The North Face Varius Guide Jacket
Fabric: Hyvent Water and Wind proof
Fill: compatabile with zip in down or polartec liners
Price Paid: $129 on sale
Good all around mountain shell for winter and heavy weather. Easy to zip in either TNF Denali Polartec Liner or Nuptse Down Liner. I have all three pieces for different conditions.
The one minor, very minor drawback is the zipper. It gets stuck at the bottom. If it ever gets to the point that it won't work, the jacket has a Lifetime Warranty from TNF. It keeps me dry, used it in a 60 knot gale and stayed totally wind and water protected, skiing excellent, backpacking excellent, with the added down liner in sub zero weather, excellent.
This is a good middle of the road as far as price. You have to spend about $200 to $300 more to get into high end Goretex Shells, even on sale. If you are looking to get the best bang for the buck, this is a good investment and it will last for years.
Hyvent, the waterproof breathable fabric used in this shell, works, it breathes, keeps you dry, and high nasty wind is never a problem. The hood is adjustable in the back to fit snug when you are not wearing a climbing or ski helmet.
Update: June 9, 2011
This is an updated review of my posting on the North Face Varius Guide Jacket. In 2010 I posted a rating on this jacket as 4.5. I noted in my post a slight problem with the main zipper.
Well in 2011 the zipper finally failed (zippers do wear some after over a thousand days of use) and I sent the jacket into North Face Warranty Department in San Leandro, CA. I have an upcoming Sierra trip and told them I needed it back right away.
I hereby officially upgrade my rating to a solid 5. Why? Because North Face not only repaired my jacket, but improved on the zipper with a very good quality replacement main zipper in a complementing color for the jacket, but here is the best part, under warranty with no charge to me, free return shipping, and did it all within ONE WEEK!!!
Now that is a product and company worth relying on, they said "GUARANTEED FOR LIFE" and they mean it. Thank you, North Face, great jacket, great warranty service.
Price Paid: $149
This would be the finest piece of rain gear I've ever owned, completely agree with the other posts. One problem, the hood.
When in use, which would be quite frequently as it is a rain coat, there is no visibility. The "brim" of the hood comes down to the bridge of the nose, and totally impairs almost all vision. This can be corrected, to a degree, with a drawstring, but it is still a problem. Really gets on my nerves. May cut the brim off and sew the front.
While it's a little heavy for summer use (pit zips notwithstanding), and thus not the most compact of its kind, it's understandable because it is very solid.
Great in the wind and rain - you'll definitely stay dry. Zip in a fleece liner, and it could easily be a winter coat.
Price Paid: $199.99
I've had this jacket for approx. 1 month. Although it is marketed as a rain jacket, I zipped in a fleece liner and use it as a fully functional winter jacket (in Minnesota). It's definitely a great jacket, it keeps me warm and it keeps me dry, the best part is that it has a nice fit, it's not a heavy coat. For the value, it's worth the cost. Worn solely as a rain jacket, it seems a bit excessive.
Price Paid: $170
I've had this jacket for about two months now and have put it through severe winds and near torrential downpours. It has stood up remarkably well. It kept me dry the whole time as the rain just beads off the surface. The pit zips really help with the ventilation, but they have to be treated with care as they can get caught on the inside material. It is a pretty much windproof outer shell but would be more effective combined with a fleece inner layer.
One thing to consider when buying this jacket is that it is form fitting, especially around the shoulders and armpits so going a size up might be necessary if you want to buy a zip-in compatible for it. All in all the best jacket I have ever bought.