Use the term “hard shell” and people envision those bright orange rain ponchos or some heavy exterior fabric that isn’t comfortable, isn’t fashionable, and serves the very basic function of keeping the harshest weather off of your back. That isn’t what hardshell jackets are, except in the most broad terms. A decent hardshell is made to be comfortable, warm, breathable, and yes, to help stop rain and snow from getting to your base layer. A quality winter jacket should have all of these qualities, not just toughness but mobility and an ability to let you get outside and live without worrying about your outerwear.
We considered both toughness and wearability when we took a look at hardshell coats and jackets. We didn’t simply want the most protective coverings for your torso, but those that were also the easiest to wear and would work for the most seasons. We sought out quality materials that would last, and those that would give us more use. We picked the cream of the top brands in the business and found the 8 best hardshell jackets for winter wear whether you plan on being out in the elements, or just going to the end of the driveway to check your mail.
Eddie Bauer Alpine Front Jacket
Pro: Exceptional rain resistance
Con: Too thin for use in the backcountry without lots of layers
Travel Companion: A nylon shell with stretchable nylon material in the hood and cuffs, the Alpine Front jacket can lock down tight to keep wetness out, or open up to let the sun shine in. Each of the major joints is made to move so that whether you’re just strolling along or swinging an ice axe, it won’t bind and bunch. It breaks from the traditional triple-layer design using only 2.5 layers, allowing for a more packable profile that can compact for backpacking and doesn’t weigh as much when going into your luggage. The slim hood can work with or without a helmet.
Rab Latok Alpine Jacket
Pro: Ideal for cycling commutes in rainy weather (make note PNW dwellers)
Con: Pocket placement is odd and awkward
Daily Wear: Instead of aiming at the hardiest of competitive climbers, Rab Latok chose to provide loads of protection and warmth for those who live and work in tough climates, as well as weekend warriors who need durability along with exceptional weather protection. The 3L fabric creates a water and wind barrier against the elements that cuts exposure down to a minimum and prevents any inclement weather from penetrating your defenses. Plenty of storage and loads of YKK zippers on the front, pocket, sides, and under the arms means you get quality that goes the distance along with a hood that can fit a helmet for when that distance is straight up.
Marmot Artemis Jacket
Pro: Underarm PitZips for ventilation
Con: Soft/hard construction can be difficult to layer
Double Team: If you prefer not to choose a soft shell, then the Artemis will suit you to a tee. It’s the best of both worlds with 2.5 layer NanoPro that boasts more than double the breathability of other products. The seams are taped down and won’t leak even after you’ve hit the hill for a couple of seasons. What really grabbed us was the spacious pockets, clearly intended for long days on the trail when you need to pack along protein bars or GORP for survival in the winter wilderness. A moldable brim and gale-force hood help it fit snugly around your face for enhanced wind protection.
Patagonia M10 Jacket
Pro: Includes watertight pockets for your electronics
Con: Slim fit is better for spring and summer
Hustle & Flow: The first thing to suffer when you start adding insulation is mobility. The M10 was made to strike a balance between being able to move and being warm enough to exist in alpine conditions. Three layers of protection are included and they’re made of smooth H2No fabric with DWR covering the nylon exterior for better resistance to wind and water penetration. The seams are sonically welded, so nothing will find ingress if you don’t wish it, but the bottom layer still breathes and wicks like a much lighter jacket to keep your skin comfortable and never stifled.
Arc’teryx Alpha FL
Pro: Ideal for layering
Con: No underarm vent
Most for the Money: Arc’teryx has a beautiful line of hardshell jackets with very few holes, so if you’re looking to keep costs in the middle range but still get a great quality coat, the Alpha FL will do you proud. Inside are two-piece Hemlock inserts that can be removed but work with hem drawcord to create a tight seal and add more warmth to your outdoor experience. It also works better with a harness for less slipping and reduced exposure while climbing. The storm hood is intended to guard you when wearing a helmet while not cutting down on peripheral visibility. Overall a smartly priced win.
Westcomb Shift LT Hoodie Jacket
Pro: Sleeves are fully articulated
Con: Very limited pocket space
Street Legal: When ounces count, the LT Hoodie from Westcomb is the product to grab. It cuts all the right corners while still offering 3-layer Polartec protection against wind, snow, rain, and whatever else mother nature feels like sending your way. The high collar complete with fold-down hood removes the necessity of a scarf, even when the hood is tucked safely away, and the drawstrings will keep moisture from creeping in over the top. The rip-and-stick cuffs keep it from rubbing against rocks and create a bombproof seal at the ends while helping devise a tighter fit that helps keep the mobility high as it attaches more like a second skin.
Helly Hansen Odin
Pro: Tested and approved by rescue workers and mountain guides
Con: Sizing runs large
Iced Out: Field tested everywhere from the Himalayas to the Antarctic Ocean, this has already been around the world and put through its paces. Amateurs need not apply as this is made with HellyTech Professional materials for outfitting men and women who go above and beyond, enduring tough conditions day in and day out. YKK zippers everywhere keep a strong seal, an Aquaguard V9 Vislon zipguard keeps water from slipping in the front, and the entire body is meant to fit with helmet and harness, so go ahead and conquer the hill.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket
Pro: Fixed storm hood
Best in Show: Yep, you’re going to be spending a fortune to get this jacket, but it’s worth every penny. Seasoned veterans will love the face made of high-density nylon complete with Gore-Tex Pro 3L laminate to keep weather where it belongs: anywhere but inside. The SV stands for Severe Weather, and this proves up to tackling mountain passes or icy fjords time and again. The main fabric is N80p-Gore-Tex Pro 3-layer with loads of vents on the chest and arms for adding airflow when it gets too hot, or locking it down when the wind picks up.
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