REI Taku $199 rei.com
Remember that high school buddy who souped up an old Datsun 510, then went looking for suckers to race? The Taku is his kind of jacket. At first glance this 2005 Gear of the Year pick is just another storm shell, but a closer look reveals a whole lotta functional horsepower.
1. The co-op deploys both "hard" and "soft" fabrics in all the right places, tapes all seams, and pulls off impressive abrasion resistance throughout. Swaths of ElementsREI's three-layer waterproof-breathable fabricshed Cascades-grade deluges on hood, shoulders, and cuffs.
2. An inside zipper flap shuts out drafts and keeps this jacket looking sleek, while rubberized pulls make opening and closing effortless, even with chubby gloves.
3. Thanks to stretchy, snug-fitting side panels, the Taku's hood cinches around both your head and face for a fit that feels custom-molded. Even in the whipping wind at Point Reyes National Seashore, the hood stayed put, my peripheral vision remained clear, and I could actually hear what my friend was saying.
4. A single sidepiece, span- ning from waist to wrist, prevents the Taku from riding up when you reach, midcloudburst, to clamp your bike down on the roof rack. Near-invisible core vents, positioned out of the path of pack straps, afford full access to your base-layer pockets.
5. Go ahead, layer it with a deep-pile fleece. The Taku's well-tailored, articulated designseven fabric panels per facing sidewon't make you feel like you're wearing a snowsuit.
Patagonia Ready Mix $199 patagonia.com
Sick of the bulk and crinkle of traditional shells? The doctor prescribes the new bargain-priced Patagonia Ready Mix, an airy dream of silky, stretchy protection that packs down to the size of a pomelo. This sensual soft shell is all you need for everything but the soppingest, most high-impact endeavors, which is why it gets Gear of the Year.
1. Cycling in Portland, Oregon, one particularly nasty day, I was amazed by how the supple Ready Mix thwarted a spanking rain. As I madly pedaled my way to an espresso joint, Patagonia's durable water-resistant Deluge finish kept me dry as biscotti.
2. Spacious chest vents eliminate the need for pit zipsand double as glove compartments, without significantly sacrificing airflow. Plus the Napoleon pocket can easily stash a couple of hoagies.
3. Inside and out, welded seams fuse 3.4-ounce double-weave stretch panels, which are oriented for pitch and yaw to allow maximum freedom of movement. Reinforced shoulder, elbow, and hip panelsconstructed of beefier 5.5-ounce polyprotect chafe points. She may be soft, but she's tough, too.
4. Dig the subtle touches: an offset zip that ends up next tonot underyour chin; a self-cinching hood; a smushy visor that holds its form; Swiss-cheese-like hook-and-loop closures at the cuffs to shave weight; and watertight zips.
5. The smart design of the Ready Mix meshes slinky comfort with serious utility. Like a classic shell, it's fully featured, but its cocktail of unbeatable breathability, easy one-hand cinching, ultralight heft (only 14 ounces!), and windproof fabric shifts the paradigm.
REI Taku $199 rei.com