Touring is tough on bodies and gear. It’s hard to find the sweet spot for pieces that can move with you and let you breathe on the way up, and then keep you protected and (reasonably) warm on the way down. My quest for the perfect touring pants led me to the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol pant, which I’ve been testing in the fun, unpredictable late PNW winter.
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Pant Features:
- Four-way stretch woven with brushed back and DWR finish (235gsm, 63% nylon, 26% polyester, 11% elastane)
- Offset mesh-backed vents
- Snow gaiters
- Boot-access zippers
- Reinforced instep patches
- Integrated, removable belt and reinforced belt-loop waist
- Two thigh zip pockets
- Seat gusset
- Primary fabric is Bluesign approved
- Weight: 712 g
- Fit: Regular
- MSRP: $215
Streeeeetch your imagination
Everyone’s gear needs are a little different, and for me I was looking for a few specific applications for a touring pant. I have a pair of heavy GORE-TEX bibs that I use on those rare, deep powder days (or ridiculously cold windy days). But otherwise, many of my touring days take place in fine weather, or merely blustery weather where it might spit a little moisture down at me. Heck, I also like climbing volcanos in the spring: all of those things are what I had in mind when I was looking for a softshell pant.
For those types of applications, the softshell fabric that Black Diamond chose for the Dawn Patrol pants is spot on. For starters, it’s not waterproof and I don’t need it to be. I’d rather have the good breathability of a ‘merely’ water-resistant fabric which you just can’t get with a hardshell. Instead, I want a softshell fabric that moves with me, breathes, and has a good-enough DWR to fend off flurries or digging a pit.
Black Diamond’s fabric is a blend or nylon, polyester and elastane. The 11% elastane component gives it a solid four-way stretch which doesn’t hold you back at all. That’s incredible for the skin track, or doing kick turns, or squatting to poop. It’s also bluesign approved, which means it’s met high standards for sustainability and worker treatment.
The DWR is pretty solid and, at least for now, water beads up and runs off easily. As far as I can tell, Black Diamond isn’t exploring any PFC-free options for this pant, which is too bad and I hope they start doing so. I found that the DWR helps snowflakes that land on my pants to melt then bead up rather than soak in, but in high-wear areas it was quickly overwhelmed and I started to get some fabric saturation. This isn’t a product flaw: it’s just a reality of softshell fabric. Wetter days deserve hardshell fabrics.
For my money, the fit of the pants is great. The thighs are tailored but not excessively tight, and the legs flair out enough to accommodate bulky boots in walk mode. A fully separating zippered gusset helps give you plenty of room for your boots, and a snap helps to secure the hem and reinforce the zipper. There’s also an integrated gaiter. I’m a skis together kind of guy, so the reinforced instep is necessary to prevent me from shredding the pants.
I love touring in these because the four-way stretch is so great. They really move with you. One downside to that, at least in my mind, is that the pants can feel baggy or bogged down if you’re carrying much in your pockets. This is helped somewhat by the integrated suspenders, which fight the droop. Some of this is how it feels to carry heavier items (like a beacon) in the pockets: the pockets are generous and pleated, but sit low on the thigh. For me, the results was a constant knock on my kneecap from my beacon.
Two other important parts are the pockets and the thigh vents. Black Diamond included generous thigh pockets which are zippered shut, and they mostly work great but I was disappointed that they didn’t include a clip or leash for a true beacon pocket. The Dawn Patrol Hybrid model does have this feature.
Separately, the thigh zips are mesh lined, which means that they will help keep snow out if you happen to fall over or something. The downside is that they’re not as effective at ventilation. Personally, I’d prefer Black Diamond ditch the mesh because I’m mostly using the ventilation on the uphill where I rarely need the mesh unless I’m brushing up against a snowy tree or something. But I’m a high-output guy, and I’d rather ditch the mesh. On the flip side, it’s easier to cut out mesh with my scissors than for me to stitch it in myself. But I’m not that desperate yet.
- Really great materials and overall construction
- Four way stretch fabric makes it feel like the pants aren’t working against you
- Integrated suspenders a good touch
- Easy-to-use zippered separating hems work well
- Durable instep reinforcement for us skis-together types
- The DWR starts off strong but, like all DWRs, will need love
- I’d vote for no mesh in the thigh zips
- No built-in beacon pocket is a head scratcher
- I’d prefer that the pockets sit a little higher to keep things off the knee
The Bottom Line: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Pants
Ok, so I can’t say that I’ve found the best ski touring pants because, well, I haven’t tested every pant out there. But I will say, my search has ended with the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol pants. I love the stretch material, good fit, integrated suspenders and adequate pockets. There are things that I would change, like having a beacon pocket and things that others might not prefer (like removing the mesh from the thigh zips). These are easy to love for their fit and durability, and while softshells aren’t going to be perfect for every day, they’re my first choice more often than not.
Buy now: Available from Moosejaw