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Thoughts about hard shells

I’m getting ready to review a shell I acquired relatively recently.  Need a little more cold, windy and hopefully snowy weather to fully evaluate it.  it’s a gore Tex shell, on the heavier side and made for lousy weather.  

I’m interested to hear what your favorite shell jackets are, and why.  Waterproof/breathable or not.

full disclosure, the shell I most often wear unless it’s raining hard is Patagonia’s Houdini.  I wore the first one hard, picked up a replacement a few years ago.  Good luck finding a better light wind shell.  

Andrew it is a tie between 2 for me. Both soft shell 

#1 was my 1st hiking jacket it was a Nautica 3n1. Technical jacket.  I loved that jacket including its fleece liner. You could stand under a water fall with it, it was comfortable had a nice hood and excellent pockets and the best rain shell ever. But it was by hiking standards heavy and hot Especially since it was jet black. 
#2 is The marmot mountaineering jacket that I now have and still use. Purchased in 2010 I’m not sure of the name ,(it may be a palisades, not sure) it was a step up version of the precip. at $200 . Really more than I could afford at the time but I had to have it.

I was amazed at how well it breathed, it’s exact fit and all of the meticulous features especially the hood and collar adjustments and flaps









 I use it solely now in conjunction with a 650 down if needed but even with its great pit zips it is still a bit to warm. 

in Virginia a couple of years back we never even broke them out, we just wrapped up in tarps to keep a little cooler on the move and I’d go back to a poncho if I could find a good one that fit me and my packs with snaps on the sides.

both were and are excellent jackets, but only for the lower temps. As far as I can tell neither one was made of Gore tech

as to rain Nautica hands down has got it right,

as to overall usability nothing comes even close to This Marmot and it’s flexible breathable and comfortable fit.

but again only for lower temps , and there both are equal against icy wind 

My two most recent shells are both Columbia OutDry. Before getting into details, I'll just say that after 40 years of backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, X Country skiing, I'm seriously impressed the effectiveness of OutDry. It simply does not wet out nor leak, at least not in the three years I've been wearing them. One is dedicated to winter usage (an original "EX Gold something something, weighs around 10oz), the other is reserved for non-winter, extended backpacking ("Featherlite" 6.5 oz, only produced for a couple of years). My primary fear for both is when the fabric will fail on the shoulders from shoulder strap abrasion. So far, so good. The water repelency of OutDry is peerless in the waterproof/breathable arena. In my experience, it's been more breathable than 3-ply Gortex, or Event, and I've worn both of those fabrics for decades. If the face fabrics on GoreTex and Event membranes didn't require DWR treatments, the comparisons with OutDry would likely come down to academic nitpicking. Again, in my experience, I've found Event to be ever so slightly more breathable than Goretex, and Outdry a tick more breathable than Event. Every rain shell I've worn for the past 40 years, regardless of its cost or technical "superiority", has eventually failed - developed leaks (usually around the neck and shoulders), and for sure wetted out - first on the arms, then shoulders, then around the waist. My most expensive Event shell (still have it) started wetting out on the sleeves after one season. My OutDry - three seasons in and still not a drop of fabric saturation. A few hearty shakes of the jacket and most of the surface drops shake off. A quick wipe with my synthetic chamois, and the jacket is virtually bone dry. No longer do I hustle into my tent in the rain/snow and drip water all over everything.

No matter how well-made a shell is, nothing lasts forever.  I think a jacket’s ability to vent moisture and keep rain out depends on a lot of factors over and above the waterproof-breathable solution.  What face fabric is the membrane or coating bonded to; how well does the durable water repellant coating work, how long does it last, and can you re-apply an aftermarket product like Nikwax effectively; ultimately, what mechanical venting (armpit zips or the like) does it have, because a hard hike up a mountain with or without a big backpack will overwhelm any shell, even shells that breathe better because they aren’t waterproof.  I have had good experience with eVent and neoshell (polartec product) as solutions for most situations, but I don’t like either for hard winter weather, high winds - their better air permeability, a plus for venting moisture, can be a minus in my experience in high winds, unless the face fabric is quite heavy.  (I have an old RAB shell with eVent that I would take anyway because the shell fabric is so robust - but the jacket relies primarily on large zippered armpit openings to vent - the fabric limits venting straight through the shell, like any hard shell designed to stop wind).  

thanks for your comments - will help with my review.  

I am NOT a fan of "softshell" clothing with the possible exception of light gloves.

I do like eVent hard shells parkas and the new most breathable Gore-Tex shells.

My eVent shell is also my "wind shirt" when a polyester shirt is not enough. I think carrying a wind shirt is unnecessary weight if you carry a WPB parka. 

Eric B.

Hi I think I am up to about 4 hard shells. Also a big fan using them summer and winter . Three of them are different brands  . So see my reviews for specifics  

But some suggestions are 

Gortex Pro does not breath that well but is hard wearing and will last .Beware of rubberized inner coating .

Pit zips are a must for summer active pursuits and to help keep you dry on the inside  

Large hood and high collar for wet and windy days . Snowy cold days 

Zippered pockets help keep personal items safe and dry  

Sleeve closers they are more important than you think.

I usually run a size up so I can put a light down fill under it for the winter months on very wet days to be able to put an extra layer on to help keep you dryer 

As for price you can spend $150 or $750  everyone has a different favorite brand , fit and expectations 

The ones I’ve used the most over the past 30 years are USGI ECWCS (Gore-Tex) parkas, they’re built like tanks and not much lighter. Packable? 😂😂😂. They laugh at thorns, snags, and pokes from branches, and if you carry Rip-Kit Gore-Tex patches you can make an almost permanent repair using a pot of hot water as an iron. 

What I bring 95% of the time is an EMS Thunderhead rain jacket, because it’s light enough, packable enough, and tear-resistant enough if I don’t just plow through thorns and sharp stuff like a bull moose. I don’t wear them very often, though, because I‘ve found a 200wt fleece to be warm and breathable enough on all but the coldest, windiest days. Fleece’s breathability means I can wear it in temps that would turn a hardshell into a portable sauna with even the slightest exertion. 

On sunny days down to around 10F or overcast days in the 20s I’m comfortable wearing a midweight Merino shirt over a short-sleeve wicking synthetic T-shirt. Today while snowshoeing in moderate snowfall and temps around freezing, I wore just the wicking T-shirt under my fleece and sweated more than I like even with no hat and the fleece half unzipped. I need either a lighter fleece (100wt) or a very light softshell jacket. Maybe a lightweight Merino jacket with DWR treatment. 

Living in Condos in NY one doesn't have a lot of storage space so I tend to have outdoor jackets and gear that can be used in different outdoor activities. So what I use for a hard shell outer layer is the NRS Sea Tour paddling/trail waterproof & breathable jacket with vent pits and hood/cap.  I find it to be far superior to rain jackets and easily fits over my EMS Primaloft Heater Jacket.

Sadly a mid if not heavy weight base layer is needed for cold weather, as the EMS  just doesn't cut it without it,  unlike my far less packable down jackets that I have owned.

I also will use my Kokatat dry pants with attached waterproof socks and my NRS Endurance Jacket or NRS Powerhouse Jacket for my rain gear for the other 3 seasons.

The only time I stray from using a hard shell is when the temperatures are way below freezing point with high winds or when the temperature is in the negative digits and that is when I wear an Artic cold weather jacket.  It is more of when the SHTF Jacket  as it weighs a ton, waterproof, warmer then Hades, and bulkier then a full line back. It is not the kind of jacket you go backpacking with more like one where your gear is on a sled that you pull.

After working in the Cascades and Alaska a couple of concepts. 

1. Hard rain day after day is going to get you wet.  You can wear Helly Hansens which are waterproof, and get wet from the inside,  or modern shells hard and soft and get wet from the outside. 

2. Moderate conditions like drizzle of a little rain here and there nearly all kinds of rain gear will work. 

3.  Working hard in the brush, only Filsons or the equivalent will work because you are going to sweat and the limbs and thorns will shred modern materials. 

Ppine, heavy rain  is the very reason why I use my NRS paddling jackets. These jackets have adjustable neck,wrist, and waist straps and neoprene material in those areas to prevent water from seeping into the jacket. Less you are raising your arms above your head the under arm vent zippers prevent you from over heating and drenching you with sweat.

I have paddled and hiked on trails whole days in pouring rain and still managed to be completely dry with the NRS jackets, my kokatat dry pants and my military waterproof  boomy hat

Hi Michael, 

I have been running rivers for over 50 years.  I have a paddling jacket, and a dry suit, but would never wear them in the woods.  Way too clammy for me. 

Hi again Ppine  always a pleasure to see ya...  Just curious,  how old is your paddling jacket, and is it breathable fabric and have vent zips?  Asking as I know that a lot of advancements have occurred over the years with paddling jackets and just trying to understand why you ended up clammy.

I actually returned my 1 piece Dry Suit from NRS  just for that very reason Ppine,  I was clammy from the get go.  Think it was a little over $1000 for the dry suit. They gave me store credit for the suit and I was able to buy a 1 piece Wetsuit, a 2 piece wetsuit, Kokatat dry pants, and 3 types of paddling jackets and paddling shoes & neoprene socks & gloves ( plural) for the same cost of that one piece Dry Suit.      lol,   luckily nearly everything I bought was either on sale or clearance.

I am slowly catching up to ya in paddling years  but will never beet you .  Started paddling in summer camps  when I was 8 so going on 40 years now. Unless you want to count the time when i was 6 years old in an inflatable raft in a river in the Catskill mountains while holding the leash of my Uncles dog  as I threw rocks 10 feet in front of the dog.   Angstrom (dogs  name Uncle was in Physics) would chase the rocks  pulling my raft around all day  lol.  Yea  not gonna count that as a paddling experience ...

Hi Michael, 

Modern paddle jackets may be better.  I have never considered them for the rain.  But I sweat a lot especially when working. 

In the summer in the high mountains rain squalls are common in the afternoon.  I used to wear a wool shirt and carried a heavy trash bag in my pack.  If it rained, I would cut arm and a head holes and wear it like a vest. 

I have a new jacket by Eddie Baeur, that is really good.  I was in the rain yesterday in it.  Praise God. 

The new Eddie Bauer jacket is called WeatherEdge.  It did not cost that much,.  It is sporty looking and sheds and rain and snow.  It dries out really fast.  It is better than my $350 Marmot Goretex jacket.  I have been wearing it constantly since the rain, sleet and snow started. 

May 28, 2022
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