Any outdoor adventurer knows that solid gear can make your treks more manageable and fun than ever. There’s nothing quite like having all your stuff soaked in a sudden rainstorm to make you really consider investing in some excellent weatherproof coverings. In fact, when you’re trying to stay comfortable outdoors, keeping your body dry is incredibly important.
You’ll get more sleep if you’re dry and that’ll give you the much needed energy to go out and conquer the great big outdoors. Finding the best shell jacket should be your first priority when outfitting yourself with rainproof gear. There are many types of shell jackets on the market, and finding the best hardshell jacket can seem overwhelming if you don’t know much about them. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a difficult search.
If you’re willing to brave Mother Nature’s frequent changes, you’ve got to be willing to find yourself a shell jacket that will keep you safe and comfortable no matter what comes your way. This guide will help you decide what the perfect hardshell jacket can do for you.
First, you need to understand what hardshell means exactly. Hardshell is different than softshell because the material is waterproof rather than simply water resistant. They are the most versatile jackets for outdoor recreation. While they are designed to keep you protected from all kinds of weather conditions, they aren’t necessarily made to keep you warm by themselves.
Luckily, knowing how to properly layer a hardshell jacket will remedy all of these potential insulation issues. GORE-TEX, eVent, and PolarTec Neoshell are just a few of the types of hardshell coverings available. These are the three most popular that have made it onto our list of favorites.
What Goes into Choosing a Jacket?
If you aren’t familiar with waterproof jackets, they tend to all blend together. They are definitely not all created equal, though! Knowing which hardshell jacket will fit your needs starts with knowing what different types are out there and how each one fares. These are the factors you should consider when navigating through the wild world of hardshell jackets.
Fabric and Construction
Hardshell jackets are better than rain shell jackets overall because they are more versatile. While both jackets are waterproof, hardshell jackets are designed to be breathable which will come in handy during strenuous outdoor activities like mountain climbing and skiing.
Different hardshell jackets feature different denier ratings which describe how tightly woven the jacket’s face is. The more tightly woven, the heavier the face fabric will be. Different hardshell jackets will also have different numbers of layers, but typically the highest quality jackets linger at around three layers. The bottom layer is usually soft and can lay on your clothes without restricting them.
Then, the middle layer is a breathable membrane that is waterproof and keeps your skin dry underneath. The outer layer acts as a protection from outside conditions like rain, snow, and wind. Durable Water Resistant coating, known as DWR coating, is used on the external face layer of hardshell jackets. It protects you and your clothes from getting wet by causing moisture to bead up on the jacket rather than penetrating the material.
The actual description of waterproof ratings can be confusing, but it really isn’t that difficult to understand once you look at it simply. A hardshell is typically given a waterproof rating of a number between 0 and 20,000 millimeters. The higher the number, the more waterproof an item is.
If you want to understand where these numbers come from, it’s how much water could sit on top of a piece of fabric with an area of one square inch before the water would begin to penetrate the fabric. Breathability is another major factor in deciding a fabric’s breathability rating.
This is usually expressed in the number of grams of water vapor that can move through a square meter of the hardshell fabric within a 24 hour period. These details aren’t that important when deciding which waterproof hardshell is perfect for you, though. Once you know that the higher the numbers are, the higher quality the fabric is, you’ve pretty much got it.
When deciding on any type of outdoor gear, knowing your intended use is of huge importance. You may be a versatile adventurer, and that’s great. But usually, you will experience similar conditions if you go climbing or hiking in the same area.
For example, if you normally go skiing or alpining in snowy conditions, you’ll want a jacket that offers warmth and the ability to comfortably layer.
Surprisingly, hardshell jackets have several features that are designed to make your life easier and your excursions more convenient. Companies do lots of research before deciding where exactly to place pockets and vents. They take into account what their users will need most while climbing, skiing, hiking, and anything else.
Having a lightweight hardshell is important because you want to be able to compress it so it doesn’t take up much room, and you don’t want to be bogged down by a bulky jacket. Seam taping is common among waterproof jackets because it’s just one more failsafe put in place to keep you dry which is your number one goal when outfitting yourself with waterproof materials.
The zippers are versatile as well. They don’t just zip. They are usually equipped with waterproof guards to keep water from seeping in. They also often double as ventilation systems to keep you from overheating. Most parts of a hardshell jacket are going to be adjustable from the hood down to the hem. This is because you want your jacket to fit you, protect you, and hold your gear without becoming bulky or uncomfortable.
If you’re familiar with alpining and backpacking, you know that good high-quality gear can be expensive. However, you never want to skimp on your weatherproof materials. Making an investment up front will save you in the long run because great, durable gear will last you for years through all kinds of conditions. It might seem crazy at first to spend hundreds of dollars on a hardshell jacket, but that’s actually the norm.
If you’ve been alpining for a while, you know the hobby is expensive to start but it is so worth it. Once you’ve gotten equipped with all your gear, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you’re safe from the elements and will be for years to come.
Our Eight Hardshell Jacket Picks
Arc’teryx Men’s Theta SVX Jacket
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Specific features: Three-layer waterproof GORE-TEX, DWR finish, laminated StormHood, ergonomic three-dimensional pattern, fully seam-taped
Best use: Rain protection, mountaineering
The Arc’teryx Theta SVX Jacket is an excellent choice for protection in all kinds of weather conditions. This jacket features a three-layer durable GORE-TEX shell that offers incredible durability and breathability in a lightweight package. The hood features an extra long laminated brim to keep water away from your face and is also helmet compatible for when you take your jacket on a mountain trek.
Watertight zippers keep water out and a DWR finish repels water from the jacket’s surface, keeping your skin dry and comfortable. This jacket is perfect for those planning strenuous adventures because it offers users a fuller range of motion than other similar jackets. The anatomical shaping provides unrestricted comfort and won’t ride up while wearing a backpack, definite necessities during mountain climbing and hiking.
This jacket doesn’t require freezing conditions, either. Since it’s ventilated, it keeps heat and moisture out. When it is cold and frigid, though, this jacket works as a great outer layer without becoming too bulky! This jacket is available in three colors from sizes small to large from $660 to $720.
Westcomb Shift LT Hoodie Jacket
Weight: 1 pound
Specific features: PolarTec NeoShell for water and wind protection, adjustable hood, adjustable waist system, velour-lined chin guard, Napoleon DRI pocket
Best use: Outdoor recreation
The Westcomb Shift LT Hoodie Jacket is a light and functional choice for anyone looking for a stylish, easy hardshell guard against moisture. This jacket features the lightest weight, three-layer PolarTec Neoshell. Users can enjoy the protection of hardshell with the comfort and flexibility of softshell. PolarTec Neoshell is often considered less annoyingly noisy and stiff than GORE-TEX fabrics.
Although it’s considered a hoodie, it’s effective in all conditions including heavy snow. This hoodie isn’t designed to keep you warm, necessarily, but it makes for easy insulation layering since it’s so light. The zippers offer extra ventilation and water protection and the sleeves and hood are all adjustable.
This jacket will fit super easily in any pack, as well, because it doesn’t take up much space. The Shift LT Hoodie Jacket is available in three colors from sizes small to xx-large. At $430, it’s less expensive than other jackets on this list but still packs great water and wind protection.
Outdoor Research Men’s Axiom Jacket
Weight: 1.7 pounds
Specific features: Breathable waterproof GORE-TEX Active material, fully seam-taped, movement-mirroring stretch
Best use: Rain protection, backpacking, hiking
The Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket is awesome for hikers and climbers who don’t want to be weighed down by extra bulk. The waterproof GORE-TEX Active material makes this jacket completely waterproof but it’s one of the most breathable fully waterproof jackets on the market. In any weather conditions, this jacket will keep you safe from heavy rain and snow without overheating you.
This jacket doesn’t have the underarm ventilating zippers that are often found on weatherproof jackets. The pockets, however, are vented as expected. This jacket has an athletic fit but is not too tight to fit layers underneath in colder weather. It’s also compatible with helmets for the most adventurous of mountain treks.
This jacket is super durable, too, so you won’t have to worry about it failing you no matter what weather conditions you might see yourself facing in the future. This jacket is available in four stylish colors to suit your fancies, in sizes x-small through x-large for $390. That’s a fabulous price for such an excellent jacket that won Outside Research’s Outside Magazine and Men’s Journal “Gear of the Year” award.
La Sportiva Men’s Storm Fighter GTX Active Shell Jacket
Weight: 11.4 ounces
Specific features: Three-layer waterproof GORE-TEX Active material, polyester lining, fully seam-taped, zippered chest pocket
Best use: Rain protection, backpacking, hiking
The La Sportiva Storm Fighter GTX Active Shell Jacket is a fantastic lightweight jacket for outdoor adventurers planning hikes, treks, and climbs aplenty. This jacket’s GORE-TEX Active shell offers guaranteed protection from wind and rain so you don’t have to worry about the weather interfering with your wilderness trips.
This jacket offers a minimalist soft shell so it will not be as warm as others, so you can always make sure to have room for layers if you plan to go into cold conditions. The three-layer construction doesn’t create annoying crinkly noise like the shells of other jackets can. The hood is adjustable and helmet compatible. The cuffs and hem are also adjustable to keep out as much moisture as possible.
Waist regulation construction provides a great range of movement and won’t constrict you on any strenuous outdoor activities. This jacket is available in several bright colors for added visibility and style. The jacket comes in sizes small through x-large and is available $266.
Eddie Bauer Men’s Neoteric Shell Jacket
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Specific features: Waterproof and windproof three-layer PolarTec Neoshell, two-way airflow, StormRepel DWR finish, fully seam-sealed, pack-friendly chest pockets
Best use: Rain protection, skiing, hiking, backpacking
The Eddie Bauer Neoteric Shell Jacket is a great choice for any outdoorsman looking for amazing weather protection in a stylish, breathable package. It is the most breathable freeride jacket Eddie Bauer has released, making it hugely popular among folks backpacking up the mountains or skiing down the slopes.
Along with the three-layer PolarTec Neoshell waterproof shell, this jacket features a DWR finish that repels water away from its surface, keeping you dry and comfortable. This jacket has a classic fit so it isn’t too tight or too loose, and will fit comfortably over layers in colder conditions. In hot or humid conditions, the extended pit zippers act as vents, letting body heat escape.
This jacket is especially useful to someone who spends a lot of time skiing or trekking in snowy conditions. With helmet compatibility, adjustable waist and wrist cuffs, waterproof zippers, a mesh goggle pocket with included lens wipe, and removable powder skirt, the features of this jacket offer everything you need when braving the mountains. Available in three stylish colors and sizes small through xx-large, this jacket is regularly priced at $450.
Montane Minimus SS17 Waterproof Outdoor Jacket
Weight: 8.8 ounces
Specific features: Waterproof Pertex Shield +, adjustable helmet with mountain hood compatibility, hand warmer pockets, micro-taped seams, AquaGuard front zipper
Best use: Rain protection, outdoor recreation
The Montane Minimus SS17 Waterproof Outdoor Jacket offers incredible performance while remaining lightweight and breathable. The jacket’s shell is made of PERTEX Shield + fabric which keeps the jacket light and easily compressible. A full-length YKK AquaGuard zipper will keep rain from seeping in and internal storm flaps and rain drains will keep you safe from the rain outside.
Because of the way this jacket is constructed, the hem will not lift up and expose your belly even if you have to lift your hands up while climbing or skiing. That’s a must since a wet belly would really put a damper on your whole rainproof experience. This jacket has a pretty slim fit, so take that into account if you are planning to layer this jacket over other pieces for insulation.
If you plan on using the jacket in snowy conditions, which this jacket is great for considering its glove compartments, you might want to order a couple of sizes up from what you usually wear. If you plan on wearing it by itself, ordering one size up would still be a good idea if you are used to the typical fits of American clothing.
There are no hand warming pockets on this jacket, but the glove/mitten compartments are designed to hold these things if you pack them. While this jacket isn’t heavy, it is very well constructed. For $240, this jacket is an affordable option that doesn’t skimp on performance and durability. It is available in sizes small through x-large in four colors.
RAB Men’s Latok Alpine Jacket
Weight: 1.2 pounds
Specific features: Three-layer waterproof eVent fabric, two-way AquaGuard front zipper, helmet-compatible hood with tricot-lined collar, A-line draining chest pockets
Best use: Outdoor recreation
The RAB Latok Alpine Jacket is a fantastic choice for those wanting protection from snow and rain. The hood is helmet compatible for excursions on the slopes, and the AquaGuard zippers offer a waterproof storm flap system as well as drainage. The wrist cuffs and hem are all adjustable and the hem features a drawcord to maximize fit and comfort.
The three-layer eVent fabric is completely waterproof without being heavy or bulky. The YKK AquaGuard Escape Artist pit zippers increase the breathability by letting body heat filter out through the vents. That way you won’t overheat when climbing or hiking. The small details really make this jacket great. The pockets are placed specifically for the most functional use and include drain holes to keep water out.
This fit of this jacket is pretty classic, neither running really baggy or really tight, so it can be layered easily. Because the hood of this jacket is specifically designed to hold a helmet when mountain climbing, the hood can run a bit wide if you are not using a helmet.
In heavily windy conditions, the hood can catch in the wind which might be a bit distracting. The RAB Latok Alpine is available in two beautiful colors for those who want either a bright jacket or a more neutral style. This jacket costs $400 and comes in sizes small to x-large.
Mountain Hardwear Men’s Quasar Lite Jacket
Weight: 12.3 ounces
Specific features: Waterproof 2.5-layer 40D Dry Q Elite shell, three-way adjustable helmet with wire brim, chest pockets and harness that double as vents,
Best use: Rain protection, mountaineering
The Mountain Hardwear Men’s Quasar Lite Jacket is the company’s lightest alpine shell, making it a fabulous choice for those wanting intense weather protection without the bulk and weight. Thanks to the 2.5-layer Dry Q Elite air-permeable technology, the shell is incredibly breathable and keeps water off of your skin while keeping your skin from becoming wet from sweat.
This jacket is perfect for mountain climbing as it is designed to complement quick ascents. The fit is not restricting and is ventilated so you can move with speed and agility without being uncomfortable or overheated. Because this is designed for great climbing, the hem will not ride up even when a user’s arms are outstretched above his or her head.
The hood is, naturally, helmet compatible and built with a wire brim to stay in shape. Again, this jacket is incredibly lightweight and easily packable which is necessary for anyone backpacking or climbing. High in the mountains, the wind can become harsh, and this jacket features wonderful protection from the heaviest wind.
In colder climates, you can wear this as an outer layer to protect from wind, rain, and snow and include another layer underneath for added warmth and insulation. This jacket is available in nine different colors so there is sure to be a style you like. It comes in sizes small through xx-large for $240.
Take it Easy with Hardshell
Now you should have a better idea about what the world of hardshell jackets really has to offer. It isn’t only about keeping you warm and dry. Maybe in the old days, that was the whole idea, but it’s 2018 and we are all about convenience whether we want to admit it or not.
While weather protection is the number one goal of any hardshell item, the other factors should play a role in encouraging you to lean towards one over another. Understand where you intend to use your jacket. In heavily rainy conditions? In snowy mountains?
Then, decide which features are most important to you. Always go for something with a good waterproof rating. Otherwise, you’d be wasting money on a jacket that won’t do its intended job. It can be nerve-wracking to spend so much money on one jacket, but a good hardshell jacket is much more than just a piece of clothing.
It will keep you protected from the elements, carry your necessities, keep you warm, safe, and stylish, and will last you for many years and treks. The investment is more than worth it, and finding the right hardshell jacket will greatly improve your future expeditions.