What happens when you try to package all of the features of a premiere backcountry shell into a lightweight, highly-packable jacket? Well, something very similar to the Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell, featuring Gore-Tex’s PacLite fabric. It’s been my go-to backcountry ski shell for the PNW winter thus far.
Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell Features:
- Adjustable, climbing-helmet-compatible hood
- Two-way armpit zip vents
- Two zip hand pockets
- Custom-molded cuff tabs
- Drawcord hem
- Primary fabric is bluesign approved
- Weight: 415 g/15oz
- GORE-TEX® PacLite 2.5L, 75d plain-weave face with DWR finish
- MSRP: $249
Take what you need, and nothing you don’t
Ultralight shells are all the rage right now. Companies are slashing pockets, narrowing zipper gauges and finding ever lighter fabrics. The Liquid Point shell from Black Diamond has one foot in the ultralight category, and the other foot planted firmly in the common-sense ‘it still needs to work’ category. Basically, it’s a fusion of light weight technology and functionality.
The foundation of this jacket is Gore-Tex’s PacLite fabric, bonded to a 75D face fabric. Your skin oils are harmful to waterproof/breathable fabrics, so just remember that every time you ever touch your expensive jacket.PacLite is a 2.5L laminate, which means that the PacLite fabric is backed up by a layer of chemical and carbon that repels your nasty skin oils and protects the fabric. PacLite is different from other, more durable Gore-Tex laminates that bond a third, protective fabric layer to the waterproof/breathable membrane. The result is, in theory, a lighter and more packable fabric.
And this raises an interesting question of what exactly the Liquid Point shell is trying to be. On the one hand, it has some traits of an ultralight shell. Black Diamond bills it as having ‘minimal weight and bulk’, but its claimed weight is 15oz. Frankly, 15oz just isn’t all that light for a jacket that lacks a chest pocket and is built around Gore-Tex PacLite. So what’s the deal?
Well, I think the answer lies in two places – a very full feature set, and a burly face fabric. The Liquid Point’s face fabric is a 75D nylon weave which I really like. 75D is quite strong. Many lightweight shells go in for fabrics ranging from 20-60D, and no one really gets any stronger than 100D. So 75D definitely puts this jacket up at the top in terms of durability. It also has another important feature — it has a really nice handle. By handle, I mean that the fabric is quiet and supple. It doesn’t remind you of a heavy duty garbage bag.
Here’s a brief recap of the feature set. The Liquid Point shell has all the standard features of a high-end shell, with just a few quirks. We’ve got two enormous pit zips with sealed zippers. We’ve got a one-way adjustable hood that can accommodate a climbing helmet. It’s also got a full-length waterproof zipper with a nice beefy head and generous toggle, and it tops out in a fleecy chin guard. The hem is adjustable at two points with convenient push-button toggles. There’s no chest pocket, but there are two hand warmer pockets whose zippers are not water resistant.
All of these features contribute to the jacket’s weight, but for the most part they’re highly functional in practice. The main zipper track pulls easily along its length and the toggle is big enough to grab with gloves on. The hem and hood adjustments are tough to initially grab at first, but the large push-button holders are easy to release. The non-water resistant pocket zippers pull very easily and, for the most park, the carefully trimmed storm flap keeps the worst of rain and snow off the track. The only feature I’m not impressed with is the pit zips, and I’ll talk about those in a moment.
In practice, the Liquid Point is a really great jacket. It just works. It’s cut fairly generously without being bulky, so it’s perfect to toss over a puffy when you point your ski tips down hill. The jacket doesn’t have much inherent stretch but, nonetheless, nothing about the fit feels constricting. I’m 5’11”, 185lbs and the Large that I tested fit perfectly. I particularly appreciate that there’s plenty of room in the chest and arms. One particularly fine feature are Black Diamond’s custom cuff tabs. They feel high-end, and they’re very easy to grab and handle with gloves on to create a great seal.
The one feature that frustrates me are the two-way pit zips. Like many pit zips, they’re hard to pull — especially upwards. So, plan ahead or find a friend who can help you unzip or zip up your pits. I will hold out hope that, over time, the zipper track will loosen up as it gets broken in.
I’ll close with a word about Gore-Tex PacLite. It’s the one Gore product that I can’t completely wrap my head around. The issue that I see is that many consumers see the name ‘Gore’ on an affordable PacLite product and don’t understand the particular qualities of PacLite fabric. Yes, it’s awesome that PacLite is light, packable, and affordable. It’s also very waterproof. However, it’s also less durable and less breathable than Gore’s 3 layer fabrics. It’s the durability piece that bothers me most; the oleophobic treatment on PacLite will wear off over time and the membrane and taping will start to deteriorate.
People trust Gore for durability, but PacLite is their least durable fabric. Is this a deal breaker? Not at all, but consumers should realize that PacLite hardshells don’t excel as daily drivers and aren’t as durable as other options. PacLite excels in situations where weight and packability are critical. Like any product, it has its niche, so keep that in mind.
- Black Diamond’s construction quality is excellent
- Great face fabric
- The fit is very good
- Excellent cuffs in particular, and great features in general
- Fairly affordable
- Pit zips are not easy to pull
- Unsealed pocket zips cut weight and cost, but seem out of place on such a nice jacket
The Bottom Line: Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell
This is a great jacket in general. It’s built well and its fit is dialed for alpine use. While it’s true that PacLite isn’t Gore’s most durable material, the Liquid Point shell excels as the go-to piece for days when the forecast is questionable and pack space is critical. Overall, it’s a winner and it’s very well priced.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com