Many skiers prefer a shell jacket to an insulated one. For them, we present the OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for a downhill shell. The Arc'teryx Sabre AR provides excellent weather resistance and thoughtful, durable construction to keep you dry and happy on the gnarliest days. This jacket is expensive, but it is likely to last many years. The style is refined and classy and doesn't make too much of a statement. It's a very comfortable jacket to wear, with a subtle fleece feel to the inside of the shell. It is a bit too heavy and warm for most backcountry use, but it will work for those taking the occasional sidecountry lap or inbounds hike. Overall, this jacket is a big hit, earning a coveted Editors' Choice Award. If you are looking for the best ski shell on the market for resort use, look no further.
Arc'teryx Sabre AR Jacket Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Completely weather resistant, good ventilation, freeride style
Cons: Expensive, too heavy and warm for most backcountry use
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sabre AR from Arc'teryx is the best shell ski jacket we have tested. It performs well in weather resistance, style, comfort, and ventilation. It can't compete with other jackets for warmth, nor does it try.
The Sabre AR is not a warm jacket on its own. It requires the user to consciously decide which layers to wear underneath to provide the needed warmth for a given winter day. That said, the inside of the Sabre AR's shell fabric is lined with a very thin fleece material, which is almost unnoticeable, but captures a small amount of heat. This helps the Sabre AR feel a little warmer than other shell-only jackets.
The jacket has a very well-designed hood that completely encloses the user's head, whether they are wearing a helmet or a wool hat. The collar height is perfectly located right below the nose, meaning it covers most of the face when fully zipped up. The thick shell fabric completely blocks cold wind, adding to the warmth of this jacket.
For backcountry use, this jacket will be a bit too warm for anything other than short hikes or bootpacks. You won't be wearing a shell in the backcountry if it's not precipitating or very windy, but if it is, and you have to hike uphill for more than 10 minutes, you'll get warm. It's great for a quick hike out of the gates, or a bootpack to a hidden inbounds run, but for backcountry use, check out the lighter shell options.
It is in this category that the Sabre AR truly shines. Arc'teryx was born in the cold and stormy British Columbia Coast Range, where rain, snow, wind, and brutal cold grow glaciers and deep, wet winter snowpacks. We trust them with weather resistance more than any other brand, and the Sabre AR upholds this venerable reputation.
The jacket features a carefully chosen fabric, a good DWR coating, waterproof zippers, sealed seams, and a hood that swallows your helmet and locks out the weather. It also comes with a great powder skirt that seals the torso of the jacket from below for the deepest days. Other Gore-Tex shells on the market also feature great weather resistance and well-designed features, but the Sabre AR is generally thicker, keeping the wind at bay.
Comfort and Fit
Shell jackets have a hard time matching the comfort of an insulated jacket, usually because the user of a shell-only jacket has more direct contact with the shell material. The Sabre AR makes up for that with a thin fleece lining that is barely noticeable, yet makes a big difference in comfort.
This jacket has a well-tailored fit, not too loose and not too tight. The jacket torso and sleeves have plenty of room for layers to be worn underneath without making the shell feel too baggy or boxy. The sleeves are long enough that they'll never pull off past your gloves when you move your arms overhead. Similarly, the hem is long enough that you can raise your arms without exposing your belly.
The shell fabric of the Sabre AR is thick, but somehow doesn't feel too rough or stiff, which is a major factor in the comfort of a shell jacket. Inside the collar, a small patch of fleece has been added to protect the chin from rubbing against the shell and the zipper, which makes that jacket easy to wear all day.
Ventilation measures how well a jacket can be adapted to different temperatures and exertion levels. It is the zippers and vents that allow one to customize the airflow and thus control the heat and water vapor condensation inside the jacket. The Sabre AR does pretty well with this.
The main ventilation feature of the Sabre AR are the long pit zips that open wide without any mesh covering the opening. This allows unrestricted airflow through the vent opening. The zippers are easy to pull with one hand, so you don't need a friend to help you open or close the vents. That said, the fleece lining of the main shell fabric will hold heat, and the thick shell doesn't feel as breathable as other shell options. The Sabre AR vents well enough for high-exertion inbounds skiing and short bootpacks, but for those who like to hike, traverse, and sidestep all day for the best turns in fair weather (as is often the case at Alta, Telluride, Aspen, and Taos), we would reach for a slightly lighter shell. If you're planning on spending the whole day in the backcountry on a warmer day, the fleece-y feel of the shell will retain heat and be too warm.
Most testers and people we asked liked the style of the Sabre AR. It has a slightly baggy, loose, and casual look, and when combined with the color options, the style tends towards a "core" look. This jacket makes you look like a good skier, without sticking out like a sore thumb, as some of the racer-style jackets do.
The zippers look great, and the Arc'teryx logo is about 2 inches wide, but not invasive. The company name is also embroidered on the hood brim, which actually comes off as classy. Overall, the style of the jacket enhances the user experience, which is not always the case in the shell jacket market. This helps the Sabre AR stand out from its competition.
The Sabre AR is not as well-endowed as other jackets that we tested, but does come out near average for shell jackets. Skiers who reach for shell jacket tend to have their systems dialed, and might not need the added convenience of a pocket-mounted goggle wipe on a lanyard or a headphone port. Since this jacket is geared towards the downhill, inbounds crowd, we wish it had more features.
The jacket has two large handwarmer pockets and an upper sleeve pass pocket, but no external chest pocket. There is one small internal chest pocket, but it is made of mesh, which means that perspiration will get through the pocket and potentially get your phone wet. It is also located underneath one of the external handwarmer pockets, and we don't like it when pockets stack up on top of each other. The powder skirt is fixed, and there is one internal mesh pocket that can hold a pair of goggles or a snack.
The Sabre AR is more expensive than other Gore-Tex shell options, but not so much that we'd recommend those instead for ski resort use. For the price, you get an extremely weather resistant, well-made, durable, comfortable, and good looking shell. Arc'teryx has a great warranty program if anything should go wrong. We believe this jacket will last a long time, making the Sabre AR a good value and a great investment.
The total package for a ski shell, the Arc'teryx Sabre AR takes home the Editors' Choice Award for men's ski shell jackets. Best-in-class weather resistance, plus great comfort, style, and durability help this jacket rise to the top of the pack. There are warmer models, and more featured jackets, but if you are in the market for a shell, this is the cream of the crop.
— Jeff Dobronyi