Q:

Should I keep my heavy hard shell around, just in case?

I own a "bombproof" Marmot Alpinist Gore-Tex XCR jacket, but I’m in the market for a new lightweight hard shell. Can it replace the heavy jacket? Or is there still a reason to have one of these heavy shells in the wardrobe? I do plan on giving Denali a try within the next couple of years. Rich Decatur, Georgia

Jul 10, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine
Marmot Essence

Essence shell

A: For the most part, I think the age of the “bombproof" waterproof-breathable jacket, whether it uses Gore-Tex or one of the new laminates such as eVent, is about over. They’re the Brontosauruses of the Late Outerwear Age, and the newer, more-evolved species—soft shells and lightweight hard shells—are slowly taking over the planet.

I mean, why not go with a soft shell such as an REI One ($130; www.rei.com), which will work in 80 percent of the weather you bump into up to hard rain or snow? Then, when the stuff really hits the fan, throw on the Patagonia Grade VI ($299; www.patagonia.com). Sure makes sense to me. You can even save some scratch and buy a Marmot Essence Jacket for $150 (www.marmot.com). It may not last as long as the Grade VI, but the price makes up for that. Either way, you’ve got a lighter, more flexible outfit that will keep you more comfortable than the old long underwear/fleece/hard shell kit. Now it’s long underwear and soft shell most of the time, and hard shell only occasionally.

Is there still a place on the planet for big-time Gore-Tex jackets such as the Arc’teryx Theta AR ($450; www.arcteryx.com)? Sure. The extra heft of such a piece does come in handy at times—winter climbs of peaks such as Mount Rainier, for instance. And I’d certainly still be inclined to take one up Denali. When I climbed that peak several years back, I lugged along an almost laughably heavy Mountain Hardwear three-layer, heavy-duty Gore-Tex jacket that they no longer make. It must have weighed close to three pounds, but Lord, I came to love that jacket. When things got nasty I could seal that thing up, pull the goggles over my eyes, cinch the hood, and I felt like I was in a terrarium looking out at a gawdawful storm but otherwise untouched by it.

But except for cases such as that, I'm all for lightweight jackets.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside's 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year's hottest shell.

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