Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell

Kate Hourihan reviews the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell, Blister Gear Review
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell

Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell

Stated Average Weight: 590 g (1 lb 4.8 oz)

Type: Soft Shell

Shell Material: Schoeller stretch-woven with brushed backer (260 g/m2, 91% nylon, 9% elastane) and NanoSphere Technology

Reviewer (Kate): 5’6” 135 lbs; Reviewed size Small

Reviewer (Andi): 5’8”, 123 lbs; Arm Length (shoulder to wrist): 22.5”; Reviewed size Medium


  • Adjustable, helmet-compatible hood
  • Internal zippered chest pocket
  • Zippered hand pockets
  • Two internal drop pockets
  • Internal stretch media pocket with cord port
  • Custom-molded VELCRO® cuff tabs
  • Drawcord hem

MSRP: $300

Days Worn: 10

Test Locations:

Kate: Cascades, WA

Andi: Mount Baker and Mazama, WA; Ouray, CO

[Editor’s note: Two of our reviewers, Kate Hourihan and Andi Gervais, have been spending time in the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell. Kate tested it primarily while ski touring and ski mountaineering, while Andi wore it mostly ice climbing, climbing, and splitboard touring. Both will be weighing in.]

Andi: Last season, Black Diamond expanded their outerwear line to include women’s clothing, and with a lot of name recognition and a reputation for producing quality gear, I was curious to see how well their apparel line would do. The Dawn Patrol Shell is Black Diamond’s soft shell, and is meant to protect from light rain, wind, and cold, while still providing excellent breathability.

Fit / Sizing

Kate: Depending on the manufacturer, I can fit into either a Small or Medium. At 5’6” and 135lbs, the Small Dawn Patrol was a tighter fit for me, and I might have preferred a Medium. And since I’m not used to a trim, alpine fit, the jacket felt particularly small at first. Even though the jacket feels snug, the stretchy fabric is comfortable and I didn’t feel any restriction in movement.

The sleeves are long enough on me, reaching an inch or two past my wrist. The Dawn Patrol is short in length and tapers near the waist, falling just barely an inch below my hip. It fits tightly through the torso, with the most room in the shoulders and arms. This tighter fit works well under a harness, eliminating bunching and interference. Or, if you prefer to wear the jacket over your harness, the jacket sits comfortably right above the harness and provides easy access to your rope and gear.

Kate Hourihan reviews the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell, Blister Gear Review
Kate Hourihan in the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell, Mt. Rainier, WA.

If you are looking for a slim, alpine fit, the Dawn Patrol works great. But, if you’d prefer more of a relaxed or roomy fit, I’d recommend sizing up, although considering the jacket is designed to be on the tighter side, you may end up with a lot of extra room in the arms and shoulders. If you know you like a loose fit, I’d advise against this jacket completely.

Andi: I have a very thin frame, but broad shoulders and a fuller chest, so I also struggle to decide between a size Small and a Medium when it comes to jackets. In this case, I went with a Medium because I wanted to be sure I could also layer under my shell, and with BD’s slim and streamlined design, this size worked perfectly for me.

I have room across the shoulders and chest to move and work without being constricted, but the slim design still looks fitted and not too bulky everywhere else. It tapers in at the waist with a touch of flaring out around the hips, giving it a more feminine look. I have worn this softshell directly over my mid layers, as well as over my Patagonia Nanopuff for extra insulation, and in either instance I have been comfortable and able to move with a full range of motion.

At 5’8”, the length of the jacket is perfect for me. It comes down exactly to the point where my legs join my hips, which works great when wearing a harness over the Dawn Patrol. I can access my gear easily and the bottom of the jacket doesn’t ride up and out of the harness or my pack’s hipbelt when raising my arms. I have what some call “monkey arms” (my ape index is +1.5), and even still, the arms on the Medium Dawn Patrol shell reach the base of my thumbs, covering the bottom of my palm. The cuffs have nice beefy velcro tabs and are easy to adjust on the go.

Fabric / Performance

Andi: The majority of days I’ve worn the Dawn Patrol have been in the Pacific Northwest, and a few of those days were quite wet with moderate snow / rain mixtures while working in snow-pits during an AIARE course. I was quite surprised at how well the Dawn Patrol repelled water during these days in the field.

While obviously not as waterproof as a full hard shell, the DWR on the Dawn Patrol beaded up water pretty effectively. It did eventually absorb some water, as expected, but I never felt wet inside the jacket while we were standing around in the elements. This could be because the jacket is still pretty new and the DWR treatment is still fresh, but I was impressed nonetheless. While the jacket won’t keep you dry in a true downpour, in moderate to wet conditions it has worked very well.

What the Dawn Patrol also did extremely well was breathe and deflect wind. I tend to run very hot, and breathability is an important factor for me. While touring and climbing, I did not feel like I was building up sweat inside the shell, and while I did have to zip up or unzip several times to adjust as exertion increased and decreased, I did not notice any moisture build up in my base layers. On ridgelines and during descents, I found that the shell was quite windproof and worked well in PNW conditions.

Andi Gervais reviews the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell, Blister Gear Review
Andi Gervais in the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell, Colorado.

Black Diamond’s Dawn Patrol line is made of Schoeller stretch-woven fabric that is highly elastic and breathable, extremely hard wearing, as well as very easy to care for. Additionally, it integrates NanoSphere Technology, which means it is water, oil, and dirt repelling. This gives it a self-cleaning effect and also helps with the soft shell’s water-resistance capabilities.  After 10 days in the field, the jacket still looks brand new and clean, despite everything I’ve thrown at it, fallen in, or leaned up against. Dirt and grime seem to just wipe off. In general, the fabric feels amazing and looks crisp and professional even after multiple uses in varied conditions.

At 590 grams, the Dawn Patrol Shell is one of the heavier soft shells on the market. The Patagonia Adze Hoody and North Face Apex Bionic Hoodie weigh slightly more at 616 grams each, but most other softshells weigh in between 390g – 490g. The Dawn Patrol does not pack down super small either, which may be a consideration for long alpine trips.

Kate: I used the Dawn Patrol Shell primarily for backcountry skiing on sunny, warm days, which there were plenty of in the Cascades this winter. If the forecast looked sunny and above freezing, no precipitation was expected, and I was going for a long tour, I’d often grab the Dawn Patrol instead of my 3-Layer Shell; it protected me enough from the elements while being more comfortable and breathable.

I like to wear the Dawn Patrol over a single base layer, either starting out at the car before I warm up, or when the temperatures cool down up high. Occasionally I added a second light base layer underneath, but found that, given the jacket’s trim fit and the warm conditions I used it in, one layer was perfect.

I was also really impressed at the Dawn Patrol’s breathability. It is perfect for times when you are too cold to only wear a base layer, but a hard shell would be too warm. Even when working hard, I was able to stay dry enough and not sweat too much. If it was more than 35ºF with no wind, I sometimes got too hot, but if there was a slight breeze, it was very comfortable.

I also liked to pair the Dawn Patrol with a 3-layer hardshell or down jacket. At higher elevations where the wind really picked up or heavier precipitation occurred, I needed a little extra protection. While the Dawn Patrol definitely blocks a lot of wind and kept me pretty warm on ridgelines, it does allow for some wind to pass through. The trim fit allows extra layers to fit comfortably over the jacket.

The interior of the Dawn Patrol is not lined, with the exception of the area around the neck. The Schoeller fabric is brushed, which makes it soft against your skin and I’ve comfortably worn it with just a t-shirt or tank top underneath.

NEXT: Features and Price…


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