How do you find the best jackets of the year? If you’re us, you take them out in the worst, most varied weather you can find. From downpours on the Oregon coast to chilly nights in the high Pyrenees of Catalonia, we put this year’s crop of jackets through their paces. These are the 12 that rose to the top.
Mammut Macun SO
Our take: Our testers donned the Macun whenever they were working hard in chilly conditions with uncertain forecasts. It’s highly breathable, the stretchiest jacket in the test, and offers enough weather protection and warmth for year-round use. “It was all I needed over a baselayer on a 25ºF cross-country ski excursion in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest,” one tester says.
The details: The Macun’s DWR fends off light rain for hours. The Macun’s 90-percent polyester, 10-percent spandex material is less crinkly than nylon and feels soft over bare arms. A two-way main zipper grants access to a climbing harness. Ding: The collar feels uncomfortably tight when zipped all the way up.
Trail cred: “The long sleeves allowed me to actually use the thumb holes to layer the jacket under my glove cuffs,” notes a tester. Get it here.
Best Value Softshell
The North Face North Dome Stretch Wind Jacket
Our take When you need something tougher than a windshell but lighter than a mountaineering jacket, this softie hits the spot. “I appreciated it while climbing off-widths in the Adirondacks,” says a tester. “This jacket took the friction and emerged none the worse for wear.” Credit the 40-denier, nylon/elastane material, which has a supertight weave but still breathes well enough that we wore the Dome all day in 50°F temps.
The details Climber-friendly features abound, including gusseted underarms, an adjustable hood that fits over a helmet, and harness-compatible hand pockets.
Trail cred “It packs down to the size of a can of peas, but it still offers a touch of insulation,” our New York tester reports. “I appreciated the extra warmth when the sun went behind the cliffs.” Buy it today.
Most Breathable Windshell
Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell
Our take There are lighter windshells, but none more breathable. From redline summit pushes to chilly backpacking trips, the Kor Preshell was just the ticket, thanks to Pertex Quantum Air fabric, which has a less dense weave than typical windshell material, increasing air permeability while remaining wind resistant. “When we topped out on California’s 10,834-foot San Jacinto Peak on a day with 30-mph winds, I barely felt a draft and was able to snack in peace while my hiking partners looked for shelter,” a tester reports. “Breathability is good enough that I wore the shell all day as sun protection while hauling a 20-pound pack near Taos with temps in the mid-50s—and when I did eventually get sweaty, the jacket dried fast.”
The details An elastic hem keeps the Kor Preshell from riding up; the snug, non-adjustable hood adds warmth, and you also get two hand pockets. A DWR treatment adds moderate wet-weather protection in light precip.
Trail cred “Even next to skin, this windbreaker is so soft it feels more like a shirt than a shell,” one tester says. Get it right here.
Black Diamond Deploy Wind Shell
Our take At 1.7 ounces—that’s not a typo—the Deploy takes the title as the world’s lightest windshell. But this is no novelty item: “On top of Washington’s Cutthroat Pass, I deployed the Deploy to fight off 30-mph gusts, and I was able to have a snack without getting chilled,” one tester says. Black Diamond achieves the rock-bottom weight by using 5-denier nylon fabric and an ultralight zipper developed in collaboration with YKK.
The details Even at this weight, a few features make the cut: a three-quarter-length chest zipper allows venting and a cinch hem keeps the Deploy from riding up. There’s also a tiny stuff pocket hidden in the collar. A DWR coating fights off light drizzle, but the super thin fabric and lack of hood make this a dry-weather shell. The trim cut is a squeeze to pull on, but it still fits over a midlayer. The weakness is breathability: Laser-cut pit vents add airflow, but not enough. “I wore it to keep off the morning’s 45°F nip while hiking uphill in the North Cascades, but I overheated quickly and ended up taking it off,” says a tester. Ding: price.
Trail cred “I wouldn’t take the Deploy bushwhacking, but it’s more durable than it looks,” says a tester. “It wasn’t damaged by brushes with trees and bushes in the North Cascades.” It’s available here.