Tested and Reviewed: The 10 Best Hardshell Jackets

Our picks of the best outer shells for the nastiest conditions

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Hardshell Jacket testing
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

The hardshell jacket is your first line of defense against the elements. It’s the shell (hence the “shell” in hardshell) that protects you from wind, rain, snow, and sleet. The prefix “hard” comes from the jacket’s stiff and unyielding firm feeling that causes most to compare them to tinfoil—loud and crinkly. Softshell jackets have a supple, softer feel on the other end of the spectrum. These jackets are more suited for higher output activities where weather conditions aren’t as severe, and breathability is of the utmost importance. 

Over the years, as weatherproof materials have evolved, hardshell jackets have become increasingly softer, stretchier, and less crinkly, blurring the lines between a hardshell and softshell jacket. Of all types of jackets, the hardshell is the one you don’t want to skimp on since it’s your outer layer (i.e., your outermost article of clothing). A low-quality or poorly made hardshell jacket may not hold up against rain, wind, or snow, leaving you wet and cold.

Whether you plan to hit the slopes, hike in the rainy Pacific Northwest, or do some high-alpine mountaineering, here are the best hardshell jackets.

Best Overall: Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Hooded

Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Hooded

Backcountry

If you want the best weather-proofing, durability, breathability (at the highest level of protection), and fit wrapped into one hardshell, look no further than the Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Hooded. Designed to withstand the harshest alpine conditions, the Nordwand Advanced HS is a rugged hardshell. It features Gore-Tex's top-of-the-line Pro with exceptional venting ability and the "most breathable" technology membrane for unrivaled snow, rain, and wind protection.

The 30 denier shell is on the crinkly side but offers just enough durability against unintentional encounters with trees, rocks, and the on-and-off ski lift routine. One selling point for me was the two pit zips, which feature a lot of high-end alpine shells skip.

If you're looking for a rain or hiking jacket for sidecountry ventures, you'd be better off with our runner-up pick, the Outdoor Research MicroGravity AscentShell Jacket (see below). However, it's well worth the investment for alpine activities like skiing, climbing, or mountaineering.

Material(s): Gore-Tex 3L Pro, 100 percent nylon | Waterproof Rating: 28,000 millimeters | Breathability Rating: RET<6m² | Weight: 15 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Not listed

Mammut Nordwand Advanced
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Outdoor Research MicroGravity Jacket

Outdoor Research MicroGravity Jacket

Moosejaw

Technically classified as a rain shell, the MicroGravity AscentShell Jacket emerged as one of the best all-around jackets for any activity in the rain, snow, and windy conditions. Despite being lighter than most hardshell jackets, it provides superior weather protection thanks to Outdoor Research’s proprietary AscentShell technology—a breathable, stretchy three-layer waterproof membrane. How does it compare to the industry standard Gore-Tex?

On par, if not better, and if you don’t trust me, just read the reviews on Outdoor Research’s website. In terms of wearability, this became my go-to jacket. The soft stretch fabric offers best-in-class comfort and mobility without that annoying crinkly sound that most hard shells carry. Like most pure shells, as a standalone jacket, it’s not the warmest, so you’ll want to layer up if you plan on using it in freezing conditions.

Material(s): AscentShell 3L, 100 percent nylon stretch ripstop 30D, 100 percent polyester | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 14.6 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Not listed

Outdoor Research MicroGravity
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Best Budget: REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket

REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket

REI

Have peace of mind knowing you are protected by the number one maker of waterproof material, Gore-Tex. The REI XeroDry GTX Jacket features a 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite waterproof breathable laminate to ensure you stay dry and protected. This simple but effective hiking jacket strikes the perfect balance of value and performance.

Three pockets (two sides and one chest) double as vents to dump heat during higher output activities. A two-point adjustable hood (that’s not helmet-compatible) keeps your head dry, while a hem drawcord and Velcro adjustable cuffs tighten down the arms and waist.

Material(s): 2L Gore-Tex Paclite, 100 percent bluesign-approved polyester | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 12.5 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: bluesign-approved materials and constructed at a Fair Trade Certified factory

REI Co-op XeroDry Jacket
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Best for Skiing: Patagonia Untracked Jacket

Patagonia Untracked Jacket

Backcountry

This thick, protective shell is the ticket to a warm day on the slopes. The Untracked jacket is made with a 3-layer 92 percent recycled nylon Gore-Tex stretch fabric; the Untracked jacket feels like one of the most protective ski/snowboard shells tested. While some may find it heavy, the weight adds considerable durability and a natural protective feel compared to most hardshell jackets.

Inside, the jacket features a flannel-lined backer for added comfort and an adjustable powder skirt with a webbing loop at the center back that connects to any Patagonia Snow pants for those waist-deep powder days.

Two large pit zips allow for excellent temperature regulation. Clever pocket placements (zippered pockets: two hand warmers, one chest with secure media pocket with cable routing, one internal stash pocket, one internal drop-in, and one pass pocket on the left forearm) keep all your items organized and easy to access. Like most Patagonia jackets, it runs in a larger size, suitable for those with a hefty layering system. While the Patagonia Untracked jacket was our favorite, the REI First Chair GTX and Black Diamond Recon Shell were close seconds.

Material(s): Gore-Tex 3L, 92 percent 70D recycled nylon, 8 percent spandex | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 1 pound, 10.2 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Made with 92 percent recycled nylon, Fair Trade Sewn

Patagonia Untracked Jacket
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Best for Mountaineering: Arc’teryx Alpha SV

Arc&acirc;€™teryx Alpha SV

REI

If there was a rigid shell for the most extreme weather conditions, the Arc'teryx Alpha SV would be it. As the flagship model in Arc'teryx's Alpha line (climbing and alpine-focus wear), the SV (severe weather) was introduced in 1998. Now on its ninth iteration, the latest version is made with 3L Gore-Tex Pro with Most Rugged Technology. The Alpha SV offered the highest protection from any element Mother Nature could conjure of all the jackets tested.

At a 100-denier material rating, it's also one of the most durable hardshell jackets on the market. As with all Arc'teryx jackets, the cut is top-notch. Despite the thick shell and somewhat crinkly feel, mobility was unrestricted, and it was easy to wear. Truth be told, this jacket is designed with high-alpine mountaineers in mind and will be too much jacket for 95 percent of people. Yet, if you can swallow the hefty price tag, you'll be rewarded with a durable shell that will last for years to come.

Material(s): 100D Gore-Tex 3L Pro | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 1 pound, 1.9 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Made with some bluesign-certified materials

Best Extreme Cold: Outdoor Research Stormcraft Down Parka

Outdoor Research Stormcraft Down Parka

Backcountry

Outdoor Research advertises this as “one of the warmest and most waterproof parkas on the market,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Insulated with 700-fill down and encapsulated with a Gore-Tex 2L shell, the Tormcraft Down Parka is waterproof, windproof, and, quite frankly, bombproof. Regardless of how nasty the conditions are, you’ll be warm, dry, and cozy as hell. The jacket comes packed with thoughtful features to enhance warmth and comfort. 

To guard against biting wind drafts from penetrating through the jacket, it features internal knit wrist cuff gaiters and an insulated snap-secure storm flap covering the YKK Vislon double separating center-front zipper. While an elastic drawstring hem seals your waistline, our external pockets (two zip chest and two side button), an interior zip chest pocket, and a large interior mesh stash pocket provide plenty of space to store all your items. A word of caution—the fit is quite large, so I suggest sizing down a full size. Given the warmth of this jacket, layering up underneath would be overkill, so there is no need to size for multiple layers.

Material(s): Gore-Tex 2L, 100 percent polyester | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 2 pounds, 14.2 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Not listed

Outdoor Research Stormcraft Parka
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Best for Running: Montane Spine Jacket

Montane Spine Jacket

Trekk Inn

Running leads the pack of all the activities that are least suited for a hardshell. Due to running's high output and body heat-generating nature, finding the balance between precipitation protection and breathability can be a real challenge. Enter the Montane Spine mountain-running focused waterproof jacket.

This lightweight, packable jacket features Gore-Tex's most breathable waterproof membrane, a 13 denier Active Shell. Two mesh-lined hand pockets can be used as heat vents when running hot. Elastic-shaped cuffs and a fully adjustable hem and low-profile hood allow for a custom fit sealing the jacket tight from pesky drafts and unwanted moisture creeping in.

The more we test Montane products, the more we adore the brand and what it offers. For all those endurance nerds out there that haven't discovered Montane, the time is now. Montane is one brand that places emphasis on creating products for those looking to move fast in the outdoors.

Material(s): 13D Gore-Tex Active Shell, 100 percent nylon | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 8.6 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Not listed

Montane Spine Jacket
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Best Lightweight: Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell

Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell

Black Diamond

Ideal for rainy conditions in mild-to-warm temperatures or as a spring skiing shell, the Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell is a breathable and lightweight waterproof/windproof shell. The Highline uses a proprietary membrane to BD called BD.dry, “an environmentally friendly PFC-free water-repellent finish that is superior in performance compared to any other C-6, C-8, or C-0 DWR,” as BD puts it.

The jacket sports two generously sized pit zips (a must-have for any warmer temp hardshell, in my opinion) to dump heat fast when working hard. A large adjustable hood is climbing and ski/snowboard helmet-compatible.

Material(s): 3L BD.dry | Waterproof Rating: 20,000 millimeters | Breathability Rating: 20,000 g/m2 | Weight: 12.7 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Made with PFC-free DWR

Black Diamond Highline Stretch Jacket
TripSavvy / Cory Smith.

Best Packable: REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket

REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket

REI

With an average of 4.3 stars from nearly 500 reviews on REI’s website, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more loved packable rain jacket. The shell uses REI’s Peak 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate that’s Fair Trade Certified and meets bluesign criteria to keep you dry, which it does a great job of for such a budget price point.

The jacket boasts a windproof rating of up to 60 mile-per-hour gusts. Two pit zips help you dumb heat when things get toasty. At a mere 13 ounces and with the ability to pack into its chest pocket, the Rainier Jacket is perfect as a travel rain jacket or shell when space is tight.

Material(s): Peak 2.5-layer waterproof, recycled nylon | Waterproof Rating: Not listed | Breathability Rating: Not listed | Weight: 11.4 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Made with recycled and bluesign-certified materials, constructed in a Fair Trade Certified factory

Best Eco-Friendly: Rab Arc Eco Jacket

Rab Arc Eco Jacket

REI

Without sounding too cheesy, hardshell jackets are hard on the environment. From the manufacturing process to DWR treatment through end-of-life, the Rab Arc Eco Jacket takes a thoughtful approach to sustainability. The 3-layer Pertex Shield Revolve membrane boasts one of the highest waterproof ratings while using a 100 percent recycled polyester fabric and Fluorocarbon-free durable water repellent.

Two pit zips allow for easy heat dump, while adjustable cuffs and drawcord hem let you batten down the hatches when conditions get dicey. Two high-chest pockets are great for storing large items such as gloves and double as a stuff sack but aren't great as hand pockets. Not only is it made with recycled materials, but Rab also considered the jacket's end-of-life sustainability. It's built with recycled monopolymer fabrics, meaning once it's seen its last days, the jacket is easier to recycle than most other jackets.

Material(s): 3L Pertex Shield Resolve, 100 percent recycled polyester | Waterproof Rating: 20,000 millimeters | Breathability Rating: 16,000 g/m2 | Weight: 15.1 ounces | Planet/Eco-Consciousness: Made with 100 percent recycled materials and PFC-free DWR

Final Verdict 

A hardshell jacket can be your best friend or worst enemy. If you purchase wisely, a hardshell will keep you protected for years to come through Mother Nature's harsh conditions. Hardshell can be a broad term encompassing many very different types of jackets. It's important to consider how you'll be using the jacket first, then find a hardshell to suit the demands of that activity. We've broken some of the best hardshell jackets on the market down into the most popular categories to ensure you're getting the best jacket for how you intend to use it.

For the best overall, we like Mammut's Nordwand Advanced jacket (view at Backcountry). As you might've noticed reading through this roundup, hardshell jackets can be expensive. If you don't live in a super rainy climate or are just looking for a shell for your commutes, we recommend checking out the REI Co-op XeroDry (view at REI) or the REI Co-op Rainier (view at REI).

Hardshell jacket testing
Nathan Allen / TripSavvy.

How We Tested

The hardshell jackets in this roundup were tested in a variety of conditions—from cold and rainy Midwestern days to frigid alpine treks in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas to coastal downpours. Activities in which we tested the jackets included hiking, climbing, running, cycling, backpacking, sitting in the backyard, and trekking to the local brewery.

What to Look for in a Hardshell Jacket

Finding the best hardshell boils down to how you intend to use it. The two main driving factors are climate and activity. Consider what type of climate in which you’ll be using the jacket. Will it be cold? Rainy? Snow or sleet? Next, how will you be using the jacket? Will it be a high-output activity like running, backcountry skiing, or fairly low-output? Once you sort these out, here’s what you should look for to find the perfect hardshell jacket. 

Types of Waterproof

When it comes to waterproof material, Gore-Tex is the most commonly used. They are a third-party company that partners with the jacket manufacturer to provide weatherproof material. For example, Mammut partnered with Gore-Tex for our best overall jacket, the Mammut Nordwand Advanced. Inside the Gore-Tex brand, there are various types of Gore-Tex fabrics that each provide slightly different levels of protection. Gore-Tex Pro is the highest protection and durability you can buy for demanding activities in the harshest climates, such as mountaineering. If you want the best, Gore-Tex Pro is it. Other types of Gore-Tex include PacLite, Shakedry, and Invisible Fit for footwear. 

While Gore-Tex has often been considered the leader in waterproof and weather-resistant material, alternatives such as eVent, Pertex Shield, and Polartec Neoshell have been gaining traction. Some more prominent brands such as The North Face, Patagonia, and Black Diamond have started manufacturing in-house materials like North Face Futurelight, Patagonia’s H2No, and Black Diamond's BD.dry. We’ll be the first to admit that it’s a lot to follow and understand the differences. 

Generally speaking, Gore-Tex’s name on a hardshell jacket goes a long way. It’s a trusted brand that has been proven over time to be one of the best. That said, for most people who don’t require protection from the harshest environments, Gore-Tex alternatives are more than suitable and often at a more affordable price. 

Hardshell jacket testing
Nathan Allen / TripSavvy.

Waterproof Ratings

All waterproof jackets carry a waterproof rating. This rating determines exactly how waterproof the fabric is. Using something called a Hydrostatic Head test, the fabric is stretched tight under one inch sealed tube of water for 24 hours to determine how many millimeters of water the fabric can withstand before it soaks through. After the test, the fabric is given a 0 to 20,000 millimeters rating. The higher the number, the more waterproof the jacket is. 

Breathability Ratings

Breathability measures how much body heat can escape through the jacket. Of all the types of jackets, hardshell jackets have the worst breathability ratings, given that they are the first line of defense against the elements. Fleeces and softshells offer the best breathability but do not offer anywhere near the weather protection of a hardshell jacket—the more high-output the activity you do, the more breathable a jacket you need. 

Breathability is measured as g/m²/24hrs. It measures how much moisture vapor can pass through a square meter of the fabric in 24 hours. The rating goes from 0g/m², the least breathable, to 30,000g/m² being the most breathable, and, therefore, most suited for high-output activities like running. 

Durability Ratings 

Overall, hardshell jackets tend to be the most durable. It’s essential to consider the type of activity you’ll use the jacket to get longevity out of your hardshell. Activities like alpine and ice climbing, skiing, and hiking involve a fair amount of abuse, so investing in a high denier fabric is a good idea. Denier measures the linear density of any given material and can be used to judge a jacket’s durability. Denier is measured using a 30D to around 150D rating. The higher the number, the thicker and more durable the material. 

Fit/Comfort

As with any garment, fit and comfort need to be carefully considered. The most important thing to contemplate before buying a hardshell is what your layer system underneath may look like. Will you mostly be wearing an insulated or fleece under for warmth? If so, you’ll want to make sure your jacket has enough room so it won’t restrict movement. In my experience with this testing, most jackets size on the larger end of the spectrum, where I would not need to size up for additional layers. But, before you commit to size, it’s best to try on a few layers and see how it fits. 

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Are hardshell jackets worth it?

    The short answer is yes. If you’re doing any outdoor activity where nasty weather is a possibility, it’s probably worth it to invest in a hardshell jacket. That said, if you live in a climate like the southwestern US, you can probably get by with either a budget hardshell (like the REI Co-op ones listed above) or a highly breathable and less waterproof shell. But if you live in rainier climates or the mountains, we highly recommend investing in a high-quality hardshell. A top-shelf hardshell like the Mammut or Arc’teryx jackets above should last for many years.

  • Are hardshell jackets good for winter? Will hardshell jackets keep you warm?

    Yes, hardshell jackets are suitable for winter. They are your most important piece of protection from rain, wind, sleet, snow, hail, or whatever else our lovely Mother Nature wants to dish your way. Some people (like us) believe an outer hardshell is a crucial piece to a ski or snowboard layering kit.

    Hardshell jackets keeping you warm is a bit more complicated. An excellent outer shell will play a role in keeping you warm. In cold weather, a hardshell alone will not keep you warm. But with proper layering, the hardshell will help keep you warm by blocking wind and moisture.

  • What's the difference between a hardshell jacket and softshell jacket?

    As briefly touched on above, a hardshell jacket emphasizes protection against the elements, and a softshell jacket emphasizes breathability and stretch. Hardshell jackets are constructed of rigid waterproof and windproof materials, while softshell jackets are softer and made of more lightweight materials. If you spend (or are planning to spend) much time doing outdoor activities, we recommend having both in your gear quiver.

  • How do I care for and wash my hardshell jacket?

    Our first recommendation is to check the tags on your hardshell jacket and/or the brand’s website. As noted above, the materials and waterproofing technology in hardshell jackets can be complex. They can also be damaged easily. So, when in doubt, check out the brand’s website. Brands like Arc’teryx even have videos demonstrating how to wash a hardshell jacket.

  • My hardshell jacket is losing its waterproofing. What did I do?

    All hardshell and rain jackets will lose waterproofing ability over time. Once you notice your hardshell jacket begin to wet-out (soak and splotch instead of bead up water), it’s probably time to apply another round of waterproofing. You can either wash in waterproofing or use a waterproofing spray. Again, we recommend consulting your hardshell jacket’s brand website to make sure you can apply waterproofing without damaging the jacket. If you spend much time in the mountains or rainy climates, we recommend having wash-in waterproofing and waterproofing sprays for your outdoor gear. We like and recommend Nikwax.

Testing hardshell jackets
Nathan Allen / TripSavvy.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Cory Smith is a freelance journalist specializing in running, climbing, fitness-related content, and gear review. He's been an elite-level runner for more than 25 years and a full-time running coach since 2014. He's also been a climber and skier for over 25 years.

Nathan Allen, TripSavvy's Outdoor Gear Editor, also helped test products in this roundup. Nathan has been caught in too many sudden storms in the backcountry while cycling and running to count. He knows the value of a bombproof and breathable shell. His current go-to shell for high-output activities is the Montane Spine jacket.

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