The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Black Diamond Kingpins: Better Than Hardware Store Gloves
Posted on: May 2, 2011
I have blown out lots of gloves before their advertised expiration dates. They just don't hold up to my quantity of winter play—especially when I'm guiding. Like many snow professionals, I have switched to using hardware store leather gloves. While they are inexpensive, getting a good fit is next to impossible. When I came across Black Diamonda's Kingpin glove, with it's goat leather shell, I hoped it would give me that snug fit that I'm missing from my True Value mitts.
As expected, the quality of these gloves is superb. The shell is made mostly of goat leather with a Pittard leather layer to reinforce the palm and thumb—they are clearly designed by someone who knows how and where gloves wear out. The Kingpin is lined with a thin, 100-weight microfleece that is both buttery-soft and just the right weight for ski touring and summer alpine climbing.
I recently returned from a month of ski mountaineering in the Swiss Alps where the Kingpin was the only glove I wore the entire time. They kept my hands comfortable at a variety of temperatures, and offered both excellent breathability and wind-stopping warmth. I also kept a heavy pair of gloves in my pack, though never needed to break them out. In day after day of ski touring, climbing with an ice axe, lowering and rappelling, these gloves performed perfectly from sun-up to sundown.
As with most leather gloves, waterproofness is a concern. Leather is notoriously slow to dry. Without any treatment, the gloves did a fairly good job of repelling water initially. After using the gloves for a few weeks, I treated them with snow seal and a blow dryer. This is my favorite method of opening the pores in the gloves allowing them to drink up the waterproofing. Though I still wouldn't call my Kingpins "waterproof," the snow seal treatment did keep the gloves dry in wet snow.
In my experience nothing trashes a glove faster than using a rope. When the synthetic fibers of a rope run through a gloved hand, the friction created burns the glove and wears holes in the leather almost instantaneously. BD has done a great job addressing this pitfall with a well-placed reinforcement patch across the main wear zone. This zone of the glove is made of soft, textured leather, for both durability and enhanced grip.
The Kingpins have some other small details that I really appreciate. The back of the thumbs have the requisite nose wipe patch, and the gloves have a small and easy-to-use clasp to attach the pair together when hanging them on a harness. The gloves can be cinched down around the wrist with a Velcro closure, giving them a more secure fit when climbing on rock. One small detail that I wish the Kingpins had is a loop on the finger of the glove that allows them to be hung upright. This would keep the gloves from collecting snow while hanging from a harness, and provide a mechanism for hanging them above a heat source to dry.
While a glove's durability, breathability, waterproofness and comfort are essential, nothing is as important as a good fit. Unfortunately for me, I am in between sizes. The BD website has a great tutorial on sizing gloves, which I followed closely. I measured the length and girth of my palm, and determined I had an extra-small hand length, but a girth that was almost too wide for a size small mitt. BD suggested I use the larger of the two dimensions, so I ordered the gloves in a small. While the overall fit on my hand was snug, I wound up having about a centimeter of extra glove at the tips of my fingers. This did make them less dexterous, but it was not as bad as I had feared. The wiggle-room was only problematic when climbing on rock. For ski mountaineering this fit was fine, and if anything, it may have increased the temperature range of the glove. (I used them down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) If I used these gloves primarily for alpine climbing, I might downsize to a small with the hope that they would stretch, as leather often does.
Ultimately, the Kingpins don't fit my hand as snugly as I had hoped, though they are still one of the best multi-purpose gloves I have used. The combination of durability, craftsmanship, warmth and attention to detail make these my current favorites for a variety of alpine endeavors.
Pros: high quality construction and materials; perfect weight and breathability; super comfy.
Cons: lack of hanging loop; hard to get the perfect fit.