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Gear Reviews

The 11 Best Hiking Shells of 2021

Rain, sleet, snow, wind: These are our favorite shells of the season for any weather.

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Blue Jacket

Best Features: Norrøna Falketind

The devil is in the details—but so is salvation, as this meticulously designed jacket proves. Testers raved about the little things, including asymmetrical cuffs that protected their hands while they picked blueberries in the rain in Alaska’s Chugach State Park. The brimmed, helmet-compatible hood deflects drips, and high-placed pockets keep essentials at the ready, even under a pack. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Photo: Matthew Stacey

Most Breathable: Columbia OutDry Ex Nanolite

Columbia’s OutDry Extreme fabric helped rewrite the playbook on waterproof/breathable technology when it debuted five years ago (we gave it an Editors’ Choice Award at the time): Unlike every other textile out there (with the exception of Gore-Tex’s Shakedry), Columbia places the membrane on the outside of the shell, sans face fabric and DWR, which means water beads on the surface but never passes thorough. The Nanolite leaves even its predecessors behind, retaining OutDry’s breathability and long-lasting waterproofness while ditching the heavy, rubbery feel and packing down to grapefruit size. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Montane Featherlite Smock

Best Bargain: Montane Featherlite Smock

No, you don’t always need a windshell for backpacking. But for summit bids, exposed terrain, and chilly mornings, their protective-yet-breathable performance can come in handy. This one is so affordable and diminutive—it packs down to baseball size—adding it to your kit is a no-brainer. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie

Best Windshell: Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie

The best windshells walk a fine line between protection and breathability, not to mention durability, weight, and packability. The Helium handles that tightrope with aplomb, prompting one tester to name it “the only shell I need on most days.” Credit the 30-denier Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric, which weaves interlocking, diamond-shape nylon filaments together for added strength and water resistance. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Maloja Beifuss Birne

Most Breathable: Maloja Beifuss/Birne

If you’re expecting to break a sweat—think trail running, mountain biking, hard-charging dayhikes—this airy softshell will keep you from entering the sauna zone. The combo construction—polyester with a breathable, windproof PU membrane on the chest and upper arms; nylon/spandex panels everywhere else; and a large, covered mesh vent on the back—effectively jettison body heat. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

red rab jacket

Most Comfortable: Rab Kinetic Alpine 2.0

This isn’t the first time we’ve crowned a Rab shell “most comfortable,” and it won’t be the last, as long as the brand keeps cranking out Proflex jackets. The Kinetic Alpine 2.0 features two kinds of the proprietary, superstretchy three-layer material with a flexible PU membrane: a recycled polyester knit face on the main body and a 20-denier, stretch-woven nylon on the shoulders, arms, and hood. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

blue jacket

Most Durable: Direct Alpine Deamon

If you’re eyeing scrambly, wind-whipped objectives this year, you need a burly shield like the Deamon to match. This shell’s 40-denier nylon face held up to months of off-trail exploration, and its full suite of features kept us dry even during days of sustained rain. “I ran this shell through the gauntlet, scrambling up the boulders and bluffs of Arkansas’ Ozark National Forest, and it came out looking new,” reports one tester. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

First Lite Vapor Stormlite/ Cascade Stormlite

Most Versatile: First Lite Vapor Stormlite / Cascade Stormlite

From backpacking to trail running, from chilly alpine starts to blustery ridgewalks, we kept reaching for this do-it-all shell. (The Vapor is the men’s version, and the Cascade is the women’s.) Light enough for summer use, the 2.5-layer fabric with a PU membrane kept us happy all day as conditions varied. “I wore this as a windbreaker above treeline on the 23-mile Presidential Traverse,” reports a New Hampshire tester. “The temperatures swayed from the high 30s to mid-60s, and I felt comfortable throughout.” Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Photo: Matthew Stacey

Best Price-to-Weight Ratio: Odlo FLI 2.5L Waterproof Jacket

“The less it weighs, the more you pay” might as well be the rule of backpacking gear, but the FLI 2.5L proves a happy exception. Though the lightest waterproof shells on the market now weigh half as much, 6.7 ounces is still pretty featherweight—especially for this price. A generic PU membrane helps keep the cost down, but doesn’t sacrifice performance. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

literiser green jacket

Lightest: The North Face Flight Lightriser FUTURELIGHT

If Marie Kondo is your idol, then this pared-down jacket is for you. Prioritizing breathability and minimal weight above all else, the Flight Lightriser is ideal for trail runs and other high-output excursions, thanks to feathery polyester face fabric and an elecrospun, air-permeable membrane. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Black Diamond TreeLine

Best Value: Black Diamond TreeLine

Don’t be fooled by the price tag: This is no bargain-basement jacket. The TreeLine earned a place alongside shells that cost three times as much after shielding us from horizontal rain in Alaska and 30-mph winds in British Columbia. And despite the jacket’s relatively light weight, the 50-denier nylon face fabric impressed us with its durability. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

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