the BD clothing while doing a belayed cornice cut in Alaska this spring. Click images to enlarge.

After three years and many days on the alpine, my previous Gore-Tex pants and jacket began to wear out. The final straw was a late fall hike in wet snow and rain on Snoqualmie Pass. After a few hours my Gore-Tex was completely soaked through — the old shell had reached the end of it’s illustrious life of keeping me dry. Thus, I was on the hunt for a new getup. We had a few choices for test gear, this time around I decided to try out the Black Diamond Front Point bibs and Sharp End jacket.

I find bibs ideal for long days in inclement weather. For mid-winter ski touring in the PNWet, they are almost mandatory. I’ve used quite a few pairs over the years, and have a fairly specific set of requirements. Priority numero uno is keeping my legs dry. They have to be as waterproof as possible, with full waterproof laminate up to well above waist level, and powder gaiters for the boots. Unfortunately most ski bibs tend to be heavy, so weight is also a primary concern. Anything more than light(ish) Gore-Tex, suspenders, and a few pockets usually bumps it into heavy territory. With those out of the way, fit is of course next on the list, they’ve got to fit me, and not be too baggy or too tight and constricting. Pockets and other features are nice, but when it comes to other features, I believe less is more. There are few pants out there that satisfy this requirement, and the BD Front Points are one of them.

For jackets, I normally tend to go with the burliest shell jacket I can find, in order to keep out weather and stand up the perils of bushwhacking and sharp ski edges. However, this time around I went for the Sharp End shell, a lighter jacket in BD’s line that still features Gore-Tex Pro Shell throughout. BD also offers the Front Point shell, that matches with the bib pants, as it’s burliest shell, although it’s about 150 grams heavier. The major difference between the shells is fabric weight, the Sharp End has 80D fabric, while the Front Point has 40D fabric.

I got the medium size of the bibs, and they fit well for backcountry skiing. They are a much more trim fit than other ski bibs out there, and just barely manage to fit over my ski boots. As far as features, they are fairly simple (a plus), they’ve got “rainbow style” side zips that stretch all the way from the hem of the pant and meet up right above the but. Pockets: either thigh, a zipper pocket on the right, and a quick-access velcro pocket on the left. They’ve also got a small pocket on the left breast that nicely fits a beacon. Front Point bibs use a fairly burly 70D Gore-Tex, but still come in at 742 grams (Measured on a postal scale, a bit heavier than BD’s catalogue weight).

The Sharp End jacket packs up quite small, and weighs in at 458 grams (16 oz).

The Sharp End jacket packs up quite small, weighs 458 grams (16 oz).

One of the first places I find excessive wear on jackets is the velcro on the cuff. The BD velcro tab is made from a burly molded plastic piece; it's held up well over everything I've put it through.

One of the first places I find excessive wear on jackets is the velcro on the cuff. The BD velcro tab is made from a burly molded plastic piece; it’s held up well.

The Sharp End Jacket also has minimal features. It’s got four pockets, two breast pockets and two side pockets. Other than that it’s got standard draw cord adjustments on the hood and hem. BD uses the Cohesive adjustment hardware, which is basically a cord lock that’s laminated into the fabric of the jacket. Although I’m not quite convinced that it is much better functionally, the embedded cord-locks look slick — I can certainly appreciate them from a design standpoint. The Cohesive system ostensibly makes one-handed adjustments easier as well. The Sharp End takes advantage of the minimal features and lighter 40D Gore-Tex to come in at a weight of 458 grams. (This is a bit heavier than the BD’s listed weight; it is what I found on our postal scale).

I’ve been using the bibs and jacket since mid-January. With our unusually sunny season this year in the PNW, I’ve experienced far fewer stormy ski days than normal. However, I’ve still gotten a few wet days to test out the shells, as well as lots of snowy test days in Japan. The bibs also journeyed to Alaska this year, where they got all the inclement weather testing you could ever want: 20+ days of shoveling out our tent in the worst storm I’ve ever experienced will do that.

Both the bibs and jacket are high quality, and feature nice little details, like the Cohesive system (seen as the small white pieces at the top), and some welded seams.

Both the bibs and jacket are high quality, and feature nice little details, like the Cohesive system (seen as the small white pieces at the top), and some welded seams.

The hood features small patches of some lightweight fleece fabric. Also, you can see the back side of the integrated cord lock.

The hood features small patches of some lightweight fleece fabric. Also, you can see the back side of the integrated cord lock.

Fleece is also laminated to the back of the neck area.

Fleece is also laminated to the back of the neck area.

I've never felt like Recco detectors are very useful (except as body-finders). However, the BD bibs incorporate them, and they are cleanly integrated into the garment.

I’ve never felt like Recco detectors are very useful. However, the BD bibs incorporate them, and they are cleanly integrated.

The cuff of the Front Point bibs. You can see the laminated reinforcement, as well as the powder cuff.

The cuff of the Front Point bibs. You can see the laminated reinforcement, as well as the powder cuff.

Throughout all my testing, the jacket and bibs have proved to work quite well. It’s great having a jacket that packs down as small as the Sharp End does. The pants have worked well, and kept me nice and dry in some quite bad weather. The pockets on the jacket are positioned well,and are easy to get into while wearing a pack or harness. Also, the pants have 2 side pockets, one with a velcro top-flap, which is great for stuffing a hat or gloves on the skin track. The other pockets close with zippers, which allow them to be more secure and keep out blowing snow better.

Of course, I do have a few gripes about the clothes. The bibs are a fairly tight fit, especially for a ski pant. While the cuff does fit over my ski boots, it’s a tight fit. Also, the powder gaiter at the bottom of the pant is only a few inches in tall, as opposed to those in other pants, which are often 6 inches or more. With a normal pair of pants, i leave the powder gaiter fastened around the top of my boot, and simply slide the cuff up to access my boot buckles at the top and bottom of a run. With the short powder gaiter, i have to slide the powder gaiter up and down as well as the boot cuff. A fairly minor inconvenience, but something that i often notice. Another issue: the suspender straps on the pants are attached with big aluminum buckles. These go along with BD’s clothing aesthetic of using aluminum zipper pulls and other hardware. However, they buckles are big and bulky, and can end up sitting right on top of your shoulders, depending on how they are adjusted. A simple plastic buckle would have worked much better, and been more comfortable.

I have fewer gripes about the jacket. It’s lightweight, with minimal features, which I love. I like the Cohesive system for the most part, however I find that the one on the rear of the hood is difficult to operate with gloves on. In my view, a standard cord lock would actually be easier.

Of course, fit is the most important aspect when choosing clothing for any sort of mountain sports. It’s always recommended to physically try on clothing before buying. However, to give you an idea, the medium fit me quite well, and I am 5’ 10’’ (178cm), and 150 lbs (68kg); fairly skinny. The pants fit well, but just barely long enough, and a trim fit. If i was a bit bigger, or wanted a baggier fit, I’d get the next size up.

Overall, I’ve been quite satisfied with Black Diamond’s Gore-Tex offerings for ski mountaineering. The attention to detail is excellent, what you would expect from high-end technical apparel. With quite a bit of wear, it’s all holding up well.

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9 Responses to “Black Diamond Men’s Ski Mountaineering Clothing — Long Term Review”

  1. Alexander June 22nd, 2015 1:31 pm

    Hi Louie,

    in the last pic you have a pair of pants. How often did you wear these, as I see you have some “rubbed of” points over there?

    I do have some pants from Salewa *1 which do have the exact same problem (maybe even a bit more rubbed of but more towards the low part of the pant) and this all after the first season and mostly skiing, around 71 times (too risky snow conditions for a lot of ski touring during last season in south Tyrol).

    Is it a manufacturing defect / common problem, I was expecting that a pant of this “class” should survive a bit longer then one season?
    *1 I’m talking about Salewa Glen 2.0 Gore-Tex Pants
    Best Regards

  2. dave June 22nd, 2015 2:11 pm

    Hey Lou, I see you diverted from the “all pants shall be black” commandment. Safety measure?

  3. Lou Dawson 2 June 22nd, 2015 3:22 pm

    Dave, you are mistaking my son for me (grin). Lou

  4. Lou Dawson 2 June 22nd, 2015 3:24 pm

    Alexander, we’ll see what Louie says, but in my experience the lighter weight Gore does get rubbed off by the boot buckles, really doesn’t bother me, to prevent would add weight for in most cases no reason.

  5. Paul June 22nd, 2015 6:02 pm

    I’m curious about your old Gore-Tex soaking through after 3 years. My experience, and those of my partners, is that Gore-Tex is neither waterproof nor breathable, and that clean, dirty, old, new, doesn’t make much difference. Does (did) yours really keep you dry on a wet day in the Cascades?

  6. dave June 23rd, 2015 9:44 am

    Ahhh, you are not the same person. that explains a lot

  7. swissiphic June 23rd, 2015 11:29 am

    @Paul; fellow coastie here…live up in the moist climate of coastal northwest b.c. Pretty much similar but a bit colder weather than the cascades. Lifetime goretex user and have used pretty much all the incarnations of the fabric over the past 25 years.

    I’ve found that the stuff does work as advertised….in a limited band of ‘perfect’ environmental conditions. I’ve found when it’s new or freshly cleaned and DWR replenished and sheds the rain/sleet off jacket like the back of a duck, the stuff does breathe up to a point…but there seems to be a certain temp/humidity/ dew point (?) where this is optimized.

    I have photos somewhere of night ski touring in the rain where steam is pumping out the pores under headlamp light and I was comfortable and dry even when skinning uphill with zippers closed. At other times the various jackets didn’t breath at all and base layers got soaked with sweat even with the water beading up and rolling off of jacket exterior.

    Having said all that, when it’s raining/sleeting/wet snowing around zero degrees, my two favorite systems are as follows:

    1. skin uphill with hood on, pit zips cranked open, front zipper unzipped and tuck each sides of the front jacket body under each shoulder strap of backpack, thereby maximizing air flow for venting and still maintaining protection from falling rain/sleet/elephant snot snow. Works pretty good even with a bit of wind.

    2. when ski touring up through old growth forest when it’s just dumped a whackload of cement and temps are warming and falling snow has turned to rain…trees shedding snowbombs and continuous waterfall of meltwater. With baggier ‘comfort fit’ jackets, I wear backpack over base layers then put the goretex shell over top of backpack put the hood on and leave front zipper unzipped, sides of jacket tucked under backpack shoulder straps. Poncho style. Maximum breathability/airflow and keeps pack dry. Useless in windy conditions once you get to treeline though, specific tech tip for special appropriate conditions.

    Once again, wish I could post tech tip pics; too bad about the spam issue. 😉

    I’ve also found that durability of the actual goretex is pretty good for the long term if jacket is washed a bunch and the DWR is frequently renewed…the weak point in all jackets I’ve owned is the crease around the neck where the hood flexes at base of neck…long term use, fabric seems to leak there first. Arm/elbow flexing seems to allow leakage as well in some jackets I’ve owned after long term use.

    Just my 2 Canadian cents.

  8. Tuck June 23rd, 2015 12:54 pm

    “… My experience, and those of my partners, is that Gore-Tex is neither waterproof nor breathable…”

    +1!. One of the great marketing triumphs of all time.

  9. Louie III June 25th, 2015 6:49 pm

    I used the pants almost all of last season, for almost every ski day, so they saw quite a bit of use. Unfortunately it’s been my experience that almost all ski pants wear in the inner cuff area, mostly from ski buckles while touring. It’s just the inner layer of the gore tex wearing off, which isn’t too big of a deal, especially since it’s the fabric that goes around the boot, so it doesn’t really mater if it’s breathable or not. In my opinion, pant manufacturers should just use a coated waterproof fabric on the bottom 6-8 inches of a pant, since it doesn’t need to breath, and the added waterproofness and durability would be awesome.

    As for the longevity of Gore-Tex, i’ve found it only last a few years of hard use, even with some washing and re-waterproofing. In the case of my old jacket, when you held it up to the light, it showed a bunch of small cuts and pin holes in the shoulder areas, probably from carrying skis and packs. Definitely not waterproof anymore. My old pants were still pretty good, but large sections of the Gore-Tex was delaminating.

    Yeah, Gore has pretty major limits on both it’s breath-ability and water resistance, but it’s definitely better than a non-breathable fabric, and still sufficiently waterproof, I’ve found.

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