- There’s nothing better than the S-Lab Light Jacket when it comes to minimalist protection. The jacket scrunches down into its own pocket, turning into a rectangle the size of your palm. And while it doesn’t offer shelter in a serious downpour, it will block the swiftest of summit winds and protect against a light drizzle. In order to keep it featherweight, Salomon ditched pockets (except for one media pocket at the hip) and kept the design super streamlined. But for high-altitude running and speedy mountain ascents, no jacket breathed as well as this one. Bummer: testers would’ve liked fabric that was more opaque. ($80)
- There isn’t much to this four-ounce shell—except that it will keep you dry in any downpour you encounter. The see-through, lightweight Cloud Airshell was designed to be worn with Sierra Designs new Cloud Layering System—a combination of three jackets that weigh a whopping 1.38 pounds altogether. The system is made up of the breathable, moisture-managing Cloud Windshell ($119), for days when you need a little something to keep the chill off but aren’t worried about rain, the Cloud Airshell, and the insulated Cloud Puffy ($249). Lofted with hydrophobic down feathers, which don’t absorb water as quickly as untreated feathers, the Cloud Puffy is your go-to when you get to camp and the sun starts to dip. Testers reported that the system was incredibly light and efficient, but all three jackets were cut large and long in the arms. They warned us not to use the Airshell unless it’s raining—it’s not very breathable and will wet from the inside out. ($125)
- Similar to the S-Lab Light Jacket, the Imja weighs almost nothing, but it has a few more features, like a cinched down hood, thumb holes, hand-warmer pockets, lower-back protection, and mesh in the underarms. It also has another trick up its sleeve: the fabric helps regulate your temperature. The same stuff that gives your mouth a refreshed sensation when chewing gum—called xylitol—is in the underarm mesh of this jacket, cooling your body when you start to sweat. The Imja isn’t waterproof, but it will fend off a light drizzle thanks to a durable water repellent coating. Reflective touches are a bonus for nighttime runners. Take note: the jacket runs about a size big. ($125)
- Last year, Outdoor Research’s Helium jacket was incredibly popular because it was lighter than the competition while still offering stellar weatherproofness and breathability. This year, Outdoor Research came out with the next iteration, the Helium II—a jacket with all of the beloved goods of its predecessor (like an adjustable hood, taped seams, waterproofing) but six percent lighter and ten percent more breathable. This waterproof, breathable shell is a staple in our wardrobes because it balances the protection we need with the features we love—all at a great price. We’d call this a home run. ($150)
- The Alpha SV has been around since 1998 but was redesigned this year using Gore-Tex Pro, a highly-engineered lightweight, durable fabric Gore-Tex has been working on for five years. Arc’teryx describes this jacket as a fortress. We tend to agree. While it’s lightweight, the fabric feels incredibly abrasion-resistant and weather-ready, making it the ideal hard shell for scrambling up rock faces, high alpine climbing, and other adventures where you know you’ll be scraping up against the rough stuff. We’ve taken this jacket everywhere from the summit of the Grand Teton to the streets of Seattle. In both places, we felt well protected and never burdened by too much jacket. Two front pockets sit high above the hips to accommodate a harness. ($625)
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