Simple, straightforward and effective, this chunky belay jacket uses double layers of synthetic fill to provide masses of insulation in seriously cold conditions. With a full-coverage fit, a cracking hood and deep, fleece-lined pockets, it feels extremely protective too. Its only downsides are its relative weight and bulk when packed – this one will take up a fair bit of space in your rucksack. But for winter climbing trips, that’ll be a small price to pay for its oh-so-welcome warmth.
Bulky when packed
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Black Diamond Belay Parka: first impressions
As any climber or mountaineer will know only too well, an exposed belay can be a cold and lonely place. This makes a reliable, insulated puffer jacket a very welcome refuge – a mobile fortress to hunker down in, safely protected from the elements, whether that’s biting wind, whirling spindrift or hammering rain. And they don’t come much more like a fortress than the Black Diamond Belay Parka.
Along with Patagonia’s equally highly regarded DAS parka and the Arc’teryx Nuclei SV, Black Diamond’s Stance has become a bit of a classic in the world of heavyweight belay jackets. Most climbers and mountaineers in the US will choose one of these three as their preferred belay jacket.
• List price: $300 (US)/ £220 (UK)
• Weight: 845g / 1lb 13oz
• Materials used: Shell 50D ripstop woven (80gsm, 100% polyester), Insulation ThermoLite HL Eco-Made synthetic fill (200gsm, 100% polyester); Lining 20D nylon plain woven with DWR (37gsm)
• Sizes: Men’s S-XL; Women’s XS-XL
The Belay Parka is the latest version of the Stance, having been redesigned a couple of years back with a tougher shell fabric and a new eco-friendly, PFC-free Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. The parka is stuffed with dual layers of lofty ThermoLite High Loft insulation, resulting in a hefty total fill weight of some 200gsm.
This is a hardwearing synthetic fill for added resistance to moisture, ensuring that it continues to deliver warmth even if it gets wet. It also employs EcoMade technology, meaning the polyester fibers are made from 100% recycled or waste content – a further plus for sustainability.
Black Diamond Belay Parka: in the field
The first thing to note is that the fit of this jacket is generous. This is unsurprising, since it’s primarily designed as an over-layering piece. Even so, you might want to size down. I dropped from my usual men’s large to a medium, and even then, I still had plenty of room for layers underneath, with ample length in the arms and body too.
On test while out cragging and scrambling in Snowdonia, it proved to be a very cosy and protective jacket. It’s a great piece for year-round mountain use. Obviously, it’s primarily intended to be used when belaying while climbing, but it also works well for winter trekking and hiking, or whenever you need an extra insulating layer to throw on while you stop for rest or food.
The hood is a highlight, especially since hood design can make or break a belay jacket. This one is well designed and thickly padded, adjusting tightly around the face with a single pull of the rear drawcord. The jacket also zips right up to the nose, effectively covering the lower half of the face, and cuffs cover the backs of the hands nicely.
The face fabric is completely windproof, and in any case the thick wadding provides effective block insulation. The fabric also sheds light precipitation well, and while it’s not fully waterproof, it’s no major drama if the jacket takes a soaking, since the synthetic fill maintains its loft and just keeps on trucking.
Drawbacks? It’s too warm and bulky to wear on the move. The same 200gsm fill weight is packed into the body, arms, and hood – there’s no clever body-mapping here. This jacket is all about delivering maximum warmth. The downside is that it doesn’t make for a particularly streamlined fit, nor optimum mobility or freedom of movement. Then again, that makes complete sense, since it’s designed for static use. For that brief it excels, whether you’re hunkered down in a summit shelter or belaying a climbing partner in a windswept gully.
It also has plenty of practical features in this regard. A two-way main zipper allows access to your belay device, while also making it easy to get to layers underneath (useful for accessing mid layer pockets). You also get roomy chest and inner drop pockets – the latter are particularly great for temporarily stashing big winter gloves or a flask.
The jacket’s weight and bulk means that it is a bit of a lump when packed – it takes up a fair bit of space in your backpack, and it’s impractical for stashing in a typical hiking daypack. You really need a 40-liter plus cragging sack or mountaineering pack to handle it whilst still leaving room for the rest of your kit. But that’s inevitable given the warmth and protection it offers, and for many this shortcoming will be a small sacrifice, and one well worth making.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.