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Backpacker Magazine – Gear Guide 2013

Gear Review: More Tester Picks Shells

Find your ideal shell with these myriad reviews.

by: Ted Alvarez and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Arc'teryx Tecto FL (Courtesy)
Arc'teryx Tecto FL (Courtesy)
Eddie Bauer First Ascent BC MicroTherm 2.0 (Courtesy)
Eddie Bauer First Ascent BC MicroTherm 2.0 (Courtesy)
The North Face Summit Series Anti-Matter (Courtesy)
The North Face Summit Series Anti-Matter (Courtesy)
Sierra Designs Cloud Windshell (Courtesy)
Sierra Designs Cloud Windshell (Courtesy)

Hardshells
Arc’teryx Tecto FL
Testers declared the Tecto a total force field on multiday treks in some of the wettest places on Earth. A Gore-Tex Active Shell membrane, Velcro cuffs and an adjustable, brimmed hood offered tight seals against the “buckets of water” that bushwhackers encountered during a two-day rainstorm in Olympic National Park. But breathability doesn’t suffer: “I thought I was steaming up while paddling against a 1.5-knot current—but every time I paused, the damp feel vanished,” says one kayaker. $369; 10.3 oz. (m’s M); arcteryx.com

Eddie Bauer First Ascent BC MicroTherm 2.0
Kiss cold-weather layering hassles goodbye with the MicroTherm: Its 800-fill down insulation kept testers toasty to 15°F, yet the waterproof/breathable hardshell exterior vents so well, they never had to fuss with adding or removing layers in changing conditions. Thanks go to well-designed, 10.5-inch-long pocket vents that cool the core on hard ascents (they’re located well above hipbelt level). Testers also cheered the medium cut for easy layering, the extended hem, and the availability of tall sizes. $299/$319 tall; 1 lb. 3 oz. (m’s M); eddiebauer.com

Marmot Speed Light
Male and female testers alike appreciated the Speed Light’s slim, flattering fit, whether they were hiking trips in California’s Trinity Alps or skiing at Lake Tahoe: It delivers just the right amount of room in the chest and shoulders, low-bulk sleeves and cuffs, a harness-friendly hem, and unrestricted range of motion. Bomber waterproofing comes courtesy of a Gore-Tex Pro Shell membrane, and deep handwarmer pockets swallow gloves and a neck gaiter. $425; 14 oz.; marmot.com

Mountain Hardwear Alakazam
Is it a hardshell or a softshell? Both, actually. This hybrid incorporates breathable (yet waterproof) softshell fabric on the sides and arms, and sports three-layer hardshell everywhere else. The result: “Not a hint of leakage, and in really cold conditions, I didn’t get steamy on climbs,” reports a tester who wore it during a sleet storm in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. It’s built for nuclear conditions—the hood sports an extended brim, and you get a removable powder skirt and snow-sealing cuffs—but heavy face fabrics and six pockets slow moisture transfer through the Dry Q. Elite membrane. And it’s spendy. $550; 1 lb. 12 oz.; mountainhardwear.com

Patagonia M10 “This superlight shell now lives in my climbing pack,” raves a Colorado tester of the minimalist M10. “It packs so small, I can practically stuff it in my pants pocket,” adds a Washington fan. The proprietary, three-layer H2No Performance Standard fabric kept testers dry in all-day drizzles and cut wind atop California’s 11,798-foot Glen Pass. But it’s only moderately breathable, and testers wished for more precise hood adjustments. $379; 7.9 oz. (m’s M); patagonia.com

Season Five Crestone/Blanca
Here’s an innovative idea: This ultralight shell employs zippered slits along both sides that let you buckle a pack’s hipbelt under the jacket. “The system preserves airflow under the hem when you’re wearing a pack,” reports a tester. “And it prevented the shell from bunching up.” The featherweight 12-denier, 2.5-layer nylon Crestone (women’s version is the Blanca) fended off Midwestern rain and snow. You get plenty of features for the weight: an adjustable hem and hood, plus pit zips. Fit is slim (you won’t get more than a midlayer underneath). Gripe: only adequate breathability (though the hipbelt slits provide venting). $180; 7.3 oz.; seasonfive.com

Sherpa Adventure Gear Asaar
Budget-conscious testers praised this stripped-down shell’s performance in rain, snow, and ripping winds along the northernmost stretches of the AT; the 2.5-layer Pertex Shield fabric kept foul weather at bay, including 50-mph gusts on New Hampshire’s Franconia Ridge. Features are spare but functional: one chest pocket, adjustable cuffs, and an adjustable hood. Tradeoffs for the sweet price: so-so breathability (testers yearned for pit zips) and a hard-to-engage waterproof zipper. $159; 6.4 oz.; sherpaadventuregear.com

Westcomb Shift LT Hoody/Fuse LT Hoody
The perfect year-round shell is light enough for summer backpacking, weatherproof enough for winter skiing, and breathable enough to prevent overheating—and the Shift nails all three. The Polartec NeoShell jacket keeps weight down with ounce-saving seams (supertight stitching lets the shell forgo a secondary topstitch) and narrower, lighter seam tape; the minimalist design features just one chest pocket (no handwarmers). And though it breathes as well as some softshells, “it fended off artillery-like rainstorms near Laramie, Wyoming,” reports one tester. Gals: The Fuse offers gusseted elbows and hand pockets. $400/$430; 12 oz. (m’s M); westcomb.com

Softshells
Mammut MTR 201 Micro
“This shell can do it all,” declared testers who rocked the MTR as an outer layer on breezy, rainy trail runs in Pennsylvania’s Rothrock State Forest and as a wind-blocking midlayer on backpacking trips. The 10-denier, polyester-blend fabric is “practically as breathable as a T-shirt,” and a long-lasting DWR sheds droplets effectively in all but total downpours. Testers also cheered the athletic fit, smooth next-to-skin feel, and extended cuffs that roll over balled fists for extra warmth. $139; 3.5 oz.; mammut.ch

The North Face Summit Series Anti-Matter
High-intensity trail runners and mountain bikers reached for this lightweight Windstopper layer to combat windchill and most precipitation (it’s seam-taped everywhere but the hood) without sacrificing breathability: “It’s a double bonus: packable, with great ventilation and near-hardshell protection in wet weather,” says one Idaho tester. A longer hem and sleeves and trim cut made the Anti-Matter a favorite outer layer for beanpole physiques. $380; 10.7 oz.; thenorthface.com

Salomon Mont Baron WS Hoodie
Testers raved about the Mont Baron’s “flattering, functional” fit: Its body-hugging cut facilitates wicking during sweaty climbs and slides easily under a puffy or hardshell. Gore Windstopper fabric and a tight-sealing hood protected against chilly gusts on Colorado Fourteeners, and smart features like flat-lying thumbholes and pack-friendly pockets drew kudos. “It’s a phenomenal spring-fall shell,” says one hiker. Wet-weather note: The water-resistant fabric soaked through after 20 minutes of drizzle. $200; 12.4 oz.; salomon.com

Sierra Designs Cloud Windshell
“The perfect layer for summer backpacking,” declares a tester who wore the breathable Cloud on chilly climbs in Mt. Rainier National Park and Tasmania: “I stayed cool and dry while scrambling up a Tasmanian peak, then it kept me from feeling chilled on top, where 25-mph winds gusted.” The water-resistant Cloud also fended off drizzles for almost two hours without a leak. Testers appreciated its streamlined design—no pockets, no hood—and ultralight packability. $119; 6 oz.; sierradesigns.com

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