Best Hiking Hardshell Jackets Buying Guide
Features to Consider When Buying a Hardshell Jacket
We’ve compiled a list of the most important features to look for in your outdoor jackets. Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re shopping around:
Hardshell vs. rain jackets
First things first, let’s discuss the difference between a hardshell jacket and a regular ol’ rain jacket. While these two pieces of gear might seem fairly similar, there are some notable differences between the two jackets that are worth keeping in mind.
For the most part, a rain jacket is a simple layer that can keep you mostly dry in the rain and snow. These jackets are made with 2 or 2.5 layer waterproof breathable membranes, which means they function quite well in nearly all but the harshest of conditions.
On the other hand, hardshell jackets are almost always made with the highest quality materials, such as a three-layer waterproof breathable membrane. These materials provide the utmost in durability (which is a must-have for serious adventurers) as well as an exceptional amount of waterproof and breathable conditions.
Of course, these better materials in a hardshell often come with a much higher price tag than what you might see on a rain jacket. Thus, while rain jackets are more than sufficient for your average adventurer, anyone who partakes high-octane activities, such as mountaineering or backcountry skiing, in foul weather could benefit from a Gore-Tex hardshell jacket.
Hardshell vs. softshell
Hardshell jackets are quite different from the similarly named “softshell” jacket. While a softshell combines some weather resistance with lots of breathability, a hardshell loses some of that breathability in exchange for the highest level of weather protection.
Hardshells achieve this weather protection through a waterproof breathable membrane layer which isn’t found in softshell jackets. Thus, while softshells are great for light rain, when a torrential downpour starts, you’ll be wishing you had a hard shell ski jacket.
The main purpose of a hardshell rain jacket is to keep you dry in the worst weather conditions on Earth. That being said, the vast majority of weather protection in a hardshell rain jacket is provided by the garment’s robust waterproof breathable membrane.
In a hardshell mountaineering jacket, most manufacturers will use a three-layer waterproof breathable membrane, such as Gore-Tex Pro instead of the more common two and two-and-a-half layer alternatives, such as Gore-Tex Active. These more durable membranes provide all of the waterproofing and windproofing capabilities that you need from your hardshell rain jacket.
Plus, certain accessories, such as a helmet-compatible hood, waterproof front zippers, and a powder skirt, can add additional layers of weather protection for when you’re recreating in particularly stormy conditions.
Perhaps the second most important feature of any hardshell mountaineering jacket (after waterproofness, of course) is its ability to ventilate well when you’re moving quickly in the mountains. During periods of heavy rain and serious physical exertion, you’re actually very likely to sweat to the point where the inside of your jacket feels wet.
This is not because your waterproof hard shell ski jacket failed, but because your perspiration is making everything feel damp. Thankfully, the best men’s hardshell jackets will have high-quality waterproof breathable membranes and other features such as pit zips for all-day comfort in the mountains.
When you wear hardshell jackets, you don’t want to feel constrained or like you’re wearing a garbage bag. Unfortunately, many waterproof jackets feel very garbage bag-esque, thanks to their waterproof breathable membrane, so you’ll want to look for models with comfortable liners and plenty of stretch to help you move quickly and easily through varied terrain.
No jacket is complete without some selection of pockets. In a hardshell jacket, pockets allow you to quickly store smaller items in harsh weather without having to open up your backpack and expose all of your gear to the damp conditions.
Most hardshell jackets will have one or two handwarmer pockets, while the best will have these places specifically so that they’re accessible, even when you’re wearing a climbing harness or hip belt. Additionally, the best hardshell jackets for men will usually have a chest pocket or two for storing items you don’t need very often.
Finally, many hardshells will have a couple of interior pockets. These may seem odd to the uninitiated, but interior pockets are incredibly useful for storing your most important personal items, such as your phone or GPS in a place that’s more or less waterproof – unless you sweat through your jacket.
Our advice? Look for a hardshell jacket that has some well-placed hand warmer pockets, one or two chest pockets, and at least one interior pocket. You won’t regret it!
Our Top Pick: The Best Hardshell Jacket for Mountaineering & Hiking
At the end of the day, you’re only going to wear one hardshell when you’re in the mountains, so you’ll want to make sure it’s a good one. Thankfully, we had plenty of great options for the best men’s hardshell jacket to choose from in this review.
But, if we had to select just one of these hardshells to win our top prize in this review, we’d have to go with the Arc’teryx Alpha SV for its unparalleled performance in the mountains. Everything from the Alpha SV’s design to its top of the line materials allows the hardshell to keep you cool and dry, even when crushing up mountains in the world’s worst weather.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the hardshell that’s right for your needs, so we encourage you to assess each jacket to decide how it might work within your current layering systems for your favorite activities. Happy trails!