Black Diamond Apparel Review

Black Diamond is a company long known for their highly technical climbing and alpine gear. Over the last several years, they have expanded their scope to include trail running and fastpacking gear that takes the same technology as their mountaineering apparel and pares it down for fast-moving backcountry trips.

A lot of what I personally look for when I’m packing for a mountain ultramarathon happens to land in four categories: an all-day t-shirt, a lightweight wind/rain jacket, an ‘oh shit’ rain jacket for really severe weather, and a lightweight insulated jacket. I’ve mixed and matched over the years with apparel from various brands. Most of my favorites have holes and duct tape holding them together and they’ve often required a lot of layering to really stay warm overnight in an ultra when the weather turns. Over the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of putting several jackets and a t-shirt from Black Diamond through their paces and have come to appreciate how protective, durable, and comfortable they are.

Black Diamond Rhythm Tee

The all-day t-shirt… or maybe, the all-week t-shirt. It’s a balance of trying to find the wicking abilities of a synthetic material without having to deal with the dried salt and grime that makes most polyester shirts become inflexible and chafe. Or, maybe you’ve been looking for a running shirt that isn’t made from crude oil? Either way, the Black Diamond Rhythm Tee ($75) is my first choice for an all-day or overnight outing.

Imagine a shirt with the warmth of Merino wool when wet with the drying capabilities of the lightest polyester running shirts and you’ve got the Rhythm Tee. When I say lightweight, I mean incredibly lightweight. At 2.4 ounces (69 grams), this shirt is 1.5 ounces lighter than The North Face’s Better Than Naked Short Sleeve t-shirt. The Rhythm Tee almost disappears on your body. Additionally, this shirt has some stretch which makes it move better with your body and it’s so much lighter than other Merino shirts on the market. Black Diamond uses NuYarn fabric which is made of a super-fine nylon core wrapped in Merino to create a shirt that is reportedly 35% stretchier, five times faster drying, 25% warmer, and 16% stronger than standard Merino wool. Another huge bonus is that this shirt is machine washable.

I’ve worn the Rhythm Tee more than any other shirt I own this summer and fall, from 90-degree-Fahrenheit runs where I felt like I was melting to cold mornings at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I even wore it for every run in one week without washing it, and the shirt barely smelled by day seven. Even better, it doesn’t seem to lose its stretch or absorb the salt from my sweat and get abrasive. I haven’t found durability issues, but I have talked to runners whose Rhythm Tees sported small holes from snagging. This will be the shirt I’ll start my next 100 miler in and I doubt that I’ll change out of it.

The Black Diamond Rhythm Tee. All photos: iRunFar/Tom Caughlan

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody

There are a lot of featherweight wind shirts/jackets out there that work okay until the level of precipitation or temperatures start to get real. Then you find those sub-four-ounce shells sticking to your arms and torso after the thin membrane has been breached and it actually makes you feel colder. If rain is expected, some of these jackets can be next to useless.

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody.

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody ($165) is a bit more robust (7.4 ounces/210 grams) and with good reason. Originally designed as a minimalist climbing jacket, the Alpine Start Hoody has a bit roomier feel than most lightweight running jackets and it seems to work with your range of motion better. While fairly protective from heavy rain and snow, I am also impressed with how breathable it is. I often find myself constantly taking off or putting on jackets as the weather and my pace change. With the Alpine Start Hoody, I never feel clammy underneath and I consistently leave it on for entire runs only adjusting the snugness of the zipper. This jacket is easily packable into its breast pocket and features a usable hood that stays put thanks to a zipper design that sits right beneath your chin and doesn’t chafe or bounce.

I’ve found the Alpine Start Hoody to be incredibly versatile, and it has been my most used jacket over the last six months. I can layer underneath it for runs as cold as 30 degrees Fahrenheit or when I’m doing a high-intensity workout, and I can easily take it with me for cold morning starts where things will warm up. I’ve also taken several diggers while running in this jacket and it remains hole free.

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody.

Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody

I love me a good puffy, and I’ve been known to finish a long ultra in a puffy coat and then immediately put on even more puffies afterward to stave off the shivers. The problem with this is two-fold. First, I often overheat, and less importantly, I look ridiculous. The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody ($259) provides the warmth that I’m looking for from a thin puffy jacket with the breathability and function of a lighter weight running jacket. The outer layer is made of Shoeller stretch woven nylon with a DWR coating over a layer of Primaloft insulation. The hoody also has liner made of stretch woven polyester. It can handle some rain and wet snow without soaking through all while maintaining loftiness and breathability.

The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody.

Again, designed as a climbing jacket, I love the feel of unrestricted movement from the First Light Stretch Hoody. The cut of the jacket is svelte and I never feel like a running marshmallow which is how I feel with most insulated jackets. It’s been a great jacket for under 20-degree days to chilly mornings when motivation is low and the dogs are staring at me longingly. For a typical 30- to 40-degree morning, I can throw it on over a t-shirt and get out the door quickly before I start to question my motivation.

The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody.

Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell

I’ve mentioned the need for an ‘oh shit’ jacket in past apparel reviews, and the Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell ($259) is the quintessential version. Weighing in at 14 ounces (395 grams), it may seem like a bit much for an ultra, but if you’ve ever DNFed due to hypothermia in the rain or snow you may not think so. The Liquid Point Shell does not feel heavy when it’s on, and again, the freedom of movement due to underarm gussets makes it fit more comfortably and breathe better than other GORE-TEX jackets I’ve worn. Think of it as a minimal GORE-TEX shell with all of the weather protection you need but none of the bulk.

In a downpour with the zipper up, Black Diamond placed a nice piece of soft fabric over the inside to cozy up to, and the adjustable hood creates a fully protective membrane which keeps rain from getting inside. Two zippered hand pockets on the front make the jacket a lot more versatile and allow you to store nutrition, keys, or a phone with easy access. Due to the breathability of this jacket and some major underarm vents, runners in very wet areas may appreciate this as a winter jacket to layer under.

The Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell (and a cameo of the famous dog Pearl).

Black Diamond Apparel Overall Impressions

It’s usually interesting when companies who primarily focus on other sports make forays into the trail and ultrarunning world. Sometimes these designs are excellent, but at other times they just feel like a pared-down version of the company’s best offerings. Black Diamond may not market most of these jackets as trail running specific, but they work incredibly well and offer more comfort due to the dynamic movement needs of climbing. These jackets perform and breathe as well as any I’ve tested, and their durability means that your purchase will last for many years. On an insignificant side note, they also simply look better than most running-specific jackets, and if you’re investing in a piece of gear like this it is nice to be able to run errands or walk into work without looking like you’re in running gear or on an expedition.

[Author’s Note: For sizing, the author is 5’10” (170 centimeters) and 155 pounds (70 kilograms). All jackets tested are a size small, while the Rhythm Tee is a size medium.]

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you wear any Black Diamond apparel for running? What gear do you use and how do you find it?
  • Do you have any Black Diamond apparel that you use for multiple mountain sports? What pieces of clothing do you use and how do you think they perform in your different sports?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 10 comments

  1. Olaf

    Black Diamond clothing is hard to find in Europe, climbing stuff, gloves and the trail running poles are available.I still love my carbon poles. I bought a lot of compressport clothing because they looked so good on Hillary Gerardi, and I love the quality, some runners asked me about it at the Tahoe Rim Trail. Black Diamond is Hillary Gerardi’s new sponsor,but for now I’m not changing brand.
    Although i’ll surely check it out when i see it.

  2. John__McT

    Love some BD outerwear, and that shirt sounds really dope. But as a ‘climbing’ oriented brand, I’ve found the hoods to be over-sized and sloppy for less extreme adventures because they are (usually) designed to fit over a helmet. I picked up one of their gore-tex shells a few years ago but the use is limited to times when I know it will rain heavily AND plan on wearing a brimmed hat because otherwise it just droops over my eyes.

    Any word on these specific pieces? the hoods look pretty big on all of them, especially compared to lighter shells from other brands like Salomon or UD.

  3. Tom Caughlan

    John_McT-
    You’re correct, all of the jackets here will accommodate helmets, but they also have elastic cord adjustments to tighten the hoods. I used the hoods on the Alpine Start and First Light jackets quite a bit and they didn’t move around once dialed in.

  4. Bryony

    $750 dollars for 4 pieces of clothing. When will irunfar review affordable gear?

    Reviews like this help move this sport towards triathlon and make it only accessible for the middle/upper classes.

    It’s just running!

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Bryony and Tim,

      We appreciate the feedback. It gives me a good idea for future articles on spendthrift trail running gear! I’ll see where that idea can take us, so thank you for that.

      I do want to add to this conversation a couple thoughts. First, these gear reviews aren’t meant to be advocacy for unnecessary or irresponsible consumerism. Rather, we consider them the opposite. We ask our gear-review team to cull into their reviews the best materials they are testing with honest thoughts (good when things are good, constructively critical when there are small issues to great gear, and no reviews of gear that aren’t among the best) so that readers can make informed choices when/if it’s time for them to buy something new.

      And now, a personal thought, when it comes to the three jackets in this review, I’d personally agree with you that they each are quite expensive. I would also consider them gear I’d hope to buy only rarely/with the intent of using them for quite a long time. For instance, I have a super burly Gore-Tex shell jacket, what reviewer Tom would categorize as an ‘oh shit’ jacket, that comes out in especially terrible running conditions (and as a shell for skiing, snowshoeing, and winter backpacking). Honestly I don’t recall when I bought it but it’s at least 12 years old. I also don’t remember its cost, but do remember it was a pricey buy for me. But I chose it because it was rated well for performance and I knew the brand made high quality gear that I was hoping would last a long time. I’ve still got it, it’s in great condition, I don’t need to buy anything like it anytime soon, and I remain happy with the purchase because my money has gone a long way and it has allowed me to maintain a slightly smaller consumer footprint.

      1. John__McT

        I agree with your take and experience with a ‘super burly’ jacket. Mine (a BD goretex shell) shows no signs of wear at year 3 and I fully expect it to last 3x that long. The bummer for me has been the ultralight shell experience I’ve had so far with Salomon. Since it’s lighter, packs smaller, and provides sufficient protection, I end up bringing it for way more adventures than my BD shell. So it’s already worn out, the membrane is peeling off and it leaks a lot.

        Keep up the reviews, it’s relevant and useful. For me, just finding out about this BD shirt was worth reading this since I’ve been looking for more merino blended gear as 100% merino gear has durability issues, especially shirts that spend time under packs often.

  5. Phillip

    The First Light and Alpine Start jackets are amazing. I highly recommend them. I also recommend checking BD’s website for the previous season colors. Around the major US holidays they consistently offer extra discounts on those versions. They also run flash sales every couple weeks with a steep discount on a single item. The First Light jackets were the flash sale item a couple weeks ago selling the previous season colors for around $90. I paid $105 for mine last year. I got my Alpine Start for $60. They both still look brand new after a year of use.

    Another item to check out are Mountain Hardware’s Kor Strata and Kor Preshell jackets. They are basically the same thing as the First Light and Alpine Start. I feel the BD jackets are higher quality, but the MH ones are reasonably close and even easier to snag for a good price.

  6. Joel

    Of the 3 jackets pictured, the zippers appear too long for the garments. Their apparel is not tailored for running but better suited for climbing and skiing-especially at these prices.

  7. John

    Personally, unless you are a lottery winner of major dollars or a sponsored athlete, buying such high price clothes is kind of illogical. It is along the lines of paying over $150US for running shoes (really not getting any additional benefits when you go for high end shoes).

    I HIGHLY recommend to look at previous season’s gear for training and even racing gear. Granted, FA18 cold weather gear is gone, but for training next spring you can look at SP19 gear that is now on sale. Then come February or March 2020, you can then look for cold weather gear on sale.

    Who cares if it is old/last season’s, mix-and-match brands/colors, etc. You should just find what works for you and stick to it.

    Small bragging history on my part: a long time ago, I arrived at the starting line for a local 10km road race in Oregon. Some guys from California, and they had some nice matching uniforms (singlets and shorts). My racing outfit was a very unmatching Nike singlet and Nike shorts. I heard one remark from one California guy to another, quietly saying, “Nice outfit on him. Can’t match his gear.” I just shrugged and went about getting ready for the start. Long story short, I won the race by beating the crap out of a guy (a California guy in his matching racing outfit) with the most brutal surges I could hit him with. After we had finished, one of his buddies came up and asked him (the second place guy) if he won. He said, “No. he did.” (Pointing at me and my mixed outfit.) He then said, “He beat the crap out of me. I have never ever been beaten like that before!”

    Moral: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover……

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