My wife bought me a Black Diamond Approach Down Vest and I figured that I’d review it. I’ve been using the vest for about 7 months now; this season we skied many hundreds of miles. I’ve used the vest for both nordic and downhill skiing and have worn it regularly to work, so I think that I can now comment honestly on it.
Is this good for hiking? I would not take this vest hiking. When I’m hiking, I want whatever warm weather gear I have to cover more than just my chest, both for warmth and bug protection. My Arc’Teryx down jacket with hood is much more effective at keeping me warm, and the vest would be an unnecessary extra layer, and thus extra weight. So despite it weighing about 7oz, it’s not for that purpose, at least not for me. Below is my Arc’Teryx jacket (with one patch) that doesn’t weigh that much more and is far more functional.
Skiing Application and Features
So what is the Black Diamond Approach Down Vest good for? Maybe skiing? This brings me to my main issue with it: Kühl’s TEAM 1/4 ZIP sweater outperforms Black Diamond’s vest in almost every metric, and it’s far less costly. I’ll review it separately, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Instead, let’s discuss up-front why I don’t use the Approach Down Vest while skiing anymore.
This winter I skied in temperatures from -27F to 45F without accounting for wind chill. The two jackets I use are both nice, one being a Helly Hansen and the other a Burton, but both feature snow skirts, armpit zips, multiple baggage compartments and phone warmers, etc., and the Helly Hansen also has the avalanche locator. When the temperature gets above 30F, I’ll use just a jacket, and above about 40F and sunny, I can just use the Kühl TEAM 1/4 ZIP.
What I can’t do is just use the vest in such conditions, because my arms freeze if I don’t have an additional layer. As a catch-22, if I use an extra layer, I roast to death, because one thing that the Black Diamond is great at is keeping a very toasty core. What it doesn’t do is handle temperature ranges well. The vest doesn’t have many features. The breast pocket can hold most phones, and the side pockets are standard size (roomy), but that’s where the feature set pretty much ends. It will zip up around your neck to keep your neck warmer, though.
Below: The Black Diamond Approach Down Vest tucks away very well. I typically put it underneath my buff, so it’s hard to see. As you can see, I often found myself using my Arc’Teryx with a lighter, festive jacket, rather than the vest.
The temperature was -18F at Targhee one day and had some decent wind (the traverses at the top of Blackfoot and Dreamcatcher were the most dangerous parts of the mountain), and I chose my Helly Hansen and the Black Diamond vest for the first part of the day. The result was that my arms were quit dadgum frozen, though my core was better. I ended up switching to my Kühl sweater and was fine the rest of the day.
In temperatures above 10F, the vest got absolutely soaked with sweat as soon as I started skiing hard. It held the warmth fine due to the shell, but I felt very uncomfortable wearing it…almost soggy. I don’t like feeling soggy any time, and especially not when I’m skiing. That led to me changing into the Kühl sweater which didn’t have such an issue. Since I keep mentioning that thing, I’ll do another review and include my take on it.
So if it’s not great for hiking or skiing, where does it excel?
I found that the Black Diamond Approach Down Vest was really decent in an everyday environment at work. I work in an air traffic control tower where I control traffic actively in the tower cab (top of the tower), and also work as the air traffic manager (basically managing the airspace, controllers, and everything else) down in an office. During the winter and spring, the Black Diamond Approach Down Vest was great to wear at work. As controllers circulate in and out of position, then change the temperature setting of the tower cab to their working preference. One controller from Louisiana loves it hot, while another guy wants it in the 50s. With this vest, I could easily modulate my temperature to be comfortable while others were changing the temperature settings. My office is usually colder, though overall regulate by the upstairs HVAC settings, so I found myself always having it handy. It also didn’t get in the way of my headset clip when I was plugged into position.
Below: The pictures of me are silly on purpose, but it really is nice for work. You can see how I normally dress and how it goes well with that. My child took the picture of me and my poor wife…but at least you know it’s authentic.
I didn’t find myself using the vest outside of work, though, as temperature swings led my arms to getting chilly too often, and worn with anything else, it was simply too warm. Fashion-wise, it’s a fine looking vest, but I was most impressed with it when I combined it with the merino wool skullcaps that I use for skiing and around town in the winter. That’s a joke, but you have to admit that it’s a funny combination. For work, it’s quite professional in appearance. Given that I live in the Wild West and my predilection for comfort, I typically wear western ware: Ariat boots, nice blue jeans, a western belt with large buckle, button-up shirt, and semi-formal or formal vest. This vest is able to cover over the top of my western vests without them popping out, so I don’t have to do any swapping, which I appreciate.
I have used the vest skiing for around 200 (hot, sometimes steamy) miles and worn it at least 3 months at work. Despite being very light, it hasn’t developed any holes or frays, and in spite of the sweat there’s no discoloration. I wash it regularly and haven’t taken care to be inordinately gentle with it, so I feel comfortable saying that the construction quality is good. Due to the nature of the fabrics, I wouldn’t take it around a roaring campfire—a popping ember would mean you’d be buying a no-sew patch.
The Black Diamond Approach Down Vest is a great vest that I’m blessed to own. I love using it at work. It doesn’t stand out in the looks department, and I won’t use it skiing, hiking, or for walking around Jackson (Hole, if you wish) when I’m not at work. I would never purchase this item for more than $50, and the MSRP is $240. For that reason, I would not recommend it unless you have more money than you know what to do with.
The Black Diamond Approach Down Vest is a decent, unremarkable vest that has limited utility and is remarkably expensive. If you’re buying it as an expensive present for someone, it’s great, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself. Because it looks unremarkable, those who don’t peruse such apparel may not recognize the value of the gift they’re received—I didn’t until I went to do this review. Wow!