Q:

What's the best lightweight shell that won't cost the earth?

Oh Glorious One, I have a riddle for you: Being of little monetary wealth, I have sworn off new fangled soft shells and gone with the traditional three-layer system. So what is a good, breathable windbreaker? And by that I mean a light layer to ward off wind and the lightest of rain. Also could it have pit zips and mesh pockets? John Athens, Georgia

Mar 2, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine

Stretch Wind Jacket

A: Well, we don't call them "windbreakers" anymore. That's so '60s and low-tech, making one think of the millions of cheap nylon jackets that used to be popular back in the day. Now they're wind-resistant (or windproof) shells, and have some cachet.

One good example of this genre is Marmot's DriClime Windshirt ($100; www.marmot.com). It's a polyester piece (polyester being naturally water-resistant and quick-drying) with a light knit lining that serves as insulation, which may or may not be something you want. It doesn't have pit zips, but it does have mesh vents. And it has a chest pocket, which is handy for stuffing things to which you need ready access.

You'll also find a lot of good wind shell-type pieces in the cycling world, as bicyclists often need lightweight, breathable protection against wind and maybe some light rain. Pearl Izumi's Zephrr ($65; www.pearlizumi.com) is a classic light shell, although it lacks pockets and pit zips (in any event, I think you can scratch the pit zips, strictly a rainwear item these days). And, Mont-Bell makes an excellent light shell called the Stretch Wind Jacket, which sells for $79 (www.montbell.com). It has a full front zip, chest pocket, and stretchy nylon material, making it ideal for high-agility activities.

Lastly, L.L. Bean makes a very functional, very basic piece called the Wind Speed Pullover ($59; www.llbean.com), an anorak-style jacket with a half-zip, nylon shell, and single pocket.

For a dizzying mix of shells, jackets, and all-weather armor, check out Outside Online's Jackets Buying Guide.

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