I’ve been wearing the Black Diamond Alpine Softshell pants almost daily for the last 5 months and have been really happy with their performance. A true three season pant I’ve worn them on sunny low 70’s days rock climbing on Whitehorse Ledge, blustery Mount Washington ascents (including my two hour car to car of Pinnacle), late season ice climbing, and summer alpine climbing in the Cascades. These were the only pant I wore for successful summits of Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Mount Rainier. All told they have seen over 200 miles of hiking and 30,000 feet of climbing and still look and perform great! Let’s take a look at why these are suitable for such a wide variety of adventures!
Probably the best feature of these pants is how they have a very large range of temperature comfort. This is primarily achieved by Black Diamond’s proprietary four-way stretch fabric (88% nylon, 12% elastane) with a DWR finish. The material is soft enough on the inside that it feels great on bare legs and so breath-able that I could wear them on high humidity warm days during bug season without any discomfort. I actually found myself not climbing in shorts this season because I liked the added protection of a full pant like this pretty much every time I headed into the woods. Despite being so comfortable in warm and humid conditions the DWR treatment and weight of the material offered enough protection for them to be perfect in blustery alpine climbing conditions. I wore them exclusively for all three summits mentioned above and they were perfect even for our 1 AM below freezing alpine starts. A lightweight or mid-weight long underwear pant can easily expand the cold weather capabilities of these though I would pack a hard-shell to zip on over them in extreme cold/windchill/wet conditions.
The second best feature of these pants is how well they fit. For reference I am 5′ 9″, 180 pounds, with a 34 inch waist and 32 inch inseam. I went with a size medium and they fit me quite well. They may be an inch long in the inseam but that is only noticeable if I am wearing flip-flops. Once I have trail shoes or boots on they do not feel too long at all and the stretchy material makes rolling them up around the calves for rock climbing super easy. The stretchy material also stays in place around the calf while I am climbing while other pants sometimes un-roll on me mid-pitch if I don’t fuss with a good “tight-roll”. There is also a hem-cord at the ankles that can help keep them tight around your boot or calf with just one pull.
These offer protection in quite a few ways. They are light enough to serve as bug/poison ivy/pricker protection in warm weather. They are durable enough to protect bare legs from rock abrasion while scrambling and climbing. They are virtually wind proof to guard from wind-chill (though I would add a hard-shell pant to my pack if looking at a wind chill advisory). They are water-resistant enough thanks to the DWR coating to deal with light precipitation and when they do get wet they are super quick drying. If glissading on Spring snow is on the agenda I would also add a hard-shell to the kit.
I really like the integrated adjustable web belt and have not had any need to wear an additional belt but low profile belt loops are included anyways. The pant fits great underneath the two harnesses I used with it, the Petzl Sitta (reviewed here) and the Petzl Altitude (review coming). Two zippered hand pockets are perfectly positioned and a zippered right thigh pocket is large enough for my iPhone 6s Plus in its Hitcase Shield waterproof case <- great iPhone case by the way! There is also a zippered right rear pocket to round out the features of this pant.
While I wore these for almost 5 months it was the two weeks that I lived in them in the Cascades that really won me over. Light enough to sleep in yet rugged enough to handle thousands of feet of alpine scrambling. I will likely be wearing these regularly for the rest of the New England Fall climbing season and they will probably go out on some fair weather ice climbing days this winter, though I have a couple heavier soft-shell pants that need to be reviewed this season as well. If you are in need of a versatile climbing pant backed by a great company this model deserves a very close look!
Disclaimer: This product was provided to the reviewer for purpose of review and all opinions expressed are genuine. All product links above are affiliate links. Using those links to make a purchase supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you.
Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. Since I have two more trip reports for the Cascades coming soon I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip report.
Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
I recently upgraded from my older Petzl Myo model and this new model is awesome! Up to 260 hours of burn time and able to through light 90 meters! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans.
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below and stay tuned for next week’s trip report of The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak!
The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody is another great addition to the growing market of sun hoodies. This category has become a year-round staple of my outdoor wardrobe, especially as we enter the Northeast black fly season. Having a sun hoody means you can go lighter on both bug repellent and sunscreen and if you haven’t tried one yet I strongly recommend you pick one up!
A technical fit paired with a highly protective fabric, the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody offers coverage on desert multi pitches, high-alpine approaches and hot crag sessions. With 50-UPF and moisture wicking fabric, you can add a layer of protection to your arsenal, and an under-the-helmet hood and pullover design add comfort.
50-UPF sun protection
The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody is made with a very thin polyester stretch material ((140 gsm, 91% polyester, 9% elastane). It feels great on bare skin and I’ve worn it over a thin synthetic t-shirt, a medium weight collared Black Diamond Technician Shirt, and by itself all with equal comfort. The material is so light and breathable it truly feels cooler in the sun with this on then just wearing a t-shirt. When combined with my Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody that I reviewed here my torso is covered for about 90% of the weather I find myself climbing in from May through August.
While Black Diamond claims this has a “slim” fit I found it a bit bulky. For reference I am 5’9″ 180 lbs and I went with the size large based on my chest size of 42 inches. I think a medium would fit me better but the large works. The forearms are snugger than other models I’ve tested in this category and I prefer that style for rock climbing. Black Diamond also claims this has a “under-the-helmet-hood” but it is sized rather roomy and can easily fit over or under my helmet. Over a bare head the hood feels a little to large but felt comfortable if I had on a ball-cap. I would wear the hood under my helmet when the bugs are biting and over my helmet for slightly better airflow on really hot and humid days.
The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody only weights 240 grams (8.5 ounces). When I combine it with my Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody that I reviewed here the total package is about one pound but covers the vast majority of weather and bug conditions I climb in. At a combined weight of one pound there is no reason not to bring these two pieces of added protection even when the forecast is for comfortable climbing conditions. It’s just cheap insurance for when the crag is a bit windier than you expected or you find yourself still out at dusk and the mosquitos decide to feast. And if you’ve never tried a sun hoody your will be quite impressed the first hot day you pull it on and realize it is cooler than not wearing one!
One feature not mentioned in the manufacturer description is the fact that the material has been treated with Polygiene which basically eliminates odor and reduces the amount of washing’s this piece needs. I personally do not wash my high end outdoor clothes with every use as washing will reduce the lifespan of your outdoor clothing. Other than under garments (which do get washed almost every use) I typically wear items like this 7-10 hard use days between washing. I’ve worn this piece for 8 days straight and it is has not picked up any noticeable odor. You can read more about how this technology works here.
A sun hoody should be on every climber’s wish list. From cragging to alpine, sport to trad, and even casual hikes and trail runs, this is a super versatile piece and a must have staple to every outdoor wardrobe. Black Diamond has entered the market with a solid contribution to the style with the Alpenglow Sun Hoody and you should check it out!
The La Sportiva Tech Gloves are another great option in the growing category of technical gloves designed for mountaineering, ice climbing, and mixed climbing. For this review we had guest reviewer, AMGA certified Rock Instructor, and all around sender Justin Guarino, test these over ten hard days of ice climbing and mountaineering in the White Mountain Region. Here is his take on this technical alpine glove!
Warm even when wet
Slip Resistant Grip (great of ice climbing)
Slow to dry
I was very pleased with these gloves and there performance was top notch. The test consisted of a few weeks of steep ice and mixed terrain as well as times of idle inactivity whilst coaching students. Through the entirety of the test my hands were as happy as they could be in the sub freezing daily temps. Easily clipping gear while running it out on grade 5+ waterfall ice and placing cams was never difficult on sketchy stances while sending steep mixed corners. From the onset I took the approach of looking at this glove as a contender for multi day alpine walls in Alaska this spring; I have to say I would take them with me on this death defying terrain were a glove can make or break you.
Warm when wet:
This is critical and they performed excellent. My hands get sweaty… maybe because I’m always scaring myself. With that said wet from the inside wet from the outside (dripping ice and snow) doesn’t matter they did the job. Truly a pair of gloves that you can start and finish the day with. That in itself merits buying them for they simplify your selection. One and done get after it!
Given that I often venture into strange terrain, terrain where you better be able to get gear in and not fumble your crucial equipment. I have to say that given the level of insulation the dexterity of these gloves was astounding.
This is a crucial trait of an alpine glove and they delivered! Designed to perform and it showed. No fooling around. Its life or death at times up they. Not once did I pull these gloves off with my teeth in a panic and spit them out! I’ve done that before with other gloves and was glad I didn’t have to!
You can’t hold it against La Sportiva. If you climb as much as I do you don’t expect these things to last… and they won’t. 10 days on them and I probably have 10 days life left in them. I am a professional and use them at a professionals level of activity so like I said I didn’t expect them to last. (Editor’s note: 20 days of hard use might translate to 1-2 seasons for us weekend warriors).
I mean come on all gloves smell bad. But these in particular produced a particular offensive odor. I suppose I need to dry them out better. But who has the time… Climb climb climb! (Editor’s note: I’ve noticed this with most gloves and the only resolution is a good glove/boot dryer! This is the one I use everyday and it is amazing!)
Slow to dry:
Lots of insulation but once the water gets in there it stays. They are still warm but you better believe that makes me nervous especially in sub zero temps. Again they are gloves what do you truly expect. All said they are a great buy.
Thanks you Justin for sharing your feedback on these gloves! If you would like to give these a try you can find a pair on Amazon here or Backcountry.com below!
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is a bombproof technical super light three layer hard shell suitable for everything from hard ice climbing to alpine touring and Skimo.
Over the last 3 months I have tested this jacket climbing above tree-line on Mount Washington, leading Grade 5 waterfall ice, and taking laps on the Sherburne ski trail. Its versatility and durability combined with its extreme pack-ability make this a solid contender in best hard-shells of 2016/17.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket uses GORE-TEX® 3L, 30d nylon plain-weave face with nylon C-Knit™ backer and DWR (95 gsm, 100% nylon). The nylon C-Knit™ backer supposedly creates a “quieter construction”. While it may feel a little softer than an old stiff style GORE-TEX® jacket it definitely does not feel like a soft-shell jacket, but that is a sacrifice one makes when they want 100% water and wind proof protection. After a few thousand feet of back-country skiing, a half dozen or more ice pitches, and 2-3 days above tree-line on Washington the jacket is showing virtually no signs of wear.
Definitely one of the key features of this streamlined jacket is how light and small it packs. Black Diamond lists 370 grams for a size medium. My size large was 386 grams, or 13 5/8 ounces. I could crush the piece down to about a 6 inch by 6 inch by 3 inch package, easily small enough to forget about it in your pack until that snow switches over to freezing rain or the next pitch climbs out a drippy shower-fest.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is designed to be worn with a harness and omits hand pockets to save weight and increase pack-ability. While Black Diamonds size charts put me in a size large I would definitely prefer a size medium in this piece. For reference I am 5′ 9″ 180 pounds with a 42 inch chest. The large has a lot of space in the chest and I feel it would better fit a 44+ inch chest or someone closer to 200 pounds. Sleeve length was slightly long on the large but could be shortened with the Velcro wrist straps. Length was perfect for tucking into my harness and the hood easily fit over my ski helmet. Plenty of room in the shoulders for long reaches over the head. A medium would be perfect for me.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket sports a streamlined minimalist design to keep the weight down and the pack-ability up. Full length pit zips, two large chest pockets, velcro cuffs, and an innovative and effective “Coheasive” single pull draw-cord system at both the hem and the hood leave little to talk about here, and that’s ok. The alpinist or skimo customer this jacket is designed for is not looking for a ton of bells and whistles. This shell has what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
I’ll admit I am often reluctant to pack a hard shell jacket on most my adventures. I prefer the superior breath-ability of soft shell jackets for the high output sports I pursue. However having the hard-shell packed away as a piece of insurance is a wise move when conditions change and things become a bit wetter or windier than you were expecting.
The extreme pack-ability and less than a pound specifications of a true hard-shell make the Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell a solid piece of insurance to carry on just about any mountain adventure.
You should check it at Backcountry.com here and Amazon here!
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is the lightest synthetic belay jacket I have tested this season that also competes well in the heat retention department. I previewed this jacket back in November and now that I have tested it above treeline on Mount Washington and while hanging at icy cold belays while ice climbing throughout the White Mountains I am ready to share some more first hand opinions on this piece.
Let’s start with the most important feature:
The Big Agnes Dunkley Hooded Belay Jacket uses 120g of Pinneco Core™ fill in the body and 80g in the sleeves. This “feels” warmer and puffier than the Primaloft ECO insulation used in other jackets I am testing and has decent compress-ability. I wore this over my typical soft-shell and Merino wool layers on Mount Washington in 60+mph winds with wind chills hovering around -40 degrees and was very pleased with the protection it offered. Yesterday after topping out a remote back-country Grade 5 route off the Kancamagus Highway I was grateful for the full enclosure insulated hood while I was stationary and exposed belaying both a photographer and my partner for the better part of a windy hour. Here’s some video from that climb:
Big Agnes does not list much detail in relation to the shell fabric, just: “100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant”. I have reached out to Big Agnes for more info and will update this as soon as I hear back! That said I found it fully windproof. It is likely there is a DWR treatment on the fabric as climbing under a drippy chandelier of ice a week ago the jacket did not take on any moisture.
24.5 oz. / 695 grams. The lightest option in this seasons line up of synthetic belay jackets this piece easily stuffs into an included high quality 10 x 7 stuff-sack. Oddly the manufacturer’s website description references an interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack but I believe this must be a web error as there is no interior chest pockets and the exterior chest pocket is far to small to function as a reversible stuff sack.
I went with a size large for my 42 inch chest and it fits great over my typical load out. The adjustable hood is the perfect size for my helmeted head. Arm length is slightly shorter than similar models and the back length feels slightly shorter, which works well over my climbing harness. If in doubt consult the manufacturer’s size chart!
Center front zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
Features YKK Reverse coil zippers
Textured zipper pulls are easy to use with gloves
Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
Exterior check pocket
Separate stuff sack included
120g Pinneco Core™ synthetic insulation in body, 80g in the sleeves
Insotect Tubic™ construction provides supreme loft and thermal efficiency
100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant
Jacket weight, size Medium – 24.5oz/ 695g
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is a solid choice for a synthetic belay jacket, a must have item in every ice climber/mountaineer’s kit. I like the high visibility yellow but it also comes in a visible bright blue if yellow isn’t your thing. It comes in black too but I would not recommend that color for a belay jacket (bright colors are happy colors when you are freezing your tuchus off). If you’re in the market for a solid performer in the belay jacket you can pick this one up here at a great price.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Big Agnes provided Northeast Alpine Start a sample for this review and the product has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions stated above are my own. Affiliate links above support this blog.
A couple months ago I got my hands on the iconic Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody and I’ve come to discover why I often see climbers milling about both at the cliffs and at the local coffee shop in this well designed piece. The non-hooded version of this jacket won the Editors Choice Classic Award from Climbing Magazine. I prefer hoods on almost all my outdoor clothing so I was happy to review the hooded version. This jacket falls into the “light puffy” category. If you are looking for a full on winter belay jacket you can check out some “full puffy” models I am reviewing here.
So let’s break down what makes this piece an excellent addition to your outdoor wardrobe!
The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody uses super light and compressible 60-g PrimaLoft® Gold ECO Insulation. “Gold” Primaloft is the highest level of synthetic insulation and of course being the environmentally conscious company Patagonia is known for they went with the ECO version of Gold which is 55% post-consumer recycled content. So you can feel warm and fuzzy while feeling warm and… ok that’s a bit too cheesy.
The “brick quilting” pattern is superior to other less expensive baffling methods and keeps the insulation in place preventing cold spots.
The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody uses 1.4-oz 22-denier 100% recycled polyester with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. Well what does that mean? 1.4-oz 22-denier feels like silk!
This isn’t a cheap nylon taffeta but a very abrasion resistant and pack-able material. It is quite comfortable over bare skin which is good since I broke this out repeated this Fall to wear directly over a t-shirt.
12.8 oz. / 362 grams. Ultralight weight and super compressible, this is undoubtedly where the jacket go its namesake. Nano in this sense means extremely small. The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody easily stuffs into its own internal chest pocket which measures about 8 x 7 x 4 inches.
A carabiner sewn loop allows you to clip this off to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground and the top of the pitch looks a little bit more breezy than the base of the route.
I found the sizing to be spot on. I went with a large which fits my 42 inch chest with a little extra space for a soft-shell and base-layers but not too baggy to throw on over a t-shirt. The hood is sized to fit under your helmet but I found it would fit over as well, but a bit snug.
Probably more comfortable, and warmer, to wear this hood under your helmet unlike traditional belay jackets with over-sized hoods.
Rounding out some of the features I haven’t mentioned yet:
Center-front zipper has wicking interior storm flap and zipper garage at chin for next-to-skin comfort
Two zippered handwarmer pockets have cleanly finished zipper garages
Under-the-helmet hood construction is light and simple
Drawcord-adjustable drop-tail hem seals in warmth
This is a super versatile layer that can serve many purposes.
It’s the perfect balance of warmth, weight, and pack-ability for climbing on the edge seasons.
Fall rock climbing is the best rock climbing in the Northeast and this jacket is ideal as your insulating layer all on its own. The DWR finish and warm-when-wet insulation adds protection should you leave the rain shell at home and get surprised by a later afternoon shower. After the leaves have fallen and the ice is starting to grow this becomes an excellent mid-layer, taking the place of heavier and less compress-able 200 weight fleece jackets. With quality long underwear, a soft shell, Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody, and a hard-shell you have an adjustable system that can handle almost any winter conditions. I’ll still carry a heavier full on belay jacket when swapping leads ice climbing but for fast solo missions this is a perfect companion!
If you think you’d like this jacket you can find other reviews and competitive pricing right here on Amazon. If you liked this review please leave a comment below and subscribe above!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Patagonia provided this item for purposes of review. The opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.