I'm going on a mountaineering expedition in Peru's Cordillera Blanca next summer. Being a college student, I don't have tons of money to shell out, so what is the best hard shell jacket for the best price?
You can get an adequate rain shell for as little as $100. But around $200 is really the sweet spot for getting into a jacket that has good design, durable construction, and one of the better waterproof/breathable laminate fabrics.
The Storm Jacket
The Storm Jacket
A good example of that is Mountain Hardwear's Typhoon ($200). It uses Gore-Tex PacLite material, which is both breathable and very nearly waterproof (I resist using "totally waterproof" because condensation and other issues will make you feel a bit damp under extended rainfall). The Typhoon has a stowable hood, pit zips, and other useful features. PacLite isn't a fabric that can take a lot of grubbing around in mud and crawling over rocks, but it's fine for everyday use for backpacking and hiking.
For the same price you can get into Marmot's Super Mica ($200). It's based on the ultralight Mica jacket, but adds some reinforcing while still retaining its very light weight (8 ounces!!). The Super Mica uses Marmot's proprietary MemBrain laminate, which I've worn and found to be very effective. It has an integral hood, water-resistant zippers, pit zips, and other useful features. Like the Typhoon, not a jacket for hugging rocks. But an excellent piece for hiking and backpacking.
For something a bit more rugged, take a look at Patagonia's Storm Jacket ($249). It's a classic, a well-designed all-purpose jacket that uses Patagonia's very good H2No coating. Features include an adjustable hood, reinforced shoulders and elbows, and handwarmer pockets as well as a chest pocket. I think you'd be very happy with this.
Finally, if you can go up to $300, look at REI's Shuksan. It's made with eVent fabric, which I think is as good as anything out there, waterproof/breathable-wise. It also has an adjustable hood, mesh-lined pockets, two-way waterproof zipper and more. No pit zips—eVent really is so breathable that you can get by without them. I haven't worn the Shuksan but have worn other eVent jackets and have found that to be the case.