Gear Guide 2012: Patagonia Super Cell Shell

This shell can handle any kind of weather and is both protective and comfortable.

[versatile value]

You want: a light, packable, breathable, do-it-all shell to get you from summer backpacking to winter snowshoeing and skiing, all for a moderate price. Your shell: the Super Cell, which takes the middle path between packability and protection. “Comfortable in everything from a summer hike in the Rockies to a windy ridgewalk in 40°F temps on the High Divide in Olympic National Park,” raves one tester. “I didn’t overheat while hiking hard in steep, wet conditions. And when I stopped on the exposed trail to take pictures, the midweight shell blocked gusts and kept me from freezing.”

A heavy-duty, 40-denier nylon outer fabric repels brutal mountain weather without excess bulk (like some similarly protective shells) thanks to the lightweight Gore-Tex Paclite membrane* construction, which shaves weight by skipping a separate inner liner in favor of a protective, oil-repelling coating. This design sacrifices some breathability, but well-placed, 14-inch-long waterproof pit zips vent extra heat effectively. The two large chest pockets sit high enough to play nice with both harnesses and packs.

Testers also appreciated the adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with an extended brim that keeps drips out of the eyes. The fleece-lined neck and zipper garage eliminate skin irritation when the shell is sealed up. Cut is perfect: roomy enough to fit several layers, but not cavernous when worn with just a light baselayer. Downside: Like many waterproof zips, the main zipper and pit zips are stiff. $249; 13 oz. (m’s M);