Pulling on a shell is often a last resort, done only when foul weather truly demands the onerous coverage—but the Axial’s light weight, nonconfining cut, and excellent breathability make it pleasant to wear even when rain and snow aren’t flying. The Gore-Tex Pro Shell (Gore’s highest-end, most durably waterproof and breathable fabric) kept our tester from steaming up during a stormy winter ascent of New York’s Mt. Marcy. “My back didn’t feel wet by the time I reached the summit, so I didn’t get chilled after the climb,” she says.
The Axial (Emporia is the women’s model, pictured) achieves a low weight-to-performance ratio by keeping seam tape skinny, but it doesn’t skimp on features: Articulated sleeves provide freedom of movement without bulk, the collar is lined with a soft, microfiber chamois, and four pockets (one interior, three chest) secure little essentials. The cut is generous but not baggy, and adapts to a range of layers worn underneath, so the Axial proved the perfect pick for mild-weather hikes as well as winter pursuits.
It’d be overkill for Pennsylvania in August, but if you do most of your summer hiking at high, chilly altitudes, the Axial makes a smart choice as a year-round shell. The catch? Having it all (smart design, premium performance, and low weight) doesn’t come cheap. $500; 1 lb.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; mountainhardwear.com