Gear Guide 2012: The North Face Alpine Project Shell

This shell's design enhances moisture transfer and provides both wind-proofing and water resistance, making it the most versatile.

[most versatile]

Call it a happy case of mistaken identity: This softshell thinks it’s a hardshell. “I was in a saturating deluge during two long desert trail runs and the DWR on this jacket beaded all water—zero leak-through, no wet seams, no chilled shoulders,” says a tester. Windstopper X-Fast, a new version of Gore’s three-layer softshell fabric, has four-way stretch and an open-weave nylon that enhances moisture transfer.

Testers called the breathability-to-weatherproofing “freaking amazing.” They report: It lets sweat escape faster than a hardshell while providing bomber windproofing and extreme water resistance over a broad temperature range (20s to 60s). A streamlined design helps eliminate leak points, making this a go-to “almost-stormshell” for everything but multiday backpacks in the wettest locales (it doesn’t have taped seams*, so it’s not intended for long-term rain).

A moderately full cut allows athletic mobility, and the slightly stretchy fabric slides over insulation layers without binding. Long sleeves, no-bulk cuffs, two small handwarmer pockets and one small Napoleon pocket, and a brimmed and sculpted storm hood round out the minimalist, “easy-to-live-in” features. One tester calls it “a revelation when it comes to classic softshell performance: It’s got all you need for summer squalls or winter blizzards, and nothing you don’t.” $250; 12 oz.;