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Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Review

A lightweight hardshell with good weather resistance and ventilation, but not much else
Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active
Photo: Backcountry
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Price:  $425 List | $297.46 at Backcountry
Pros:  Weather resistant, good ventilation, lightweight
Cons:  Light on features, awkward fit, weird styling
Manufacturer:   Backcountry
By Jeff Dobronyi ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 30, 2021
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53
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#15 of 17
  • Warmth - 20% 3
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 8
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 5
  • Ventilation - 15% 7
  • Style - 15% 4
  • Features - 10% 4

Our Verdict

The Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Jacket is a lightweight hardshell designed for backcountry skiing and riding. It has excellent weather resistance and unique ventilation features, but it lacks some useful ski features, and it has an awkwardly tight fit around the chest. In general, we found the jacket's tailoring to be off. The jacket's style is also a bit elementary, including the color selection. If you are looking for the absolute lightest ski-specific hardshell jacket, and you have a narrow chest, this may fit the bill. But for the price, there are better options out there that will likely fit a wider range of body types.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $425 List
$297.46 at Backcountry
$550.00 at Backcountry
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$300 List
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Check Price at REI
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Overall Score Sort Icon
53
88
72
65
54
Star Rating
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Pros Weather resistant, good ventilation, lightweightExcellent performance in every category, durableStrong value, highly versatile, warm, loaded with ski-friendly featuresWeather resistant, good vents, plenty of featuresVersatile, inexpensive, warm
Cons Light on features, awkward fit, weird stylingMore snug fit than other optionsHeavy, poor ventilation in combined figurationHanging liner makes it a bit warm for a shell, fit isn't perfectBulky, basic fit and styling, limited weather protection
Bottom Line A lightweight hardshell with good weather resistance and ventilation, but not much elseThis excellent resort ski jacket nails all performance aspects to deserve a spot at the top of your wish listThis versatile and reasonably priced jacket helps you customize your layers, whether you prioritize warmth, weather resistance, or bothA high-performance shell at a great priceA versatile and very affordable jacket for the occasional skier or snowboarder
Rating Categories Backcountry Notchto... Helly Hansen Alpha... The North Face Ther... REI Co-op First Cha... Columbia Whirlibird...
Warmth (20%)
3.0
8.0
8.0
4.0
8.0
Weather Resistance (20%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Comfort And Fit (20%)
5.0
10.0
7.0
7.0
4.0
Ventilation (15%)
7.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
4.0
Style (15%)
4.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
3.0
Features (10%)
4.0
10.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Backcountry Notchto... Helly Hansen Alpha... The North Face Ther... REI Co-op First Cha... Columbia Whirlibird...
Main Fabric 100% Polyester membrane, 100% Nylon lining 2-layer stretch polyester 100% nylon 2-layer Gore-Tex Nylon
Insulation None LifaLoft synthetic 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Polyester Recycled polyester lining 80g MicroTemp synthetic
Pockets 2 zippered front, 1 zippered sleeve 2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 sleeve Shell: 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest,1 internal media, 1 internal goggle, 1 internal zippered sleeve. Liner: 2 hand 2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 sleeve Shell: 3 external, 1 internal. Liner: 2 external, 1 internal
Weight (pounds) 1.13 lbs 2.56 lbs 2.86 lbs 1.76 lbs 2.94 lbs
Water Resistance Gore-Tex Helly Tech Professional DryVent 2L Gore-Tex OmniTech
Hood Adjustable Adjustable and removable Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable
Pit-Zips Yes Mesh-backed Yes (shell only) Yes Mesh-backed (shell only)
Cuff construction Velcro Interior stretchy wrist gaiters and external velcro cuffs Velcro Velcro Velcro
Powder skirt? No Yes Yes Yes, removable Yes
RECCO? No Yes No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

We were initially intrigued by the Notchtop's low weight and burly hardshell features. However, we were ultimately disappointed by the fit, style, and lack of features, considering the price tag.

Performance Comparison


The Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Jacket during early-season...
The Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Jacket during early-season testing in Colorado.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Warmth


The Notchtop is a three-layer hardshell jacket, and it doesn't have any insulation. This means that it is not effective at keeping the user warm on its own. Any warmth must come from insulating mid-layers worn underneath. Backcountry skiers and experienced resort skiers who enjoy high-output activities like mogul skiing and inbounds hiking will consider this lack of insulation a plus, while many skiers looking for a thick and warm ski jacket will want to look elsewhere. Our testers noted that due to the narrow chest, it was difficult to add insulating layers beneath this jacket.

The Notchtop is a thin, three-layer shell jacket that provides zero...
The Notchtop is a thin, three-layer shell jacket that provides zero additional insulation other than the waterproof/breathable membrane.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Weather Resistance


The Backcountry Notchtop uses Gore-Tex Active to keep wind and water outside of the jacket. All of the seams are sealed and the zippers are all waterproof. There is a drawcord that seals the hem, velcro straps that keep the wrists sealed, and an adjustable hood to keep storms at bay. Overall, these features work together to create an impenetrable hardshell jacket that did not falter during our test period. If we had to pick an area to critique, it would be that the hood could be bigger to provide more coverage.

The hood provides good coverage, but it could be bigger to cover...
The hood provides good coverage, but it could be bigger to cover more of the forehead.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Comfort and Fit


At first glance, the Notchtop seems like a comfortable jacket. The outer shell fabric is softer than other Gore-Tex shells, the material is stretchy, and the inner lining is soft on the skin. However, our testers noticed that the chest is awkwardly tight when spreading or lifting the arms, even when the rest of the jacket's measurements fit perfectly. In other words, we think this is a tailoring issue, not a sizing issue. It is tight enough in the chest to make out testers cringe at the thought of spreading their arms or bending over to buckle their boots. If you have a medium to wide chest, beware.

The front of the Notchtop stretches tight over the chest when our...
The front of the Notchtop stretches tight over the chest when our tester reaches wide. This tight fit was very uncomfortable and impacted our mobility when wearing the jacket.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Ventilation


While the Gore-Tex Active membrane is relatively breathable for a hardshell, this jacket has some unique features that help improve breathability. The armpit vents are long and open completely without a mesh liner, which is great. The front zip has two zip options, one that seals the jacket completely, and one that introduces small holes into the front of the jacket for increased breathability. Finally, the front pockets of the jacket have holes in the lining, allowing them to act as front vents if left open. These unique features are effective, and help the user dump heat in the torso when skinning uphill, hiking inbounds to fresh snow, or skiing in the spring.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Style


While not the most important consideration, our testers like to look good on the slopes and in the backcountry. This jacket has funky tailoring, bright primary color options, and a large logo on the right shoulder, all of which make us cringe. Many of our testers were put off by the style of this jacket, to the point that the weight savings and ventilation options didn't matter. Our testers ended up preferring other, heavier backcountry shells simply because they thought the Notchtop's style was lacking. However, style is subjective, so if you like how this jacket looks, disregard our opinions here.

The Notchtop's style feels unremarkable and generic to our testers.
The Notchtop's style feels unremarkable and generic to our testers.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Features


To save weight, the Notchtop lacks many features that are standard in other ski jackets, even backcountry-specific ones. There are two well-placed front pockets that provide plenty of storage, and are accessible even a backpack is strapped across the chest and waist. There is a small pass pocket on the left sleeve for RFID cards, helpful for days lapping the sidecountry. There are no internal pockets, which is a bit of a bummer, but it keeps the jacket's weight down, so we tolerate it.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


The Notchtop isn't cheap, but it is still more affordable than many other Gore-Tex three-layer hard shells on the market. This jacket lacks the fine-tuned tailoring and useful features of the more expensive options. If you are looking for a Gore-Tex shell and you're on a budget, this is a good option, but there are better ski shells on the market that don't use Gore-Tex yet still perform better overall than the Notchtop.

Conclusion


The Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Jacket is a lightweight hardshell that provides great weather resistance and ventilation, but little else. It is more affordable than other Gore-Tex shells, but it also lacks the refinement of these more expensive options. For budget shoppers, we'd recommend other shell jackets that don't use Gore-Tex (which generally reduces the price) and that still perform better across the board.

The Notchtop features a large logo on the right shoulder that flies...
The Notchtop features a large logo on the right shoulder that flies like a flag, which our testers didn't like.
Photo: Jackie Kearney

Jeff Dobronyi

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