Before diving deep into this review let’s get over the sticker shock: retail price $129.00 for the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell. (But you can find it on sale.)
$129.00 may not seem much if, for example, you’re stocking up on perfluoro wax. But take the weight of the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell, 98 grams, and the cost seems disproportionate to the mass. Working the wax angle, the BD Distance Wind Shell actually might be a deal since the rate for 30 grams of fluoro powders runs roughly the same price — and depending on the brand, much more.
For years, Patagonia has sold the Houdini. This remains a classic piece. Light and fast ski mountaineering missions, fall and spring mountain bikes, any alpine climb above tree line, and cross-country skis in inclement weather begs for something like the Houdini: windproof and barely noticeable in the pack or when its on.
A few years back I misplaced my Houdini. I’m a 5’10 155 pounder; fairly slim, but aging. The misplaced jacket was a medium. I ordered up another medium and quickly realized the sizing was off. The medium cut had been reconfigured — too tight in the chest when I brought my arms forward. I scored a large. That felt too baggy, not the fitted cut I prefer when it comes to technically oriented jackets.
I looked around for a Houdini analogue to test out the fit. Enter BD’s answer.
Perfect. That’s precisely how I would describe the fit of the medium sized BD’s Distance Wind Shell. It’s slim fitting with no extraneous fabric flapping around. Arm length, perfect. Chest width, perfect. And with a shock cord adjustable waist, you can position the hem right where you want it. Even with the athletic fit, the Distance Wind Shell fits comfortably over an insulating pile hoody.
I’ve had the jacket since late August. I’ve worn it in some capacity almost every day since. As a person who runs cold below say 75 degrees, I have no reason not to bring the Distance Wind Shell along. While trail running, climbing, mountain biking, roller and cross-country skiing, and a handful of early season ski tours this fall, it came with.
As noted, the jacket is light. It’s barely noticeable when on, and offers unrestricted movement. It’s minimalist design includes a single chest pocket big enough for a snack, or phone and keys. The adjustable hood fits over a hat or climbing helmet.
The fabric is rip-stop. So despite it’s featherweight, there’s some abrasion resistance. And at least for me, in moderate winds, the fabric feels impermeable. BD says the jacket is breathable, even during high output activities. On real cold days — in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range –I didn’t feel clammy in the jacket running or skiing. When the temps notched up a bit, say around 30 degrees and I was cross-country skiing at a good clip, my sweat built up.
It’s not some miracle ether fabric that stops wind and allows miraculous moisture transfer. Like I said, I tend to run a bit cold. So, the extra insulation and buffer from the wind has made this a no-brainer piece of apparel for me. But I’m mindful of my level of exertion in warmer temps.
Speaking of moisture, BD has applied a PFC-free water repellent finish that it claims is “green” and “fused” into the fabric. PFC stands for perfluorinated compound. PFCs repel water and dirt. Hey…just like they do on ski bases.
I no longer own a full-on Gore-Tex jacket or rough equivalent. In my attempt to go light in nasty weather, I often bring along a non-down layer of insulation, and, in the past, a Houdini. I expect to get a bit damp in drizzle.
On a recent day ski-touring in misty weather, water droplets initially beaded on the Distance Wind Shell. But it eventually soaked through. If you’re like me and aspire to bring lightweight gear, I’m OK with that technical cost on days I know it won’t be a downpour. If the weather improves, and it remains breezy, the fabric is quick drying.
The BD Distance Wind Shell is this: backup wind protection when things get dicey. Or simply, it’s an über lightweight buffer when you want a bit more protection skiing than what a traditional cross-country skiing jacket offers.
The jacket packs down to the size of a tennis ball. Without kick wax and a cork along for the ride, you can easily stuff the Distance Wind Shell in the top pocket of a water carrier. Add the cork and two canisters of wax and it still fits, you’ll have just enough spare room for a bar.
Way back, maybe a decade ago, I scoffed at jackets like the BD Distance Wind Shell. I assumed they were too light and minimal to serve any function. I was wrong. In this instance, early adoption would have paid dividends. I’ve learned the biggest asset of jackets like the Distance Wind Shell is its simplicity.
BD sells both a women’s and men’s cut.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.