(Inga Hendrickson)
2019 Summer Buyer's Guide

The Best Jackets of 2019

At long last, full-protection shells that breathe, too

Inga Hendrickson

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Marmot Bantamweight ($275)

(Courtesy Marmot)

Too often, the “breathable” in waterproof-breathable is an exaggeration. Rare is the jacket that strikes the perfect balance between the two, so you can wear it without clamming up as temperatures and exertion levels rise. Now we have a shell that’s so light and breathable, you can wear it in the kind of weather that sends sweat geysering out of every pore. Weighing in at just five ounces, the Bantamweight feels like a windbreaker but performs like a hard shell, and it kept testers dry through hours-long deluges. That earned it props in all conditions, but particularly in the sweltering heat and humidity that make most jackets feel stifling. Credit the stretchy 2.5-layer Pertex Shield fabric, which is so gauzy that we initially doubted its durability.

We stand corrected. “Two hours of riding in pouring rain and lots of mud, and it never sprung a leak,” said one tester, a mountain biker, who further noted that the Bantamweight showed zero damage after several crashes. The material isn’t stiff enough to offer much shielding from strong wind. (Through-hikers and climbers who spend ­extended periods above tree line should consider the Arc’teryx Zeta SL on page 50.) But its breathability is excellent: perforations under the arms vent sweat, as do the mesh-lined hand pockets. Cinch cords in the hood and waist seal out weather. 4.9 oz (men’s) / 4.7 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell ($130)

(Courtesy Mountain Hardwear)

Best Soft Shell

This jacket dazzles with its subtlety. The Pertex Quantum Air fabric is so stretchy that we forgot we were wearing it—even when reaching for overhead holds. And its thinness provided just the right protection from wind and chill. “It made layering easy, because I could put it on and leave it on, no matter how hard I was working,” said a tester. That made the Kor indispensable on summit bids, big-wall climbs, and trail runs, when the fabric’s outstanding breathability kept testers dry. Elastic in the hem and hood seals out gusts, and the hand pockets sit high enough to play nice with a harness. 4.9 oz (men’s) / 4.3 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

Arc’teryx Zeta SL ($299)

(Courtesy Arc’teryx)

Best Hard Shell

Most of us carry our hard shells more than we wear them. So with the Zeta SL, Arc’teryx emphasizes packability. Using Gore-Tex’s new two-layer Paclite Plus construction, this waterproof jacket has no lining fabric, so it’s lighter and more compressible than a three-layer shell. That makes it the per­fect insurance policy for peak bagging and backpacking. Its excellent breathability kept clamminess at bay while we hiked up steep Rocky Mountain passes. And Arc’teryx’s inimitably clean styling also looks smart in cities, meriting the Zeta SL a place in any globe-trotter’s duffel. 10.9 oz (men’s) / 9.5 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

Maloja SielvaM ($265)

(Courtesy Maloja)

Best Insulated Jacket

Chilly summer mornings call for low-profile insulation, and the SielvaM (and men’s PozM) nails it. Panels of Primaloft Hybrid provide windproof warmth across the chest, neck, and shoulder blades. The rest of the jacket uses recycled Pontetorto fleece with four-way stretch, which allows full freedom of movement when breaking down a tent or scrambling up a shady face. That fleece is supremely breathable; it dumped heat and sweat as fast as we could produce it. Unfortunately, Maloja’s jacket isn’t odor thwarting, though the SielvaM’s good looks had us reaching for it nonetheless. 9.5 oz (men’s) / 11.5 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

Black Diamond Deploy ($159)

(Courtesy Black Diamond)

Best Wind Shell

Black Diamond claims that the Deploy, at a mere 1.7 ounces, is the world’s lightest shell. And we’re inclined to believe it. For this minimalist pullover, the company chose a slick, specially made, ridiculously feathery ripstop nylon. Aside from cinches at the waist and wrists, the only feature is a clementine-size stow pocket in the collar. The Deploy provided the hint of warmth we needed for chilly starts, despite its translucence, and knocked most of the bite out of blustery wind. The DWR coating shed light rain for an hour before wetting out. Never mind a pack—this is the first jacket you’ll ever stuff into your shorts pocket. 1.7 oz

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The North Face North Dome Stretch Wind ($129)

(Courtesy The North Face)

Best Alpine Shell

North Face designers tested ten different fabrics when searching for just the right one to use in the ultimate climbing shell. The winner is a tight weave of nylon and elastane that’s tough and nearly windproof, but also stretchy and lightweight. The hand pockets stayed out of the way of a climbing harness, gussets in the armpits let the sleeves move with us, and water resistance kept us dry in light rain. It’s not breathable enough for running, but the details that make it ideal for climbing work just as well for getting to the crag on a bike or on foot. 12 oz (men’s) / 11.2 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

Outdoor Research Apollo ($99)

(Courtesy Outdoor Research)

Best Rain Jacket on a Budget

A legitimate waterproof-breathable shell for $100 is hard to find. One that we’d actually want when rain is in the forecast? Harder still. But that’s the Apollo, a 2.5-layer jacket with excellent weather resistance, plenty of features, and a flattering fit. All that and its 70-denier fabric doesn’t feel like a cheap plastic bag. On a backpacking mission on British Columbia’s West Coast Trail, the Apollo stood strong through daylong precipitation. To compensate for so-so breathability, we cracked the pit zips and mesh-backed hand pockets. It just got harder to justify spending much on a rain shell. 12 oz (men’s) / 11 oz (women’s)

Men's Women's

From Summer 2019 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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