Ultralight, highly breathable, affordable: Pick two. That’s the old rule for choosing a hardshell. The Essence nails all three, breaking the rule and raising the bar for the category. We wore the 6-ounce shell from Pacific Northwest rainforests to 15,000 feet on Peru’s Salkantay Trek, getting absolutely hazed by wind and water, and we came out dry. “I hiked hard for hours through Washington’s Core Enchantment Zone in a steady rain in the 50s,” says one tester, “and I couldn’t overwhelm it.”
The key: Marmot’s new NanoPro Membrain fabric, a 2.5-layer, air-permeable membrane* that incorporates tiny, densely packed pores. To keep it light, the shell tends toward the minimalist (one chest pocket, no adjustable cuffs) and replaces pit zips with interior mesh panels under the arms to vent heat. (The shell fabric extends over both sides of the mesh, but a slit in the middle allows for free airflow while preserving weather protection.) The streamlined hood adjusts with a Velcro tab in back to help dial in fit, and the small brim shielded testers’ eyes from everything but sideways rain.
Despite its skimpy weight, the slightly stretchy, 12-denier nylon face fabric proved durable: “I repeatedly scraped it against granite while scrambling in the Cascades, and it still looks perfect,” says a tester. Fit is trim but accommodates a midlayer and slim puffy, and the shell’s ample shoulder cut allows for free reaching without yanking the hem out of a hipbelt. $200; 6 oz.; m’s S-XL, w’s XS-XL; marmot.com
*Air-permeable membrane Millions of tiny pores let sweat vapor and body heat escape, making for a super-breathable jacket.