This year marks the seventh straight year that OutdoorGearLab has tested hardshell jackets. The information found in this review is not one season's worth of testing, but rather a culmination of all of the testing and knowledge that we have gained over the years. We have now tested over 80 different jackets, and have been on top of all the changes in design and materials that have taken place during that time. In short, the hardshell jacket review found here is not just comprehensive in its breadth of this year's models, but complete in scope of the entire hardshell jacket market for the past half decade.
The majority of our testing took place out in the field. This meant wearing and using jackets on mountain adventures. Most of the jackets were tested during a three month period during late fall and early winter, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, as well as the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia. The activities we enjoyed in each of these jackets included ice climbing, backcountry skiing, resort skiing, and hiking, as well as regular everyday use around town such as shoveling the driveway. Multiple people used each of these jackets and gave their opinions on their performance. While field testing formed the basis of our knowledge and ideas about these jackets, to more accurately compare jackets side-by-side, we also devised and conducted numerous controlled tests for each metric, described below.
The majority of this testing took place on our adventures backcountry skiing, climbing mountains, skiing at resorts, and ice climbing. However, these jackets were tested in the mountains in winter, so to simulate their performance in a hard downpour, we conducted the shower test. We put on each jacket, zipped it up, donned the hood, and stood underneath the shower for at least three minutes to test how the jacket held up in a serious rainstorm. We also conducted the test with a helmet on underneath the hood. This test gave us the best information about the efficacy and durability of a jacket's DWR coating, and more importantly, the performance of the hood and collar.
To determine a jacket's weight, we weighed it on our independent scale immediately upon arrival, before it had a chance to get wet or dirty. We ignored what manufacturers' claimed the weight to be, although posted that number as well in our specs table. Despite the fact that some of the jackets were size large and others size medium, we compared weights across the board, as the fit of each jacket was appropriate for our head tester, despite their different designations.
Mobility and Fit
To accurately compare fit we wore each jacket one after the other with nothing but a thin base layer on beneath, as well as a thicker warmth layer. We also wore them both with a helmet and without. The majority of our testing for mobility took place in the field on our adventures.
Venting and Breathability
This metric was mostly tested while on the skin track on backcountry skiing days by wearing our hardshell for the entire uphill, even if we felt too hot to be doing so. However, for a more accurate comparative test, we took these jackets to the local gym and conducted the stationary bike test. For this analysis, we wore a Capilene base layer beneath each hardshell jacket. We spent 15 minutes warming up to a sweaty state, and then wore each contender one after the other as we pedaled on the bike.
We maintained a sweat-inducing heart rate of 130 throughout and wore each jacket fully zipped up with the hem drawcords tightened for five minutes of riding to compare breathability, then immediately opened all available vents and rode another two minutes to judge the ventilation effect. The results were impossible to quantify but were anecdotally very noticeable, and we immediately kept notes about the performance of each jacket. In general, we weighted the ability to ventilate as the more important aspect of this metric, as we have found this to be a far more comfortable way of staying dry while wearing a hardshell.
Testing of a jacket's features mostly took place in the field. First, we identified all of the various features present on each jacket, and then made a concerted effort while out adventuring to test and notice how each feature worked. We gave preference to optimally functioning features over pure quantity.