The Gear Junkie’s Top 10 Winter Shells
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Ibex Breakaway 2
Best for Endurance Epics
Nordic skiers and cold-climate runners will love this aerobic-oriented jacket, which has a wind-blocking front face and a thin, breathable back. Ibex incorporates wool into the jacket’s hybrid fabrics, which stretches and provides a healthy amount of insulation. A bike-jersey-like pocket on back unzips to offer the perfect space for stowing your gloves and a hat.
Helly Hansen Enigma
Best for Apres Ski Trips
A sky-high price tag ($700) is at least partially balanced out by this top-end jacket‘s superlative feature set. Most unique, there are down-stuffed pillows that dot the inside of the coat to offer a plush insulation matrix for trapping hot air in deep channels. This puffy/hardshell amalgam has a waterproof, breathable membrane and PrimaLoft insulation in its body for even more warmth. Other highlights include a removable hood, shoulder pads, a powder skirt, a RECCO avalanche reflector, and a goggle wipe attached to a leash in a side pocket.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV
Best for Hardcore Alpine Outings
A clean design, a durable face fabric, and a GORE-TEX Pro Shell membrane make the SV a go-to workhorse for people who spend weeks in the mountains each year. Arc’teryx calls the Alpha SV its “most durable waterproof shell,” and the design, which lacks extras in favor of a sleek fit, is an archetype of what a mountain-oriented hardshell should be. A strong face fabric, water-tight zippers, laminated pockets, and reinforced stitching make it rugged and tough.
Mountain Hardwear Quasar Pullover
Best for Fast-and-Light Alpinism
A design collaboration between alpinist Ueli Steck and Mountain Hardwear led to this lightweight anorak shell. Mountain Hardwear’s Dry.Q technology provides waterproofness and breathability for the jacket, which weighs about 9 ounces. The design includes a low-profile hood, single-pull adjustments, and soft jersey fabric cuffs for wrapping the wrists warmly on a tough climb.
Outdoor Research Virtuoso
Best for Warmth on a Budget
In the Virtuoso, function trumps form by a long shot. Outdoor Research has stuffed a dozen baffles on the body with 650-fill goose down. Rip-stop polyester and a thin Pertex fabric keep the jacket light and packable. The Virtuoso can be jammed into its own side pocket—creating a grapefruit-sized ball.
Canada Goose Snow Mantra
Best for Arctic Expeditions
Built for the lethal-cold conditions seen near the poles, the Snow Mantra is advertised to keep you warm to 60-below F. It’s a huge and heavy jacket, whose polyester and cotton body is stuffed with pounds of the company’s eponymous white goose down. An extra-long cut gives warmth almost to the knees, and the coyote fur ruff on the tunnel hood is an Arctic must-have. Inside, you’ll find a pair of mesh “kidney pouches” that are made to be loaded with air-activated chemical warmers.
Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody
Best for Everyday Lightweight Warmth
Skinny baffles, a sleek cut, airy 800-fill down, and a thin fabric make this Patagonia piece an ultralight wonder. At about 9 ounces, the Down Hoody will barely measure when stuffed away in a pack. But pull it on and the goose fluff adds significant warmth in a time of need.
Best for Fast Alpine Ascents
A waterproof softshell jacket made for harsh alpine environments? That’s the theme of the Gipfelgrat, a jacket that uses Polartec’s new NeoShell fabric, which is touted as the most breathable waterproof formula yet derived. The jacket has a cut and design like a traditional alpine hardshell. Its NeoShell fabric is a bit thicker, more flexible, and, according to Polartec, offers more breathability than any hardshell because its membrane is more permeable to air.
Columbia Circuit Breaker Softshell
Best for Mechanized Warmth on the Slopes
Plug it in at home to charge. Then, once outside in the chill, press a button for instant warmth. Columbia’s line of electrically-heated jackets combine small heat-producing modules laced into the liner with a fancy fabric that has a grid of metalized dots said to reflect heat back at the body. The result is a jacket unique to the outdoor world with a trim cut, alpine-parka features, embedded rechargeable batteries, and on-demand heat. This coat is no cold-weather cure all, but the artificial warmth is noticeable enough to up the comfort level a notch on a lift ride during a storm.
The North Face Verto
Best for Emergency Backup on Fast and Light Treks
Need a hooded jacket that packs down to the size of an energy bar? That’s the promise with the Verto, a sheen of Pertex fabric that weighs just over 3 ounces. With this minimal “wind shirt” you get protection from stiff gales and some extra warmth. It’s great for putting on when you crest a ridge on a long run, or use it for a backup shell to have if the weather unexpectedly turns. But the Verto is not waterproof, so be sure to pack something up to the job if the weather looks ill from the start.