The wind was howling when I reached the top of our backcountry run on Vail Pass; a whiteout with driving snow and flat light. As I started ripping my skins, it dawned on me — I was dry.
As someone who runs exceptionally warm, I rarely get to the top of a skin track without being partially soaked with sweat. Donning a big puffy over my shell is typically my next move as my sweat freezes. But kitted in Black Diamond’s new Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket ($350) and Pants ($300), I didn’t need it. I could maintain my protective layering system through a broader spectrum of temperatures and outputs.
Hybrids can be hit or miss in the backcountry. When what you need is a hardshell, nothing else comes close in terms of protection. But most of the time in dry climates, hardshells can feel like overkill. They don’t breathe like softshells and they traditionally don’t have much stretch. The same goes for insulation — hybrids can’t be perfectly warm and cool at the same time.
Ultimately, it comes down to tradeoffs. Companies like Black Diamond have been wrestling with the tradeoffs for years in their hybrid apparel offerings searching for the ideal combination of breathability, protection, and warmth. BD’s 2023 Hybrid line is its newest entry. Based on thorough testing in Colorado’s Gore, Sawatch, and Elk Ranges, I’d say it’s the brand’s best yet, and the Hybrid Line is extensive.
I tested the Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket and Pants, along with a smattering of insulation pieces to see how they performed with the outerwear, as a system.
In short: The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Collection Jacket and Pantsoffer waterproof protection where you need it and breathable softshell everywhere else. Purpose-built for ski touring, the jacket and pants double down on vents to dump heat and integrate features that skiers will appreciate.
In a similar fashion, the line’s hybrid insulation pieces layer well and integrate into a highly breathable kit for backpack-wearing, movement-oriented backcountry endeavors. Be sure to bring some extra insulation for when you drop the pack, however.
BD.dry 2-way stretch laminate @ 20,000mm waterproof rating
20,000g/m2/24-hr. breathability rating, 4-way stretch
GTT Empel breathable water protection
- Adjustable, ski-helmet-compatible hood
Two harness-compatible chest, interior chest
Mesh main zipper option, underarm zipper vents
Black Diamond Hybrid Collection Review
The Dawn Patrol has been a staple in Black Diamond’s backcountry ski lineup for a while now. It’s made it onto a few of GearJunkie’s Best Ski Jacket roundups. The Black Diamond Hybrid Collection adds major breathability to the design, along with several innovative features that make it stand out from other hybrid shells.
There are three openings in the shell to dump heat. That includes generous underarm zipper vents and a unique concealed double front zipper. You essentially have two options: one normal front zipper and a second option that adds about an inch of venting mesh along the full length of the zipper.
In practice, I found that the venting mesh was effective for keeping my temps in check while protecting me from the whipping winds.
The Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket has been an excellent companion on long-distance ski tours and high alpine traverses. Its protective elements make hours above treeline in strong winds much more tolerable. That’s one of the trickiest situations for layering; without a shell it’s freezing, but a hardshell is often too hot. The Dawn Patrol strikes a nice balance.
That’s why I included it in my Elk Mountains Grand Traverse kit. The overnight point-to-point backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen is known for testing the limits of your gear’s breathability and weather protection.
Testing: The Dawn Patrol Jacket and Pants
I tested the Dawn Patrol rigorously during aerobic activity — mostly ski touring but also trail running. I jumped at the chance to test it during a run in a driving blizzard. The kit’s protection from a headwind and blowing snow is excellent. It felt impenetrable in this regard thanks to Black Diamond’s proprietary BD.dry laminate in the chest and shoulders.
Dawn Patrol Jacket
Softshells and light wind layers often melt oncoming snow (due to the warm body inside them). That means they end up wetting out fairly quickly during high-output activities. However, the snow bounced off the Dawn Patrol and beaded nicely when it did land and melt.
Some of that performance likely comes from the GTT Empel PFC-Free finish. Black Diamond claims it’s a DWR coating that’s more durable than other durable water-repellent finishes.
The Dawn Patrol has a freeride cut. It’s relatively long and baggy, and not restrictive. The bottom hem sits well below the backpack hip belt line so nothing bunches up. That also gives your upper thighs some additional protection.
I’m typically a size large in jackets. But for this shell, I could probably size down for a closer fit. The arm length is generous, like all of Black Diamond’s gear. So it’s easy to get a fit that you like without cuffs getting too short. The four-way stretch means it moves with you and won’t restrict overhead reaches.
It’s not designed for ice climbing. But I took the Dawn Patrolout anyway and found it to be a great weight and level of protection from falling snow and some dripping water. The cut is slightly baggy for wearing a harness, though.
Dawn Patrol Pants
The matching Dawn Patrol Hybrid Pants are a fast-and-light outer layer that I’ve gotten along with well. They have a similar design to the Dawn Patrol Jacket. It’s got softshell main fabric with BD.dry waterproofing in specific areas to meet the needs of backcountry skiers in constant motion.
The pants are incredibly lightweight and relatively thin. With unbacked side zippers, they dump heat efficiently. So efficiently, in fact, that I found myself getting a little bit chilly compared to other softshell pants.
While I almost never wear baselayersunder softshell pants for ski touring, I ended up adding an ultra-thin three-quarter length running tight underneath to stay at a sustainable temperature during the coldest days and at night.
The cuffs are specifically designed for ski touring boots. But I wouldn’t call them overly accommodating. A tight internal gaiter effectively keeps the cuffs in place and the snow out. But the outer cuff sits fairly high on the boot compared to other touring pants. They’re shorter than I’d prefer, but it means the cuffs stay out of the way during transitions.
The pants move well and the stretch negates any restriction on the skin track. Black Diamond has updated the pockets from previous versions of the Dawn Patrol pants which I found sat too low — my iPhone bounced off my kneecap with every stride. These pants, however, move the pockets upward on the thigh.
I’ve always liked the “Pieps pocket” in BD pants and this one is no different. There’s a holster in the right pocket that holds a beacon or your phone nicely so it doesn’t flop around in otherwise voluminous pockets. There’s also a long leash built into the holster to connect your gadget of choice.
I’m ultra-picky about waist fastening. And this might be the first integrated belt that I get along with. I’m a firm believer that all touring pants should have minimalist belt loops, which the Dawn Patrols do not. But the integrated belt did its job quite well.
Black Diamond’s Hybrid Line is rounded out with unique hybrid insulation pieces at every weight. I tested a smattering, including (from lightest to warmest) the Coefficient LT Hybrid Hoody, Vision Hybrid Hoody, and the First Light Hybrid Hoody. I wanted to see how they worked in conjunction with the Dawn Patrol Hybrid outerwear. And I was not disappointed.
Coefficient Hybrid LT Hoody
The Coefficient Hybrid LT Hoody was a near-constant companion in cold temperatures. It’s much lighter than your typical grid fleece. It also doubles down on insulation on your front, so it’s nicely tuned for fast-paced activities.
For someone that runs hot, I found it to be one of the most versatile layering pieces that I’ve tried. Its ultra-breathable Polartec fabric rarely felt too hot under the Dawn Patrol shell. It also functioned well on its own and while trail running.
My favorite feature — intentional or not — is the hood’s ability to work over or under a helmet. I much prefer over-the-helmet midlayer hoods when I’ve got a helmet on because it makes temperature adjustment much simpler. This hood keeps your ears warm no matter the configuration.
Vision Hybrid Hoody
The Vision Hybrid Hoody is the insulation layer. I’ve been keen to grab this piece for ski tours in moderate conditions where I know I’ll be moving more or less constantly. It doesn’t have the warmth of a big belay puffy. It’s much more of a movement-oriented insulation piece keeping your temperatures in check when you’re on the move.
The majority of the jacket is filled with 60g Primaloft Gold insulation and protected with a proprietary ripstop construction. I can attest that it prevents snags from becoming gashes in a big way. The back and underarms of the jacket, however, are covered in a stretchy breathable fabric that stays impressively dry under a backpack.
First Light Hybrid Hoody
I’ve been living in the third piece, the First Light Hybrid Hoody, for the past few weeks. It’s incredibly comfortable and the fit is spot on — it’s also the least “techy” looking. It’s long, relatively slim fitting, and the finish is pleasing on the skin and the eye. The back panel and underarms are blended merino, which stretches and breathes well. The front panel, also stretchy, is PrimaLoft Silver “Active” Insulation.
I didn’t find it to be a great ski touring layer. It’s too warm for an aerobic midlayer but too form-fitting to add over a shell. But the First Light Hybrid Hoody strikes me as the most versatile for year-round, any-activity use of all these hybrid offerings. Winter running, commuting, rock climbing, laying in a hammock — this is the piece I’ll keep reaching for every season.
When the full hybrid system is worn together, it’s an excellent setup for moving quickly in the mountains. There’s a combo for every winter condition and they all layer nicely together.
That said, relying on the full hybrid system means scant insulation on your back when you’re not wearing a backpack since each of these hybrid pieces’ back panels omit protection in favor of breathability. That’s not an issue for day tours and long pushes with little standing around. But the hybrid design impacts their ability, as a system, to meet the needs of every outdoor pursuit.
For example, the system was excellent for approaching ice climbs. But was a little bit chilly once I dropped the pack and donned the harness. It was fine for warm days riding chairlifts, but very chilly when the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped. The same goes for standing around at a campsite or prolonged lunch breaks on the skin track.
The solution? Know the system’s limits and pack accordingly.
Black Diamond Hybrid Collection: Conclusion
Black Diamond has continued to refine their hybrid apparel, and the 2023 offerings are its best iteration yet for human-powered skiing. The Dawn Patrol Jacket and Pants offer ultra-breathable protection on the skin track in whipping wind, and block precipitation where it matters.
The hybrid insulation pieces add breathable warmth in partnership with your backpack. The Black Diamond Hybrid System is not designed for all-sport versatility in every condition. But dedicated backcountry skiers will be pleased with the system’s movement-focused design and temperature regulation prowess.