Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell – The best offense is a good (lightweight) defense
I interpret the Black Diamond Distance Wind shell as Black Diamond’s answer to Patagonia’s Houdini windbreaker, which pretty much sets the standard for lightweight, packable hooded windbreakers. I’ve carried the Houdini for years on trail runs, rock climbs, mountain bike rides, and spring ski tours. Based on my testing, I found that BD rose to the challenge quite well, designing a windbreaker that is just as breathable and slightly lighter than the Houdini.
If I could only bring one piece of clothing on any type of mountain mission, it would be a lightweight hooded windbreaker. This layer is the simplest piece of clothing you can bring to combat cold and wind, and I can always carry it with me because it packs down so friggin small. It even fits in the minuscule rear pocket on my running shorts. At 98 g (size L), it’s a bit lighter than the Houdini (110 g, size L) or any other comparable windbreaker (there are some ultra-light windbreakers that barely block wind, like the BD Deploy wind shell – 48 g – that are pretty much not durable).
The biggest difference between the Distance shell and the Houdini is the fabric. The Houdini is more of classic grid-style ripstop nylon with a soft feel, while the Distance fabric is much slicker. Some people may find this texture to be unappealing, but on a performance piece it has a distinct advantage: it’s much harder to rip because it doesn’t catch on things. My Houdini windbreaker is pretty patched up after many encounters with snaggly branches and rough rock; in fact, I stopped wearing it on physical rock climbing routes with chimneys, off-width cracks, or scrummy corners because it can’t take the abuse. While I wouldn’t expect the Distance wind shell to survive years of off-width climbing either, it has held up so far to some chimney climbing and a route that required sustained shoulder grinding into a long granite corner.
The Distance wind shell hits the right balance of breathability and water resistance for my purposes. I can wear it on long runs if its windy or below 40 degrees, and I don’t get sweat pooling on the forearms or elbows. It will repel a light sprinkle of rain. I don’t expect any windbreaker to repel an actual rain shower, but I ran through one wearing this piece and it did keep me warmer, providing a barrier between my skin and the cold rainwater. Once the rain stopped it quickly dried on my body.
It’s worth noting that the fabric of the Distance shell is so translucent that it’s almost transparent – you can read shirt logos through it, especially in the white color. I prefer the blue color.
Since the Houdini is a standard-setting and well-known piece, I’ll lay out the pertinent comparisons:
Pros of the Black Diamond Distance wind shell
- Lighter by ~12 grams (difference varies by size)
- Larger chest pocket
- More resistant to ripping on branches/rock (fabric is very slick and doesn’t catch)
- Hood fits tighter over a bare head (running etc.) but also fits over a helmet
- Oddly see-through (especially the white color – yikes)
- Slick fabric may be unappealing
- Costs $30 more ($128.99 instead of $99)
- Water-resistance (minimal – they are windbreakers)
Bottom line: for aerobic missions in the mountains, an ultra-light hooded windbreaker is indispensable. If you only owned one piece of clothing, own one of these. To choose amongst the top contenders, consider that the BD Distance wind shell is for people that demand a technical piece. This windbreaker will cost you $30-$40 more than comparable offerings but is lighter and will last longer; it can handle the abrasion of rock climbing and ski touring better than other jackets in its weight class. You probably won’t wear this much around town – the fabric is swishy and slick, and pretty see-through (alarmingly so in white – just avoid the white color). Stuff this in your pocket, in your running shorts, or on your harness, and you’ll be happy to pull it out when the wind whips!