Hard Shell

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Aigle Shems – Midweight Jackets: Reviews   With a soft fleece interior and warm, durable merino wool/nylon exterior, this jacket combines our favorite fabrics in one versatile top. 1.9 lbs; aigleusa.com         Patagonia Pau – Footwear: Reviews (Terry Heffernan) The coolest mocs we’ve ever laid eyes…

NO MORE OVERHEATING Breathability can be a bugger to gauge. But of the 30-odd hard shells we tested, the Pinnacle, from British newcomer Rab, let the moisture out better than the rest. Credit the jacket’s two-layer eVent fabric, which, like most waterproof-breathable fabrics, uses a porous membrane that vents…

FULLY LOADED FEATHERWEIGHTEven at a pound and some change, this bombproof feature fest is still worthy of the Lite name. Its three-layer Alchemy3 fabric repels mountaintop precip, while flexible side panels breathe and move with you. Dig the see-through watch window (no more unbundling to check your progress) and the…

Both the Ekolab’s vegetable-based waterproof-breathable membrane and DWR finish are fluorocarbon-free and recyclable. Testers were a bit skeptical that the sustainable chemistry would perform as well as the regular stuff, but the shell easily fended off hours of rain during a wet hike in Colorado’s Indian Peaks. Although the…

SOFT BUT BURLY You know you have a winner when testers argue over who gets to wear it. Such was the squabbling over the Langtang, which, despite being cut from Gore-Tex Soft Shell fabric, performs more like a storm shell than a softie. It’s completely waterproof, of course, and survived…

Simple Security Talk to any jacket designer and he’ll tell you the same thing: The more pockets and doodads a waterproof jacket has, the more seams it requires, and thus the more opportunities water has to seep through. That’s why the Stash, part of online gear retailer…

This no-nonsense Canadian company specializes in “practical high performance”—a quality exemplified by the generically named but brilliantly engineered Rain Jacket. I stayed comfortably dry while cross-country skiing in a wet snowstorm, thanks to highly breathable eVent fabric and spare but effective features, like a huge chest pocket and a…

EURO CORE Good for Resort The Formula is the Porsche of this test—damned pricey, just as flashy, but worth every cent. Kjus’s designers tossed in everything from an integrated balaclava to a dedicated cell-phone pocket with a keeper leash. So plentiful are the hidden accessories that…

ULTRALIGHT INSURANCE Does it make sense to buy a jacket for times when you don’t actually want a jacket? In a word, yes. When you’re going light, the forecast is decent, and you’re tempted to leave your storm shell behind, pack the Isotope. At five ounces, it vanishes until you…

Chances are you won’t be tracking a wolverine anytime soon. But that’s exactly what one of our testers—an employee of Alaska Mountain Guides—did for several hours in the Stretch Ascent. His report: The 2.5-layer fabric fended off brambles and waves of heavy rain, while the combination of pit zips…

HARD CHARGER Consider this category-defying hybrid a soft storm shell. Waterproof-breathable eVent on the shoulders, arms, and hood keeps you dry, while the seam-taped and NanoSphere-treated Schoeller Dynamic soft shell breathes well and is incredibly water-resistant (and impervious to après beer and wine, which we also tested). Westcomb dared us…

Mountain-Ready Eddie Bauer went all out to create its new line of high-end outerwear, packs, and accessories, enlisting the help of an A-Team of mountain guides like Ed Viesturs and Dave Hahn. You can tell. The Rainier Storm has everything we look for in a versatile shell: easy-to-adjust pit zips,…

DIAD stands for “done in a day,” but even testers who didn’t speed-climb El Cap appreciated this wispy storm shell. It’s perfect for windy summits and surprise squalls—and so light we never debated packing it. Designing a seven-ounce jacket requires cutting a few corners, which in this case means…

GO-TO GREEN Good for Resort The only uninsulated jacket here, the Ekolab is a lightweight hard shell with resort touches like a removable powder skirt and helmet-compatible hood. Not only did it win over our testers in heavy, wet snow; it also impressed us with its…

HIGH-PERFORMANCE HIPSTER Our guarantee: With this jacket you’ll either be the best-dressed guy in camp or the driest sidewalk cruiser in town. The Sray is unabashedly unlike any storm shell we’ve seen before, and that’s why we love it. With a slim cut and head-turning plaid pattern borrowed from Helly…

With the hood stowed away in the collar, the Carbon is sleek and stylish enough to blend in downtown (there’s even a subtle honeycomb pattern on one side of the back of the jacket for added evening flair). But it made the grade here because it’s also built to…

FEATHERWEIGHT First impression: Too light to abuse—or rely upon on in really nasty weather. But doubters became believers in the field: It’s every bit as durable and waterproof as jackets twice the weight and didn’t slow testers down on a wet-weather run from the summit of Mount Adams. The trick?…

You can pretty much bet on a short, fierce thunderstorm on your hike. This shell has welded seams and a cinchable but ample-size hood to make sure not a drop of rain gets through. And when the weather clears? It scrunches to the size of a grapefruit in your…

“I’d climb Everest in this jacket,” said one tester. We doubt his fitness but not the jacket’s. A top-tier combo of Gore-Tex fabrics—ounce-saving PacLite in the torso and burly three-layer XCR on the shoulders—provides maximum durability, waterproofing, and breathability with minimum weight. Superb details include two-way pit zips, a…

Good for Backcountry 1. No matter what the weather, the Icefield was ready. The shell—a slightly stretchy, very sturdy ripstop polyester with a waterproof-breathable membrane—shucked off epic dumps at Jackson Hole and wet slop on Washington’s Mount Baker. But inside was the perfect amount of…

HEAVY BREATHER Overheating is for cars. Move fast and stay cool with the Thru Hiker. It’s made with eVent, which testers generally agree is the most breathable of all the waterproof-breathable fabrics on the market today (and there are dozens). It’s also one of the most expensive—which is why this…

Soft ShellsWe barely noticed this five-ounce piece in our packs. But when conditions changed, we appreciated every feature, from its chest pocket to its stashable hood. The cut is just generous enough to fit over a fleece, while the DWR-coated ripstop nylon is water-resistant enough to fend off a…

On a spring heli-ski trip in British Columbia, this synthetic-filled jacket provided a near-perfect balance of warmth, protection, and breathability. Credit the Windstopper shell, long pit zips, and removable hood. 1.9 lbs; mountainhardwear.com…

Testers raved about how smoothly this waterproof trench coat transitioned from hikes in the woods to art galleries. Plus it was pineapple-size in our suitcase. merrell.com…

Where are the gills? On a fast hike uphill in 40-degree weather, the latest iteration of Hardwear’s Epic fabric showed no signs of vapor trap. And when I picked up the pace, cracking the large pit zips and mesh-backed front pockets kept me cool. High-class touches include a laser-cut,…

THE CRUISER Good for Backcountry The Burnside is neither the lightest nor the most technical jacket here, but that’s not this crossover shell’s point. The two-ply waterproof-breathable polyester shell repels precipitation well enough for a full day on the slopes or a long hike or walk…

EXCELS IN ALL CONDITIONS From paddling in Wisconsin to backpacking in New Mexico to skiing in British Columbia, the Stormlight was a tester favorite everywhere we took it, in wind, rain, and snow. The key is a smart blend of Gore-Tex’s most durable fabric (XCR) on the high-wear and high-motion…

Soft ShellsThe soft Cocona-and-polyester lining makes the Kenosha the warmest wind shell here. It proved its mettle on everything from a whale-watching trip in Maine to a 30-mile mountain-bike epic on the Colorado Trail. We even used it as a midlayer on a spring skiing tour in Rocky Mountain…

1. An eco-conscious makeover of one of Marmot’s most popular pieces for the past 15 years, the redesigned Catalyst won over nearly every tester. An outer polyester fabric kept out blasts of wind, and the soft recycled-polyester liner stayed cozy even while wicking sweat. Our favorite update: Stretch-fabric panels…

Nothing beat the uninsulated Snowbelle on bluebird spring ski days. Patagonia’s proprietary fabric is completely waterproof but didn’t suffocate, even when we wore it on a steep, snowy hike up 9,111-foot Atalaya Mountain in Santa Fe. Our taller testers applauded its extra length (which kept snow out), and everyone…

If God is in the details, the Zorro is heaven-sent. The hood, which adjusts behind the head and below the chin, cinches out of view with or without a helmet—making it the best we tested. The gaping chest pockets easily accept backcountry skins or salami, and the solid pocket…

MR. VERSATILITY Good for Backcountry Looking for something you can backpack in all summer and then ski in come winter? The Troll Wall is your jacket. Simply detach its powder skirt and you’ve got a lightweight—just 19 ounces—and easy-to-pack rain shell you can wear year-round. The…

VERSATILE PERFORMER “It’s super-comfortable, looks cool, and beat back steady rain for hours,” said one tester, summing up the Virtual’s virtues. In a category that has never been known for sleek style, Ground has elevated the game by creating an all-purpose storm shell you won’t mind wearing when it’s not…

Good for Backcountry No bell, whistle, or expense was spared in making this uninsulated jacket: Two-way pit zips. Padded cell-phone compartment. Seven pockets. Reinforced shoulders. Removable powder skirt with belt loops. A Recco avalanche reflector. The list goes on, and you might ask yourself: Do I really…

BIG PROTECTION The anorak is back (also see the Triumph, below)—and we like it. When a group of testers got stuck in a downpour on a mountain-bike tour in Utah’s Abajo Mountains, the only guy who stayed bone-dry was the one in the Alpha SL anorak. Credit the material, Gore’s…

The styley exterior of this hearty resort jacket hides thumb gaskets, a waterproof membrane, a storm collar with a mesh vent for breathability, and other wonkish details. When it starts to get warm, snap out the liner to make the jacket a hard shell. TAGS: resort, three-in-one.

(The Hybrid)This mix-and-match jacket uses two types of fabric to deliver a blend of soft- and storm-shell performance. Waterproof-breathable nylon protects the shoulders, chest, and hips—the points where you get the most exposure. Stretchy, breathable material covers the sweat-prone areas of the core. The hybrid won’t keep you…

MINIMALIST PERFORMER Good for Backcountry Like the Marmot (near left), the waterproof-breathable Shuksan was a tester favorite among all-season jackets. True, this pared-down shell has no winter-specific features, but that doesn’t mean it can’t handle the cold. The well-designed hood can accommodate a helmet, and the…

DRY IN ANY STORM If you go out when others go home, this is your jacket. It’s a tad heavy, but the payoff is uncompromising protection. When a group of five testers ski-toured out of Washington’s Commonwealth Basin in steady rain, the only guy who stayed bone-dry was the one…

Good for Backcountry The trim-fitting Lobuche is every bit as breathable and snow- and rainproof as any hard shell we’ve ever tested. But it’s got something else up its sleeves. Because glues and seams can interfere with breathability, Mammut uses electrical current to bond the Lobuche’s…

SUPER-PACKABLE On those days when the forecast is for full sun, take the Triumph. Extremely packable and weighing in at an obscene five ounces (a bit more than a bag of potato chips), the Triumph is as spartan as they come—there’s one tiny front pocket and a basic but slightly…

Quiet, slightly stretchy GoreTex fabric. A simple cinchable powder skirt. Smooth-tracking waterproof pit zip. A truly helmet-compatible hood with great periphery visibility. While other hard shells offer these simple features, nowhere are they combined as elegantly and with as much attention to detail. You can just tell that every feature—like…

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…

RAIN While the ultralight, compressible Kulshan repels snow and rain as well as a fully featured rain jacket, the eVent hard-shell material, a waterproof laminate, is still miraculously breathable. Wear it when you plan to bust ass on a wet day. rei.com…

ECO ALL-STAR Nau has made a splash this year with its all-eco-friendly line, dedication to sustainable business practices, and fashion-forward style. All of which matters not a whit if the company’s signature storm shell can’t keep you dry. It does. The two-layer Quintessenshell’s 100-percent-recycled outer shell kept the rain out…

Good for Backcountry The Amalgam isn’t quite as breathable as the Lobuche or as tricked out as the Free Thinker II, but it’s better priced and more packable. One thing it doesn’t compromise on, however, is weather protection. When a wet spring snowstorm near Winter Park, Colorado,…

STYLE AND PERFORMANCE Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but our testers were unanimous: Thanks to its sleek design and refreshing lack of logos, the Shelter is the best-looking shell in the bunch. And, like nearly everything the eco-conscious, Portland, Oregon–based Nau makes, much of the Shelter…

Remember that high school buddy who souped up an old Datsun 510, then went looking for suckers to race? The Taku is his kind of jacket. At first glance this 2005 Gear of the Year pick is just another storm shell, but a closer look reveals a whole lotta functional…

1. Keeping rain out is never the problem; a $2 poncho can do that. But if you want a jacket that also holds up the other end of the bargain, letting moisture out, it’s going to cost you—usually around $200. Which is why we were so impressed with the…

HIGH-PERFORMANCE HIPSTER Newcomer Scapegoat absolutely nailed “performance casual” with the Rosti, which instantly felt like an old favorite. It’s ideal for resort cruising and sidewalk surfing. On the slopes, the waterproof-breathable fabric, PrimaLoft One insulation, and meticulous seam-taping stood up to driving squalls at Beaver Creek. It doesn’t have tons…

Good for Trail When the weather waffled between freezing rain and slushy snow, this top-shelf technical jacket hit its stride. It’s a hybrid—a 750-fill down sweater wrapped in an eVent hard shell—that never wet out, even in a deluge, but breathed well enough for alpine treks and…

LIGHT BUT TOUGH Like a clever fighter capable of KO’ing guys with considerably more heft, the Thunderhead offers protection that belies its light weight. That’s because it’s cut from Gore’s best stuff, Pro Shell, with lighter, thinner (but more abrasion-resistant) material in the shoulders. The hood is beautifully designed—easy to…

I've been frustrated for years with "waterproof" jackets. The waterproofing invariably wears off after a year or so, especially if the jacket is worn in the sun. (I know, I shouldn't do that, but I'm a city guy who likes to wear one jacket all day - when it's raining and when it's not.) Hasn't some manufacturer solved the problem of "disappearing" waterproofing? Jack New York, NY

There's the gear you want, and there's the gear you need. After much internal debate, we present the 25 products every guy should own.

I'm looking to go all out on a really good hard shell to last me a long time. I'm thinking about the Arc'teryx Alpha SV. I want something that can handle every condition possible, but wonder if this jacket really only for the worst of the worst weather and any other time it'll be too much. Should I be looking at the Theta AR instead? I'm in Ireland, so no extreme weather really. Any other suggestions welcome. -Cillian Louth, Ireland

WHERE TO USE IT: One glimpse of Longs Peak’s 1,500-foot vertical east face and you’ll know why you came: This 14,259-foot Colorado mountain is no mellow slag heap. The 15-mile round-trip hike gains 5,000 feet and demands an alpine start; afternoon lightning storms are a given. You can also tackle…

“Not just different. Better.” That tester’s observation sums up this 15-degree bag from Montbell, whose major tech innovation—spiraled baffles—made it the most comfortable and best-functioning bag we tested this year. Far from a gimmick, the spiral baffles drape more evenly over the body, creating…

I'm graduating from a Masters program in May, and planning, possibly, my last great summer get-away before becoming a hard-working stiff in September. My itinerary from mid-May through August includes a hiking/camping cross-country road trip to Sedona, two weeks of camping and hiking in Alaska, volunteering as a fly-fishing instructor in Alaska, and traveling in Asia for three weeks. If you were putting together a recommended gear list (particularly lightweight waterproof jacket, backpack, tent, and sleeping bag) from scratch where would you start?—JosephPittsburgh, PA

When spring showers make a mess of your favorite streets and trails, fight back.

I’m working in Southeast Alaska (Juneau) again for the summer as a deckhand on a whale-watching tour boat. The rain jackets they gave us last year weren’t all that great, and I want to bring something that offers a little more protection. I work 8 to 16 hours at a time, sometimes it's raining the whole time. I like being able to move, but weight isn’t that big an issue. As a younger student I am also budget-conscious. What do you recommend?—JosephAustin, TX

I'm doing the John Muir Trail this summer and am trying to decide between a down sweater (like the Rab Microlight Alpine jacket) or a down vest (like the Western Mountaineering Flight Series vest). The vest is lighter, but I'm concerned about warmth.—NanaNew York, New York

The People's Elbow

How would you compare the waterproof/breathable ratings of The North Face Venture, the Marmot Precip, the Mountain Hardwear Epic, and the Isis Torrent? CYD Falmouth, Maine

Two years ago, Arc’teryx gave lead designer Carl Moriarty a dream mandate: Build the best mountaineering jacket in the world, cost be damned. It needed to be warm enough for nasty conditions, so he stuffed it with the company’s top-of-the-line ThermaTekinsulation, which, in addition to being more hydrophobic than other…

1. Most frontside skis are too precise and exhausting for freeskiing. Not the pared-down CX 80, which does away with heavy add-ons like complex binding plates for a more responsive feel. It’s ten millimeters fatter than most, but its World Cup­–inspired…

You answered a question in 2004 about the best gear for cycling in freezing temps. What's changed since then? John Alexandria, Virginia

In terms of rain jackets, which waterproof-breathable fabric is more breathable: eVent, Gore-Tex Pro Shell, H2No (Patagonia), or Dry Light Tec (MontBell)? Chris Mission, Kansas

I bought the Arc'teryx Theta AR, but returned it because, for that kind of money, I hoped it would have a thin liner or just be slightly more substantial in warmth. I’m now thinking about the Arc'teryx Gma MX Hoody. I'm not traversing the Alps, but since I will be outside in the winter months when it rains (and that's usually everyday!), I want something of high quality. Any ideas? Scott Eugene, Oregon

My husband and I are going to Peru for our 50th anniversary. We will be adventuring in the Amazon rainforest, and I’m wondering what kind of supportive footwear I can use on the wet, slick trails. Also, what rainwear would protect against torrential rain, yet not be too hot in the jungle? Judy Reeds Spring, Missouri

Sustainability meets performance in these eco-friendly products

I need a rain jacket that can take the abuse of going off-trail. Something that shrugs off thorns, branches, and trunks with nary a RIP to be heard. And it needs to be light to handle the 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity days we enjoy each summer here in Rocksylvania. Any ideas? John Lebanon, Pennsylvania

My husband and I are taking a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska in May and then driving from Jasper through Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and the Colorado Rockies. Being Aussies from the subtropics, we would welcome your suggestions about what outerwear we’ll need and where to buy it in Vancouver. Margaret Brisbane, Australia

Score with a bargain rain shell, an eco-friendly PFD, and more of the season's hottest new gear

I’m rafting the Colorado River in April and need rain gear, but I don’t know what to buy. Any help would be appreciated. Troy Huntington Beach, California

OutsideOnline's Gear Guy reports on the latest trends at this season's gearapalooza.

You trust Outside Online’s Gear Guy to answer all of your pressing questions about buying, using, and rehabbing gear. Now get his advice on the best buys for your friends and family this holiday season.

I’m looking for a fleece-and-shell combo that can be worn separately or together when needed. I’ve looked at The North Face Denali fleece but unsure of a shell to go over it. Can you recommend a system that can be used for everything from hiking to skiing without breaking the bank? Ryan Lubbock, Texas

What is a good, moderately priced three-season shell for a big, sweaty backpacker? I got soaked to the bone this weekend and need to upgrade. Also, is it safe to wash backpacking clothes in unfiltered water? John Athens, Georgia

What raingear would you suggest for bike commuting in rainy Seattle? I need something that will keep me dry but not slow me down this winter. Martha Bainbridge Island, Washington