You have to consider weather, terrain, and activity level when choosing a shell. From a 6-ounce hardshell to an uncommonly breathable softshell to a bargain do-it-all, we've got picks for every hiker.
Days tested: 687
Miles hiked: 2,495
Max wind speed: 60 mph (Mt. Washington, NH)
Biggest 1-day temp swing: 51°F (Clear Creek Reservoir, CO)
Coldest temp: -10°F (Southern Alps, New Zealand)
Highest trip: 14,003 ft. (Mt. Huron, CO)
Rise of the Budget Hardshell
Thrifty hikers, rejoice: There’s never been a better time to snap up a quality shell at a rock-bottom price. While shells with $400-plus price tags have dominated in recent years, this season’s offerings include a slew of high-performing jackets that come in under—sometimes well under—200 bucks. To wit: Look for steals this spring from Columbia (OutDry EX Reversible, $150), Montbell (Convertible Rain Jacket, $179), adidas Outdoor (Fastpack 2.5L, $159), L.L.Bean (TEK O2 2.5L Element Jacket, $159), and Eddie Bauer (Cloud Cap Flex, $129), all of which earned positive reviews from testers.
What’s behind the plummeting prices? It’s demand from you—especially the young consumers. “What our under-30 customers expect they’re going to pay in an Amazon world is much lower,” says Mountain Standard cofounder Eric Lyon. His brand keeps cost down by managing its own raw materials and even built an early version of a hardshell out of other brands’ castoff materials.
Big brands are pulling this off by switching to proprietary materials over pricier premium fabrics and getting creative with their manufacturing. And sometimes it’s just a matter of flexing big-company muscle: “We can go into a factory with pretty large order numbers and negotiate great prices,” says Greg Thomsen, U.S. managing director for adidas Outdoor.