Buy smart: Get high performance without shelling out a lot of money for luxe fabrics and features. By Kris Wagner
Patagonia Rain Shadow
If this jacket were a car, it would be a Toyota Camry-that perfect balance of price, performance, and clean style. Like any good shell, it did more than shed spring showers; it kept me dry even during an unexpected 60 mph blow in the Colorado Rockies. And like an LX model, the Rain Shadow comes fully loaded, with a roll-down, brimmed hood, two roomy pockets in front and one inside, snug-fitting hook-and-loop cuffs, and two-way pit zips. Patagonia’s H2No fabric breathes well, and showed zero wear even after I wore it for a week straight on a soggy spring trek. Sizes run big. $149; men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL; 13 oz. (L) (800) 638-6464; www.patagonia.
Lowe Alpine Lightfire
The synthetic-fill Lightfire is heavier and bulkier than a high-end down jacket, but it’s just as warm and costs half as much. In the Rockies, with temps hovering around freezing, I could lounge in comfort wearing this jacket. The brushed nylon liner is soft against the neck, and the zippered hand and internal pockets offer plenty of stash capacity. A hem drawcord and elastic cuffs seal in heat, but I’d like a higher collar to prevent chilly drafts from sneaking in. And the thin shell cuts only light wind. $80 (men’s S-XXL); $70 (women’s S-XL); 1 lb. 2 oz. (800) 891-7908; www.lowealpine.com.