There’s no such thing as bad weather — only bad gear. And in the age of industrial manufacturing and waterproof fabrics, there’s no good excuse for bad gear. Modern hardshell jackets are designed to provide a first layer of defense between you and the elements, whether “the elements” are an alpine whiteout or an afternoon thunderstorm. They’re the crown jewel of any outdoor kit: they’ll keep you warm, they’ll keep you dry, and most of them weigh less than a pair of blue jeans.
This one’s for the weight weenies, the folks who trim their toothbrushes and pack one pair of underwear on a weeklong adventure. Patagonia’s M10 jacket packs three layers of the company’s proprietary H2No fabric into just 8.1 ounces (about twice the weight of your phone). The jacket’s waistband, cuffs and hood are adjustable enough to accommodate myriad layering systems, and the jacket is waterproof and durable enough to handle anything you or mother nature throw at it.
Helly Hansen Odin Mountain Jacket
Helly Hansen gear is for serious users. Before products like the Odin Mountain Jacket hit the shelves, they’re tested by Vail Resort ski patrollers and Mountain Madness guides. The Odin jacket is built from three-ply waterproof material and equipped with a detachable soft-shell snow skirt, waterproof pockets and a helmet-compatible hood that can be adjusted with one hand.
Mountain Hardwear Quasar
Pullover jackets aren’t the norm. Most hardshells feature a full-length zipper, which allows for more ventilation and makes them easier to put on or take off. But the Quasar is cut from Mountain Hardwear’s Dry Q, a proprietary fabric famous for its breathability; at 9.2 ounces, the Quasar is designed to be worn and forgotten about, not fiddled with. While it doesn’t have a helmet-compatible hood and won’t hold up against ice axes, it’s hard to beat for alpine ski ascents or cross-country touring.
The folks at at Rab know ice climbers. The company designs gear almost exclusively for use on water and alpine ice, and the Latok is their premiere shell. Everything about it — from the reinforced waterproof zippers to the snug, flexible fit — is designed for swinging picks into the blue stuff. The Latok’s chest-level “Napoleon” pockets can be reached with a climbing harness on. It’s not light (about 26 ounces), but when you’re dealing with sharp ice tools and falling ice, it’s better to bring the durable goods.
La Sportiva Storm Fighter GTX
Skiers are simple creatures: we want to go downhill fast, no matter what the weather looks like. The Storm Fighter GTX is a fittingly simple creation. With just one chest pocket, the bombproof 11-ounce jacket doesn’t have room for much gear, but it will keep you warm and dry in just about anything.
Eddie Bauer Neoteric
This is one with bells and whistles. Part of Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line, the Neoteric is designed with the resort experience in mind. The Neoteric has a bicep pocket for your ski pass, a mesh goggle pocket with a sewn-in goggle wipe and an internal chest pocket with a “media port” for your headphones. But it’s not all glitz and glam: the jacket is built with attached Recco reflectors, helping a skier to be found if he or she is buried in an avalanche without a beacon.
Montane Alpine Endurance Event
Another jacket built almost exclusively for climbers, Montane’s Alpine Endurance Event is slightly lighter (21.5 ounces) than the Latok and is designed with speed climbing in mind. In addition to Napoleon pockets, an adjustable hood and a completely impermeable yet smooth-running zipper system, the jacket can be easily ventilated with extended pit zips. It’s a snug fit, and a bit thin for long waits at belays, but it’s perfect choice for winter climbers who keep warm by moving fast.
Outdoor Research Axiom
Reality check: not everyone wants to spend their winters climbing frozen waterfalls or skiing avalanche-prone terrain. There’s nothing wrong with spending a snowy weekend day hiking one of your favorite trails, whether that’s in snowshoes or boots and gaiters, and that’s just what the Axiom is best suited for. The 12.4-ounce shell has a stylish, athletic fit and is durable enough to hold up to most winter weather. It isn’t designed for a trip up K2, and it doesn’t pretend to be.
Arc’Teryx Theta SVX
There’s weather, and then there’s weather. The Arc’Teryx Theta SVX is built to handle all of it. Weighing in at 1.2 pounds, the jacket is the toughest and the longest in the company’s catalogue. Everything about the jacket is designed with heavy precipitation in mind, from the three-ply Gore-Tex fabric and DWR finish to the company’s proprietary WaterTight water-resistant zippers. It’s top of the line, and like most stuff from Arc’Teryx, it ain’t cheap.
Westcomb Shift LT Hoodie
You’ve seen the ads — the new PolarTec NeoShell fabric is poised to usurp Gore-Tex’s throne as king of the waterproof materials. The stuff has been hailed as not just submarine-level waterproof, but as far more breathable than anything else on the market. No one is using it better than Westcomb, who employ it in their new interpretation of the Shift LT Hoodie. At just 12 ounces, the hoodie is the lightest NeoShell jacket on the market.