L.L. Bean Ascent GTX
Made from Gore-Tex Pro Shell, Gore’s most advanced and expensive waterproof breathable fabric, the expedition-worthy Ascent offers the same function and technology as other manufacturer’s Gore Pro jackets that cost at least $100 more. The Ascent is decked out will all the features of a serious mountain shell: an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood that has a large brim for shielding the face; pit zips; waterproof zippers; abrasion patches on shoulders and elbows, along with gusseted elbows for freedom of movement. There’s also a wide front storm flap, and a parka-style cut that covers the butt but does not get in the way of a climbing harness. Testers who used the Ascent climbing, skiing and backpacking on spring mountain trips in Colorado found the shell extremely weatherproof and durable for its light weight. "It’s breathable enough to be my three season backpacking shell, but I would also take this jacket to Everest," said tester who is a mountaineering guide.
$299; men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL; 1 lb. 4 oz. (m’s L). (800) 441-5713; llbean.com.
Mountain Hardwear Dragon
If there is any jacket that offers all the weather protection of a hard shell but the comforts of a soft shell, it is the Dragon. With its welded seams, waterproof zippers and Gore-Tex Windstopper soft shell fabric, the Dragon kept testers dry in northern Arizona downpours and in spring blizzards. Plus, it completely blocked mountain winds that were gusting at 40 miles per hour. Testers especially liked the "quiet factor" of the Dragon’s silky, pliable exterior as well as the fuzzy interior of the brushed tricot lining. The fabric’s two-way stretch made it easy to climb in this shell and a stiff, wide brim on the adjustable hood shielded against blowing snow. The Torrid proved breathable during a spring hike in the Grand Canyon and two-way pit zips offered extra venting.
$249; men’s S-XXL; 1 lb., 5 oz (m’s L). (800) 330-6800; mountainhardwear.com.
Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco
Can’t afford a fancy shell that costs as much as a month’s worth of groceries? The Cyclone provides all the wet weather protection you’ll need ("Will handle a Costa Rican downpour just fine," said one tester) for nearly half the price of comparably waterproof shells. An adjustable hood big enough to fit over a helmet, a wide front storm flap and Velcro cuffs add to the jacket’s storm-fighting strengths. Testers said the two-layer waterproof breathable Dri Zone fabric felt a bit clammy when they were hiking hard but long pit zips allowed for adequate venting. Plus, this shell is eco friendly; it is made with recycled polyester.
$149; men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL; 1 lb. 1 oz. (w’s L). (800) 736-8592; sierradesigns.com.