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Gear Guy

What's the best lightweight shell that won't cost the earth?

Oh Glorious One, I have a riddle for you: Being of little monetary wealth, I have sworn off new fangled soft shells and gone with the traditional three-layer system. So what is a good, breathable windbreaker? And by that I mean a light layer to ward off wind and the lightest of rain. Also could it have pit zips and mesh pockets? John Athens, Georgia

A: Well, we don't call them "windbreakers" anymore. That's so '60s and low-tech, making one think of the millions of cheap nylon jackets that used to be popular back in the day. Now they're wind-resistant (or windproof) shells, and have some cachet.

Stretch Wind Jacket

One good example of this genre is Marmot's DriClime Windshirt ($100; It's a polyester piece (polyester being naturally water-resistant and quick-drying) with a light knit lining that serves as insulation, which may or may not be something you want. It doesn't have pit zips, but it does have mesh vents. And it has a chest pocket, which is handy for stuffing things to which you need ready access.

You'll also find a lot of good wind shell-type pieces in the cycling world, as bicyclists often need lightweight, breathable protection against wind and maybe some light rain. Pearl Izumi's Zephrr ($65; is a classic light shell, although it lacks pockets and pit zips (in any event, I think you can scratch the pit zips, strictly a rainwear item these days). And, Mont-Bell makes an excellent light shell called the Stretch Wind Jacket, which sells for $79 ( It has a full front zip, chest pocket, and stretchy nylon material, making it ideal for high-agility activities.

Lastly, L.L. Bean makes a very functional, very basic piece called the Wind Speed Pullover ($59;, an anorak-style jacket with a half-zip, nylon shell, and single pocket.

For a dizzying mix of shells, jackets, and all-weather armor, check out Outside Online's Jackets Buying Guide.

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Lead Photo: courtesy, Mont-Bell