What shell can I combine with my soft shell for the perfect winter combo?

I’m in the market for a lightweight, waterproof, and breathable shell. I’d like something lighter than the Gore-Tex XCR shell I previously used year-round. What’s your recommendation for a jacket that I can combine with my soft shell to create the perfect winter-sport combo? Etienn Montreal, Quebec

May 19, 2006
Outside Magazine
Patagonia Grade VI Jacket

Grade VI Jacket

A: Yeah, these days you can get by with a much lighter shell then the behemoth, three-layer, four-pound armored coats that were common four or five years ago. As I said not long ago when answering a question about soft shells, today you can wear a piece that has a wider tolerance to rain than a fleece jacket, and you can leave the rain shell in your pack until the downpour gets pretty heavy.

One shell to consider is Patagonia’s Grade VI Jacket ($299; www.patagonia.com). It’s a lightweight, fairly minimalist piece that’s tough enough to withstand mountaineering, skiing, and other abusive activities. Patagonia makes it with their proprietary H2No coating, a treatment I rate as very good in the waterproof-breathable department. It has a hood, chest vents, water-resistant zippers, and three-layer construction that helps it layer very well with a soft shell.

Mountain Hardwear’s Swift Jacket ($260; www.mountainhardwear.com) offers a good buy in a piece made with Gore-Tex. In this case, it’s Gore’s PacLite, a thinner version of regular Gore-Tex XCR that nonetheless offers excellent wet-weather performance. The downside is that it’s a bit less durable. But the Swift is designed as a mountaineering piece, and the notion that you’ll need it less when using a soft shell should help extend its life.

Finally, I really like REI’s Taku ($199; www.rei.com). It’s an all-purpose jacket, trimly cut for skiing, climbing, and the like, that combines three-layer nylon material on the shoulders and arms, with a lighter, more breathable material around the torso. It’s very light, and very comfortable.

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

Filed To: Snow Sports, Hard Shell

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