8 Technical Shells for Spring Training

New advances in membrane technology mean there are more ways than ever to fend off a downpour

Mar 31, 2016
Outside Magazine
rain jacket

Columbia‚Äôs Outdry Ex (black jacket) nixes the DWR coating used by most rain jackets to help keep the wet out, so it sheds fewer waterway-clogging PFCs in the wash.    Photo: Inga Hendrickson

These lightweight jackets will keep you dry and happy in all kinds of conditions. Forecast be damned. 

Mountain Hardwear Supercharger Shell ($225) 

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Mountain Hardwear

Best for: Setting alpine speed records
Developed for alpinist Ueli Steck, this jacket is crafted from Mountain Hardwear’s 2.5-layer Dry.Q Active and weighs just six ounces, making it the brand’s lightest-ever fully taped, waterproof-breathable offering. No surprise given Steck’s proclivities: last year the Swiss Machine scaled 82 western Alps peaks of 13,000-plus-feet in 80 days. Bonus: the interior stretch pocket is great for stashing small tools. 

Garneau NeoShell ($280)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Louis Garneau

Best for: Staying dry in the saddle
To create this comfortable foul-weather cycling jacket, Garneau used Polartec NeoShell, a water-shedding, air-permeable material with two-way stretch and a softer feel than standard hard shells. We love the trim fit, reflective hits on all sides, articulated elbows, and rear stash pocket for tubes, tools, and snacks. But we especially appreciate how quietly it moves with us when we’re bent over the handlebars on wild and woolly spring rides. 

Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody ($299)


Best for: Running up the steeps
This minimalist mountain runner uses Gore-Tex Active, Gore’s new two-layer fabric that’s a pared-down version of its traditional membranes, lending it exceptional levels of breathability. On top of that, the folks at Arc’teryx stripped superfluous pockets, drawcords, and adjustable cuffs from the four-ounce Norvan SL, leaving behind a lithe and efficient stormproof shell that proves sometimes less is more. 

Salomon Bonatti WP ($150)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Salomon

Best for: Breezing by on a budget 
With the 2.5-layer Bonatti WP, Salomon sought to give endurance athletes sub-seven-ounce protection at an affordable price without skimping on features. It succeeded. Asymmetrical cuffs keep weather off the hands, a nifty single-snap closure converts the entire front zipper into a vent for dumping heat, and the Skin Fit hood, with an elastic headband and excellent peripheral vision, is the snuggest we’ve seen on a running jacket. 

The North Face FuseForm Dot Matrix ($199)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: The North Face

Best for: Doing it all—all year long 
The North Face updated this full-featured rain shelter with its DryVent 2.5, which uses a breathable polyurethane coating and a patterned liner that TNF claims raises the fabric off the skin. However it works, the results elevate an already versatile piece into the high-output realm. Mountain bikers, joggers, and hikers will love the airy pit zips, pack-friendly hand pockets, and adjustable cuffs, hood, and hem. 

Patagonia Torrentshell ($129)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Patagonia

Best for: Roaming far and wide
Always looking to reduce its environmental footprint, Patagonia tweaked the Torrentshell to include a recycled nylon face fabric. The reworked 2.5-layer jacket keeps the elements on the outside with the company’s microporous polyurethane H2No membrane, a DWR coating, and storm flaps over every zipper. Though heavier and less breathable than some of the other jackets here, it’s a solid travel shell that’s suitable for hiking and urban exploration. 

Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond Rain Shell ($400)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Columbia

Best for: Slogging through a deluge
Despite the old-school rain-slicker mojo, this shiny jacket packs state-of-the-art innovation in waterproof construction. Where most shells sandwich a fragile inner membrane between a pair of protective layers, this one exposes it, bonding an abrasion-resistant polymer to the face to beef it up and a softer, wicking liner next to your skin for comfort. The result is backpacking-ready armor that won’t wet out in biblical drenchers. 

Outdoor Research Realm ($279)

Click to enlarge.   Photo: Outdoor Research

Best for: Topping out on tricky climbs
The Realm is OR’s latest foray into waterproof-breathable technology, and it’s aimed at hard efforts in vertical environments. The new AscentShell construction drops a proprietary polyurethane membrane between nylon face fabric and polyester backing. Its mechanical stretch and massive underarm panels offer great freedom of movement for swinging an ice ax or nailing a crux move. 

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