The Best Hardshell Jacket for Men Review

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Peter Dever drops a knee in the trees while wearing the Alpha FL jacket in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Credit: Andy Wellman
What's the best hardshell jacket for men? We recently updated and expanded one of our most popular reviews by testing seven of the best jackets on the market. Our intensive testing and in-depth research offers insight into one of the most expensive types of outerwear money can buy. These shells have been put through the ringer on backcountry adventures throughout the San Juan mountains of Colorado. They have been soaked with sweat while running uphill in the sun, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and ski mountaineering racing. They have been shivered in while ice climbing, mountaineering, and riding the ski lifts. They have been beat-up while chopping wood and shoveling snow, and have been repeatedly admired while out on the town.

The jackets tested here are significantly more comfortable and more durable than those found in our Rain Jacket Review, however if you are looking for a weather-proof layer that is more budget friendly, a rain shell may be the way to go. Our women's hardshell jacket review will be published shortly.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Hardshell Jackets Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Read the Review
Westcomb Shift LT
Westcomb Shift LT
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket
Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket
Read the Review
Patagonia M10
Patagonia M10
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $199 - $399
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $213 - $430
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $350 - $499
Compare at 7 sellers
$379
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $599 - $675
Compare at 8 sellers
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1 rating
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Pros Lightweight, form fitting, great storm hood, superior construction quality, affordableVery light, packable, highly breathable, extremely mobile, very well constructed, simple designLightweight, durable, very well constructed, easy pull zippers, great hood, handwarmer pocketsExtremely light, packs very small, versatile, affordableExtremely durable, superior weather protection, great hood, easy to manipulate zippers
Cons Crinkly and noisy, very few pockets (only one)Not very warm, not as windproof as Gore-Tex shellsGore-Tex Pro Membrane is crinkly and loud; $100 more expensive than the Arc'teryx Alpha FL.Large fit, crinkly and noisy, only one hood drawcord, small chest pocketHeavy, bulky, overkill for many, no handwarmer pockets, expensive
Best Uses Hiking, climbing, expeditions, backcountry skiingBackcountry skiing, hiking, backpacking, mountain running, anything aerobicIce Climbing, Alpine Climbing, SkiingBackpacking, hiking, alpine climbing, backcountry skiingAlpine and ice climbing, expeditions, arctic exploration
Date Reviewed Dec 17, 2014Dec 17, 2014Dec 17, 2014Dec 17, 2014Dec 17, 2014
Weighted Scores Arc'teryx Alpha FL Westcomb Shift LT Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket Patagonia M10 Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Weather Protection - 20%
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Weight - 20%
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Mobility - 20%
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Breathability - 15%
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Durability - 10%
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Features - 10%
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Versatility - 5%
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Product Specs Arc'teryx Alpha FL Westcomb Shift LT Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket Patagonia M10 Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Weight (oz) 12 11.1 12.7 8.8 18.4
Category Lightweight Lightweight Lightweight Lightweight Heavy Duty
Material N40p-X GORE-TEX Pro 3L 340 NRS Polartec NeoShell with 360 NP Polartec NeoShell stretch weave under arms N40p-X GORE-TEX Pro 3L H2No Performance Standard Shell: 3-layer, 2.2-oz 15-denier 100% nylon ripstop, with a waterproof/breathable barrier and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish N80p-X GORE-TEX Pro 3L
Pockets [chest] 1 [chest] 1 [hand] 2 [interior zip] 1 [chest] 1 [chest] 2 [arm] 1 [interior zip] 2
Helmet Compatible Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hood draw cords 3 3 3 1 4
Adjustable Cuffs Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pit Zips No No No No Yes
Two-Way Front Zipper No No No No No
Colors Carbon Black, Chipotle Orange; Mantis Green Black; Electric Yellow; Avatar Blue; Limestone Grey; Alpine Red; Harvest Orange Chipotle Orange; Hinto Green; Iron Anvil Grey; Kyanos Blue; Mantis Green Feather Grey; Andes Blue Black; Cayenne; Mantis Green; Oxblood Red; Poseidon Blue

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Arc'teryx Alpha FL
$399
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Patagonia M10
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Arc'teryx Alpha SV
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Westcomb Shift LT
$400
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Patagonia Super Alpine
$599
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Outdoor Research Axiom
$375
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72
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Mountain Hardwear Quasar
$400
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Montane Mohawk
$450
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Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket
$550
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Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket
$499
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GoLite Ashdown Pro
$450
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Rab Latok
$415
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Outdoor Research Maximus
$495
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Outdoor Research Foray Jacket
$215
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Columbia Compounder
$300
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Selecting the Right Product
Hardshell jackets represent the best waterproof breathable protection science can cook up. They are high-level products that provide increased comfort and durability compared to rain jackets.

Based on our testing we've come to several conclusions about the waterproof breathable technologies used in hardshell jackets. First, a shell's face fabric, features, fit, and warranty matter more than the specific type of membrane used. However, each membrane is fit for specific uses. In general, GORE-TEX Pro was our top choice for abusive trips of extended duration or for people like mountain guides who work outdoors. As one might expect with a heavier fabric, shells incorporating GORE-TEX membranes tend to be less breathable than their lightweight counterparts, and thus venting becomes a very important feature.

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Chris Simrell climbs ice in the Mountain Hardwear Quasar, made of the Dry Q Elite waterproof breathable membrane and a superlight 15-denier face fabric.
Credit: Lukic Uros

When choosing between the lightweight products that use Dry Q Elite, NeoShell, H2No, and eVent membranes, our testers mostly ignored the specific type of membrane and focused on fit, features, durability, and weight. These lightweight membranes tend to be more breathable than heavier GORE-TEX, and as such rely less on venting, rarely incorporating specific vents.

Regardless of the membrane material or whether they are lightweight, heavy duty, or somewhere in between, every hardshell jacket we tested is waterproof. They each come coated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellant) finish that causes water to bead up and fall off the face fabric. With time, wear, abrasion, and use the DWR coatings will wear off and need to be re-applied to maintain their original water-shedding qualities. See our Buying Advice Article for a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of various materials and features.

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We loved the versatility of the OR Foray. Here enjoying the first snow of the season along the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Types of Hardshell Jackets
The models included here are primarily designed for ascent-oriented activities. They're lighter and more versatile than snowsport shells that have powder skirts and large interior stash pockets. Unlike ski jackets, these offer the advantage of being able to join you on any trip anywhere on the planet, not just on the slopes of ski resorts. They are more versatile and arguably a better value. In this review, we can categorize each product into one of the following types:

Heavy Duty - Best for extended mountaineering expeditions, unsupported first ascents, and for big mountain guides and others that work in the backcountry. Their tank-like durability and heavy weight makes them relatively uncomfortable to move in, burdensome to carry in a pack, and overkill for most normal mortals. Examples include: Rab Latok, Arc'teryx Alpha SV, and Patagonia Super Alpine.

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No other jacket that we tested will keep you as dry and protected as the Alpha SV.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Medium Duty - The all-purpose warriors. These are lighter, less featured, and more versatile than their heavy duty counterparts. On the other hand, these hardshell jackets typically use heavier fabrics and have more features and zippers than the lightweight models. Medium weight models are somewhat of a dying breed as the desire and demand for lightweight products continues to grow. Overall, this class of products is best suited to winter use and high abrasion environments. Examples include: Arc'teryx Beta AR and Outdoor Research Foray.

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This is a comfortable jacket for hanging out in. The Foray's handwarmer pockets are in the most comfortable, low, place on the jacket and work great if not wearing a harness or pack. The hood is adequate if not wearing a helmet.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Lightweight - The new normal! Recent advances in waterproof breathable technology and ultralight fabrics make lightweight hardshell jackets more durable and comfortable than ever before. These weigh less than 13 ounces and are significantly more breathable and more comfortable than either of the categories listed above. These really shine for aerobic activities where weather protection is still a must, like backcountry skiing. We recommend a lightweight hardshell jacket for most activities. Examples include: Patagonia M10, Arc'teryx Alpha FL, Arc'teryx Beta LT, Mountain Hardwear Quasar, and the Westcomb Shift LT.
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The Patagonia M10 has only a single chest pocket and the barest of features to save weight.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Arc'teryx Hardshells at a Glance
Of the four Arc'teryx jackets that we tested, two of them fall into the Alpha Series of products and two of them are part of the Beta Series of products. The Alpha Series, which includes the Alpha FL and the Alpha SV, are designed to be technical garments used in alpine climbing or mountaineering settings. The Beta Series jackets, of which we tested the Beta AR and Beta LT, are designed for all-around use. This means they are intended to be used in any sort of winter application, but in general their feature set is less tailored specifically towards climbing. FL stands for Fast and Light; SV stands for Severe Weather; AR stands for All-Round; and LT stands for Lightweight.

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The Alpha FL is the perfect shell for backcountry skiing, as well as ice and alpine climbing. Peter Dever wouldn't give it back after one run.
Credit: Andy Wellman

Criteria for Evaluation
In order to decide which hardshell jackets were the very best performers, we evaluated them individually based upon seven criteria – Weather Protection, Weight & Compression, Mobility, Breathability & Venting, Durability, Features, and Versatility. Each of these criteria were weighted depending on how important we thought they were to the overall performance. Check out the comparison table above to see how the products stacked up side-by-side. Below is a description of how we tested for each metric.

Weather Protection
What would a jacket be if it didn't protect you from the elements? After all, that is what these expensive pieces of gear are specifically designed to do. There are four main elements that we decided it was critical to account for – snow, rain, wind, and cold. Not surprisingly, the heavier weight GORE-TEX Pro models protected the wearer better than the lightweight membranes, especially when it came to wind, heavy rain, and cold. There is of course the caveat that with greater protection from the membrane comes less breathability, less mobility, and also more weight, so the most protective hardshell jackets tended to perform lower in other metrics. Weather Protection accounted for 20% of the total score.

To test these models in the snow and wind we wore them outside in these conditions, primarily while backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and alpine climbing. Testing them in the cold was done primarily while ice climbing and skiing at resorts. But to test these jackets in the rain we were forced to get creative, as it rarely rains in Colorado, and then typically only for minutes at a time. Essentially we just put them on and wore them in the shower, completely dousing ourselves.

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Wetted out fabric on the Patagonia M10. Notice the water beading on the water-tight zippers, which work great to keep out the elements. The DWR coating on the M10 was the least durable of any that we tested and it wetted out the fastest of all the jackets.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Throughout our testing it became obvious that the membrane is not the only feature that matters for weather protection. Just as critical are design features like sewn vs. taped or welded seams, hood design, zipper quality, and especially the neck and wrist cuffs. The complete Arc'teryx line of hardshell jackets were a step above anything else we tested in terms of protection from the weather, with the Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket falling one notch above the rest due to perfectly cut chin guard offering superior protection around the neck. The most lightweight models like the Mountain Hardwear Quasar and Patagonia M10 offered the least weather protection.

Weight & Compression
Here, we ranked each product from lightest to heaviest, and also factored in each one's ability to be compressed into a tight little package. Weighing only 8.8 ounces, the [Patagonia M10]] topped the charts and was compact to boot. At 24.1 oz., the Rab Latok was by far the heaviest and most tank-like shell we tested. With improved face fabrics and membranes, durable is no longer synonymous with heavy. All of our award-winning shells weigh less than 12 ounces, with the exception of the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, which we awarded a Top Pick specifically for expedition use, where added weight is nice for the protection it offers.

While heavy duty hardshell jackets have their place and applications where they excel, time and again testers reached for the lightweight products, making them by far our favorites. In general, we believe lightweight is the way to go, as they are less bulky, more mobile, more comfortable to wear, and work best for most uses. However, lightweight versions are less weather protective and durable than their heavy duty counterparts, and for long expeditions in harsh weather, we would be happier to have a more protective jacket and would be less concerned about the weight. Weight and Compression was rated as 20% of the overall score.

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The Alpha FL in its stuff sack on the left and the Patagonia M10 stuffed into its inside out chest pocket on right. They are about the same size, although the M10 weighs about 3 ounces less.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Mobility
For Mobility we assessed the feel of each product - they ran the spectrum from constricting and crinkly feeling to soft and light like a wind jacket. We found that lighter models were less restrictive than their heavier counterparts. Critical factors which played a part in how mobile a jacket was were stretchiness of the fabric, our ability to raise our arms overhead while wearing a harness or pack, and the fit of the hood, both with and without a helmet.

Unfortunately, some of the heavier products have disappointingly restrictive cuts. The Outdoor Research Maximus, for example, is bulky and boxy and has tubular arms that lack articulation, making it less comfortable than those with ergonomic patterning. The most mobile jacket – the Westcomb Shift LT – featured an almost perfectly designed cut with the stretchiest and softest material in the review. Except for its bright orange color, it was the most ninja-like piece we tried. Mobility accounted for 20% of the final score.

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The Shift LT is the most mobile jacket we tested and is a fantastic hardshell for climbing.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Breathability & Venting
It is important that a hardshell jacket breathe to keep you dry from liquid on the inside of the jacket as well as from precipitation outside. Hardshell jackets are meant to be worn as an outer layer in all types of weather and during almost any kind of outdoor activity. Sweat that builds up inside of a hardshell and fails to escape will soak your inner warmth layers, making you feel cold and clammy. In very cold environments, evaporative cooling from sweating can be a quick ticket to hypothermia. Therefore, it is essential to have a clothing system that keeps you warm and dry, which is where the hardshell jackets comes in.

We rated each shell's breathability based on observations from real world environmental conditions. For us, this meant high winds on the summits of peaks and getting snowed or rained on out in the mountains. We even did a considerable amount of running in these jackets in warm sunny weather to test how breathable they really were once we started sweating, and because we were impatiently waiting for the snow to fall. We found eVent, Dry.Q Elite, and Gore-Tex PacLite to be more breathable than Gore-Tex Pro. However, all of the jackets tested steam up and stay humid inside, some just steam up slightly slower and dry out slightly faster. Models with thinner face fabrics like the Patagonia M10 are more breathable those with thicker face fabrics like the Rab Latok. That said, no product is as breathable as we would like it to be. Our favorite jacket for high-output activities where the most amount of breathability was desired was the Westcomb Shift LT, which we awarded with a Top Pick for Aerobic Activity.

When it comes to keeping you dry on the inside, ventilation is more important than breathability during periods of high exertion. To account for this necessity, we adapted our previous tests to include venting in the score as well. Many of the heavy duty jackets include pit zips or even full length side zippers to allow venting. When these worked well, the jackets received a higher score, even if it didn't breathe very well. Breathability and Venting accounted for 15% of the final score.

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Pit zips provide good ventilation. The heavy Gore-Tex Pro fabric is very warm when working up a sweat, and the ventilation is certainly welcome.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Finally, it's important to remember that no waterproof breathable technology is sufficiently breathable for high output activities and simultaneously sufficiently windproof for low output activities in high winds. In general, air permeable membranes and thinner face fabrics help to increase breathability, but are not as warm. For more information see: our main hardshell article, REI's "Rainwear: How It Works", and Outside Magazine's "Insane in the Membrane"

In order to maintain breathability it's important to wash your jacket when it looks dirty and reapply durable water resistant (DWR) chemical coating frequently. The end of this review contains some basic care instructions.

Durability
Durability is a critical component of any piece of outdoor gear, especially one as expensive as a high-end hardshell jacket. For the durability score we took into account the face fabric, type of membrane, and construction type. We tested these products side-by-side and compared their condition before and after trips. Tied for the most durable were the Arc'teryx Alpha SV and Rab Latok. The Mountain Hardwear Quasar was the least durable shell tested, although in general the lightweight products were less durable than the heavy duty ones. However, if you want the most durability out of a lightweight piece, then without doubt we would recommend either the Arc'teryx Alpha FL or the Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket. At only a few ounces heavier then the lightest jackets, their N40p-X GORE-TEX Pro three-layer membranes will withstand a heap of abuse.

We also assessed overall construction quality; garments with welded seams have no needle holes or thread and are lighter, more packable, and – more importantly – their seams are no less water resistant than the fabric itself. Welded seams are also lower in profile than sewn seams and tend to be less prone to abrasion, which can help the jacket last longer. We weighted each jacket's durability rating as 10 percent of its total score.

It is worth noting that where a jacket's durability may fail you, hopefully its warranty will not. The least durable products in our review, like the Mountain Hardwear Quasar and the Patagonia M10, are covered under warranty by those companies from defects and poor workmanship. While they may not cover all accidents, i.e. rips or tears, they all claim that they will repair it for you at a reasonable charge. Nevertheless, if you intend to put a lightweight product through years of prolonged abuse, it may not be reasonable to expect it to last unscathed. Finally, remember that although more durable hardshell jackets may be a greater up front economic investment, they will likely withstand many years of use and abuse.

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The Beta AR is very protective in stout weather like sideways blowing snow. It is made of 40D Gore-Tex Pro with 80D reinforcements on the shoulders.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Features
A hardshell jacket's features include the quality and placement of zippers, zipper pulls, vents, pockets, hoods, and adjustable closures. We did our best to evaluate each one's features based on its intended use. Therefore, not all were evaluated to the same standard. For instance, a super lightweight model like the Westcomb Shift LT is highly breathable and does not have pit zips. Since it is intended to be so light and breathable, pit zips would have been overkill, and so we were happy that it did not have any. On the other hand, we would have been unhappy to have an Arc'teryx Beta AR without pit zips. It uses a heavy Gore-Tex Pro membrane meant to be very durable and warm, and we would have suffered greatly in it without the added ventilation. So, we did our best to understand the intended use, and then judged the features based on those uses.

None of the all-purpose shells tested had our ideal set of features, but the Arc'teryx Alpha SV and Alpha FL both came closest, for slightly different purposes. Of the bombproof mountaineering shells, our favorite expedition style pocket design was found on the Rab Latok, which has two high-set hand warmer pockets and two cross-over chest pockets. That shell is the only one that provides space for your hands and quick external access to small-item storage. We tested features by backpacking, mountaineering, alpine climbing, and backcountry and resort skiing in order to see which features were most useful for various activities. We weighted each one's features as 10 percent of its total score.

Pockets
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The Alpha SV has two cross-over chest pockets which sit above a hip-belt or harness and are big enough to store almost anything.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
The most basic requirement for any performance-oriented jacket is to have pockets that lie above a backpack's waistbelt. Many rain jackets and some hardshells miss this feature. Having high pockets is essential for hiking and climbing, but they're less comfortable to put your hands in than pockets that sit low, by your waist.

Some shells skip handwarmer pockets. If it's raining and you're traveling in the backcountry your hands will get wet; however, keep in mind that you'll almost always have gloves with you. Handwarmer pockets are best for circumstances when you don't have gloves, like when you're walking around a city. Our favorite chest pocket design is found on the Arc'teryx Alpha SV because the shell has bellowed crossover pockets that are huge, easy to open, and don't throw you off balance when you're opening them (see that shell's review for more info). Crossover chest pockets are arguably the best for storing things, but they cannot comfortably accommodate your hands. Thus, some have handwarmer pockets, which make the product better suited to a wider variety of activities–especially walking around urban areas. Curiously, very few hardshell jackets have handwarmer pockets that are truly comfortable. Of the shells tested the Rab Latok has the best combination of handwarmer and chest pockets. Though we don't recommend choosing a shell based on its pocket design alone, it is a very important consideration.

Hood
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The single rear adjustment point on the hood of the Alpha FL, as opposed to two adjustment points on the Alpha SV. We found it easier to cinch down than loosen when wearing gloves.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
After the pocket design we believe that the hood is a shell's next most important feature. This is what covers your head and seals out the elements; having a hood that's comfortable and easy to adjust can make terrible weather much less miserable. The best hood we tested was Arc'teryx's Storm Hood, found on the company's Alpha SV and Beta AR. The Storm Hood has four adjustment points (not the normal three), it's gigantic and unrestrictive when worn over a helmet, and adjusts wonderfully to be comfortable when worn without one. The other two Arc'teryx models we tested - the Alpha FL and Beta LT - also feature the Storm Hood, although these lighter versions only have three adjustment points. We thought they worked equally well.

Adjustable Wrist Closures
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The adjustable velcro cuff enclosures on the Shift LT.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
Nearly every shell tested uses Velcro to adjust the wrists. This is the most versatile option, but frozen snow and ice can render it useless. Thus serious alpine and ice climbers often prefer fixed cuffs without velcro. Of the shells that skip the Velcro, the Mountain Hardwear Quasar has our preferred cuff design.

Versatility
Here we attempted to evaluate how well each product performed at activities it wasn't designed for. Can you take the 8.8 oz. climbing-specific Patagonia M10 backcountry skiing? Yes. Can you take the 24.1 oz. expedition-specific Rab Latok backpacking? No, it weighs more than a most 15-degree down sleeping bags!! In general we found these jackets to be incredibly versatile, although there wasn't one single one that we thought would excel for absolutely all purposes. The Outdoor Research Foray and the Outdoor Research Axiom were the most versatile jackets, each owing to their relatively light weight and compressibility, weather protection, and full side-zips that allowed for all sorts of intended uses. We weighted the versatility rating as 5 percent of its total score.
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Brad Miller, with the Patagonia Super Pluma hardshell jacket and HyperLite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack, atop Mt. McKinley (Denali), Alaska.
Credit: Clayton Kimmi

Waterproof Breathable Care Tips
A key part of maintaining the breathability and weather resistance of your hardshell jacket is keeping it as clean as possible. Dirt and abrasion are your shell's enemy. Both will wear away the DWR coating and fray the face fabric, which in turn reduces the shell's breathability; without a healthy DWR finish, the face fabric will absorb more water and become heavier and less breathable.

Wash your hardshell frequently
Body oils that accumulate in the hood, neck, and shoulder areas will reduce the membrane's performance. Machine-wash warm (104° F/40° C), powder or liquid detergent, no fabric softener. ReviveX Synthetic Fabric Cleaner, Granger's Performance Wash, and Nikwax Tech Wash are tried and true soaps. The excellent video below describes how to wash a hardshell jacket.


Restore the DWR coating
A fabric's DWR coating has worn off when the fabric "wets out," i.e. starts absorbing water instead of shedding it. Restoring the DWR will improve breathability and user comfort. Do this after washing the jacket. Topical water repellency restoratives are better than wash-in treatments because they don't affect the garment's breathability. Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On and ReviveX Spray-On are both good options.


Editors' Choice Award: Arc'teryx Alpha FL
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We loved this jacket for conditions ranging from nasty and rainy to beautiful and snowy.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
The 12-ounce Arc'teryx Alpha FL marries comfort, versatility, and durability like no other jacket. After three years of abuse this has become our testers' most used hardshell jacket and, despite extensive thrashing, we have been stunned by the shell's abrasion and tear resistance. In 2014 we purchased a brand new Alpha FL to test yet again side-by-side with the rest of our jackets and still found it to be a cut above the rest. Unlike most lightweight hardshell jackets from other companies, Arc'teryx uses a GORE-TEX Pro membrane, which is typically found on very heavy expedition style jackets. This manages to make the Alpha FL both lightweight AND very tough. This product has a near perfect set of features and an incredibly comfortable fit. Trip after trip, week after week, month after month, our testers used this dependable piece for all types of mountain excursions. It's absolutely fantastic.

It's worth noting that the Alpha FL is incredibly similar to the Arc'teryx Beta LT, and only its specific features influenced us to choose it as our Editors' Choice. The most noticeable difference is that the Alpha FL has only one chest pocket, while the Beta LT features two chest-height hand pockets and a small interior pocket. If pockets are your thing, we would recommend you check out the Beta LT. The only other difference we could find was that the Alpha FL has an ever so slightly lower waistline and slightly longer sleeves. These features made it less desirable than the Beta LT for hitting the town, but we appreciated them mightily while out climbing and skiing. All of that said, the Alpha FL is $100 cheaper for essentially the same product.

Top Pick for Aerobic Activity: Westcomb Shift LT
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Our Top Pick for Aerobic Activity with a pack and helmet. It features only a single chest pocket and no pit zips, fast-and-light.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
The best way to stay warm in frigid winter weather is to keep moving. For days when we knew we wouldn't stop moving uphill and intended to really work up a sweat, we had a really hard time choosing anything but the Westcomb Shift LT. It was the most breathable model that we tried, and the Polartec Neoshell stretch weave fabric was the stretchiest shell fabric we have seen, making it the most mobile and comfortable jacket in the review. It's so light that it could easily substitute as a summer rain shell while out running or hiking. The features on this lightweight product are nearly perfect with absolutely nothing extra. From the micro-fleece lined neck guard to the storm fold protecting the chest pocket zipper, it is obvious that every little detail has been carefully considered in constructing this layer. To be honest, the Shift LT convinced us that there was a hole in our gear closet screaming to be filled that we did not even know existed. The Westcomb Shift fills that hole perfectly.

Top Pick for Mountain Expeditions: Arc'teryx Alpha SV
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Our Top Pick winner is designed for alpine climbing and is a super well-featured bomb-proof shell.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
The 18.4 oz. Arc'teryx Alpha SV is an alpine climbing-specific shell that's exceptionally durable, has lots of room for layering, and a suite of near perfect features. Despite its tank-like durability and substantial weight, this model is comfortable to wear due to its ergonomic patterning and Storm Hood - the most customizable hardshell hood we've ever used. Our tests show that this is the best hardshell jacket for extended expeditions or for those who work outdoors in the backcountry. Choose it if maximum durability, rather than comfort and low weight, is your top concern. We also loved it as our go-to resort skiing hardshell, as its low waistline, double draw cords, and plethora of pockets, not to mention its warmth, was exactly what kept us happy skiing laps in the cold.

Best Buy Award: Patagonia M10
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The Patagonia M10 features sonically welded seams that are almost invisible. It also has water-tight zippers that while effective, were stiff and difficult to manipulate with only one hand.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
At an MSRP of only $379, we believe the Patagonia M10 represents the best buy for the least amount of money in this review. The M10 is the lightest shell in our review, and make no mistake, this is a jacket for those who must have the very lightest. While we really love lightweight, we do notice a few places where the M10 suffers for the trade-offs it's made. We wish it had more draw cords for tightening the hood around the face, it has only one in the back of the hood. The zippers were small and difficult to manipulate compared to other competitors. We also found this to be one of the least durable models in the review. All that said, there is one major reason why this is our Best Buy, besides its low price: Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee. If this product lets you down in any way, send it back to Patagonia for a new one. Almost everyone we know has benefited over the years from Patagonia's warranty and return policy. So, if you want a top-quality hardshell jacket at a relatively low price, or simply need the lightest shell around, then go for the M10, and don't fear the trade-offs.

Andy Wellman and Max Neale
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