Gear Review- Black Diamond Vapor Climbing Helmet

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is the lightest and most breathable helmet in Black Diamond’s line and is only an ounce heavier than the Petzl Sirocco that I reviewed here. A sheet of Kevlar and a series of carbon rods in between co-molded EPS foam provides the bulk of impact protection along with a thin but full polycarbonate shell. I’ve been testing this helmet out while climbing and guiding for the last three months and I’m ready to share my opinions on it! As normal I’ll start with the most noticeable features and work towards the minutiae.


Weight

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

Black Diamond lists the weight of the M/L size at 199 grams, or 7 ounces. My home scale measured 206 grams, or 7 3/8 ounces. For comparison my size 2 Sirocco weighed in on the same scale at 174 grams, or 6 1/8 ounces. While the listed weight seemed a slight bit low it truly weighs only an ounce more than the bar-setting Petzl Sirocco. This ultra-light weight is a boon for long approaches and descents and increases long-term comfort. You truly can forget you have your helmet on when wearing lids like this!


Breath-ability

IMG_9585

Twenty one geometric and well placed holes offer excellent airflow through the helmet making this one of the best hot weather options out there. Furthermore I tested the “Blizzard” color which is basically white and reflective and I found the helmet to be as cool as is possible even on sweltering August days.


Fit/Comfort

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review

The M/L size is listed to fit a head circumference of 58-63 cm (23-25 in). My head measures about 60 cm (23.5 inches). That said I found the helmet to run a little small. It fit my shaved head well but was almost maxed out (I do have a large head). I have just enough room for a thin hat liner for cold weather climbing. Removable and breathable helmet pads are soft on the skin and can be removed for washing. The Y-harness strap is not adjustable but fell perfectly around my ears. The feather like weight and high degree  of breath-ability really do make this one of the most comfortable helmets I have ever tested.


Features

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
The author wearing the Black Diamond Vapor while topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Mount Washington. Photo by Brent Doscher

Other than the weight and breath-ability the only other feature to talk about is the headlamp clips, which oddly are removable. Black Diamond suggests that removing them may make the helmet less likely to get snagged on slings, etc. but I’d suggest just leaving them on. They didn’t get caught on anything while I was testing. The helmet also has a nice low profile while providing great coverage on the back and sides.


Durability

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
Alex rocking the Black Diamond Vapor helmet during an early morning climb at Otter Cliffs- Photo by Brent Doscher

It’s hard to accurately rate long term durability after just three months. I have friends who have climbed regularly in theirs for over a year. The thin polycarbonate shell does not resist small dents and dings with regular use. Black Diamond advises against packing this helmet inside your pack. I packed mine in the top of my pack like I usually do if I don’t have a full load and had no issues (but I remember it is in there and don’t sit on my pack when it is in there). If you strap it on the outside of your pack I would suggest you don’t just drop your pack on the ground when you reach the crag. I wouldn’t say you need to “baby” this helmet but if you want something that can take more abuse check out the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Boreo that I reviewed here.


Summary

This is a specialist helmet. It’s a bit pricey, but the weight savings and breath-ability can easily justify the price. I’ve heard that cycling helmets made with a similar construction can go for 2 to 3 times more! The best uses for this helmet would be alpine climbing and long multi-pitch trad climbing. I’d chose something longer lasting for sport climbing where a couple ounces more can buy you a lot more durability. If weight and long term comfort in warm weather are a priority the Black Diamond Vapor is a great pick!

Buy on Backcountry

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from EMS

Buy from Moosejaw

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from Mountain Gear

sale price vapor.PNG

Buy from REI

sale price vapor.PNG

Deal Alert! Black Diamond up to 35% off!

I try not to post to many “sale” type posts but I noticed this morning Backcountry.com is running a great sale on Black Diamond gear and I’m quite a big fan of this brand having reviewed quite a bit of climbing gear and clothing over the years. So I’m leaving this short post here to make sure you’re aware of it with some of my favorite call outs! If you’re not interested in my personal favorites and just want to see everything they have listed on sale go here!

Black Diamond Sale


Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket

Black Diamond Sale

Black Diamond Equipment Sale

My original review of this piece is here!


Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

shell price.PNG

Black Diamond Equipment Sale

My original review of this piece is here!


Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights

cams price.PNG

Black Diamond Equipment Sale

Save some weight and money! My original review is here!


Black Diamond ATC Pilot

pilot price.PNG

Gear for Top Rope Climbing

Just reviewed this last month in detail here


Black Diamond Ultralite Mix STS Climbing Skins

skins price.PNG

Black Diamond Equipment Sale

Comparison review here!


From carabiners, cams, climbing shoes, and ice axes, to clothing, tents, and ropes, now is a great time to save some money on Black Diamond. Check out all the deals on Black Diamond here!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Coming up!

Not all auto-locking carabiners are equal! Different locking mechanisms are best used in different applications in your safety system… stay tuned to find out the nitty-gritty!

Disclaimer: Making a purchase through any of the affiliate links above will help support creating content at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review: Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

The new Black Diamond ATC Pilot is an impressive addition to the growing number of “brake assisting” belay devices on the market.


What it is

From Black Diamond:

The lightweight Black Diamond ATC Pilot represents an advance in technology for the world of assisted braking devices. Providing an added level of security to your belay, the ATC Pilot threads similarly to other tubular belay devices and accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5mm. The durable steel braking surface has no moving parts, and the smooth and secure control allows for gradual lowering. With an easy rope payout, the ATC Pilot makes single-pitch projecting burns less tiring for the belayer and more secure for the climber.

 

  • Accommodates ropes from 8.7-10.5
  • Provides an added level of security to single pitch belays
  • Smooth rope payout
  • Controlled lowering
  • Steel construction
  • Ergonomic, non-slip surface
  • Single rope use

How we tested

Over the course of two months I carried the Black Diamond ATC Pilot Belay Device for almost two dozen days of climbing between Rumney Rocks and crags all over Mount Washington Valley along with a couple trips to the Salt Pump Climbing Gym. We used a Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner (our favorite belay carabiner). More significantly I handed it to my clients and regular climbing partners every chance I could to get their opinions as well as determine really how intuitive this device would be in the hands of both longtime veteran climbers and first-day-ever climbers. Over the test period I had at least 10 different people belay me while lead climbing and top-roping, some as young as 10 years old!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review


The results

We found the Black Diamond ATC Pilot to be incredibly intuitive with a quick learning curve to become proficient in both lead and top-rope belaying. Experienced climbers felt that using it felt very similar to operating a regular Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Verso. Clear images on the device and a lack of moving parts helped even the newest, and youngest, of our testers properly install the device on the rope.


Top-roping Belaying and Lowering

Belaying on a top-rope system is quite simple with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot. Using the universal belay technique belayers had no problem removing slack from the system. When it came time to lower minimal coaching was required to have the belayer lower the climber. The biggest advantage during the lower is the lack of moving parts or levers make this device feel less likely to have an inexperienced belayer defeat the camming mechanism causing an uncontrolled fall and possible injury.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Lead Belaying

Belaying a lead climber with the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is quite simple and we found that newer belayers could “keep up” with the lead climber’s progress easier than other brake-assisting devices on the market. With just slight upward pressure on the thumb lever (while keeping the brake hand around the brake strand) slack could be payed out as easily as any tube style belay device and at least one tester felt it could be payed out even smoother than a Petzl Gri Gri+ in experienced hands. In the event of a fall it is highly unlikely for a belayer to keep upward pressure on this lever and intuitive to slide the brake hand back down the strand for a secure catch.


Assisted Braking

The amount of braking will vary based on rope diameter and age, along with the amount of friction already in the system (top-rope vs lead catch). We found skinny new single ropes like our Sterling Fushion Nano IX 9 mm would slowly slip in a top-rope system (but were easily locked off with proper brake hand position). The slightly thicker Black Diamond 9.4 mm used in the video below would hold fast. Regardless the device must not be treated as “auto-locking”. A brake hand is required 100% of the time.

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Rappelling

While the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is not designed for rappelling it can safely be used to descend a single strand rappel. Care must be taken as without gloves on your hand will come in contact with the carabiner which will create some heat on a long or fast rappel. We would likely still carry a traditional belay device like the Black Diamond ATC Belay Device if we were planning on doing a lot of rappelling.


Video


Summary

The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a great addition to the growing amount of assisted braking devices on the market. While it’s obvious this would be a good tool for gym and sport climbers we believe it could also earn a place with climbing guides and instructors. It’s an excellent choice for a new belayer due to its intuitive use and extra layer of security it provides while maintaining a simple design. The symmetrical design also makes this device equally effective for those who are right or left handed, something that many similar devices do not do. We also find the light weight and competitive price of this device to be a compelling reason to add it to your kit. You can check it out from the following retailers:

Shop Local!

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway NH

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway NH

Shop Online!

Backcountry <- currently 25% off and adding our favorite Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner to go with it gets you to free two-day shipping!

Bentgate

EMS

Mountain Gear <- currently 24% off

REI


Technical Instructions from Black Diamond

Special thanks to AJ at Mountain Life International and Jeremy Ray for their assistance in making the above video.

Disclaimer: The author bought this item with his own money. All opinions are his own. Affiliate links above help create reviews at Northeast Alpine Start like this at no additional cost to you! Thanks for reading!

 

Gear Review- Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants

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!

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon


Comfort- Temperature Range

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.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Author wearing the pants at 11,000 feet on the Ingraham Glacier during crevasse rescue practice- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Comfort- Sizing/Fit

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.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Sizing Info from Black Diamond

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon


Protection

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.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
My everyday work pant- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Features

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.

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
Summit of Mount Rainier, July 27th, 2017- photo by @cfphotography
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
The author on some late season ice last March begins testing the Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants- photo by @cfphotography

Summary

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!

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon

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.

Gear Review- Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody

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!

Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody Review
Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody – photo from blackdiamondequipment.com

Buy on Amazon

Buy on EMS.com

Manufacturer Description:

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
  • Underam gussets
  • Under-the-helmet hood
  • Fit: Slim
  • Size: S-XL

Comfort

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.

Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody Review
The author testing the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody on Whitehorse Ledge- photo by @alexandraroberts

Fit

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.

Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody Review
Hood options- Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody Review

Versatility

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!

Convenience

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.

Poly_How-it-works_Illustration_150604_570x358

Summary

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!

Buy on Amazon

Buy on EMS.com

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Black Diamond provided this item for purpose of review. Affiliate links support this blog.