Best Hardshell Jacket for 4-Season Hiking and Alpine Ascents [2022 Update]

Looking for the best hardshell jacket for your wet-weather adventures? We have you covered! In this guide, you'll find 8 awesome hiking hardshells that will keep you cozy and dry no matter how hard the rain's falling.

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Best Shell Jackets for Extreme Outdoor Adventures

Looking for a Great Hardshell Jacket?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • What is a hardshell jacket?
    • Important factors to consider when buying a hardshell rain jacket
    • Reviews of the 8 best hardshell jackets
    • Our unbiased pick of the top waterproof-breathable hardshell jacket this year

Hardshell jackets are, by definition, the jacket type best equipped to keep you dry and comfortable when the weather’s at its wildest. While softshell jackets and rain jackets will suffice if you plan on hiking in three-season conditions, on alpine missions or when the weather takes a turn for the biblical, a hardshell’s bombproof, 3-layer protection is what you need.

Like all classes of outdoor gear, however, the term “hardshell” encompasses a wide range of performance levels, and certain models are better suited to different end uses than others. 

To help you find the best hardshell jacket for your needs, budget, and activity type, we’ve put together a list of our favorite jackets this year. In our reviews, we provide the lowdown on what each jacket does well and what it doesn’t, as well as highlighting the kind of adventure it’s most suitable for. Below these, you’ll also find detailed buying advice to help you choose.

Editors Choice

Arc’teryx Beta FL

Arc’teryx Beta FL

In choosing the winner of our award, we sought a waterproof jacket that provided the perfect balance of weather protection, breathability, mobility, and toughness, and a full complement of dialed-in, user-friendly features. 

The Arc’teryx Beta FL ticks all of those boxes…and then some. 

This jacket is made with Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing technology, which is both the most breathable and most waterproof of all the fabrics in the Gore-Tex range. This combo makes it more than capable of keeping you dry in heavy downpours whilst also ensuring you won’t overheat or end up soaked in sweat during high-intensity activities.

The 40d ripstop fabric in this jacket makes it tough enough to withstand plenty of rough treatment. Unlike other burly hardshells, however, this toughness doesn’t detract from the Beta FL’s mobility, with the jacket’s no-lift gusseted underarms, articulated elbows, and ergonomic patterning ensuring it provides almost unrivaled freedom of movement. 

The features in this jacket are another cause for celebration. 

Heading the lineup of lovable add-ons are a pair of large pit zips for added ventilation, a droptail hem that keeps your butt dry when sitting, and an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood. And putting the proverbial cherry on the cake, there’s also a trio of high-volume waterproof pockets, an internal security pocket, a soft-brushed lined collar, and a laminated brim and hem.

Bottom Line: The Beta SL is a pricey jacket, but in terms of performance, fit, features, and weight-to-weather-protection ratio, it can’t be beaten.

At a Glance: Our Hardshell Jacket Recommendations

  • Editors Choice:  Arc’teryx Beta FL
    “This jacket combines Gore-Tex Pro technology with 40d ripstop fabric and a next-level feature set to provide the optimal balance of weather protection, comfort, and mobility.”
  • Runner-Up:  Mountain Equipment Lhotse
    “An incredibly tough alpine hardshell that’s built to withstand the very worst the weather can throw at it.”
  • Best Value:  Outdoor Research Microgravity
    “An affordable and very comfortable hardshell hiking jacket that boasts the best breathability of all the models on our list.”
  • Best Budget:  Mammut Kento
    “A reliable entry-level hardshell that’s fairly priced and offers more than enough weather protection for the needs of most users.”
  • Best Mobility:  Black Diamond Highline Stretch
    “Marrying the wet-weather performance of a hardshell with the mobility of a softshell, this is the most comfortable jacket on our list.”
  • Best Performance:  Dynafit Radical 2
    “This jacket’s snugger fit, Gore-Tex Active fabric, and sleek, articulated design make it a great option for fast-paced and technical pursuits.”
  • Best Ultralight:  REI Co-Op Drypoint GTX
    “Weighing just 10.5 oz., this is one of the best hardshell jackets out there for backpacking or fast-and-light adventures.”
  • Best for Mountaineering:  Mammut Nordwand Advanced
    “Made with 80d fabric and Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing technology, this one’s our favorite for excursions in extreme conditions.”
hiker in snow checking bearing

Further info: If you’re not sure a hardshell is what you need, then check out our main article on the best hiking jackets.

The Best Hardshell Jacket: Reviews of Our Top 8 Picks

Arc’teryx Beta FL

Editors Choice

Arc’teryx Beta FL

Choosing our favorite from Arc’teryx’s stellar range of outstanding hardshells was no easy task. When push came to shove, however, we had to plump for the one that we feel offers the best performance for the price – the Beta FL. 

This jacket may cost a pretty penny, but in terms of craftsmanship, protection against the elements, durability, and suitability for rough and tumble in the mountains, it leaves the best of the rest languishing in its wake. 

The Beta FL is made with Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing technology, which is the crème de la crème of the Gore-Tex range. With a HH of 28,000 mm and MVTR of 25,000 mm, this fabric provides the most robust waterproofing and highest breathability of any on our list, making it ideal for high-output activities in the most extreme conditions.

But what we love most about this jacket is its dialed-in design and next-level attention to detail. Though made with a minimalist, alpine-style fit, its incorporation of “no-lift” gusseted underarms, articulated elbows, a droptail hem, and ergonomic 3-dimensional patterning make it one of the most comfortable and mobile hardshell jackets we’ve ever worn. 

And the other features don’t disappoint. There’s a duo of oversized hand pockets, an interior pocket, a chest pocket, a well-designed helmet-compatible hood, WaterTight zippers, a pair of water-resistant pit zips for ventilation, laminated adjustable cuffs, a microsuede chin guard, and a RECCO reflector for avalanche emergencies. 

In short, if you’re looking for a hardshell jacket that ticks every box that needs ticking, this is it.

Specs

  • Waterproofing: 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro
  • Weight: 11.5 oz.
  • HH: 28,000 mm
  • MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Highly waterproof and breathable
    • Lightweight
    • 3 exterior pockets and 1 interior pocket
    • Underarm vents
    • Trim fit
  • CONs

    • Hand-warmer pockets aren’t harness-compatible
    • Pricey

Bottom-Line: An incredibly well-designed jacket that uses 40d Gore-Tex Pro technology to deliver the perfect balance of waterproofing, breathability, and durability.

Mountain Equipment Lhotse

Runner-Up

Mountain Equipment Lhotse Jacket - Men's

British brand Mountain Equipment has a well-earned reputation for creating seriously badass rain shells for high-alpine adventures (and also, of course, for the brand’s abysmally bad native climate!). The Lhotse is a perfect example of the type of jacket upon which this reputation was built. 

Weighing 18.2 oz., this is the heaviest option on our list. However, its use of 40d ripstop nylon fabric, 80d ripstop inserts in areas prone to abrasion, and a Gore-Tex Pro membrane make it pretty much the very definition of a “bombproof” mountaineering jacket.

There’s very little to separate the Lhotse from the other Gore-Tex Pro jackets on our list, the Beta FL and the Mammut Nordwand. These three jackets offer identical waterproof performance and breathability and boast a similar alpine fit. If serious weather protection is what you need, none of them will disappoint. 

However, the winner of our review, the Beta SL, scooped our “Best Overall” award courtesy of its slightly more ergonomic fit and lower weight. That said, if alpine or ice climbing is on the cards, the Lhotse’s tougher fabrics might just be worth the weight penalty. 

Features-wise, the Lhotse has everything you’d expect to find on a high-end mountaineering jacket. In addition to those 80d reinforcements, there’s plenty of other good stuff going on, most notably a fully adjustable hood and cuffs, a trio of oversized pockets, underarm pit zips with a laminated and bonded entry, and articulated pre-shaped sleeves. 

Specs

  • Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
  • Weight: 18.2 oz.
  • HH: 28,000 mm 
  • MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Tough as nails
    • Completely waterproof
    • Affordable
    • Pit zips
    • Articulated alpine fit
  • CONs

    • Heavy and bulky

Bottom-Line: A burly beast of a waterproof shell that’s equipped to keep you dry in even the most heinous conditions.

Black Diamond Highline Stretch

Best Mobility

Black Diamond Highline Shell Jacket - Men's

Once upon a time, even the best hardshell jackets were stiff, unyielding affairs that often left you feeling like you were in a straight jacket rather than a merely waterproof one. 

As technologies and designs have evolved, we were subsequently blessed with articulated fits and gussets that afforded a little more leeway for movement, but which often added to bulk and weight. Then came what we’d all been waiting for – fully mobile, stretchy softshell impersonators like the Black Diamond Highline. 

Let’s skip straight to the bottom line: we frickin’ love this jacket. 

While it’s not as waterproof as bombproof-class shells like the Beta FL, ME Lhotse, or Mammut Nordwand, it does plenty to make up for this slight shortfall.

Let’s start with the USP, the oh-so-endearing “stretch” from which the Highline takes its surname.

Thanks to its use of stretchy nylon fabric in combination with a robust water-repellent finish and 20,000 mm waterproof membrane, the Highline essentially marries the best bits of a softshell jacket with a traditional hardshell while doing away with the shortcomings of each. 

This means you get a jacket that’s more mobile than almost any other hardshell out there but also waterproof and breathable enough for all but the most extreme wet-weather adventures.

The Highline also uses a brand-spanking-new, potentially revolutionary GTT (Green Theme Technology) water-repellent coating. This isn’t only PFC-free and, thus, more environmentally friendly than traditional durable water repellent coatings, but is also hyper-fused to the fabric fibers, meaning you’ll never have to waste time or $ refreshing it with a post-purchase spray.

Specs

  • Waterproofing: BD.dry Stretch Nylon 3L with GTT
  • Weight: 12.7 oz.
  • HH: 20,000 mm
  • MVTR: 20,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Outstanding mobility
    • Pit zips
    • Fully taped seams
    • GTT water-resistant finish
    • Helmet-compatible hood
  • CONs

    • Less waterproof and breathable than the top dogs on our list 

Bottom-Line: A superbly comfortable waterproof jacket that combines the wet-weather performance of a high-end hardshell with the mobility of a softshell.

Dynafit Radical 2

Best Performance

Dynafit Radical 2 Goretex S

Looking for a performance-oriented, versatile jacket that’s geared towards more technical and high-intensity alpine pursuits? If so, the Dynafit Radical 2 is well worth a place on your shortlist. 

This jacket combines two types of Gore-Tex fabric – C-Knit and Active – to deliver the perfect balance of abrasion resistance, waterproofing, breathability, and comfort. While billed as a ski jacket, we found the wet-weather performance, feature set, mobility, and ruggedness of this hardshell jacket made it equally well-suited to mountaineering and high-output hiking.

The Radical 2 is among the most intelligently designed on our list. Where the jacket comes into contact with your backpack straps, it uses a Gore-Tex C-Knit to double down on abrasion resistance. Elsewhere, it uses Gore-Tex Active, which, with a HH of 28,000 mm and MVTR of 25,000 g/m²/24h, will keep you dry and sweat-free even when moving fast and working hard. 

While not as bombproof as the Beta FL, Mammut Nordwand, or ME Lhotse, the Radical 2 offers more than enough protection for all but the gnarliest of conditions. And while it has a far snugger, more athletic fit than any of these 3 models, there’s enough room for a thin inner layer or two in colder conditions. 

As far as features go, the Radical ticks most boxes. Although there are no underarm gussets, it does have large pit zips, an adjustable helmet-compatible hood, a small visor, two large hand pockets, two interior mesh pockets, adjustable cuffs, and an adjustable hem. 

Specs

  • Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Active & C-Knit
  • Weight: 14.1 oz.
  • HH: 28,000 mm
  • MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Totally waterproof
    • Soft C-Knit inner layer
    • Helmet-compatible hood
    • 2 large hand pockets & 2 interior pockets
    • Fully sealed seams
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Snugger fit than most hardshell jackets (a “pro” for some)

Bottom-Line: An intelligently designed jacket that combines waterproof-breathable fabrics and a soft C-Knit backer with a trim, athletic fit to provide superior performance in high-intensity, technical pursuits.

REI Co-Op Drypoint GTX

Best Ultralight

REI Co-op Drypoint GTX

To avoid the weight penalty and added expense of a 3-layer hardshell, many hikers and mountaineers settle for a 2.5-layer model. With the REI Co-Op Drypoint Gore-Tex, however, you can have the best of both worlds.

Weighing just 10.5 oz., this is the lightest jacket in our review, yet makes very few compromises in terms of weather resistance. Using Gore-Tex Active technology, it has a HH of 28,000 mm and MVTR of 25,000 g/m²/24h, putting it up there with the “best in class” (the ME Lhotse, Beta FL, and Nordwand) for breathability and waterproofing. 

The Drypoint is also far more affordable than these competitors, costing less than half the price of all three. 

But there are a few compromises…

For starters, the Drypoint’s 20d ripstop nylon fabric is the thinnest on our list and won’t stand up to the same level of abuse as the 40d or 80d fabric used on the Lhotse, Beta FL, Nordwand, or Mammut Kento. It also lacks a few design features that are all but standard on its high-end peers, most notably pit zippers, articulated arms, and gussets.

All of the above means that the Drypoint is a great entry-level hardshell jacket and perfectly suitable for 3- or 4-season hiking. For mountaineering, ski-touring, or ice-climbing, however, we recommend opting for a model with a more nuanced, alpine fit and burlier fabric.

Specs

  • Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Active
  • Weight: 10.5 oz.
  • HH: 28,000 mm
  • MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Highly waterproof and breathable fabric
    • Roomier fit than most jackets on our list
    • Hipbelt-compatible pockets
    • 3-point adjustable hood with built-in visor
    • Adjustable jacket hem and cuffs to trap in body heat
  • CONs

    • Thin fabric makes it less durable than competitors
    • No pit zips, underarm gussets, or articulation

Bottom-Line: An affordable, lightweight jacket that performs just as well as many of its pricier competitors in severe weather. One of the best hardshell jackets out there for the price.

Mammut Kento

Best Budget

Mammut Men Kento Hooded Hardshell Jacket

For many hikers, the performance offered by the more expensive jackets on our list will be overkill for the conditions in which they typically hit the trails. If this applies to you, and you’re happy to make a few compromises on waterproofing and breathability to save a handful or two of $, then the Mammut Kento is a great option. 

This entry-level hardshell rain jacket performs well – if unexceptionally – in every metric. It has a respectable hydrostatic head rating of 20,000 mm, an MVTR of 15,000 g/m²/24h, is made with durable, 40-denier polyamide outer fabric, and also has fully taped seams, pit zips, an adjustable and helmet-compatible hood, and harness-compatible pockets. 

While the Mammut DRYtechnology™ Pro waterproofing makes the Kento both the least breathable and least waterproof option on our list, it’s hard to quibble given that it costs a fraction of the price of the Gore-Tex Pro and Active jackets on this list. 

This jacket weighs a fairly hefty 15.3 oz., which makes it the second heaviest we reviewed after the ME Lhotse. And compared to the other low-cost model, the OR Microgravity, it’s a whole 1.1 oz. heavier and a lot less breathable. It does, however, partially atone for these shortcomings with its superior waterproofing and inclusion of pit zips and articulated sleeves.

Specs

  • Waterproofing: Mammut DRYtechnology™ Pro
  • Weight: 15.3 oz.
  • HH: 20,000 mm
  • MVTR: 15,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • 2 handwarmer pockets & 1 zippered chest pocket
    • Splash-proof pocket zippers
    • Pit zips
    • Helmet-compatible and adjustable hood
  • CONs

    • Less robust weather protection
    • Lacks the breathability required for high-output activities

Bottom-Line: A well-made, entry-level hard shell jacket that provides more than enough weather protection for the needs of most 3- or 4-season hikers.

Mammut Nordwand Advanced

Best for Mountaineering

Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Hooded Jacket - Men's Sunrise, XXL

Completing our lineup of Gore-Tex Pro waterproof-breathable jackets is the downright formidable Mammut Nordwand. 

Named after the Eiger’s notoriously hostile north face, and built to withstand the type of conditions encountered in such places, the Nordwand is to the world of hard shell jackets what tanks are to the world of motor vehicles.

It’s made with the brand’s extra-burly 80dx80d Most Rugged fabric and uses Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing technology. This makes this jacket’s durability second to none and its weather protection on a par with our review’s winner and runner-up, the Arc’teryx Beta FL and Mountain Equipment Lhotse. 

While this is a lighter jacket than the Lhotse, it’s also a fraction more durable owing to its use of 80d fabric throughout, as opposed to in areas prone to wear and tear only. In a face-off with the Beta FL, the Nordwand was edged out of the top spot only on account of its extra bulk and weight (it’s 4.2 ounces heavier) and slightly less favorable price tag. 

We’d still choose the Lhotse or Beta FL for 4-season hiking or even low-grade alpine or ice-climbing. However, if headed into more extreme environments and anticipating a meteorological sh*tshow, the Nordwand’s the jacket we’d prefer to have on our backs.

Despite its heft, the Nordwand is still a highly mobile and comfortable jacket. It’s made with a superbly ergonomic alpine fit, uses Mammut’s High Reach Technology for unrestricted freedom of movement, and has probably the most user-friendly and well-designed hood of any jacket in our review. 

In short, there are cheaper and lighter jackets out there, but none will have your back (and arms, head, core, and the rest of your upper body) in seriously foul weather quite like the Nordwand. 

Specs

  • Waterproofing: 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro
  • Weight: 15.7 oz.
  • HH: 28,000 mm
  • MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24h
  • PROs

    • Outstanding waterproof performance
    • Highly breathable
    • Incredibly robust
    • Well-designed hood
    • Pit zips
    • Interior chest pocket & 2 hand pockets
  • CONs

    • Fairly heavy
    • Expensive

Bottom-Line: A serious jacket for serious conditions, the Nordwand is a great pick for high-alpine adventures.

Outdoor Research Microgravity

Best Value

Outdoor Research Men's MicroGravity AscentShell Jacket – Weatherproof Coat

If comfort sits higher on your list of priorities than high-end weather protection, then the OR Microgravity is well worth a look. 

While this shell has a few flaws that make it less than ideal for especially gnarly conditions, there’s also a lot to love. 

For starters, the Microgravity’s MVTR of 30,000 g/m²/24h makes it the most breathable jacket on our list, earmarking it as something of a shoo-in for those who take part in high-intensity and high-output activities. 

Next, there’s the trend-breaking use of OR’s AscentShell waterproof fabric. While this is less waterproof (15,000 mm) than the Gore-Tex Pro or Active fabric used in the Nordwand, Beta SL, and Lhotse, it’s also far softer against the skin, has softshell-like stretch, and is a far more affordable option. 

Finally, the Microgravity has a feature set including everything you could want in a jacket. There’s a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, two handwarmer packers, two chest pockets, Dynamic Reach underarm panels for improved mobility, and AquaGuard zippers throughout. While we would’ve liked a pair of pit zips, the fabric’s breathability is such that they aren’t a big miss. 

  • PROs

    • Waterproofing: AscentShell
    • Weight: 14.6 oz.
    • HH: 15,000 mm
    • MVTR: 30,000 g/m²/24h
  • CONs

    • Very comfortable
    • Highly breathable
    • Stretchy outer layer
    • Underarm gussets
    • Helmet-compatible hood

Bottom-Line: An affordable hardshell jacket that offers above-average weather protection and all the comfort of a softshell. 

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What is a Hardshell Jacket?

In a nutshell, hardshell jackets are three-layer waterproof shells composed of an interior lining, a tough exterior face fabric, and a waterproof-breathable membrane sandwiched between the two. While some observers are apt to lump 2- and 2.5-layer jackets into the “hard shell” category, these models are better categorized as “rain shells”. 

hiker in hardshell jacket overlooking mountain valley
Hardshell jackets are more suited to harsher, tougher alpine climates

Compared to a 2/2.5-layer rain jacket, 3-layer models are usually heavier and pricier, but also more robust and durable, and offer better protection in harsh conditions. 

Hardshells’ solid waterproofing, breathability, ruggedness, and durability make them a great choice for hiking in 3- or 4-season conditions, mountaineering, ice-climbing, and ski-touring alike. 

Things to Look for in a Hardshell Jacket

Weather Protection

Hardshell jackets use a variety of waterproofing technologies, such as Gore-Tex (standard, Pro, and Active) Mammut DRYtechnology Pro, Omni-Tech, and BD.dry. All of these fabrics offer varying levels of water resistance – something that is quantified in what’s known as the hydrostatic head test. 

The hydrostatic head (HH) test (aka “water-column test”) measures how much water pressure a fabric can withstand before starting to leak. If, for example, the fabric starts leaking when 20,000 mm of water pressure is applied, then its hydrostatic head waterproof rating is 20,000 mm.  

As you might have guessed, the higher the HH rating, the more waterproof the jacket is. 

But just how waterproof do you need a jacket to be?

In truly harsh conditions in which you’re exposed to heavy precipitation in combination with strong winds (which add to water pressure on the fabric), we recommend a jacket with a HH of 20,000 mm to 30,000 mm. For general hiking in 3/4-season conditions, or if you plan on using the jacket merely as an emergency shell, then 15,000 mm to 20,000 mm will suffice.  

two hikers hiking in rain through valley

In our review, the most “bombproof” (i.e. weather-resistant) jackets are those made with Gore-Tex Pro. This technology has a hydrostatic head of 28,000 mm and a breathability rating (more on this below) of 25,000 g/m²/24h/ It’s capable of keeping you dry, inside and out, in even the gnarliest weather and no matter how high-output your activity is.

Our review includes three Gore-Tex Pro jackets – the Arc’teryx Beta FL, ME Lhotse, and Mammut Nordwand. All of these offer bombproof waterproofing in combination with excellent breathability, making them a great pick for alpine adventures and seriously sucky weather. 

With a HH 15,000 mm, the OR Microgravity is the least waterproof option on our list, followed by the BD Highline Stretch and Mammut Kento (20,000 mm). While this makes these jackets significantly less protective than their pricier peers, all three offer robust enough weather resistance for hikes in all but the most extreme conditions and at more affordable prices. 

All of the jackets in our review also use a DWR (durable water repellent) coating. This is a hydrophobic (water-repellent) finish applied to the outer layer of the jacket that causes water to bead up on the surface instead of soaking into the fabric. This provides a “first line of defense” that helps to prevent the jacket from “wetting out.”   

Weight & Packed Size

Ultimately, no matter which hardshell jacket you choose it’s going to spend a lot of time stowed in your backpack. As such, the jacket’s weight and packed size are vital considerations, especially if you plan on backpacking, alpine pursuits, or are simply averse to transporting more poundage than is strictly necessary. 

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that some jackets at the lighter end of the spectrum can compromise on weather resistance and durability in a bid to keep weight down. They also often have a less comprehensive feature set, lacking non-essential but very handy add-ons like pit zips, extra pockets, or gusseted underarms.

For example, the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX, the lightest model on our list, is also the only one to have no pit zips. It also has only two pockets, lacks any gussets in the shoulders or arms, and is made with thinner, 20-denier fabric. 

The heaviest option, the ME Lhotse, on the other hand, is made with 40d & 80d fabric, boasts an extra chest and interior pocket, and has full articulation throughout.

Mobility & Fit

One of the age-old gripes against hardshell jackets is that they lack the flexibility and freedom of movement offered by softshells. In recent years jacket manufacturers have taken giant strides towards rectifying this problem with new innovative features and design adaptations.

two male climbers on mountain

The most important mobility-enhancing design features are articulated arms and/or shoulders like those found in the Arc’teryx Beta FL, ME Lhotse, and Mammut Kento, underarm gussets like those in the Mammut Nordwand and Beta FL, and stretchy fabric like that used in the BD Highline. 

Concerning fit, the three styles you’re more likely to come across when surveying the options are “standard”, “alpine”, and “minimalist.” 

Standard jacket fits are usually the roomiest of the bunch, leaving you plenty of room for layers underneath. The only downside of this fit is that they usually weigh a fraction more and are prone to billowing in the wind. Alpine and minimalist fits are more trim and ergonomic, meaning there’s less room for under-layers but also less weight and bulk.  

Ventilation & Breathability

A great hardshell jacket not only needs to keep moisture out but also let air in to allow your perspiration and excess body heat to escape. For this, we rely on the breathability of the fabric and the jacket’s ventilation features.

Ventilation

To give you the option of boosting airflow and dumping heat when need be, some jackets include extra ventilation features. The most common of these are “pit zips” (underarm zippers), adjustable cuffs, and mesh pockets, all of which can be closed to keep heat in when temps are low or opened to let in fresh air when you’re working up a sweat.

hiker over looking morraine lake
Hiking mountains works up a sweat so all good hardshell jackets will help get that warm moisture out

All of the jackets on our list have adjustable cuffs, and the only ones that don’t have pit zips are the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX and Outdoor Research Microgravity. 

Breathability

This refers to the fabric’s ability to let your sweat escape from inside to out, helping to avoid becoming soaked in your own perspiration when you start exerting yourself on the trail. 

Breathability is quantified using the moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR), which measures how much moisture vapor can escape through a square meter of fabric in a 24-hour period. In product listings, the MVTR usually looks like this: 17,000 g/m²/24h, 28,000 g/m²/day, etc., and the higher the figure, the more breathable the fabric is. 

For high-output activities like trail running, backcountry skiing, and more intense hiking, we recommend choosing a hardshell with an MVTR of at least 20,000 g/m²/d. For general hiking, those with an MVTR of 12,500 – 20,000 will likely suffice.  

The most breathable hardshells on our list are those made with Ascentshell or either Gore-Tex Pro or Gore-Tex Active waterproof-breathable fabric, which have an MVTR of 30,000 and 25,000 g/m2/24 h respectively. These models include the OR Microgravity (AscentShell), Mammut Nordwand Advanced, REI Co-op Drypoint GTX, Arc’teryx Beta FL, and Mountain Equipment Lhotse.

Durability

The most reliable indicator of how durable and rip-resistant a hardshell will be is the thickness of the fabric and the type of weave (standard or ripstop) used in its construction. 

hiker in the fog with the red backpack in rainy weather intext

Fabric thickness is quantified in the denier rating (d), which measures the density of the fabric’s fibers.

Generally speaking, a higher denier count equates to a more durable and resilient fabric. However, fabrics made with a “ripstop” weave are less susceptible to punctures, rips, and tears than those made with a standard weave. This means that a jacket that uses 30d ripstop fabric will normally be just as tough as a one in the 40-60d range that uses a regular weave. 

Durability is, of course, a characteristic we’d all like our jackets to have. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the trade-off for added durability is reduced packability and extra weight. Jackets that use high-denier, harder-wearing fabrics will usually weigh at least a few ounces more than those made with flimsier fabric.    

Thanks to their 3-layer constructions, all of the jackets on our list excel on the durability front. The most durable, however, is the Mammut Nordwand, which tips the scales at a pretty hefty 15.7 oz. but is made with virtually bulletproof 80d ripstop fabric.  

Features & Design

A few non-standard features and design characteristics can seriously enhance a jacket’s performance, comfort, and convenience. After many years of using jackets both with and without these features, we consider the following to be the most important:

Hoods

The vast majority of hardshell jackets have a hood, of course, but there’s a huge difference between a hood that’s well-designed and one that’s not.

When buying, look for “full adjustability,” which means the hood has cinch cords both at the sides and the rear. These allow you to cinch the hood down on your head, thus preventing it from being blown back by the wind and improving your peripheral vision by allowing the hood to turn in tandem with your head. 

We also recommend choosing a hood with a wired peak. This feature creates a small awning, of sorts, above your brow, which helps to keep rainwater out of your face. 

Finally, if you plan on doing any mountaineering or scrambling, look for a jacket with a hood that’s helmet-compatible. The extra material used in this style of hood not only allows for a helmet to be worn underneath but also helps to prevent the hem of the jacket from riding up when wearing one. 

Pockets 

Believe it or not, not all hardshell jackets are blessed with this small but – for some – highly important feature. Besides giving you something to stick your hands in when they’re cold, pockets are useful for stashing small essentials you like to keep to hand and, if they’re mesh-lined, ventilating when things start getting a little sticky under the collar.

For added convenience, the pockets on some jackets (the ME Lhotse, for example) are placed higher on the body to allow for easier access when you’re wearing a hipbelt or harness. 

Chin Guard

This is an insert of softer fabric that protects your chin against the rougher shell fabric providing a more comfortable, chafe-free experience for your skin!

Last update on 2022-05-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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