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Gear Reviews

The Best Hiking Shells of 2015

From feature-rich to feather-light, we rounded up the best new shells that'll keep you dry this season.

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photo: Andrew Bydlon
photo: Andrew Bydlon

The Test

Miles hiked: 4,100+
Highest elevation: 19,900 feet in Peru
Strongest wind: 75 mph in New Zealand
Coldest temp: -15°F in British Columbia


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Field Tips

Add insulation in cold, dry weather. If your shell doesn’t fit over your puffy, wear it underneath to buy yourself several degrees of warmth.

Start cold. You’ll heat up within 10 minutes of starting your hike, so resist the urge to start layered on chilly mornings. Stuff your shell in an easy-to-reach pack pocket for quick access.

Improve zipper pulls. Make tiny ones more grabbable and glove-friendly. Make a small square of folded-over duct tape, then tape it to the existing pull.

Shell Shopping Smarts

Check the hood. Cinch it snug. How’s your peripheral vision? Does the hood move with you when you turn your head?

Do you run hot? Opt for a shell with long, easy-to-operate pit zips for added ventilation.

Check the hem. Make sure the jacket tucks underneath your pack hipbelt and doesn’t expose your back when you bend over.

Fit check. Make sure the sleeves still cover your wrists when you reach above your head.

Check layers. Bring your puffy to the store and see how it fits under the shell.

Trending: Greener DWR

A shell’s first line of defense against the elements is its DWR (durable water repellent) finish, a chemical treatment that repels moisture. But DWRs have a dark side: They’re made from perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), long-lasting “long-chain” substances that accumulate in the environment and have been found in everything from Arctic sea ice to human breast milk. PFCs have never been proven safe for humans, and the EPA has asked major chemical companies to start phasing them out this year.

That’s left outdoor companies scrambling to find a greener alternative. Most are turning to short-chain PFCs, which provide water resistance but don’t last as long in the environment (or on a shell, but a wash and tumble dry will revive the finish). Other companies worry that the short-chain DWRs still aren’t green enough. A few companies are ahead of the issue. Montane has already switched to a short-chain version on all new outerwear (including the Featherlite; we didn’t notice a performance difference during a season of use). Nikwax uses fluorocarbon-free chemistries in its aftermarket waterproofing treatment. And Fjällräven’s Keb Eco-Shell (coming in summer) features a fluorine-free DWR paired with recycled polyester. Our field testing has begun.

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