On a recent trip to the Red Mountains’ backcountry, I had a chance to enjoy an amazing day on the slopes. Tons of snow, great descents, breathtaking scenery. I also had the chance to try two pieces of Black Diamond touring essentials. Here’s how they worked out for me.
Black Diamond Touring Essential 1—The Dawn Patrol 25 Ski Backpack
Putting on my backpack is often the last step before tackling an ascent or skiing down a hill. It’s an integral part of my backcountry skiing/freeride kit. My pack has to be comfortable, ensure quick access to a probe/shovel and water, be durable, but above all, let me forget that it’s on my back.
After having spent a memorable weekend in the Red Mountains’ backcountry in Colorado, I can confirm that it’s mission accomplished for the Dawn Patrol 25L.
Filling the pack
What struck me when looking at the pack for the first time, was the main pocket’s opening at the back. The semi-rigid panel that makes up the pack’s back and frame opens like an upside-down U along its whole structure and allows you to see the main compartment. I could easily fit my midlayer, water-repellent breathable shell, as well as a hydration pack. The smaller pocket on top is big enough to fit all the accessories that make us great skiers: goggles, sunscreen, phone, granola bars, etc. It also has all the transportation systems possible for touring: a helmet holder, ski straps for A-style carry and tuck-away diagonal ski carry, as well as ice tool attachment points.
This is where this pack stands out the most. I didn’t feel it during the ascent despite the fact that it was filled with photo equipment. The Dawn Patrol is light (2 lbs 5 oz) but its semi-rigid back panel and suspension system allow good load distribution. During the descent, the pack doesn’t move and seems to hug your body.
Compatible with the AvaLung Element, it’s a good compromise for those who don’t want to invest in an Airbag system and who want to maximize their chances in case of an avalanche. The compartment dedicated to safety equipment (shovel and probe) is accessible quickly, even when the bag is full. We can’t ask for more when each minute counts.
Black Diamond knows how to make specialized bags. My old Covert bag, which is still functional after more than 14 years, is proof of this. Its replacement, the Dawn Patrol, does even better with even more durable materials (Dynex) and a more developed frame. Despite the main compartment access that takes a bit of getting used to (you need to open the zipper almost completely to have access) it’s really effective. This pack is my new fave for days out skiing and snowshoeing.
Black Diamond Touring Essential 2—The Recon Stretch Ski Shell
It’s the same every time: as soon as I put on my shell, I feel great. Ready for adventure—to take on the elements on a stormy day, protected from the wind and snow. It’s as if being wrapped in this cocoon allowed me to simply concentrate on the 3000 feet of D+ that await.
As indicated in its name, this shell is made with stretch fabric, which makes it particularly pleasant to wear during activities that require lots of freedom of movement, such as touring. When I wore it on a weekend of touring in the Red Mountains, my fear was to see a shell that had sacrificed waterproofness for freedom of movement. This fear was unfounded: the BD.dry™ works wonderfully well and keeps you dry. I was also able to move freely and felt more efficient during transitions.
The exterior stretch membrane seems durable. It’s pleasant to have a coat that’s not afraid of rubbing against a few branches during a descent, and not having to forgo certain lines because of equipment limitations.
At 13,100 feet in the end of a storm, 2 things struck me:
- Not a trace of wind under the coat—no loss of heat on that side.
- This jacket is so easy to use. I never felt like I might risk losing my fingers to handle my zipper!
All the functions we expect from a freeride/touring jacket are present. A classic and effective removable powder skirt. A huge zipper under the arms to let excess heat and humidity escape during the ascent. A (too?) large helmet-compatible hood. Two interior mesh pockets keep climbing skins warm during the descent. Two large exterior hand pockets, as well as a ski pass pocket on the arm for days at the ski station, are also handy.
The shell fits large, but it’s perfect to allow you to add midlayers underneath. A little heavy for purists, those who are looking to beat the clock or who are looking to shave off the slightest gram. On the flip side, the Recon Stretch Shell is the perfect shell for skiers who love taking on challenges. Capable of enduring the elements and challenges of mountain adventures, it’s a great touring companion for those who seek comfort and performance.