You get what you pay for, right? Well, not always. Over the years, we’ve seen expensive rain jackets leak while budget pants bashed through briers and storms. So for this year’s Apparel Guide, we’ve divided the best clothes we tested in the last 9 months into complete three-season layering systems that you can nab for $200, $400, and $800 (or just pick and choose the pieces you need). Each system includes a rain shell, midlayer, base layer, and pants, plus one additional item that can be had with the remaining money. To narrow our picks to this batch of 15 products, we tested the clothes in all sorts of weather on hikes from the Colorado Rockies to New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
Spend big, and you’ll get supreme versatility, sharp-looking designs, and long-lasting materials. By Michael Lanza
Montbell Peak Shell
There are few places like New Zealand, with its notoriously hard, cold, frequent rain, for making an ultralight raincoat look like a dumb way to cut 3 ounces. But I wore this jacket happily in Kiwi downpours and even stateside snowstorms. It always delivered no-compromise performance, thanks to a fully adjustable hood with a brim that keeps rain off your face, enough hem length to cover your butt, and adjustable hook-and-loop cuffs. The breathability of the Breeze Dry-Tec fabric is excellent, and deep pit zips provide additional venting. Fit is trim, with enough room for a warm midlayer. And with the sweet price, I had enough money left for a soft shell too (below). $198; unisex XS-XL; 12 oz. (877) 666-8235; www.montbell.com.
The North Face Moxie ¼ Zip
I lost count of how many days I wore this versatile midweight zip-T–in temps from below freezing to 60°F, in wind, rain, snow, hail, and sunshine. When I sweated hard, TNF’s VaporWick fabric rarely stayed damp for more than a few minutes. The tall collar adds warmth, the deep zipper permits good venting, and the sleeve thumbholes keep hands toasty in cool weather. After all those days and washings, it still looks almost new. $55; men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL; 10 oz. (800) 447-2333; www.thenorthface.com.