Our first stage in the testing process is to conduct a thorough survey of the industry we are reviewing. We started by researching hardshell jackets, the materials they are often made of, and polling other outdoor professionals for their hard-learned tips on selecting the best models that will hold up to countless bad-weather days. This information allowed us to put together seven metrics we believe to tell the story of the hardshell jacket: weather protection, mobility, breathability, weight, features, versatility, and durability.
After selecting a dozen or so worthy of extensive field testing, we sent them out with our field testers for several months of adventuring. They took them ice climbing in Montana, alpine climbing in Washington, on expeditions in Alaska, hiking on the coast, biking to coffee shops (to write up their data!), and even on the occasional wet-weather grocery store dash. We took each jacket into the type of terrain it was designed for, so as not to risk the lives of our reviewers with inadequate weather protection (!) but also to adjust our review to be fair to the design of each shell.
Back in the lab, we weighed, stuffed, and stashed each jacket in our packs to see how much room they took up, and how many ounces they added to our adventures. In the field, we went running on cold fall and winter mornings and wore them on long strenuous hikes and approaches to ice climbs—to test the breathability of the different membranes.
In the Pacific Northwest, we have the blessing of a constant firehose of moisture in the winter, which proved adequate for our waterproof tests. We brought the jackets to the tops of mountains and on ice climbing trips to see how mobile they were and whether or not the wind cut through them.We put the jackets over and under layers, and compared each cut and length to determine which jacket was the most comfortable. To look at fancy features, we counted pockets, adjusted the hood shape around our faces and helmets, and tallied the number of drawcord adjustments on the hood, hem, and waist. We also noted anything extra that we liked. Have we mentioned how much we love chest pockets? After months of testing in some of the most rugged environments, we feel confident that you'll find a jacket to suit your needs in this review—and if not, we hope you leave with a few good thoughts as you continue your search.