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REI Co-op First Chair GTX Review

A high-performance shell at a great price
REI Co-op First Chair GTX
Photo: REI Co-op
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $300 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Weather resistant, good vents, plenty of features
Cons:  Hanging liner makes it a bit warm for a shell, fit isn't perfect
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Jeff Dobronyi ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 3, 2020
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65
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The REI First Chair GTX is a capable shell jacket with all of the bells and whistles of more expensive shells for a fraction of the price. Two-layer Gore-Tex fabric and a waterproof front zipper keep water out, and the jacket has pockets galore. It fits decently well, and although it lacks the refined and shaped fit of high-end shells, it still wins some style points on the mountain. Large armpit vents dump heat quickly, which complements the soft interior nylon liner fabric. Overall, this is a great ski shell with most of the refinements of much more expensive jackets. We think it offers standout value for folks who want a shell instead of an insulated jacket at the resort without spending too much money. Other models offer more breathability and backcountry-specific feature sets for those venturing out-of-bounds.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Weather resistant, good vents, plenty of featuresGood value, highly versatile, warmMassive vents, good pocket layout, great weather resistanceVersatile, inexpensive, warmAffordable, weather resistant, good set of features
Cons Hanging liner makes it a bit warm for a shell, fit isn't perfectHeavy, poor ventilation, slightly restrictiveNo powder skirt, fabric wets out quicklyBulky, basic fit and styling, limited weather protectionNot stylish, no ventilation, boxy fit
Bottom Line A high-performance shell at a great priceThis versatile jacket helps you customize your layers, whether you prioritize warmth, weather resistance, or bothThis shell jacket offers great weather protection and ventilation for a bargain priceA versatile and very affordable jacket for the occasional skier or snowboarderA good entry-level ski jacket for an affordable price
Rating Categories REI Co-op First Cha... ThermoBall ECO Snow... Outdoor Research Sk... Whirlibird IV Inter... Columbia Last Tracks
Warmth (20%)
4.0
8.0
3.0
8.0
6.0
Weather Resistance (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Comfort And Fit (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
4.0
5.0
Ventilation (15%)
7.0
6.0
10.0
4.0
3.0
Style (15%)
7.0
6.0
6.0
3.0
4.0
Features (10%)
8.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
6.0
Specs REI Co-op First Cha... ThermoBall ECO Snow... Outdoor Research Sk... Whirlibird IV Inter... Columbia Last Tracks
Main Fabric 2-layer Gore-Tex DryVent 2L 88% Nylon 12% Spandex Nylon 100% nylon
Insulation Recycled polyester lining ThermoBall Eco, 80g PrimaLoft Silver synthetic None 80g MicroTemp synthetic Omni-heat thermal reflective
Pockets 2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 sleeve Shell: 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered chest, 1 goggle, 1 zippered sleeve. Liner: 2 external handwarmer 2 Shove-It, 2 zippered chest, 1 internal media, 2 zippered hand Shell: 3 external, 1 internal. Liner: 2 external, 1 internal zippered hand, chest, and ski pass
Weight (pounds) 1.76 lbs 2.82 lbs 1.72 lbs 2.94 lbs 2.14 lbs
Waterproofing Gore-Tex DryVent AscentShell 3L OmniTech Multi-layered waterproof construction
Hood Option? Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable Yes
Pit-Zips? Yes Open (shell only) Open, hem to bicep Mesh-backed (shell only) None
Cuff construction Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro adjustable
Powder skirt? Yes, removable No No Yes Yes
RECCO? No No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The First Chair performs well in most of our metrics. In general, this is a well-designed and well-built jacket that only lacks the minute details that other high-end jackets bring to the table. For most users, this shell is perfectly adequate.

Performance Comparison


Lead tester Jeff Dobronyi using the REI First Chair while guiding...
Lead tester Jeff Dobronyi using the REI First Chair while guiding backcountry skiers on powder day in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Warmth


Shell jackets are not known for their warmth, but rather, they are designed to provide all of the other attributes of a winter jacket. They assume that users who choose shell jackets prefer to layer insulating garments underneath the shell to match the temperature in the mountains. This gives the user more control over their warmth level than an insulated ski jacket, but it also means that the shell alone is not very warm.


The thick Gore-Tex shell fabric keeps out the wind, helping the user stay warm. Additionally, REI includes a thin, slick nylon liner that hangs off the side of the shell fabric. Such liners provide warmth by producing a space in which warm air can be trapped, in this case between the shell fabric and the liner fabric. When the user's body heats up this trapped air, the jacket feels warmer. In general, we prefer our shell jackets to be unlined, as we chose a shell jacket in the first place because we want to be in charge of our warmth, and don't want the jacket to provide any warmth that we can't control. In this case, the hanging liner adds a small amount of warmth (and weight) to the equation, but not much.

A thin nylon liner adds a small amount of warmth to this shell.
A thin nylon liner adds a small amount of warmth to this shell.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Weather Resistance


The REI First Chair does an excellent job keeping the weather out, which is a shell jacket's main purpose. It uses Gore-Tex waterproof and breathable fabric to ensure that no water penetrates through the jacket's fabric. It has a big hood, a long hem, and long sleeves, meaning that the shell will provide complete coverage through a variety of athletic body movements. In our shower test, the jacket kept us dry and comfortable.


The front zipper is waterproof, but the pocket zippers are only protected by small storm flaps. This isn't a problem in most winter environments, but if you regularly encounter rain or wet snow on the ski slopes, this jacket will slowly let water in through the external pocket zippers. REI uses a DWR coating to bead water off the exterior shell fabric, and we found this DWR treatment. to be moderately durable compared to other brands.

The REI First Chair's DWR held up fairly well to use and abuse...
The REI First Chair's DWR held up fairly well to use and abuse during our test period, beading liquid water and preventing the jacket from wetting out.
Photo: Jeff Dobronyi

Comfort and Fit


The First Chair has a remarkably comfortable feel for a shell jacket. The interior lining is a major contributor to this, protecting your skin or mid-layers from running against a coarse and stiff shell fabric. The exterior fabric is relatively soft compared to other crinkly hardshell jackets.


The fit of the jacket is also pretty good, and while it doesn't match the tailoring of the most high-end ski shells on the market, it fits just fine. If anything, the jacket is a bit loose, but it still comes with an athletic cut that looks and feels like it is made specifically for skiing. On the slopes, we never felt hindered in our movements. The shoulders and elbows are loose without being baggy, and even when we layered heavy down sweaters underneath the shell, it never felt too tight.

The fit and cut of the First Chair is great. Not too tight, not too...
The fit and cut of the First Chair is great. Not too tight, not too loose, and the sleeves and hood fit well. It doesn't match the perfectly-tailored fit of the most expensive shell jackets, but it works just fine.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Ventilation


Another reason we sometimes reach for shell jackets over insulated ski jackets is that we want more ventilation. Shell jackets usually have longer armpit vents to make up for the occasions when we get our layering wrong underneath. The First Chair features average-length armpit vents compared to other shells on the market.


Another major component of ventilation is the shell jacket's fabric. The First Chair uses Gore-Tex, which is a perennial favorite for its high degree of air permeability. Other jackets use proprietary waterproof and breathable membranes to keep costs down, usually at the expense of performance, but this jacket incorporates Gore-Tex without boosting the price of the shell into the stratosphere. One barrier to breathability, in this case, is the interior nylon liner. While breathable, it presents a major obstacle to airflow, and this was noticeable when we were working hard on inbounds bootpacks. Compared to shell jackets without a liner, the First Chair feels less breathable.

The First Chair has average-length armpit zips that help ventilate...
The First Chair has average-length armpit zips that help ventilate the jacket.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Style


Style is subjective, and everyone likes something different. In general, we prefer ski jacket styles specific to the sport, minimalistic and sleek, and yet refined and classy. It is ideal if a jacket can be at home both in the lift line on an expert chair at the top of a mountain, and in a classy ski bar at the base. The First Chair does a good job of striking this balance. The cut and fit suggest athletic use, but the lines are minimalist and sleek. The jacket is relatively class and understated and doesn't stand out, except perhaps on the green slopes.


The jacket comes in only two colors, red and black, which are classic jacket colors in the ski world. While this style is safe, we sometimes like to step out of classic color schemes and take some risks. Modern ski styles are moving towards more interesting colors, while the First Chair lags behind and offers safe color options that will blend in with the crowd on the groomers. If you are looking for a ski jacket that will show off how much of an expert skier you are or that you live right in town at the base, we'd recommend going for a different jacket in terms of style.

The First Chair has a sleek and classic advanced-skier style, but it...
The First Chair has a sleek and classic advanced-skier style, but it also doesn't quite keep pace with the most stylish and "core" options on the market.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Features


The First Chair includes tons of features that make your day on the ski hill easier and more convenient. It has a full suite of four zippered pockets on the jacket's front, two at waist level and two at chest level. The waist-level pockets are lined on both sides with a soft fleecy liner, and the chest pockets have this same soft liner on the back-of-the-hand side. There is an internal chest pocket with a headphone port for easy listening, and an internal drop-in pocket for goggles, extra gloves, or other large items. The shell also features a small sleeve pocket above the left wrist that holds an RFID ski pass so that your pass is close to the scanner, and you don't have to do the Macarena to get the machine to recognize you.


The fixed hood is adjustable at either side of the face and also in the back to customize a tight fit over the helmet on stormy ski days. There is a powder skirt that keeps snow from entering the jacket from below during deep powder days and, more often, during unexpected wipe-outs. When not in use, the powder skirt clips away behind flaps and doesn't get snagged on anything. The hem is also adjustable with a drawcord to seal the bottom of the jacket around your ski pants. In general, the First Chair has all of the features we have come to expect from a good ski shell.

The First Chair is jam-packed with useful features, including an...
The First Chair is jam-packed with useful features, including an RFID ski pass pocket that works well in keeping your pass accessible to ticket scanners.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Value


While not exactly cheap, the First Chair is the most affordable yet high-performance ski shell that we have found. It performs almost as well as shell jackets that cost twice as much, and it does so without compromising on materials, design, features. Some advanced and hardcore skiers will want an even more well-tailored and impermeable ski shell, but for most regular skiers who get out onto the hill 20 or 30 days a year, this jacket is a great deal. REI has an excellent warranty policy if anything should go wrong.

Conclusion


Overall, we are blown away by the performance of the First Chair compared to its price tag. It does almost as good of a job as other shell jackets that are much more expensive. If we split hairs, the shell could do a bit more to be weather resistant, and the style could be even better, but overall, this is a great resort shell jacket at an excellent value. Most advanced to expert skiers will find that this shell does everything you need it to do, including keeping cash in your pocket.

The First Chair gets first tracks on a deep Wyoming powder day.
The First Chair gets first tracks on a deep Wyoming powder day.
Photo: jeff dobronyi

Jeff Dobronyi