Misc. | Baselayers | Insulation | Shells
The Hobak is the Mercedes of winter shells–superbly constructed, with maximum function in terms of protection against foul weather and decked out with loads of luxury features. Made with Gore's top-of-the-line Gore-Tex Pro Shell, the Hobak's two layer exterior is extremely abrasion and tear resistant but also light, highly breathable and completely waterproof. The jacket still looked like new after two months of hard use backcountry skiing and winter camping. The Hobak is insulated with a dense, thin layer of Primaloft which kept our testers toasty when sitting around camp on cold days but, thanks to long pit zips and the shell's breathability, the Hobak was not hot when we were hiking or skiing in below freezing temps. An adjustable hood and cinchable storm collar allowed testers to batten down the hatches during blizzards, but they could also zip-off the hood during milder conditions. A powder skirt and cinchable hem kept the cold stuff from creeping up and plenty of internal and external pockets offered just-right storage for everything from an iPod to bulky gloves.
$495; men's S-XXL, women's XS-L; 1 lb., 14 oz. (w's M). (888) 763-5969; cloudveil.com.
EMS Aurora Shell Pant
If you're tired of cheap rain pants that fit and feel like a plastic trash bag, the Aurora pants will be sure to please without maxing out your credit card. Made from a three layer proprietary waterproof breathable membrane, these pants kept us dry and comfortable on winter ski trips and on rainy spring backpacking trips. We found the fabric as waterproof and breathable as that used on shell pants twice the price of the Auroras. And the Auroras have the detailing that typically comes with high-end shell pants: a fleece-lined waist band, waterproof zippers and hand pockets, and snap bottom cuffs. The pants proved highly durable and withstood sliding down wet rocks and logs. Female testers also appreciated the flattering fit of these pants with a just below-the-belly-button waist and plenty of room in the hips and legs without looking baggy.
$159 m's; women's XS-XL; (888) 463-6367; ems.com
Misc. | Baselayers | Insulation | Shells
L.L. Bean Ascent GTX
Made from Gore-Tex Pro Shell, Gore's most advanced and expensive waterproof breathable fabric, the expedition-worthy Ascent offers the same function and technology as other manufacturer's Gore Pro jackets that cost at least $100 more. The Ascent is decked out will all the features of a serious mountain shell: an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood that has a large brim for shielding the face; pit zips; waterproof zippers; abrasion patches on shoulders and elbows, along with gusseted elbows for freedom of movement. There's also a wide front storm flap, and a parka-style cut that covers the butt but does not get in the way of a climbing harness. Testers who used the Ascent climbing, skiing and backpacking on spring mountain trips in Colorado found the shell extremely weatherproof and durable for its light weight. "It's breathable enough to be my three season backpacking shell, but I would also take this jacket to Everest," said tester who is a mountaineering guide.
$299; men's S-XXL, women's XS-XL; 1 lb. 4 oz. (m's L). (800) 441-5713; llbean.com.
Mountain Hardwear Dragon
If there is any jacket that offers all the weather protection of a hard shell but the comforts of a soft shell, it is the Dragon. With its welded seams, waterproof zippers and Gore-Tex Windstopper soft shell fabric, the Dragon kept testers dry in northern Arizona downpours and in spring blizzards. Plus, it completely blocked mountain winds that were gusting at 40 miles per hour. Testers especially liked the "quiet factor" of the Dragon's silky, pliable exterior as well as the fuzzy interior of the brushed tricot lining. The fabric's two-way stretch made it easy to climb in this shell and a stiff, wide brim on the adjustable hood shielded against blowing snow. The Torrid proved breathable during a spring hike in the Grand Canyon and two-way pit zips offered extra venting.
$249; men's S-XXL; 1 lb., 5 oz (m's L). (800) 330-6800; mountainhardwear.com.
Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco
Can't afford a fancy shell that costs as much as a month's worth of groceries? The Cyclone provides all the wet weather protection you'll need ("Will handle a Costa Rican downpour just fine," said one tester) for nearly half the price of comparably waterproof shells. An adjustable hood big enough to fit over a helmet, a wide front storm flap and Velcro cuffs add to the jacket's storm-fighting strengths. Testers said the two-layer waterproof breathable Dri Zone fabric felt a bit clammy when they were hiking hard but long pit zips allowed for adequate venting. Plus, this shell is eco friendly; it is made with recycled polyester.
$149; men's S-XXL, women's XS-XL; 1 lb. 1 oz. (w's L). (800) 736-8592; sierradesigns.com.