Canada Goose HyBridge Lite jacket
Canada Goose HyBridge Lite jacket

The 7 Best Backcountry Jackets of 2012

Canada Goose HyBridge Lite jacket

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Canada Goose HyBridge Lite Jacket

Down insulation and aerobic workouts rarely mix. But this past winter, sweat freezing to my face while I skied and ran trails in the snow, the HyBridge Lite kept my core regulated. At ten ounces, this airy and slim down-stuffed crossbreed takes the bloat out of the puffer. Breathability keeps it cool during high output in cold weather: excess body heat and moisture escape via uninsulated panels of fleece (Polartec Power Stretch) that run under the arms and down the sides. Thumb loops and a large inside pocket sealed the deal. And the HyBridge Lite is as flattering as it is effective—a shiny coat that kept me looking trim when everyone else resembled the Michelin Man. 10 oz

Breathability: 4.5
Weatherproofness: 3

Outdoor Research Centrifuge Jacket

Outdoor Research Centrifuge jacket
Outdoor Research Centrifuge jacket (Courtesy of Outdoor Research)

THE SELL: A soft-shell-and-fleece-shirt hybrid for endeavors that spike your heart rate. THE TEST: The most breathable jacket in our review, the Centrifuge is ideal for winter running and nordic skiing. Wind bounced off its soft-shell front face, while body heat bled out through fleece back panels. It’s super-stretchy and fits close—even the hood molds like a second skin. Testers raved about the off-center front zipper, which swerves right at the neck to position a comfy, breathable panel against the wearer’s mouth. While it’s excellent for high output, look elsewhere if you need full protection from the elements. THE VERDICT: A great deal on a piece for getting aerobic in the snow. 14 oz

Breathability: 5
Weatherproofness: 2

Spyder Eiger Jacket

Spyder Eiger jacket
Spyder Eiger jacket (Courtesy of Spyder)

THE SELL: A ski-mountaineering master. THE TEST: With laser-cut gills on the collar for ventilation, a Recco avalanche reflector, a powder skirt, and rubbery dots on the shoulders to ward off ski-edge cuts during hikes, the Eiger wins the bells-and-whistles award. Designed by ski mountaineer Chris Davenport, the waterproof-breathable Eiger meshes seamlessly with a backpack and harness. And though the trimmings were as sleek as possible—did we mention the hemline’s anti-chafe foam tubes and pocket-leashed goggle wipe?—some testers found them excessive. THE VERDICT: Light enough for the backcountry, full-featured enough for the resort. 1.4 lbs

Breathability: 3.5
Weatherproofness: 5

Those black stripes on the Spyder jacket? They’re not for speed; they’re cut-outs in the fabric that help prevent your warm breath from icing up the jacket.

Adidas Outdoor Terrex Active Jacket

Adidas Outdoor Terrex Active jacket
Adidas Outdoor Terrex Active jacket (Courtesy of Adidas)

THE SELL: A minimalist waterproof hard shell for three-season backcountry use. THE TEST: Ball-sports giant Adidas jumped into the backcountry this year with an entire adventure line. Testers appreciated this sleek entry because of its Gore-Tex Active Shell material, which is thinner than the traditional stuff and, because of some fancy lamination techniques, feels better against your skin. Plus, it compresses down to the size of a softball. Despite the no-frills design—two pockets, elasticized hem, and helmet-compatible hood—it multitasked when we took it skiing and climbing. THE VERDICT: Though a bit pricey, the Terrex Active is a solid, versatile waterproof winter shell. 12 oz

Breathability: 4
Weatherproofness: 4.5

Mammut Gipfelgrat Jacket

Mammut Gipfelgrat jacket
Mammut Gipfelgrat jacket (Courtesy of Mammut)

THE SELL: The soft shell reinvented. THE TEST: Tough, protective, and 100 percent waterproof, the Gipfelgrat inspired confidence in harsh alpine environments. The taped seams and stretchy, fleece-backed Polartec NeoShell fabric had just enough stretch to keep the fit close and prevent crinkling and flapping, but it also shed precipitation like a tin roof. The contoured hood’s stiff brim shielded testers’ faces, and the buckle-equipped Velcro cuffs are the best we’ve seen. Downsides? It’s not exactly light, and skiers will want more protection than the high-cut, climbing-centric design affords. THE VERDICT: For alpinists, a new-wave soft shell to replace that old workhorse hard shell. 1.8 lbs

Breathability: 4
Weatherproofness: 5

Sierra Designs Savage Jacket

Sierra Designs Savage jacket
Sierra Designs Savage jacket (Courtesy of Sierra Designs)

THE SELL: A hybrid soft shell that regulates body heat like a thermostat. THE TEST: The Savage’s synthetic fur and grid-pattern fleece kept us comfortable on icy adventures, while swaths of uninsulated soft-shell fabric on each side of the torso vented well during aerobic pursuits. On toasty days, we loved the full-length pit zips. The Savage is wind- and water-resistant—though not quite stout enough for rain or sloppy snow—and the large hood just fits over a ski helmet. THE VERDICT: You’ll need a hard shell for truly nasty weather, but the well-priced Savage does what traditional soft shells do best: it keeps you comfy—and moving—in a wide range of conditions. 1.6 lbs

Breathability: 3.5
Weatherproofness: 4

The North Face Jakson Jacket

The North Face Jakson
The North Face Jakson (Courtesy of The North Face)

THE SELL: A reinvented vest for backcountry skiing and layering. THE TEST: The Jakson functions like a puffy vest, heating the core with synthetic PrimaLoft insulation while adding protection by way of a stretchy, wind-permeable collar and sleeves. The result is a versatile jacket that focuses heat where it’s needed but allows steam to burn off during sweaty ascents. Stitched-on webbing loops for positioning avalanche transceiver straps kept backcountry devotees happy; resort skiers approved of the Recco reflector; and everybody appreciated how the trim fit made for cozy layering. THE VERDICT: Warm, versatile, and fairly priced, the Jakson is an everyday utility piece. 1.1 lbs

Breathability: 4
Weatherproofness: 3