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Protection in Your Pocket

Black Diamond’s ultralight, ultra-packable Distance Wind Shell and the enviro-friendly tech behind it

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Sponsored by Black Diamond

On the trail, there’s nothing worse than cold wind and hard rain, if you’re unprepared for it.

OK, fine … maybe there are worse things, like your phone falling out of your pack somewhere on the trail, then getting home to find out some jerk picked it up and hacked your Netflix, Amazon, Gmail and Instagram accounts, which recently happened to me. But how often does stuff like that happen? (Note to self: put a passcode on your phone next time)

If we’re running in the backcountry, inclement weather is part of the deal. Here in New Zealand, it can go from clear skies to thunderheads in minutes. The weather forecast is about as reliable as the ice cream machine at McDonalds. And many us blast our for a run, claiming a durable, water-repellent windshell is extra baggage on lightweight missions.

Know what’s not a lot of extra baggage? A deck of cards.

Photo by Andy Earl

At 3.3 ounces, Black Diamond’s Distance Wind Shell weighs that much, and packs down to the size of a small apple, thanks to a self-stowing chest pocket. Retailing at $129, the Distance Wind Shell sports a helmet-compatible hood, chest pocket, clip loop for attaching to a harness or vest, elastic cuffs and an adjustable hem.

But the best thing about the Distance Wind Shell (besides the sexy black, white and blue color options) is it’s design in partnership with Green Theme International, and the implementation of Green Theme Technology (GTT).

“GTT is a [durable, water-repellent] treatment that is hyper-fused to the fibers of a fabric,” says Julie Hirsch, Black Diamond’s Apparel Category Director. “The application process is revolutionary, in that it is water free and does not use any PFCs. Both factors are major wins for the environment.”

PFCs, or perfluorochemicals, are a group of man-made chemicals traditionally used in applications like non-stick cookware. They are also a key component in durable, water-repellent (DWR) treatments for outdoor gear, from pants to tents to jackets. Unfortunately, the compounds are tagged with a myriad of environmental and health concerns, from cancer risk to birth defects to heart disease. To make matters worse, they don’t break down. The chemicals bioaccumulate and biomagnify in nature, and hang around essentially forever (sort of like Keith Richards).

Photo by Andy Earl

PFCs, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), have been found in drinking water across the country, in the tissue of fish, birds and mammals, in human blood and breast milk. A Public Health Statement from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reported, “It takes approximately four years for the level [of PFOA] in the body to go down by half, even if no more is taken in.”

In response to increasing regulation and consumer interest in PFC-free product, outdoor brands have taken to using C-6 (six-carbon backbone) PFCs in DWR instead of C-8 (eight-carbon backbone) PFCs like PFOA. Unfortunately, while these shorter chains break down quicker, they still persist in the environment, and often aren’t as successful in repellency tests as C-8-based DWRs.

Often the advent of environmentally friendly tech and production methods heralds sacrifices in quality. But not only is the Distance Wind Shell’s PFC-free DWR environmentally friendly, it is superior in performance and durability to C-8, C-6 and C-0 DWRs, thanks to the treatment’s hyper-fusion into the fabric itself. This means the DWR treatment lasts the life of the garment, instead of an application-based DWR, which loses potency overtime.

Says the Black Diamond athlete, product tester and ultrarunner Joe Grant, “I’ve tested the same prototype (in both styles) for over a year now, and neither shell shows signs of wear.”

Grant used the Distance Wind Shell on the Nolan’s 14, which crosses 14 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, and praised its versatility. “The summits were often windy and cold in the evening and at night,” he said, “but I felt warm and cozy in the shell. The days were really hot, but with the shell only weighing 3.3 ounces and packing into my pocket, I barely noticed it was there.”

Although the Distance is currently the only piece of apparel in Black Diamond’s Spring 2019 collection utilizing GTT, Hirsch says GTT will be a cornerstone of BD apparel moving forward. “We have expanded the use of GTT for fall 2019 to include products from our ski collection,” she says, “and we’re also exploring applications outside of apparel.”

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For ultra-ultra weight conscious athletes, check out the Distance Wind Shell’s little brother, the Deploy Wind Shell ($159). It clocks in at half the weight (1.7 ounces) of the Distance, and packs to the size of a golf ball. Unsurprisingly, it is the lightest wind shell in the world (unless you count the trash bag Bradley Cooper wore in Silver Linings Playbook).