Hardshell jackets are designed for the mountains: they’re highly windproof, waterproof, breathable, and durable. This is the outer layer you turn to for ultimate protection while backcountry and resort skiing, mountaineering, alpine climbing, and 4-season trekking. Below we break down our top hardshell jackets for 2022, from minimalist models for those who want to move fast and light to burly jackets made to withstand the worst winter conditions. For more information, see our hardshell comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And for lighter-weight and more compressible jackets for everyday use and hiking, see our article on the best rain jackets.
- Best Overall Hardshell Jacket: Arc’teryx Beta AR
- Best Budget Hardshell Jacket: Outdoor Research Microgravity
- Best Performance Hardshell for Extreme Conditions: Arc’teryx Alpha SV
- Best Ultralight and Packable Hardshell: Patagonia Storm10
Best Overall Hardshell Jacket
Weight: 1 lb.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 40D & 80D
What we like: Excels in just about every category.
What we don’t: Expensive, and not ideal for fast-and-light trips.
Hands down, Arc’teryx makes our favorite hardshell jackets. You pay a premium over the competition but nothing else on the market matches the combination of performance, fit, and craftsmanship. Among the many options in their extensive lineup, the Beta AR is the quintessential do-all hardshell and our top pick for this winter. The proven design is plenty tough to withstand brutal alpine conditions without compromising on comfort and breathability for everything from ski hut trips to backpacking. And Arc’teryx honed things in even further last year with improved durability and a RECCO reflector for avalanche scenarios.
The Beta AR’s top-end Gore-Tex Pro fabric offers a high level of performance, but it’s the detailing that sets the jacket apart. The shell is properly outfitted for mountain use with a tall collar, fantastic hood with easy adjustability, and just-right fit for layering and mobility. And it’s downright comfortable for a hardshell with lightweight 40-denier fabric on the body. The 80-denier Gore-Tex on the shoulders may add weight, but it’s built to handle backpack straps and rain or snowfall. It’s true that the Alpha SV below is tougher and has a slimmer and longer cut, and you can save weight by choosing one of the thinner options below, but for all-around backcountry use, the Beta AR is best in class... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Beta AR See the Women's Arc'teryx Beta AR
Best Budget Hardshell Jacket
Weight: 14.6 oz.
Denier: 20D x 45D
What we like: Softshell-like comfort and excellent weather resistance for just $249.
What we don’t: Thinner and less refined than the premium competition.
Most hardshells start their bidding around $400, so Outdoor Research’s $249 Microgravity is a really nice option to have on your radar. OR keeps the price low by using their in-house AscentShell membrane rather than Gore-Tex, in addition to a relatively thin build and run-of-the-mill feature set. But that’s not to say the Microgravity doesn’t hold its own: We took the jacket hiking in the stormy Cerro Castillo range of Patagonia, and were impressed with its performance, comfort, and breathability. All told, OR’s AscentShell is one of the best in-house efforts we’ve seen, with soft next-to-skin lining, stretchy face fabric for comfort and mobility, and a price that won’t make your head spin.
Our biggest gripe with the Microgravity is fit: We found it to be pretty darn trim (even for a hardshell), and especially tight in the waist when worn over layers. In addition, the hood design could use some work: When tightened down over a ballcap, the cinch cord sits awkwardly and uncomfortably right over the ears (on a positive note, the hood is helmet-compatible with climbing and skiing lids). And in terms of weather protection and durability, the jacket’s relatively thin shell (20D x 45D) falls short of full-on winter hardshells. But AscentShell has proven itself to be an exceptional breather (we’ve worn it in a variety of jackets at this point, including the Realm, Skyward, and Interstellar), making the Microgravity a suitable jacket for shoulder-season activities like hiking or backcountry skiing. For less than half as much as the competition, it’s a great option for penny pinchers or those just starting out... Read in-depth review
See the Men's OR Microgravity See the Women's OR Microgravity
Best Performance Hardshell for Extreme Conditions
Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
What we like: Bombproof shell, fantastic detail work.
What we don’t: Very expensive.
For the toughest alpine conditions—think piercing wind, driving rain, sleet, and snow—you won’t find a tougher shell than the Arc’teryx Alpha SV. The jacket sits at the very top of the Arc’teryx lineup in both weather resistance (the SV is for "severe weather") and price, and its performance while ski touring and mountaineering has not disappointed. Arc’teryx recently updated the jacket with Gore’s latest “Most Rugged” Pro construction and a RECCO reflector with only a minimal increase in weight. Given the strong 100-denier build (the most substantial on our list), it’s impressive that the Alpha SV is only 2 ounces heavier than the Beta AR above and slightly less packable. Nor is it lacking in features: you get pit zips, plenty of interior and exterior pockets, and trustworthy zippers.
There is literally nothing negative we can say about the weather protection or durability, but its high price is a significant downside. $799 is an eye-popping total, and for the average backcountry explorer, the Alpha SV’s tank-like construction is more than you’ll ever need. Moreover, you do lose out on hand warmer pockets with the alpine-focused design. In the end, you can certainly save money and weight with an alternative like the Beta AR above, but if you’re looking for the toughest hardshell, this is it... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Alpha SV See the Women's Arc'teryx Alpha SV
Best Ultralight and Packable Hardshell
Weight: 8.3 oz.
Waterproofing: H2No Performance
What we like: Alpine-centric features and 3-layer protection in a minimalist package.
What we don’t: Thin shell fabric and no pit zips.
It’s nice to have the all-out security of a jacket like the Alpha SV or Beta AR above, but for weight-conscious missions like backpacking and alpine climbing, you can get away with a lot less. The Patagonia Storm10 is a minimalist hardshell at its finest, packing 3-layer waterproof and breathable protection into an 8.3-ounce design that stuffs down into its own chest pocket. Further, it comes well-equipped for technical endeavors, thanks to a helmet-compatible hood, hand pockets that are accessible over a harness or hipbelt, and a slim fit. For an emergency layer or lightweight shoulder-season protection, it doesn’t get much better.
Of course, there are some compromises to opting for such a streamlined jacket. The Storm10 sheds most of its weight with a very thin shell fabric (20D)—it feels more like a rain jacket than a hardshell—and a design that forgoes pit zips. On particularly wet or windy days, you’ll certainly notice the step down in protection, especially compared to a bombproof shell like the 100-denier Alpha SV above. Further, the Patagonia’s fit is so trim that you probably won't be able to fit much more than a lightweight insulated jacket underneath, and the somewhat sticky interior places function first and comfort second. But the Storm10 is nevertheless a reliable companion for day trips and quick overnight excursions, and it’s hard to argue with the weight... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Storm10 See the Women's Patagonia Storm10
Best of the Rest
Weight: 1 lb. 0.3 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 40D & 70D
What we like: Top-notch weather protection and build quality in a light and compressible design.
What we don’t: No hand pockets and especially long cut.
Norrøna may not be on everyone’s radar, but the Norway-based outdoor company has a serious lineup of quality hardshells. From their flagship Trollveggen series is the Gore-Tex Pro Light, which goes head-to-head with top-end designs like the Arc’teryx Beta AR above. This Gore-Tex Pro shell is meant for high-alpine adventure with a long cut, 40-denier face fabric with burly 70-denier reinforcements, helmet-compatible hood, and tall collar. But Norrøna kept weight intentionally low with the “Light,” which gives it versatility for weight-conscious activities like hiking and backpacking. And with large pit zips and a two-way main zipper, you can customize airflow for all manner of activities and conditions.
Where does the Trollveggen Light come up short? In our opinion, Norrøna took the alpine-focused build one step too far when they designed the jacket without hand pockets—instead, you get just two external chest pockets and one internal zippered stash. What’s more, the jacket features a very long cut, which is great for coverage but slightly polarizing for casual use. In contrast, the Beta AR has a more standard length and convenient hand pockets, which are situated high enough to access under a hipbelt or harness. Both are exceptionally built and highly protective shells, but the Beta AR’s more versatile design might be the deciding factor for many. Finally, keep in mind that the Trollveggen’s sizing runs a little small, and we wound up going up a size... Read in-depth review
See the Norrøna Trollveggen GTX Pro Light See the Women's Norrøna Trollvegen GTX Pro Light
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz.
What we like: A solid and trustworthy Gore-Tex shell at a reasonable price.
What we don’t: Fairly heavy; fits and feels a little too much like a ski jacket.
It’s easy to get excited about all the fun tech working its way into the hardshell world, but there’s something to be said for a simple 3-layer Gore-Tex jacket. Patagonia’s Triolet is just that: its 75-denier face fabric and standard Gore-Tex membrane are plenty burly for alpine use, they didn’t skimp on organization with four exterior zippered pockets (plus a drop-in interior pocket), and its regular fit can easily accommodate a midlayer underneath. Plus, the Triolet excels as a ski jacket thanks to its extended cut, embedded RECCO reflector, and loop at the back for attaching to compatible Patagonia snow pants. All in all, that’s a lot of features and versatility for $399.
Where the Triolet comes up short is for high-output activities or fast-and-light missions. The thick shell can’t match the breathability of thinner alternatives or more advanced waterproof membranes (like what you get with Patagonia’s pricier Pluma below). Further, its 1-pound-3.4-ounce weight can be a burden to carry for extended stretches, and the jacket’s substantial build and regular cut have a negative impact on mobility (it feels more like a ski jacket than alternatives like the Beta AR above). But despite its shortcomings, the Triolet’s no-nonsense, trustworthy design makes it a go-to hardshell option for a wide range of winter sports at a good price... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Triolet See the Women's Patagonia Triolet
Weight: 1 lb. 5.8 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 80D x 80D
What we like: An intriguing competitor to the legendary Arc’teryx Alpha SV above.
What we don’t: Heavier than the Alpha SV and can’t match its proven track record.
Few jackets can compete with Arc’teryx’s Alpha SV in price and performance, but Mammut is giving it a real go with their $825 Nordwand Pro HS. Intended for serious alpine adventuring and backcountry skiing, the shell prioritizes mobility, climbing-focused features, and sturdy protection. Using familiar Gore-Tex Pro but with a burly 80D x 80D mix of the brand’s Most Rugged fabric, the jacket is built to withstand tough weather conditions and use around sharp rock and climbing equipment. And Mammut put some real effort into enhancing range of motion with panels of Gore’s new Pro Stretch material and a body-mapping cut that limits pinch points in the shoulders and underarms.
How does the Nordwand Pro stack up with the aforementioned Alpha SV? Both jackets are extremely protective with tall collars and extended back lengths, and both include harness- and hipbelt-friendly storage. The Mammut has the advantage in features with extras like a zip-out powder skirt for skiing, a two-way main zipper, and more pockets, but it can’t touch the Arc’teryx’s burly 100-denier construction or its 1-pound-2-ounce weight. In addition, the Nordwand has a ways to go to match the excellent track record of the beloved Alpha. These things matter if you’ll be heading out in the worst of conditions, which is why the Mammut ends up with a midpack finish.
See the Men's Mammut Nordwand Pro HS See the Women's Nordwand Pro HS
Weight: 13.9 oz.
What we like: A streamlined version of the Beta AR for $200 less.
What we don’t: Less winter-ready than the AR.
After a short hiatus, Arc’teryx released an updated version of their Beta LT hardshell last spring. A more streamlined version of our top-ranked Beta AR, the LT offers a great combination of weight-savings and protection, ideal for backcountry skiers, backpackers, and more. You get a 3-layer Gore-Tex build along with a 40-denier shell, and the LT doesn’t skimp on the details, including pit zips, two handwarmer pockets, and an adjustable and helmet-compatible StormHood. Ideal for shoulder-season missions, it offers a nice middle ground between bombproof winter-ready hardshells and fully minimalist jackets like the Patagonia Storm10 above.
To help you get a better idea of Arc’teryx’s hardshell line-up, let’s take a look at how the LT compares to the AR. Along with the thinner fabrics and less premium Gore-Tex waterproofing mentioned above, the LT features a “trim” cut (the AR’s is regular), resulting in great range of motion but less room for layering underneath (the jackets’ center back lengths are nearly identical). Further, you get considerably more above-the-shoulders protection with the AR’s DropHood, which features a separate collar that shields the face regardless of whether or not you’re wearing the hood. And finally, the AR tacks on an internal chest pocket for slightly more storage. But for $200 less, the LT is still a very protective and high-quality shell and will be the more practical pick for many... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Beta LT See the Women's Arc'teryx Beta LT
Weight: 14.6 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
What we like: Impressively lightweight and affordable for a winter-ready hardshell.
What we don’t: Overkill for some, colorways are polarizing.
Mountain Hardwear’s Exposure/2 series is like a fashion show for Gore-Tex’s various waterproof membranes: take your pick from Paclite, Paclite Plus, Active, and Pro. And while Paclite and Active technologies are at home amongst our favorite rain jackets (thanks to their lightweight and breathable nature), Gore-Tex Pro is the go-to membrane for most premium hardshells. Along with this top-shelf weather protection, the Exposure/2 here features a burly 80-denier face fabric and a competitive 14.6-ounce weight, which are simply remarkable specs given its $450 price tag. In short, if you’re looking for a high performance hardshell for winter conditions, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal (most GTX Pro jackets are $550 or more).
We have yet to test the Exposure/2 Pro Lite, so we hesitate putting it any higher on our list, but all signs are quite positive that it’s a high-quality option (other Exposure/2 products we’ve tested have been well-made). And while you can bump up to the Exposure/2 Pro (no “Lite”) for a few more features (including an extra chest and arm pocket), we don’t think it justifies the extra $200. Something both “Pro” models share, however, is a fairly short back length of 30 inches. For reference, the Beta AR above measures 30.4 inches and we’ve found it a bit short for skiing. Finally, it’s worth noting that Mountain Hardwear doesn’t have the brand legacy of names like Patagonia and Arc’teryx, but we’ve seen their quality improve a lot in the past few years. As a result, despite being unproven—and featuring some rather polarizing colorways—the Exposure/2 Pro Lite’s combination of toughness and protection in an impressively lightweight build earn it a spot on our 2022 list.
See the Men's MH Exposure/2 GTX Pro Lite See the Women's MH Exposure/2 GTX Pro Lite
Weight: 1 lb. 3.4 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 70D & 40D (stretch panel)
What we like: Gore-Tex Pro construction with stretch improves range of motion and comfort.
What we don’t: Climbing-focused build impacts versatility.
Gore released a new stretch variation of its Pro membrane last year, and Outdoor Research’s Archangel is one of the first products to feature the material. In short, this hardshell incorporates a large, stretchy panel along the upper back of the jacket for improved freedom of movement and comfort (the rest of the shell is standard Gore-Tex Pro). The added “give” is most valuable when reaching up, so OR has tailored the Archangel for activities ranging from ice climbing to ski mountaineering with a trim cut and extended back length. Plus, it’s harness and backpack hipbelt-friendly with raised hand pockets and a two-way main zipper. Added up, the Archangel is a capable and mobile option for rugged alpine use.
Among premium hardshells, the Archangel makes a strong case by mixing stretch with Gore’s bombproof Pro membrane. That said, the build is pretty focused on climbing, which impacts its versatility for backcountry and downhill skiing. You can save weight and get a more layering-friendly fit with the Beta AR above, and the Alpha SV and Mammut Nordwand win out in durability. It’s also worth noting that the stretch panel uses a relatively thin 40-denier face fabric, making it less ideal for extensive wear under a heavy pack. But for those looking for a premium alpine climbing shell, the Archangel is a well worth a look.
See the Men's Outdoor Research Archangel See the Women's Outdoor Research Archangel
Weight: 1 lb. 1.5 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 30D & 40D
What we like: Thin fabrics enhance breathability.
What we don’t: Surprisingly heavy considering the lightweight materials.
Rab has been an alpine-oriented brand since its inception, so it’s no surprise that they make an excellent hardshell. In the past, they’ve used a range of waterproof options including eVent and NeoShell, but recently went all-in with Gore-Tex. The partnership produced the unique Muztag GTX, which combines lightweight 30-denier Gore-Tex Pro in the body (the thinnest Pro material available) with slightly sturdier 40-denier reinforcements. The hybrid concept is built for high-output mountain activities, and the combination of breathability from the thin fabrics and solid weatherproofing from the Pro membrane pair well for ski touring and climbing.
Where does the Rab Muztag fall short? Our primary issue is weight as the jacket comes in at 1 pound 1.5 ounces. When you consider that the Arc’teryx Beta AR above undercuts it while utilizing thicker 40- and 80-denier materials, it’s surprisingly hefty for lightweight alpine travel. Moreover, the use of thinner fabrics makes it less durable than the Beta AR, and its pricing is pretty ambitious at $500. That said, you are getting an upgrade in breathability, and its solid feature set that includes Rab’s signature wire-brimmed hood and lots of pockets makes the Muztag a capable backcountry piece.
See the Men's Rab Muztag GTX See the Women's Rab Muztag GTX
Weight: 1 lb. 2.3 oz.
What we like: Sophisticated performance; great comfort and style with a soft and stretchy shell.
What we don’t: Too heavy for backcountry use; side vents are strange.
Known for stylish yet high-performance products that bridge the gap between the mountains and the city, Swedish based Fjallraven nailed the formula with their Keb Eco-Shell hardshell. This jacket is ready for the elements, with a stretchy, hardwearing polyester and Fjallraven’s in-house Eco-Shell membrane. Water-resistant zips, sleek Velcro cuffs, and a helmet-compatible hood further help to batten down the hatches, and side vents open wide when heat starts to build. Of course the Keb doesn’t come up short on style points, either, with an array of non-traditional colorways (we loved the chestnut), attractive chest pockets and pulls, and a classy Fjallraven patch on the left arm. And in contrast to the crinkly, rigid nature of many hardshells, it features a soft and stretchy face fabric, which lends a lot of comfort and versatility for casual environments.
The Keb Eco-Shell was our go-to jacket throughout the winter, ideal for everything from snowy walks to the office to powder days at the resort. However, for weight-conscious activities like backcountry skiing or backpacking, it’s heavy at 1 pound 2.3 ounces and not particularly packable—we generally take along a lighter jacket like the Arc’teryx Beta LT instead. Further, the side vents aren’t a win for us: Their low placement makes you much more vulnerable to the elements (it’s for good reason that pit zips are hidden underneath your arms), and we constantly mistake them for pockets. In the end, $500 is a lot to spend on a casual hardshell, but for frontcountry activities and the odd day at the resort, the Keb offers great weather protection and is one of the best-looking designs here... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell See the Women's Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell
Weight: 14.6 oz.
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
What we like: High levels of performance and comfort.
What we don’t: Hood doesn't fit easily over a ski helmet.
Patagonia has a rich history in alpine exploration, so it comes as little surprise that their high-end Pluma is a real standout. As expected at this price point, you get a premium build including top-end Gore-Tex Pro, a cozy micro grid liner for exceptional comfort and sweat absorption, and pit zips—all at under 15 ounces. In keeping weight in check, we like that Patagonia didn’t skimp on features with three large exterior pockets, a zippered interior chest pocket, and a highly adjustable hood. All told, the Pluma checks off all the boxes for high-mountain adventures where weight and comfort are the priorities.
With a 40-denier face fabric and 15-denier backer, the Patagonia Pluma is on the thin side for an alpine shell. Compared with the brand's Triolet above, the Pluma lacks the thick 75-denier shell for protection against ski equipment or pack straps. Further, we found it difficult to get the hood fully cinched over a ski helmet (although it fit fine over a climbing helmet). As a result, the Triolet is the better all-rounder, but the Pluma’s weight, comfort, and features make for an appealing package... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Patagonia Pluma See the Women's Patagonia Pluma
Weight: 12.7 oz.
What we like: A stretchy and light hardshell at a good price.
What we don’t: Less bombproof and versatile than a Gore-Tex design.
Building on the success of their StormLine and FineLine rain jackets, Black Diamond took that expertise upmarket with the Highline Stretch. Here’s the story: this latest design includes a 3-layer variation of their in-house BD.dry membrane, has a light amount of stretch incorporated into the nylon build, and keeps things pretty light at 12.7 ounces all-in. The Highline sticks to BD’s roots with a climbing helmet-compatible hood (it’s too small for a standard ski helmet), and includes useful features like pit zips, hand pockets, and a tall collar. For fast-and-light alpine trips when you need a shell with good mobility and the weather won’t be too rough, the Highline certainly can do the trick.
Like Outdoor Research’s Microgravity above, the Highline does a nice job balancing price, weight, and all-around performance, but it can’t compete with a Gore-Tex shell in terms of outright protection and refinement. The construction is undeniably thin—it feels almost paper-like along the interior—and the zippers are fairly stiff and have a cheaper feel to them. As such, the Black Diamond can’t come close to matching the versatility of a burlier competitor like Arc’teryx’s 4-season-ready Beta LT (plus, the Beta's larger hood makes it fully functional as a backcountry ski shell). If you don’t need full-on winter protection, however, the Highline is a comfortable and well-designed hardshell jacket that costs significantly less than the Gore-Tex-equipped alternatives.
See the Men's BD Highline Stretch See the Women's BD Highline Stretch
Weight: 11.5 oz.
What we like: Punches well above its weight in protection, durability, and features.
What we don’t: Odd, baggy fit in the torso and waist; no pit zips.
Outdoor Research’s Helium jacket has long been one of our go-to emergency shells, offering decent rain protection at a very low weight. The Helium AscentShell keeps the ultralight ethos of the name but upgrades just about everything else, resulting in a real-deal hardshell that falls into the same category as lightweight all-rounders like the Arc’teryx Beta LT above. We’re overall quite impressed by OR’s latest effort, which uses their in-house waterproof membrane and a premium Pertex shell to offer exceptional durability and weather protection alongside stretch and breathability—all for the low weight of just 11.5 ounces (our men’s medium checked in at 11.3 oz.). And compared to most minimalist hardshells, storage is excellent, with internal dump pockets (great for storing skins and gloves), massive hand pockets (awkwardly sized, in our opinion, but accessible with a pack on), and interior and exterior chest pockets.
Our main gripe with the Helium AscentShell is fit: The shape is extremely boxy, resulting in a baggy torso and waist on our tester (on the other hand, OR’s Microgravity fit him well). Further, the jacket doesn’t vent as well as most AscentShell models we’ve tested due to the more robust makeup of the shell material and liner, and the design does not feature pit zips. And finally, $399 feels like a lot of money for this shell: The orange-colored model we tested would be easy to confuse with a plasticky rain jacket upon first glance, and—for the same price—it certainly can’t compete with the Beta LT’s sleek aesthetic. But you do save a few ounces with the Helium AscentShell, which is undoubtedly an impressively featured and high-performance jacket for the weight.
See the Men's OR Helium AscentShell See the Women's OR Helium AscentShell
Weight: 1 lb. 1.6
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Pro
Denier: 40D & 80D
What we like: Proven weather protection and a great fit.
What we don’t: A bit heavy and bulky for an all-rounder.
U.K.-based Mountain Equipment isn’t a household name in the U.S., but it’s starting to gain traction. One of the reasons is they make a great product—their Lhotse jacket can stand up to just about anything in terms of weather protection and build quality. This shell is designed as an all-rounder for various uses like mountaineering, skiing, and winter trekking, and features a familiar mix of 40- and 80-denier Gore-Tex Pro, a helmet-compatible hood with a tall collar, and pit zips. In addition, the Lhotse is known for having a great fit: it’s cut long to accommodate a harness and offers plenty of space for layering without impacting mobility.
Despite its one-jacket-quiver intentions, the Lhotse is less of an all-rounder than our top picks. The durable sections of 80-denier fabric and three large zippered pockets add bulk and weight, and we think there are better values to be had (the Patagonia Pluma above, for example, has a similar construction, weighs less, and will save you around $50). And a downside for those in the U.S. is availability: there aren’t nearly as many retailers selling Mountain Equipment as competitors like Arc’teryx, Outdoor Research, and Patagonia. But given the quality of their product, we’re hopeful that changes soon.
See the Men's Mountain Equipment Lhotse See the Women's Mountain Equipment Manaslu
Weight: 1 lb. 2.9 oz.
Denier: 75D x 20D
What we like: Impressive protection and durability for high alpine environments.
What we don’t: Fit and finish doesn’t measure up to Arc’teryx.
The North Face is a go-to brand for casual wear, but they also take pride in building robust outerwear for expeditions to the world’s worst weather. The premium Summit L5 is just that, combining the protection of a Futurelight membrane with a ridiculously strong, Spectra-infused shell (in high-wear areas). The rest of the jacket is purpose-built for the alpine, with chest pockets (easy to access while wearing a harness or backpack), a 2-way front zip, internal mesh dump pockets, and seam-free shoulder patches, which lends a lot of comfort while wearing a pack.
The Summit L5 falls into an esteemed group of top-shelf alpine hardshells, including the Alpha SV Mammut Nordwand above. Not many fabric technologies have received as much fanfare as Futurelight (touted as being thinner and more breathable than Gore-Tex) and Spectra is a fairly impressive name-drop, but The North Face simply can’t measure up to the more premium brands in terms of quality. We were fairly unimpressed with the overly roomy fit of the Summit L5 LT (the now-discontinued lightweight version of the jacket here), and TNF’s finishes lack a refined feel overall. Finally, the jacket is only available in one color (red orange), which isn’t ideal for non-expedition use. But there’s no denying the Summit L5’s impressive protection and durability, and the price is competitive at $650.
See the Men's TNF Summit L5 Futurelight See the Women's TNF Summit L5 Futurelight
Weight: 7.4 oz.
What we like: Hardshell performance for just 7.4 ounces.
What we don’t: Pullover styling and single pocket makes this a niche piece.
And now for something a little different. Arc’teryx has long experimented with minimalist jackets in their climbing-centric Alpha collection, but the Alpha SL Anorak here is their best effort yet. Clocking in at a scant 7.4 ounces, the Alpha SL manages to pack in a 3-layer build and impressively durable face fabric, which is a real feat in terms of hardshell design (previous versions of the SL resorted to 2.5L GTX in order to shave weight). This impressive performance-to-weight ratio is achieved via Arc’teryx’s innovative Hadron fabric, which has a ripstop grid of liquid crystal polymer (in laymen’s terms: its materials are cutting edge). As a result, the Alpha SL Anorak is able to compete with emergency rain jackets in weight and packability yet still maintains protection and toughness on par with many hardshells here.
Everything about the Alpha SL Anorak is streamlined, from the half-zip pullover styling to the single-adjustment StormHood and lone chest pocket. But we were blown away by the jacket’s practicality during our testing: on Vancouver Island’s wet Juan de Fuca Trail, protection and breathability were on par with other 3-layer Gore-Tex jackets we’ve tested, and coverage was great despite the trim fit (we even layered it over our lofty Cerium SV down hoody). Of course, there are inherent limitations to an anorak design, and some might prefer more stretch in their face fabric for high-output activities. Further, at $375 you’re paying a lot for a niche piece that’s fairly impractical for daily use. But for fast-and-light climbers or mountain runners who want uncompromised performance in a lightweight and packable build (we stuffed ours into a 600ml mug), it’s hard to beat Arc’teryx’s Alpha SL Anorak... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Alpha SL Anorak See the Women's Arc'teryx Alpha SL Anorak
|Arc'teryx Beta AR||$599||All-around||1 lb.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D & 80D|
|Outdoor Research Microgravity||$249||Minimalist/all-around||14.6 oz.||AscentShell||20D x 45D|
|Arc’teryx Alpha SV||$799||Alpine/all-around||1 lb. 2 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||100D|
|Patagonia Storm10||$299||Minimalist||8.3 oz.||H2No Performance||20D|
|Norrøna Trollveggen GTX Light||$599||All-around||1 lb. 0.3 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D & 70D|
|Patagonia Triolet||$399||All-around||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||Gore-Tex||75D|
|Mammut Nordwand Pro HS||$825||Alpine||1 lb. 5.8 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||80D x 80D|
|Arc'teryx Beta LT||$399||All-around/minimalist||13.9 oz.||Gore-Tex||40D|
|MH Exposure/2 GTX Pro Light||$450||Alpine/all-around||14.6 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||80D|
|Outdoor Research Archangel||$699||Alpine||1 lb. 3.4 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||70D & 40D|
|Rab Muztag GTX||$500||All-around/minimalist||1 lb. 1.5 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||30D & 40D|
|Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell||$500||All-around||1 lb. 2.3 oz.||Eco-Shell||Unavailable|
|Patagonia Pluma||$549||All-around/minimalist||14.6 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D|
|Black Diamond Highline||$300||Minimalist/all-around||12.7 oz.||BD.dry||Unavailable|
|OR Helium AscentShell||$399||All-around/minimalist||11.5 oz.||AscentShell||30D|
|Mountain Equipment Lhotse||$600||Alpine/all-around||1 lb. 1.6 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D & 80D|
|The North Face Summit L5||$650||Alpine||1 lb. 2.9 oz.||Futurelight||75D x 20D|
|Arc'teryx Alpha SL Anorak||$375||Minimalist||7.4 oz.||Gore-Tex||20D|
- What Is a Hardshell Jacket?
- Hardshell Categories
- Waterproofing Technologies
- Durable Water Repellent Finish (DWR)
- Fabric Thickness and Durability (Denier)
- Weight and Packed Size
- Comfort: Rigid vs. Stretchy Hardshells
- Helmet-Compatible Hoods
- Pit Zips and Breathability
- Harness- and Backpack-Friendly Pockets
- Hardshells vs. Rain Jackets and Softshells
To be clear, there isn’t a perfect and universally accepted definition of a hardshell, but there are a number of common features that define this non-insulated jacket type. The most important is weather resistance: hardshell jackets offer high levels of waterproofing and windproofing for sustained exposure in harsh conditions. In addition, hardshells share a common 3-layer construction type that bonds an interior liner and exterior face fabric to a waterproof and breathable membrane. This differentiates them from rain jackets, which commonly use 2 or 2.5 layers as a way to cut costs and weight.
The combination of durability, weather protection, and breathability makes hardshell jackets popular for downhill and backcountry skiing, mountaineering, alpine and ice climbing, and 4-season hiking. The construction doesn’t come cheap: the most affordable jacket to make our list is the $249 Outdoor Research Microgravity, and you can easily spend upwards of $700 on a quality shell. But these jackets are made to last and are the kind of apparel you rely on when Mother Nature gives you her worst.
All hardshells share a basic design and construction, but we’ve separated them into three general categories: alpine, all-around, and minimalist. Moving from alpine to minimalist, the jackets drop weight, features, and weather protection. Cost can vary—lightweight yet protective materials are often very pricey, meaning that many minimalist shells (like Arc'teryx's $399 Beta LT) will be more expensive than standard models. Most people will go with an all-around shell, but our alpine and minimalist categories fill in the gaps for those with more specific needs.
Alpine shells are built for the extremes. Currently, most of the designs in our alpine category feature Gore-Tex's most premium "Pro" membrane, which is just about as protective as it gets. They're also built with heavy-duty fabrics (anywhere from 40D to 100D) and feature protective hoods for withstanding brutal high-mountain conditions. These shells are also the most expensive here, ranging from $450 for the Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 GTX Pro Light to $825 for the Mammut Norwand Pro HS.
If we were to pick a single shell for all backcountry uses, we would go with an all-around jacket. These designs have a wide range of uses, from hiking to ski mountaineering, and generally slide in between alpine and minimalist shells in terms of weight, fabric thickness, features, and cost. In addition, most of the all-around designs on our list feature regular fits great for both mountain and around-town use (alpine and minimalist shells are often trim-fitting), and are fairly uncompromised with a full array of pockets. The Arc'teryx Beta AR (featuring premium Gore-Tex Pro) is our favorite all-around hardshell for years running, but you can save a lot of money with a standard Gore-Tex model like the Patagonia Triolet.
At the lightweight end of the spectrum, minimalist hardshells are built with the goal of keeping weight and packed size to an absolute minimum. They are generally trim-fitting, feature thin shell fabrics, and have very few bells and whistles (often omitting pit zips and hand pockets). Minimalist shells are a great choice for shoulder-season activities like backpacking or climbing, and also serve as a great emergency layer. However, with thin fabrics they don't measure up to the rest of the hardshell competition in terms of durability and weather protection—we particularly don't recommend minimalist shells for true winter weather. Within this category, the Arc'teryx Alpha SL Anorak is the lightest on our list, while designs like the Arc'teryx Beta LT and OR Microgravity are a bit more well-rounded.
The quality and performance of a hardshell’s waterproof laminate is this jacket type’s defining feature. Gore-Tex still dominates the market—it’s no coincidence you’ll see their name on most jackets that made our list. For top-of-the-line performance, Gore’s “Pro” laminate is the class leader. It balances high-mountain durability with waterproofing and breathability better than anything on the market, but does come with a significant increase in price. Gore’s standard shell isn’t as hardwearing as the “Pro,” but it can be used with much lighter fabrics, resulting in more minimalist pieces great for fast-and-light endeavors.
We’ve found that Outdoor Research’s AscentShell, Patagonia's H2No Performance, and eVent all are formidable competitors to Gore-Tex. eVent was one of the first to really break through with their direct venting design, and these other technologies follow suit with air-permeable 3-layer builds to encourage airflow. Further, AscentShell (along with certain types of Patagonia's H2No) comes with the added bonus of a stretchy, softshell-like construction. Overall, while there aren’t as many options on the market that utilize these waterproofing designs, they are all worth considering if breathability is a priority.
In addition to the 3-layer waterproof construction, another key piece of a hardshell’s protection and breathability is its durable water repellent finish (commonly referred to as DWR). This coating is applied to the exterior of every jacket that made our list above to prevent moisture from absorbing into the face fabric by beading up the droplets. A fresh DWR is an impressive thing and can offer sufficient protection and maximize a membrane’s ability to ventilate in light to moderate conditions. That said, heavy and sustained rain and snowfall will eventually overwhelm the coating, which is where the waterproof membrane and seam sealing come into play. Over time, the DWR finish will wear down, although you can keep it fresh by washing and drying the shell or reapplying a new coating (Nikwax’s TX.Direct Wash-In is our personal favorite).
There are a number of factors that impact a jacket’s durability, but denier is a helpful indicator of strength. Denier is a measurement of fabric thickness, and the higher the number the thicker the thread. Most all-around jackets for alpine climbing and skiing fall in the 30- to 80-denier range. Low-denier jackets usually weigh less and are slightly less durable, while high-number shells won’t pack down as small but can handle more abuse. Jackets that fall outside of the range above are more specialized: the thin 20-denier Patagonia Storm10 is best for lightweight backpacking or when weight is very important, and the 100-denier Arc’teryx Alpha SV is absolutely bomber but comes with a very high price tag.
Depending on how a hardshell will be used, weight and packed size may or may not be a priority. In most cases, we’re willing to carry a little extra weight into the alpine for an added sense of security. As an example, there have been very few instances where we’ve regretted packing our 1-pound-2-ounce Alpha SV on a trip. On the other hand, for multi-day tours or if you’re traveling in mild conditions, it's best to leave a heavyweight like the 1-pound-7-ounce Norrøna Trollveggen at home and instead bring a trimmed-down hardshell. The lightest and most compressible option from the list above is Arc'teryx Alpha SL Anorak—its simplistic design and thin materials make it as packable as a rain jacket. The compromise, of course, is durability and rough weather protection. Jackets that nicely balance weight and toughness include Arc'teryx's Beta LT and the Patagonia Pluma.
A jacket's fit often has a lot to tell you about its intentions. Most hardshells in our all-around category have a "regular" fit, allowing ample room for layering while providing great coverage and a stylish look that looks great on the mountain and in town. Oftentimes, minimalist and alpine jackets will be more trim-fitting, which saves weight and minimizes bulk but isn't as versatile for casual use. Within the hardshell landscape, Arc’teryx consistently has our favorite fit—the time and effort that’s gone into the design and tailoring of their shells is immediately apparent when you slip them on. They’re comfortable with or without a midlayer jacket and fit most body types very well. This is a primary reason that many professional mountain guides and serious outdoorspeople are willing to spend up for Arc’teryx. But it’s not a one-horse race, and brands like Norrøna, Rab, and Mammut are similarly impressive.
Some of the biggest complaints of hardshell jackets are their rigid feel and crinkly sound. And the criticisms are typically warranted—the tough face fabric (up to 100D) isn’t as flexible as thinner blends and can be pretty noisy for activities with a lot of movement like skinning, belaying, or hiking. Not only are they loud, but rigid hardshells can also impede movement, making them an onerous choice for high-mobility activities like alpine climbing and backcountry skiing. However, it’s a compromise many are willing to accept for the all-out weather protection that these robust shells provide.
That said, we've begun to see more and more stretchy hardshells hit the market, which address both issues mentioned above. Outdoor Research's Microgravity is a great example of this style, with a softshell-like face fabric and supple lining, in addition to a relatively thick shell (20D x 45D) and 3-layer construction typical of a hardshell. We've worn the Microgravity while hiking and backcountry skiing, and it's proven to be both quiet and highly mobile, even while reaching high overhead. Other stretch-infused jackets include the Patagonia Stormstride, Black Diamond Helio, and Outdoor Research Skytour, all of which are purpose-built for backcountry skiing.
A hood that can fit over your helmet is a pre-requisite for alpine use. When the wind is really blowing, throwing on a hood is your best form of protection. Almost all of the jackets on the list above include a hood that can fit over a climbing helmet. If you’ll be skiing with the jacket, you’ll need a hood that’s even larger to fit the bulkier shape of a ski helmet. Most manufacturers list the jackets only as being “helmet-compatible,” so we’ve called out hoods that run a little small—such as the Patagonia Pluma—in our write-ups above. Our favorite hoods consistently come from Arc’teryx: they’re highly adjustable, easy to use, and don’t feel ungainly when you’re not wearing a helmet.
If you’ll prone to running hot or need a waterproof shell for high-output activities, we recommend choosing a jacket with pit zips. Even the best waterproof breathable membrane will make you overheat in mild temperatures on the skin track, and we value the ability to quickly dump heat. We also prefer pit zips to ventilated chest pockets, because the location under the arms is better protected from falling rain or snow. There are some cases where you may want to pass on the feature—such as for fast-and-light trips—but we’re usually quite willing to accept the extra ounces and slightly larger packed size.
Most hardshell jackets have hand pockets placed midway up the torso to accommodate a backpack hipbelt or climbing harness. The high placement means you can open and close the pocket without needing to pull up on the jacket or unclip the belt. The end result is that the pockets are slightly less comfortable—the location isn’t as natural of a resting place for your hands—but it’s something we’re willing to tolerate to make the pockets usable. At the extreme end of the spectrum are designs like the alpine-focused Arc'teryx Alpha SV, which foregoes hand pockets altogether and instead boasts dual chest pockets. You lose a little storage and don’t have a place to put your hands going this route, but many weight-conscious backcountry adventurers are happy to make the trade.
There are three general options for an outer layer: rain jackets, softshells, and hardshells. As the name indicates, rain jackets provide good water and wind protection. Compared with a hardshell, rain jackets are less durable and won’t breathe as well, but are quite a bit cheaper (prices range from approximately $100 to $200), lighter-weight, and compress smaller for packing. We prefer rain jackets for daily wear, on summer backpacking trips, or as emergency shells when bad weather isn’t in the forecast. But if you’re headed to the alpine or are out in winter conditions, we turn to a hardshell.
As the names indicate, softshell and hardshell jackets are differentiated by the type and feel of their face fabrics. Softshell jackets are pliable, stretchy, and soft to the touch (especially on the interior), while hardshells are smooth and more rigid. In terms of weather resistance, it isn’t even close—even waterproof softshell jackets don’t offer nearly the same level of protection. Many softshells are only water- and wind-resistant instead of waterproof, instead focusing on breathability for working hard in mild conditions. We prefer a softshell in good conditions or on the climb up at lower elevations, but if weather really moves in, there’s no replacement for a quality hardshell.
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