Best Hardshell Jackets
Outdoor Research Interstellar
Our take The Interstellar ticks all the boxes on our three-season shell wish list: It’s breathable, packable, stretchy, and durable. Moisture management comes from three-layer AscentShell fabric. Its air-permeable membrane directly vents sweat vapor and keeps air flowing, which we noticed when hauling a 45-pound pack on a 40°F day in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. The Interstellar’s 20-denier nylon face fabric is tougher than its weight might indicate, as its false-twist construction—the individual nylon filaments are coiled, then woven into yarn while maintaining pliability—grants stretch without using elastane (which is less durable). This shell packs down to the size of a 1-liter Nalgene.
The details The Interstellar’s slim cut layers best over thin insulation, and its hood accommodates climbing helmets. Hipbelt-friendly hand pockets with mesh backers offer extra ventilation (a little) in lieu of pit zips. The only complaint? Testers griped that the hood’s side adjustment cords cinched uncomfortably across their ears.
Trail cred “For a lightweight jacket, it’s impressively tough,” one tester says. “I wore it on an off-trail scramble near Wyoming’s Cirque of the Towers, and it looked fine after I dragged it across an obstacle course of rocks.”
$299; 11.6 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite II
Our take A classic conundrum for outerwear designers: Features add functionality, but also weight. The brains behind this shell nailed the sweet spot between the two. An adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with a stiff brim turned away rain and graupel across Colorado and Maine, and four pockets (two hand pockets placed above a hipbelt, and two internal mesh pouches big enough for gloves or a water bottle) provide plenty of storage. Short-but-effective pit zips helped dump heat on a sunny, mid-40s approach on Canada’s Upper Vowell Glacier.
The details The 2.5-layer nylon Dry.Q Elite fabric is durable, and its air-permeable membrane prevented overheating. “I left this shell on as we free-climbed finger cracks, and I never got too swampy,” said a tester after a season of climbing in British Columbia’s Bugaboos. Still, the Quasar Lite’s 30-denier nylon face fabric (even tougher than the Interstellar’s, left) was strong enough to emerge from chimney climbing and scrambling through a limestone tunnel near Canada’s Takakkaw Falls without serious abrasions.
Trail cred “The Quasar Lite felt great over bare arms, not bulky or clammy like some other shells,” said a tester after a dayhike to Schoodic Point in Maine turned from T-shirt weather to cool, wet fog.
$300; 10 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
The holy grail for shell manufacturers? A DWR treatment that’s eco-friendly, effective, and permanent. Marmot thinks it’s found the solution in EVODry fabric. Instead of coating the shell with a DWR spray containing environmentally harmful PFCs, Marmot’s technique uses heat and pressure to infuse the individual yarns with a hydrocarbon-based DWR. The treatment becomes part and parcel of the fabric itself, and should last as long as the jacket. (Why do you care about DWRs? When they wear off, jackets need retreating to maintain water repellency. A waterproof/breathable shell without a DWR won’t leak, it will just “wet out,” which makes it heavy, cold, and less breathable.) Marmot ups EVODry’s eco cred by checking off every other green box: The waterproof/breathable membrane is also PFC-free, the fabric and zipper are made with recycled material, and solution dyeing saves water and reduces pollution. We didn’t get working samples in time to test for this issue, but we’re looking forward to getting these promising new shells into the field. (The Eclipse Jacket, pictured, costs $250)
Columbia OutDry EX Featherweight Shell
Our take When Columbia introduced its OutDry Extreme tech in 2016, we had two reactions. One, we loved the durability of the waterproof/breathable fabric (the Outdry EX Diamond shell won an Editors’ Choice award that year). Two, we couldn’t wait for Columbia to lighten it up. That wish comes true with the Featherweight (women’s version pictured), which packs the never-wets-out power of the Diamond into a garment that weighs 8 ounces less. (To shed weight, Columbia switched to a lighter, 15-denier ripstop nylon.) But that didn’t reduce protection. We got blasted by rain from one latitude to the next and always emerged dry. “I’ve given this coat a fair bit of abuse, hiking through brush and climbing over rocks,” reports an Alaska tester. “But I haven’t noticed any significant wear and tear.”
The details Always-open pit vents and mesh-backed chest pockets enhance breathability, but testers complained that small items stashed in the deep pockets slid down to their bellies. The hood sports a slightly stiffened brim with two cinch cords on either side.
Trail cred “The material feels crinkly like the original, but it moves better thanks to its lighter weight,” one tester says. “I never had any problem fitting insulating layers under it.”
$199; 7 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Black Diamond Stormline Stretch
Our take With low-cost shells, we expect compromises—subpar breathability and excess bulk are the usual culprits—but this sleek jacket delivers solid performance for less than $150. It shielded against gale-force gusts on an ascent of New Zealand’s Mt. Taranaki, and the proprietary BD.dry fabric earned decent marks for breathability (not as good as premium membranes, but better than other bargain shells). Add in its respectable weight and four-way stretch and the StormLine crosses into true steal territory. Caveat: We did get a little wet through a leaking main zipper during “apocalyptic” rain on Taranaki.
The details The tailored cut, with mobility-enhancing underarm gussets, accommodates a light puffy but doesn’t look baggy when worn over just a baselayer. The tradeoff for the sweet price comes in a couple of the jacket’s other features: Hipbelts cover the handpocket zippers, and we found that the main zipper often gets caught at the chin while zipping up, requiring two hands to wrestle it free.
Trail cred “The StormLine was breathable enough to use as a sunshirt while floating on New Zealand’s Whanganui River,” one tester says. “I’d zip the collar all the way up and be protected from UV and splashes, while still having the mobility I needed for paddling.”
$149; 11.3 oz.; m’s XS-XL, w’s XXS-XL
Montane Minimus Stretch Ultra Jacket
Our take Lightweight shells are fairly easy to find these days. But getting one that moves as well as the Minimus does for a cool $205? That’s harder to come by. Pertex’s two-way stretch Shield fabric, along with the jacket’s articulated sleeves, let us boost ourselves over boulders in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness and scale seaside cliffs in Australia’s Murramarang National Park. Our testers especially liked the Minimus’s cuffs, which extend over the backs of the hands for extra drip protection. “No wrist-gapping here,” one long-armed tester notes.
The details The Minimus’s svelte Euro fit makes it hard to bundle up underneath. Still, there’s a fair degree of adjustability for such a light jacket, including a hood that tightens around the face (but not around the head) and fits under a helmet, and a cinchable hem. The Minimus’s 20-denier nylon didn’t have an issue with grabby branches, but don’t expect it to handle extended rough-and-tumble use like a heavier shell. Two hand pockets steer clear of hipbelts.
Trail cred “In mild temps with light rain, I unzipped the jacket and used the fabric snaps around the zipper to prevent it from blowing open,” our tester says.
$205; 7 oz.; m’s XS-XL, w’s 6-14
Mountain Equipment Impellor
Our take If you want serious storm protection at the lowest possible weight, this is your shell. The streamlined Impellor dispenses with hand pockets (you do get an energy bar-size chest pocket), skips cinch cords in favor of elastic on the hem and cuffs, and employs just one cord on the hood (at the back) to get weight down to 6 ounces. Even so, Gore-Tex’s three-layer Active Shell kept us totally dry on a rainy hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Already Gore’s lightest option for all-around use, the latest iteration of Active Shell features a slightly thinner membrane and ditches the old tricot liner for Gore’s C-Knit backer, a softer, lighter option. Whether scrambling up Washington’s Mt. Stuart with heavy packs in ripping winds or descending it in muggy rain, we stayed comfortable, not clammy.
The details The Impellor’s trim cut also heightens breathability (there’s less distance for sweat vapor to travel), but its short hem length left some taller testers’ baselayers exposed. Ding: $50 per ounce.
Trail cred The Impellor’s 15-denier fabric is less hardy than the stuff in fellow ultralight Montane (page 87), but it’s still impressively resilient.“When I raked this shell against the sharp walls of lava tube caves in Oregon, I was surprised when it didn’t come out covered in holes,” one tester says.
$300; 6 oz.; m’s S-XL, w’s 8-16
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Jacket
Our take If you take the Subaru Outback approach to gear—performance, not flash—you’ll appreciate this shell’s recipe. For a few ounces more and $50 less than the Impellor (above), you get a more durable version of Gore’s Active Shell with a no-skimp design intended for long hours in the rain. Testers praised the well-designed, two-way-adjustable hood—the best in the test—with a water-deflecting visor that kept precip out of our eyes during a downpour outside Silver Plume, Colorado. The adjustable cuffs seal neatly with and without gloves, and the mesh-lined hand pockets are placed high enough to help vent heat and stay clear of a hipbelt.
The details The Drypoint survived scrapes with thorns and stones without damage. A roomier fit and 20-denier face fabric mean it’s not as breathable as the Impellor, but it managed body temperature well on hikes and snowshoeing trips across Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks in 30°F weather. A regular cut, with plenty of room for longer arms and multiple layers, extends its use well into winter. If you want pit zips and a jacket that’s a bit burlier, our testers also liked REI’s Stormbolt GTX ($279; pictured on page 85), for its workhorse performance.
Trail cred “On an intensely windy ski day in Colorado with blowing snow, the hood preserved visibility perfectly,” one tester says. “It never got in the way.”
Best Windshell Jackets
Adidas Agravic Wind Jacket
Our take The problem with wind-blockers is that if they keep cold gusts out, they probably also keep hot air in. The Agravic breathes better than most windshells because of always-open mesh pit vents and light, 20-denier polyester fabric, which is more air-permeable than nylon. The material is also softer than nylon—but less durable—and has a DWR treatment that fends off light rain (moderate rain soaked through quickly, but even then, the Agravic dried in about 10 minutes in 40°F weather). “I wore this while trail running in Colorado’s Front Range in 55°F, and thought I’d have to take it off after 20 minutes, but I never overheated,” one tester says.
The details The Agravic’s cut is flowy but not baggy, with sleeves long enough to satisfy longer-limbed testers, and it survived being scraped against tree branches without tearing. “It’s light, but not flimsy,” one tester says. For a minimalist jacket, you do get a few features: a chest pocket that can fit an ID or a couple of keys, stay-put elastic cuffs, a cinchable hem, and a one-way adjustable hood with an elastic rim. Ding: The superlight hood blew around annoyingly in high winds.
Trail cred “I have other wind jackets that weigh about the same, but the Agravic feels much better next to skin,” says a tester who noted the polyester’s “silky” feel.
$99; 4.8 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Montbell Tachyon Parka
Our take It sounds like the start of a bad joke: What kind of wind protection do you get for less than 3 ounces? But there’s no disappointing punch line with this barely-there piece, which crams impressive breeze-blocking into a shell that weighs as much as a kiwi. “With high winds whipping midway up New Hampshire’s Cannon Cliff, it blocked the gusts without increasing my core temp, even during tough stretches of fist-jamming,” says a New England-based climber. Montbell reduced the density of the weave and added a special roller-flattening finishing process, which increases wind protection of the 7-denier nylon face fabric without interfering with breathability (unlike a coating or a membrane). That made for adequate breathability on vigorous, cool-weather hikes along Vermont’s Long Trail, but it’s still not as air-conditioned as the Agravic (left), as it lacks vents.
The details Despite the fabric’s cellophane-like appearance, it’s pretty soft. You trade features like a hem cinch and pit zips for the weight (though there are hand pockets and a single hood-adjustment cord). Heads up: Something this dainty needs TLC. We ripped our sample when it snagged on a carabiner.
Trail cred “This shell has a nice, trim fit,” one tester says. “In a stiff breeze up on pitch five of New Hampshire’s Whitney Gilman, it didn’t flap around like a flag.”
Best Softshell Jackets
Rab Borealis Jacket
Our take The best softies become like a second skin. “After wearing the Borealis for cooler start-time temps, I’d often end up leaving it on for the rest of my climb, hike, or run,” one tester says. The 85 percent nylon/15 percent elastane fabric is flexy and supple enough to wear next to skin or use as a midlayer. Single-weave construction means it lacks an inner layer, enhancing breathability on everything from strenuous slogs up New Zealand’s Mt. Taranaki to ice climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The details As with most DWR-treated softshells, anything more than moderate precip will soak through (the grace period is about 20 minutes), but the single-layer design also means the Borealis dries swiftly. Its nonadjustable hood can stretch over a climbing helmet, and a pair of 8.5-inch, mesh-backed Napoleon pockets provide extra venting. Although it’s light, this shell was tough enough for crack climbing and an off-trail hike in the Gore Range that ripped one tester’s pants. Should you happen to take it off, the Borealis packs down to grapefruit size.
Trail cred “This shell kept my core temp stable while fending off snow-laden branches when my approach to the Vail Amphitheater turned into a bushwhack,” one Colorado tester says.
$115; 10.5 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Ortovox Pala Jacket
Our take The Pala is just as comfy as your favorite old hoodie, but unlike your sweats it can handle iffy weather and rock faces. The key elements: a cozy merino liner and tough materials with above-average abrasion resistance. The liner, which gives the Pala a fleece-like feel, aids wicking and kept one Vermont tester toasty on trail runs where the temp dipped into the 20s. The sturdy Cordura face fabric is a blend of nylon and elastane, reinforced with heavier-weight Cordura in the shoulders and sides. We shimmied up rock cracks in the Pala and wore it bushwhacking through alder thickets in Alaska, and it emerged with nary a scratch. Breathability proved itself on tough approaches from the 20s to the 50s (though it’s too warm for anything balmier than that).
The details The cut and features suit climbing particularly well: An elastic hood stretches over a helmet or fits under one, the trim shape never gets in the way of gear, and the sleeves are long enough for high reaches. One small chest pocket fits a slim wallet or phone, but the Pala lacks hand pockets.
Trail cred “It’s much stretchier than other jackets this bomber,” an Alaska tester says. “When I was scrambling on a ridgeline around Knoya Peak, I appreciated the mobility while balancing on rocks.”
$230; 12.7 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Salewa Agner Engineered DST Jacket
Our take We test a lot of shells, so we notice when one gets grabbed more often than the others. We chose the light-yet-comfy Agner (women’s version pictured) for snowy days in the 30s to windy ones in the 60s, thanks to a design that body-maps mobility, breathability, and durability. Breathable, four-way stretch panels on the back and under the arms let us reach overhead without restriction, and the underarm sections vented excess heat on uphill pushes in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness in the 40s. High-wear zones across the shoulders, arms, and lower back use tough Cordura Durastretch fabric, a two-way stretch nylon weave that kept the Agner scuff-free after scraping against slickrock during hikes outside Lander, Wyoming.
The details Spare but useful features—an elastic hood that fits under a helmet, elastic cuffs, and two chest pockets—keep packability down to softball size. The Agner has a snug fit, but tops a baselayer or light midlayer comfortably. Bonus: The DWR is PFC-free (made of hydrophobic polymers, it’s supposed to last between 20 and 30 washes), and one tester stayed dry through 30 minutes of light rain.
Trail cred “On a fall trip in Colorado’s Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, I’d put the Agner on as soon as I woke up and wear it all through the day’s temp swings, even as afternoon drizzles rolled in,” our tester says.
$200; 12.2 oz.; m’s 44-56, w’s 38-50