Gear Guide 2012: REI Kimtah Shell

The Kimtah offers excellent weather protection and breathability at a bargain price.

[bargain breathability]

An eVent jacket for less than 250 bucks? We don’t know how those REI bean counters cooked the books on this one, but we love the results: The Kimtah delivers top-notch breathability and weather protection for a few twenties less than the nearest shells in its class, making it a superb value. “I felt totally comfortable powering uphill in a central Cascades rainstorm with temps in the 40s, while wearing just the Kimtah and a baselayer,” one tester reports. “And on a late-fall ascent of Washington’s Mailbox Peak, the Kimtah shed everything from drizzly rain at the trailhead to wet snow flurries at the summit.”

Credit the eVent membrane for the above-average breathability; it vents sweat vapor without the need for a humidity differential between the shell and the outside air, which helps prevent moisture buildup inside. The jacket easily accommodates a midlayer for colder weather, making it more versatile than a standard lightweight shell (downside: it’s a bit heavy for a three-season jacket).

Other smart features: Velcro cuffs that seal out precipitation and angle over the back of the hand for enhanced coverage; an adjustable, wide-brimmed hood; two handwarmer pockets placed high enough to clear a hipbelt; a fleecy zipper garage* that doesn’t chafe the chin; and a cinchable hem with toggles that rest below the waist (so they don’t dig into the hips while you’re wearing a pack).

Drawbacks? A baggy cut and extra features, like storm flaps over the non-waterproof zippers, make the Kimtah a shade less breathable than more expensive eVent shells. Another quibble: The hood adjustments around the face require two hands and are tough to grasp while wearing gloves. $239; 15.5 oz.; rei.com