Patagonia has virtually erased the line between soft shell and storm shell with the Spraymaster. The incredibly stretchy, astoundingly waterproof, and impressively breathable lightweight shell fuses the best of both worlds. Call it a firm shell. And rest assured, it's the one jacket that will prompt you to seek out bad weather.
Patagonia Spraymaster (9 oz) $249 www.patagonia.com
1. A good soft shell will stretch 20 percenteach yarn lengthens from, say, five inches to six. But the Spraymaster's stretch-knit nylon exteriorexclusive to Patagoniaeasily doubles that, making it ideal for trail running, climbing, or any pursuit that demands flexibility.
2. Add a trim athletic cut, ripstop nylon on the underarms that reduces friction when you're running, and a smooth interior that slides easily over layers and it's no surprise testers lusted after this jacket. We knew we had a winner when they got excited just ripping it off one another.
3. When I ran hard uphill for half an hour in 50-degree rain, the Spraymaster repelled every drop of water and trapped only a dram of condensation, even while my hair dripped with sweat. On the same trail in similar conditions, other soft and storm shells left me soggy.
4. Attention, fabric wonkshere's how it works: Patagonia matches its top-of-the-line DWR (durable water-repellent) coating and waterproof-breathable laminate with a stretch-knit exterior (unlike the stretch-woven fabrication of other soft shells), enhancing the jacket's breathability.
5. Details are dialed: Oversize mesh-backed pockets allow venting without added weight; water-resistant zippers work smoothly; a sculpted hood fits snugly over your bare head; foolproof elastic cuffs seal the sleeves at the wrist; and a one-hand-adjustable drawcord cinches the hem.