Billed by Black Diamond as a functional, durable, lightweight soft shell, the Alpine Start Hoody could just as easily be considered as a highly featured wind shirt. I’m really into these kind of pieces at the moment. In theory they should work for pretty much any mountain adventure, at any time of the year. As I’ve only had the Alpine Start Hoody through the Spring, Summer and Autumn I haven’t had a chance to take it out in winter yet but it should make for a potentially perfect active layer for splitboarding. So for now just some thoughts and images but check back in the next few months for when I’ve had a chance to get out splitboarding with it.
The Alpine Start is made entirely from a Schoeller Stretch Woven nylon fabric. You don’t see quite so much Schoeller fabric out there as in the past, mainly down to cheaper fabrics being available for manufacturers to use, but they are still definitely at the premium end of the scale when it comes to soft shell textiles.
The Alpine Start’s fabric has a soft handle and a fair amount of stretch to it. Like most Schoeller fabrics I’ve worn over the years though, on first impressions, it still feels durable. The 80gm/m2 fabric has 7% elastane content for stretch and a Nanosphere finish. Nanosphere is a treatment that’s applied to the fabric that enables it to repel moisture and dirt. It’s kinda like a mega DWR that won’t wash out.
The fabric does not have a membrane and isn’t woven super tight which makes it very air permeable. Don’t go thinking the Alpine Start is completely windproof – it isn’t. The fabric blocks some wind but also allows a fair amount of air to flow through through it. This makes it ideal for active use. Anyone looking for a true windproof top should look elsewhere though.
Clearly BD wanted to make the Alpine Start fit like a proper piece of mountain wear. This is not your typical old school flappy wind shirt. It’s trim through the chest and torso and has a reasonable length to it with a slight drop tail. There’s room for a baselayer and perhaps a thin midlayer but for me that’s about it without things getting a little on the tight side. The fit through the arms is good – enough room for layering but not too much. I find there’s a little too much room in the wrist area when just wearing a short sleeve top underneath but the extra room gives versatility when wearing extra layers or gloves.
The Alpine Start has a single chest pocket of reasonable size. It’ll take a wallet or big smart phone easily. The garment folds into the pocket and zips up for neat storage in a pack. The hem is finished with a draw cord and the cuffs are simply finished with binding.
The Alpine Start’s most important feature is the hood. It’s sized to fit over a hat or helmet and has a self fabric peak and front cord adjustment. There’s no rear adjustment.
So far the Alpine Start has been more or less everything I thought it would be – a super useful, high quality lightweight garment that strikes a really great balance between weather protection and breathability.
The combination of fabric and features brings the Alpine Start in around 250g (8.8oz) – not the lightest garment of its type out there (the Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody comes in around 155g) but still not exactly heavy. Considering its feature set and expected durability it’s pretty good I’d say. The fabric breathes well, repels a shower or light rain well and dries very quickly. Up to now durability looks good – I’ve worn the Alpine Start with a pack several times and there are no signs of wear.
NEGATIVES SO FAR?
The hood could be better. It works ok when wearing a hat which tends to fill up the additional volume but without a hat it needs some rear adjustment. The hood’s ‘peak’ is also a little basic and would give the hood more shape if it were stiffened a little, perhaps using the same laminated construction as the front zip’s internal flap?
There are some comments out there in other reviews regarding the collar on the Alpine Start Hoody – some find it a little on the tight side. I have to say I do too. When fully zipped up it just feels little restrictive at the front of the neck and the #5 YKK zipper digs into my neck a touch. Perhaps the zip is a little on the heavy side? Not sure. It’s not a big deal but it might bother some. I’d also like a little more length at the rear – the Alpine Start rides up a touch when I bend over. That’s a small personal fit issue though I suspect.
So far I’ve used the Alpine Start Hoody over just a baselayer or a baselayer and light fleece – for hiking and trail running – and it’s been great. It’s definitely the kind of garment that always finds a way into my pack whatever the activity. A true multi activity piece. Yes there are a few things I’d change slightly but I suspect in the long run I’m going to end up using the Alpine Start a lot.
I’ll make sure it gets some use on upcoming splitboarding trips and update this review with more thoughts as winter progresses.
ALPINE START HOODY REVIEW – UPDATE APRIL 2016
Time for an update. Just back from a week splitboarding in Lyngen when I wore the Alpine Start a fair bit. Although the weather was predominantly fine it was certainly a good chance to test the breathability and general comfort of the ASH as well as a chance to think about those few negative points that I mentioned above.
On the breathability front – big thumbs up. I wore the hoody from start to finish on a pretty long day on Ellendaltinden and remained nice and comfortable all day. With just a lightweight short sleeved baselayer and a lightweight long sleeve baselayer underneath I wasn’t exactly set up to overheat, but the Schoeller fabric definitely vented excess heat and moisture well.
When the wind picked up I threw on the hood over my beanie and it was perfect. No issues with the lack of rear adjustment and I actually found the simple elastic adjustment and unobtrusive peak meant I could put the hood up and take it down again one handed no problem. I like it when I can make adjustments and use pockets etc on the move whilst skinning. The chest pocket is perfect and I really didn’t think about the tight neck at all. I’d still like more length at the back though. All in all my verdict on the Alpine Start Hoody for splitting is definitely a positive one and it comes fully recommended.