The Best Hardshell Jacket Review

What's the best hardshell jacket? We tested 20 of the latest and greatest, top-of-the-line models in a two-year long mountain sport fiesta. Our intensive testing and in-depth research offers insight into one of the most expensive types of outerwear money can buy. This review describes our criteria for evaluation, test results, and identifies the best all-purpose hardshell, the best value hardshell, and the most durable mountaineering hardshell. 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 an equally weather-proof layer that is more budget friendly, a rain shell may be the way to go.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Hardshell Jackets Displaying 1 - 5 of 20 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #6 #8 #3 #10 #1
Product Name
Patagonia Super Pluma
Patagonia Super Pluma
Read the Review
Video video review
Outdoor Research Axiom
Outdoor Research Axiom
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia Super Alpine
Patagonia Super Alpine
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award    Editors' Choice Award 
Street Price Varies $384 - $549
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $252 - $375
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $519 - $675
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $419 - $599
Compare at 7 sellers
$399
Compare at 5 sellers
Overall Score
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86% recommend it (6/7)
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67% recommend it (2/3)
Pros Moderately lightweight, versatile, good value, great fit, front hood and hem adjustments are easy to use.Trim fit, lightweight.Extremely durable, foam inserts keep shell tucked underneath harness, most comfortable hood tested.More durable than company's Super Pluma, great fit, versatile hand pockets, near perfect hidden cord adjustments, pit zips one with one hand,Lightweight and compact, proven durability, exceptionally comfortable, near perfect features, attractive styling.
Cons Hand pockets are smaller than average, rear hood adjustment can be hard to fully loosen, main zipper is difficult to pull one handed, heavy for backpacking.Top hood adjustment is hard to loosen even without gloves, hand pockets are low and get covered by a pack's waist belt, cuff openings aren't large and don't fit over large gloves.No hand pockets can be a drawback for some people, heavy.Hand pockets provide little protection for hands, zippers are difficult to pull, some say can be too tight for resort style snowsports, heavier and less durable than Arcteryx Alpha SV.No handwarmer pockets could be a drawback for some people.
Best Uses climbing and skiingBetter for hiking than climbing, but with either a pack's waist belt covers pockets hand pockets.Mountaineering & expeditions.Alpine climbing, mountaineering, expeditions of all types.Hiking, climbing, skiing, all-purpose use.
Date Reviewed Jul 14, 2013Jul 14, 2013Feb 14, 2014Jul 15, 2013Feb 14, 2014
Weighted Scores Patagonia Super Pluma Outdoor Research Axiom Arc'teryx Alpha SV Patagonia Super Alpine Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Breathability - 5%
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Durability - 20%
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Versatility - 20%  
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Features - 10%
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Mobility - 20%
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Weight - 25%
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Product Specs Patagonia Super Pluma Outdoor Research Axiom Arc'teryx Alpha SV Patagonia Super Alpine Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Measured Weight (oz) 14.1 12.4 17.9 17.4 11.4
Category Medium Lightweight Heavy Duty Heavy Duty Lightweight
Material 3.2 oz 40-denier Gore Pro 20-denier Gore-Tex Active 4.3 oz. 80-denier N80p-x Gore-Tex Pro 3.8 oz 40-denier Gore-Tex Pro with 4.9-oz 150-denier GORE-TEX Pro reinforcements 40D Gore-Tex Pro
Pockets [chest] 2 [interior zip] 1 [hand] 2 [chest] 1 [chest] 2 [interior stash] 1 [interior zip] 1[upper arm] 1 [hand] 2 [interior zip] 1 [chest] 1
Helmet Compatible Hood Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Hood draw cords 3 1 4 3 3
Adjustable Cuffs Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pit Zips Yes No Yes Yes No
Two-Way Front Zipper No No No No No

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
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Rab Stretch Neo
$365
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Haglofs Gram Comp Pull
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Patagonia M10
$379
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Patagonia Super Alpine
$599
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Outdoor Research Axiom
$375
100
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71
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Mountain Hardwear Quasar
$375
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73
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Montane Mohawk
$450
100
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63
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Mountain Hardwear Blazar Pullover
$450
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71
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L.L. Bean Gore-Tex Ascent
$349
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GoLite Ashdown Pro
$450
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Millet K PRO GTX
$499
100
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51
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Rab Latok
$415
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56
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Mammut Felsturm Half-Zip
$450
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Outdoor Research Maximus
$450
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Beyond Clothing Ridgeback
$359
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Millet Trilogy GTX
$399
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Columbia Compounder
$300
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The Hardshell Jacket: Ultimate Protection From The Elements
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. We carefully researched the global hardshell market and choose 21 shells to accompany our testers on backcountry adventures all over the world. We went backpacking, ice climbing, alpine climbing, mountaineering, skiing, bike touring, and city slicking. Out initial round of testing occurred throughout 2011 and 2012, and we updated the review in July 2013 to reflect additional testing and the addition of three new top-tier shells.

Waterproof breathable technology is changing quickly. See our Buying Advice Article for the latest information on materials, what features to look for in a jacket, and for care tips and tricks.

Review Update Coming Soon
Gearing up for ski season or just looking for a burly waterproof jacket? We're in the process of expanding our current review! Check back at the end of September for our initial thoughts and in mid-December for our full review of these products: Westcomb Shift LT, Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket, Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket, and Outdoor Research Foray Jacket.

We are already testing these jackets even though it's only mid-September and the snow has yet to begin falling. Although we have never worn a Westcomb jacket before, we are immediately impressed by the lightweight and the supple fit of the Shift LT. Trying on the Arc'teryx Beta LT and Beta AR for the first time, we notice how burly these jackets are - the Beta LT seems like it will be especially awesome for the alpine. The Outdoor Research Foray Jacket feels supple and pliable, and we are interested in how well it will perform given how inexpensive it is.

We are also excited to be checking out the newest versions of our old favorite jackets and can't wait to see how they compare to the new competition. We expect great things! Check back mid-December to read our updated reviews of our award winning hardshell jackets - the Arc'teryx Alpha FL and Alpha SV and the Patagonia M10.

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 the most versatile and arguably the best value. We grouped each jacket into one of the following types:

Heavy Duty - Best for extended mountaineering expeditions, unsupported first ascents in remote politically unstable areas, 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: Millet K PRO GTX, Rab Latok, and Arc'teryx Alpha SV.

Medium Duty - The all-purpose warriors. These are lighter, less featured, and more versatile than Heavy Duty jackets. Best suited to winter use and high abrasion environments. Examples include: Montane Mohawk, Patagonia Super Pluma, and Mountain Hardwear Drystein II.

Lightweight - Recent advances in waterproof breathable technology and ultralight fabrics make lightweight hardshells more durable and more comfortable than ever before. These jackets weigh less than 13 ounces and are significantly more breathable and more comfortable than the above categories. We recommend a lightweight hardshell for most activities. Examples include: Arc'teryx Alpha FL, Patagonia M10, and Haglofs Gram Comp Pull.


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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
Fitness for use
Based on our testing we've come to several conclusions about the waterproof breathable technologies used in hardshells. 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, such as a month, or for people who work outdoors, such as mountain guides. When choosing between lightweight jackets that use Dry Q Elite, Active Shell, eVent, NeoShell, and Omni-Dry membranes, our testers mostly ignored the specific type of membrane and focused on fit, features, durability, and weight. Some membranes are more breathable than others, but ventilation is more important than breathability. See our Buying Advice Article for a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of various materials and features.

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Will Dean shredding Washington state pow pow in the Patagonia M10. Uninsulated hardshells are our testers' favorite type of jacket for backcountry skiing because they are lightweight and versatile.
Credit: Todd Killcup
Criteria for Evaluation
Below we describe the specific criteria by which we evaluated each jacket.

Breathability
We rated each shell's breathability based on observations from real world environmental conditions. We found eVent, Dry Q Elite, and Gore Active Shell to be slightly more breathable than Gore Pro. However, all of the jackets tested steam up and stay humid inside, some just steam up slightly slower and dry out slightly faster. Jackets with thinner face fabrics (Mountain Hardwear Blazar) are more breathable those with thicker face fabrics (Rab Latok). No jacket is as breathable as we would like it to be. Again, when it comes to keeping you dry on the inside, ventilation is more important than breathability during periods of high exertion. We weighted each jacket's breathability rating as 5 percent of its total score.

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. See our Hardshell Buying Advice for care instructions.

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The DWR on the Arcteryx Alpha FL (left) has worn off after 40 days of use. With only three days of use, a new Arcteryx Alpha SV (right) has full DWR protection. A fabric that "wets out" (left) is less breathable and less comfortable, but still waterproof.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Features
Here we evaluated each jacket's features based on its intended use. We compared the quality and placement of zippers, zipper pulls, vents, pockets, hoods, and adjustable closures. We tested features by backpacking, mountaineering, alpine climbing, backcountry skiing and resort skiing in order to see which features were useful for various activities.

This variable also contains our assessment of construction quality. For example, two key "features" of every jacket are its construction type and pocket design. 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. Pocket design is critical to a jacket's end use. A snowsport-specific shell for the resort will have copious storage: handwamer pockets, internal zippered pockets and mesh pockets, a headphone port, and a powder skirt. On the contrary, a fast and light alpine climbing shell, such as the Patagonia M10 and Arc'teryx Alpha FL, have minimalist styling: no pit zips, a low profile hood, and one chest pocket. None of the all-purpose shells tested had our ideal set of features, but the Patagonia Super Pluma came closest. 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've listed each jacket's construction type and the number and location of pockets in our specifications table, found in each review. We weighted each jacket's features rating as 10 percent of its total score.

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Arcteryx Alpha SV and Patagonia Super Alpine. The Alpha SV is more durable, has a more spacious fit, a larger hood, and weighs less! But it does not have hand warmer pockets.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Mobility
Here assessed the extent to which each hardshell felt like a constricting, crinkly plastic bag or a soft and light wind jacket. We found that lighter jackets were less restrictive than heavier jackets. Unfortunately, some 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. Only one jacket, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL receives a 10 out of 10 score for mobility- it's design moves with you like a professional dancer… absolutely marvelous.

We took photos of our lead tester, the author, in every jacket so you can best estimate how a shell will fit you. We weighted each jacket's mobility rating as 20 percent of its total score.

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We took at least two photos of our lead tester in every shell. Use these to estimate which shell will fit you best. Max is 6' 1" and 150 lb.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Versatility
Here we evaluated how well each jacket performed at activities it wasn't designed for. Can you take the 7 oz. climbing-specific Mountain Hardwear Blazar backcountry skiing? Yes. Can you take the 33 oz. ski-specific Mammut Parinaco backpacking? No, it weighs more than a most 15-degree down sleeping bags!! The Patagonia Super Pluma was the most versatile jacket. We weighted each jacket's versatility rating as 20 percent of its total score.

Mobility
Here we assessed the extent to which each hardshell felt like a constricting, crinkly plastic bag. We found that lighter jackets were less restrictive than heavier jackets, and some 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. As the only jacket to receive 10 out of 10 points, Arc'teryx Alpha FL took first place for mobility. We took photos of our lead tester, the author, in every jacket so that you can best estimate how a shell will fit you. We weighted each jacket's mobility rating as 20 percent of its total score.

Durability
Here we took into account for the face fabric, type of membrane, and construction type. We tested jackets 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 and Mountain Hardwear Blazar were the least durable shells tested. We weighted each jacket's durability rating as 20 percent of its total score.

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The Mountain Hardwear Quasar's ultralight 15-denier face fabric is not as durable as the 40-150 denier fabrics found on most other medium and heavy duty shells. This photo shows the jacket's 3 layers: face fabric (red), membrane (white), and liner (grey).
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Weight
Here we ranked each jacket from lightest to heaviest. Weighing only 7 oz., the Mountain Hardwear Blazar topped the charts and was jaw-droppingly compact to boot. The heaviest and most tank-like shell we tested was the 33 oz. Mammut Parinaco, a fully featured snowsport "shell." With improved face fabrics and membranes, durable is no longer synonymous with heavy. All of our award-winning shells weigh less than 17 ounces. We weighted each jacket's weight rating as 25 percent of its total score.

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Packed size and weight in oz from the left: Mountain Hardwear Quasar (9.5), Arcteryx Alpha FL (10.7), Mammut Felstrum Half Zip (11.2), Arcteryx Alpha SV (16.9, and Rab Latok (24.1).
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab

Key Accessories
As stated above, cleaning and reapplying durable water resistant (DWR) chemical coating to your hardshell is very important. ReviveX Pro Cleaner and Nikwax Tech Wash are both good soaps for washing your jacket. For reapplying the DWR we recommend ReviveX Durable Waterproofing and Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On.

Editors' Choice Award: The Best Hardshell Jacket
The 11 oz. 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 and, despite extensive thrashing, we have been stunned by the shell's abrasion and tear resistance. Unlike most lightweight hardshells from other companies Arc'teryx uses Gore-Tex Pro membrane--typically found on very heavy expedition style jackets--to make the Alpha FL both lightweight AND very tough. The jacket 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.

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Max in the Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell jacket and CiloGear 30:30 backpack.
Credit: Zeb Engberg
Top Pick Award for Durability: Arc'teryx Alpha SV
The 17.7 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 the jacket 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 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.

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Zebediah Engberg in the Arcteryx Alpha SV. The Storm Hood adjusts to be worm comfortably without a helmet and covers the chin very well. The Alpha SV has the most comfortable and best overall hood of all jackets tested.
Credit: Max Neale
Top Pick Award for Handwarmer Pockets: Patagonia Super Pluma
The two above shells do not have handwarmer pockets. Although the majority of our testers find that chest pockets (like on the Arc'teryx Alpha SV and FL) offer increased performance for storage and access, we do recognize that some people have a strong preference for handwarmer pockets. And rightfully so- they protect your hands when you don't have gloves. Thus, we present the versatile, lightweight, and well-featured Patagonia Super Pluma with a Top Pick Award. The Super Pluma weighs 14.1 oz., has the highly durable Gore-Tex Pro membrane, and performs well at nearly every foul weather activity. If you must have handwarmer pockets this is the shell to get.

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Brad Miller jamming out in the Patagonia Super Pluma on top of Mt. McKinley (Denali), 20,320 ft., Alaska.
Credit: Clayton Kimmi
Best Value Award: Rab Stretch Neo
The Rab Stretch Neo offers budget conscious adventurers a high quality shell for a bottom basement price (for top-tier hardshells). This jacket is nearly half the price of the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, weighs nearly the same amount, and has a similar feature set. Although it doesn't offer the ultimate in durability or comfort it's an excellent value and represents a massive step up in performance from 2 or 2.5 layer rain jackets.

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Rab Stetch Neo in Hyalite Canyon, Montana.
Credit: Chris Simrell
Best Hardshells for Specific Applications

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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