Gear Guide 2012: Helly Hansen Odin FastPack Shell

With smart details and great versatility this shell delivers protection and breathability all in one lightweight package.

[all-purpose ultralight]

For a couple of ounces more than the lightest shells available, this featherweight delivers category-leading versatility and smart details. One tester used it while bike-commuting in the rain, paddling the Arkansas River, and climbing the Grand Teton, where it fended off 25-mph gusts of blowing snow. The Helly Tech Performance fabric’s breathability rivals eVent or NeoShell, but that’s not the only highlight.

The jacket goes from good to great because of backpacker-savvy details: Where many ultralights are cut short to save weight, the FastPack’s generous rear hem “actually extends over the hips, so your butt doesn’t get soaked from rain running off your pack,” says one tester, and it protects lower backs from gusts and updrafts. Testers dug the near baseball-cap-length brim for delivering superior visibility in gnarly precip; hood cords were easy to operate with gloves, and their tunneled design kept them from flapping in the breeze.

The FastPack shaves weight by eliminating pit zips, and testers said “the superlong pocket zippers help it vent enough that you don’t miss them.” The athletic cut sports sleeves long enough for one of our most spider-limbed staffers. Packed size equals about a 20-ounce bike bottle; it fits in a pack’s side pocket. Drag: Cuffs seal with Velcro, but lack stretch. Also, the jacket approaches four-season price without being burly enough to rely on for tree skiing and mountaineering. $300; 8.5 oz.; hellyhansen.com