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- Best Overall: Arc'Teryx Alpha FL Jacket at Amazon "An excellent pick for anyone whose travel itineraries include rigorous outdoor activities like climbing."
- Best for Men: Outdoor Research Optimizer Jacket at Amazon "The Optimizer shields against heavyweight weather with its lightweight form."
- Best for Women: Outdoor Research Women's Clairvoyant Jacket at Amazon "The face fabric on the Clairvoyant is quiet on top of being soft and comfortable."
- Best for Kids: Helly Hansen Junior Ascent Jacket at Amazon "Prevents your little ones from feeling hot and clammy from the inside of the jacket."
- Best for Budget: Columbia Alpine Action Jacket at Amazon "It’s great for mountain trips during cold periods for skiing and snowboarding."
- Best for Packing: Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket at Amazon "Instead of Gore-Tex, the jacket uses a comfortable, stretchy AscentShell membrane beneath a nylon ripstop face fabric."
- Best for Extreme Weather: The North Face Summit Series L5 Jacket at Amazon "The waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex allows you to stay warm and dry."
- Best Splurge: Arcteryx Alpha SV Jacket at Amazon "The “SV’ stands for severe weather, so the jacket is best for icy or wet alpine missions."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Arc'Teryx Alpha FL Jacket
The Alpha FL Jacket is an excellent pick for anyone whose travel itineraries include rigorous outdoor activities like climbing. The “FL” in the Alpha FL Jacket stands for fast and light. At 11.1 ounces, the jacket is indeed light, which makes it easy for users to move quickly under various weather conditions. It consists of waterproof, windproof and breathable Gore-Tex material that shields whatever elements may come at you during your outdoor adventures. The N40p-X face fabric prioritizes breathability by stacking the exterior and interior pockets.
Designers articulated specific areas in the jacket to make it easy for climbing movements. The trim fit allows you to see your harness and also accommodates layering. The hoodie section is even tailored to fit a helmet underneath it.
Best for Men: Outdoor Research Optimizer Jacket
The Optimizer shields against heavyweight weather with its lightweight form. The Gore-Tex fabric protects you from getting wet in rain or snow while providing ventilation for rigorous activities like climbing. The laminated jacket is windproof and waterproof. You’ll be able to move with a full range of motion because of the full dynamic reach panels. When you move your body, your jacket doesn’t lift.
The jacket comes with waterproof zippers and multiple pockets for storage. It sports a chest, internal and hand zip pocket. The front zipper is two-sided. In case you need to reach for your harness or something underneath it, you’ll be able to do so without much fuss. The hardshell also has a cinch cord to adjust the jacket to your desired fit.
The color selection includes rustic picks like baltic, burnt orange, charcoal, fatigue and peacock.
Best for Women: Outdoor Research Women's Clairvoyant Jacket
The lightweight Outdoor Research Clairvoyant Jacket was designed by and built for women. Unlike many hardshells that make crinkling sounds, the face fabric on the Clairvoyant is quiet on top of being soft and comfortable. Waterproof and windproof, the Gore-Tex membrane suits rigorous activities. No matter what the season, you can enjoy high alpine adventures and backcountry tours. The jacket has many zippered pockets, including hand ones that are higher for compatibility with a hip belt or harness. It sports a halo hood that is big enough to fit a helmet for backpacking while allowing you to maintain your peripheral vision.
The collection includes soft, muted colors such as charcoal, cornflower, orchid, sangria and wisteria.
Best for Kids: Helly Hansen Junior Ascent Jacket
For any trail trips, Helly Hansen’s windproof and waterproof Junior Ascent Jacket will keep your kids dry if precipitation is in the forecast. It’s made with 100 percent polyamide and has a quick-dry lining. Since kids move around a lot, the latter feature prevents your little ones from feeling hot and clammy from the inside of the jacket. For keeping dry during stormy weather, it includes a detachable hood that packs into the collar. It also flaunts a printed reflective HH logo that keeps kids visible at night, whether your family is camping or going for a brisk walk in the city. The reflective quality allows you to keep track of your little ones even when it gets dark. The hardshell also has hand pockets so that kids can store various travel gear and snacks while exploring the great outdoors. Kids love colors, so the bold hues in this line are perfect. The unisex color selection includes aqua blue, forest green, olympian blue and very berry.
Best for Budget: Columbia Alpine Action Jacket
Since many hardshells can cost upwards of $500, the Columbia Alpine Action Omni-Heat Jacket’s low price tag is a reprieve for anyone on a tight budget. It’s great for mountain trips during cold periods for skiing and snowboarding. The Omnitech heat system in the jacket consists of metallic dot lining for heat retention as well as breathable fabric for ventilation during rigorous activities. There’s plenty of storage space for all of your traveling gear, including a chest pocket, ski pass pocket, interior security pocket and zippered hand pockets. Skiers will appreciate the jacket’s snap-back powder skirt and removable storm hood. The women’s collection includes aegean blue, bluebell/hot coral, dark raspberry, dusty purple and more. For men’s sizes, you can choose from delta, mountain red, nocturnal and super blue.
The fit is trim, especially for women. Reviewers note that the jacket feels tight in the chest region, so ladies should consider sizing up.
Best for Packing: Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket
At 11.6 ounces, Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket is a hair heavier than some others on this list, but it comes at a fraction of the price. If weight is your primary concern, it offers the best price for the lightweight packability of a softshell jacket. Instead of Gore-Tex, the jacket uses a comfortable, stretchy AscentShell membrane beneath a nylon ripstop face fabric. Like many hardshells, it’s also waterproof, windproof and breathable. Because the jacket is ultralight, reviewers do point out that the material feels thinner and less durable than Gore-Tex.
Besides its light material, the Interstellar also features other functional designs that make it excellent for travel sports. The dynamic reach underarm panels enable full mobility, the helmet-compatible hood is adjustable and the above-the-harness pocket placement allows for storage while climbing.
Best for Extreme Weather: The North Face Summit Series L5 Jacket
The North Face designed this jacket for alpine climbing in the most intense conditions, and the steep price reflects the quality. The waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex allows you to stay warm and dry. The outer material consists of heavy-duty 90D Cordura, which is a very durable face fabric for extreme weather protection. The jacket also sports a localized FuseForm construction, providing durability with minimal seaming for a full range of motion. The watertight pockets are also pack and harness compatible.
There are caveats. The jacket is heavier and thicker than most of the ones listed here. It best suits cold alpine missions as opposed to high exertion activities in warm weather.
Best Splurge: Arcteryx Alpha SV Jacket
Its Mt.-Everest-high price may not be for amateur outdoor enthusiasts, but seasoned and ambitious climbers may want to look into Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket. The “SV’ stands for severe weather, so the jacket is best for icy or wet alpine missions.
It has what you would expect in a reliable hardshell — waterproofness, windproofness, breathability and abrasion-resistance. Its materials are three-layer Gore-Tex and tough N80p-X face fabric treated with Arc'teryx Nu water-repellent treatment. The fit is articulated for full mobility, with a micro-seam allowance to reduce weight and bulk. The jacket carries five pockets, many of which have water-resistant zippers: one internal chest pocket, two high crossover hand pockets, one left bicep pocket and one internal dump pocket. It also sports dual-zippered armpit vents, which is great if you sweat a lot. The Stormhood is helmet-compatible with custom Cohaesive hood adjustment cords, which allow you to adjust it with gloves or mittens on.