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March 2008 Essentials Review: Shell Jackets

Arc’teryx Epsilon SV Hoody
When one of our testers wore the Epsilon on a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, she got more compliments than a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, thanks to the tailored, just-right fit. But this waist-length soft shell has more than just a pretty face fabric. During a snowy, early-morning skate-skiing session, it was breathable enough to avoid that clammy feeling and weatherproof enough to keep out breezes and light precip. But, as with most soft shells, the Epsilon is not waterproof. Think of it as lightweight insulation with great weather and abrasion resistance. Nice touches: The fuzzy interior lining is cozy; the adjustable hood is structured enough to stay put; and the stretchy cuffs are offset–shorter on the palmside–to improve dexterity. Available in men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL. $199; 1 lb. (men’s M); arcteryx.com

The North Face Triumph Anorak
This is one of those elegantly simple designs that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. Take the hood: It looks basic, but the brim is perfectly carved for peripheral vision, stiffened just enough (a rarity in ultralight jackets), and sewn without a fraction of wasted fabric. Otherwise, the Triumph is a featherweight, waist-length anorak that squashes smaller than a softball and is totally waterproof. The proprietary Hyvent membrane is laminated to a Tyvek-thin shell material that’s much more breathable than other Hyvent jackets we’ve tried, though still a tad clammier than eVent. It lacks coverage and venting for prolonged rain, but the Triumph is a terrific choice for either superlight trips or summer outings, when basic coverage for short afternoon soaks is sufficient. Available in unisex S-XL. $179; 5.4 oz. (M); thenorthface.com

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