Many skiers prefer a shell jacket to an insulated one. If this is you, we present the OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for a downhill shell. The Arc'teryx Sabre provides excellent weather resistance and thoughtful, durable construction to keep you dry and happy on the gnarliest days. This jacket is expensive, but in our experience, it lasts many years without showing wear. The style is refined and classy without making too much of a statement. It's a very comfortable jacket to wear, with a fine fleece feel to the shell's inside. 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 our top award. If you're looking for the best ski shell on the market for resort use, look no further.Editor's Note: We updated this review on December 2, 2022, with additional jacket recommendations for specific uses.
Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket Review
Cons: Expensive, too heavy and warm for most backcountry use
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Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket
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|Pros||Completely weather resistant, good ventilation, freeride style||Excellent performance in every category, durable||Weather-proof, stylish, comfortable fit||Weather resistant, good vents, plenty of features||Inexpensive, moderately weather resistant, warm enough|
|Cons||Expensive, too heavy and warm for most backcountry use||More snug fit than other options||Expensive, crinkly fabric||Hanging liner makes it a bit warm for a shell, fit isn't perfect||Bland style, poor ventilation, generic fit|
|Bottom Line||A durable, weatherproof jacket that wins our favor among downhill ski shells on the market||This excellent resort ski jacket nails all performance aspects to deserve a spot at the top of your wish list||This excellent, lightweight ski shell packs the high performance and features you need for a day in the backcountry||A high-performance shell at a great price||An average-performance ski jacket with decent features at an affordable price|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket||Helly Hansen Alpha...||Arc'teryx Rush||REI Co-op First Cha...||REI Co-op Powderbou...|
|Weather Resistance (20%)|
|Comfort and Fit (20%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket||Helly Hansen Alpha...||Arc'teryx Rush||REI Co-op First Cha...||REI Co-op Powderbou...|
|Main Fabric||N80p-X Gore-Tex||2-layer stretch polyester||3L Gore-Tex Pro||2-layer Gore-Tex||Nylon|
|Insulation||Thin flannel backer||LifaLoft synthetic||None||Recycled polyester lining||60g polyester sleeves, 80g polyester body|
|Pockets||2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal||2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 sleeve||2 zippered hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal zippered stash, 1 internal mesh dump||2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 sleeve||2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest, 1 sleeve, 1 internal zippered chest, 1 internal mesh|
|Weight (size large)||1.60 lbs||2.56 lbs||1.30 lbs||1.76 lbs||1.81 lbs|
|Water Resistance||Gore-Tex||Helly Tech Professional||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex||2-layer waterproof breathable laminate|
|Hood||Adjustable||Adjustable and removable||Adjustable||Adjustable||Adjustable|
|Cuff construction||Velcro||Interior stretchy wrist gaiters and external velcro cuffs||Velcro||Velcro||Interior wide hook-and-loop adjustments and external velcro|
|Powder skirt||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, removable||Yes|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sabre Jacket from Arc'teryx is the best shell ski jacket we have tested. It performs well in weather resistance, style, comfort, and ventilation. Since it's a shell, it can't compete with other jackets for warmth, nor does it try.
The Sabre 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 shell fabric is lined with a very thin fleece material, which is almost unnoticeable but captures a small amount of heat. This thin layer helps the garment feel a little warmer than other shell-only jackets.
The jacket has a 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 boot packs. You likely 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 in this piece. It's great for a quick hike out of the gates or a boot pack to a hidden inbounds run, but for backcountry use, check out the lighter shell options.
It is in this category that the Sabre 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 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 is 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 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 nor too tight. The jacket torso and sleeves have room for layers 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. The hem is long enough that you can raise your arms without exposing your belly.
The shell fabric of the Sabre is thick without feeling 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 we appreciate.
Ventilation measures how well a jacket can be adapted to different temperatures and exertion levels. The zippers and vents allow one to customize the airflow and thus control the heat and water vapor condensation inside the jacket. The Sabre does pretty well with this.
The main ventilation feature are the long pit zips that open wide without any mesh covering the opening. This design allows unrestricted airflow through the vents. 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 vents well enough for high-exertion inbounds skiing and short boot packs. 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 micro-fleece feel of the shell will retain heat and be too warm.
Most testers and people we asked liked the Sabre's style. 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 inconspicuously embroidered on the hood. Overall, this jacket's style enhances the user experience, which is not always the case in the shell jacket market. These nice touches help the Sabre stand out from its competition.
The Sabre is not as well-endowed as other jackets that we tested, but it does come out near average for shell jackets. Skiers who reach for a 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, in-bounds 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. One small internal chest pocket is made of mesh, which means sweat 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 are two internal mesh pockets that can hold a pair of goggles or a snack.
Should You Buy the Arc'teryx Sabre Jacket?
Best-in-class weather resistance, plus great comfort, style, and durability, help the Arc'teryx Sabre rise to the top of the pack. This jacket is more expensive than other Gore-Tex shell options. But 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 have tested this jacket for years, and know it will last a long time, making it a good value and a great investment.
What Other Ski Jackets Should You Consider?
If you're in the market for a shell, the Arc'teryx Sabre is the cream of the crop. But there are certainly warmer models, namely the down-insulated Arc'teryx Macai. Alternatively, if you're logging vertical feet in the backcountry, check out a lighter-weight shell like the Arc'teryx Rush or the superlight Mammut Aenergy Air HS. If you want more features, the award-winning Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft will better suit your needs.
— Jeff Dobronyi
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