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Gear Guide 2012: More Tester Picks – Hardshells

Extreme weather protection and breathability make these hardshells great performers when it comes to rough conditions.

Helly Hansen Odin Superstretch

Feels like a softshell, protects like a hardshell, say testers of this fully waterproof shell with four-way stretch. It shielded one Colorado backpacker from extended rain, yet felt “quiet and soft” and allowed for unrestricted movement. The comfortable, easily adjustable hood also drew raves: “Fantastic—one of the best hoods I’ve ever worn.” Ding: Baggy cut. $400; 1 lb. 4 oz.;

Arc’teryx Beta FL

Hard-charging testers seeking high breathability and low weight loved this Gore-Tex Active Shell jacket. It packs to demi-baguette size and “breathes so well I didn’t get sticky, even on humid spring days,” reports one tester. Another raves, “Of the Gore-Tex jackets I’ve worn, this one performs the best under aerobic conditions in foul weather.” Also: Get top-tier features and toughness for the weight. $450; 11.4 oz. (m’s S);

GoLite Kenai

This ultralight shines in awful weather, making it ideal for ounce-counters on multiday trips. The Pertex Shield fabric fended off sudden downpours, and 13-inch-long pit zips kept one tester from overheating on a sunny, windy ascent of Mt. Shasta. $200; 10 oz.;

L.L.Bean Trail Model

For rain protection at a rock-bottom price, reach for this superlight 2.5-layer shell. One Oregon tester called it “impenetrable” after a cloudburst that had her contemplating digging moats around the tent. The tradeoff for this price is limited breathability and venting, so it’s best for in-camp protection and sedentary activities like fishing. $69; 11.6 oz.;

Mammut Felsturm Half-Zip

“Unparalleled temperature range,” declares one tester who hiked and skied this lightweight shell through rain, sleet, and snow on Utah’s Lake Peak. Breathability is top-notch, thanks to a Gore-Tex Active Shell membrane and open-weave nylon face fabric. And the streamlined design (half zipper, single pocket) translates to a ridiculously small packed size. $390; 10.5 oz.;

Merrell Chameleon

Get a durable, Gore-Tex Paclite shell for less than $250. One Colorado tester praised its move-with-you, four-way stretch fabric and waterproof pit zips. Tradeoffs: It’s a bit heavy, pockets sit under a pack’s hipbelt, and the hood feels roomy without being big enough for a helmet. $249; 1 lb.;

MontBell Thunder Pass

An impressive performance-to-price ratio makes this shell a smart bet for backpackers on a budget. “It’s perfect for shoving in your pack for chilly summits and late-afternoon thunderstorms,” says one Colorado tester, who stayed dry in a Routt National Forest downpour. Cons: You’ll pay for the savings with a baggy cut, tough-to-adjust hood and hem toggles, and only average breathability. $99; 14.6 oz. (m’s M);

The North Face Venture Jacket

An innovative castor-oil blend makes the fabric in this bargain waterproof shell almost as breathable as standard technologies, and TNF eliminated about 50,000 pounds of petroleum-based production pollutants from the line it replaced. It shielded our Pacific Northwest tester from both wind and deluges; breathability is solid, enhanced by long pit zips and mesh-lined pockets. Great backpacking performance plus eco-friendly construction earned this jacket an Editors’ Choice Green Award in 2011. $99; 12.4 oz. (m’s M);

Rab Stretch Neo Jacket

This air-permeable Polartec Neoshell jacket earned near-perfect scores on breathability, even in tough slogs through foggy, humid conditions in the Columbia River Gorge. Other smart features: The helmet-ready hood “sheltered my head and face so well I felt like I was sitting in a tent,” reports a Mt. Whitney tester, and the roomy cut makes cold-weather layering a snap. $365; 1 lb. 2 oz.;

The North Face Leonidas

“The perfect combination of fit and features at an affordable price,” raves one tester of this proprietary 2.5-layer HyVent shell. Stretchy nylon fabric let him reach for pole plants and handholds without binding, and an elasticized band keeps the hood snugged closely to the head. Reliable weatherproofing and long pit zips kept testers comfortable from rainy hikes in Colorado National Monument to snowshoe trips in wind-driven hail. $199; 11 oz. (m’s M);

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