The Best Gore-Tex Jackets Of 2017 Reviewed

The Best Gore-Tex Jackets Of 2017 Reviewed

Finding the best hardshell jackets among the thousands of options available today is no easy feat. There are tons of brands out there creating high quality, competitively priced windproof and waterproof hardshell jackets. In order to truly decide which jackets are best for your needs, you’ll need to know what a hardshell jacket is, and what its intended uses are. In this guide, we’re going to be breaking hardshell jackets down, starting with our top 5 picks for GORE-TEX jackets. From there, we’ll jump into the various technologies used and the situations you’d need them in. For more on GORE-TEX, check out our cleaning guide.

Our Top 3 Picks

Outdoor Research Axiom
  • Outdoor Research Axiom
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Built for active use
  • Price: See Here
Patagonia Refugitive
  • Patagonia Refugitive
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • C-Knit technology
  • Price: See Here
Arc’teryx Alpha FL
  • Arc’teryx Alpha FL
  • 4.7 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Lightweight yet protective
  • Price: See Here

5 Best Gore-Tex Jackets

 

Outdoor Research Axiom

Outdoor Research Axiom
The Outdoor Research Axiom is one of the most popular and well-liked jackets ever created. The reason for this is simple; this jacket is meant to be your go-to jacket for general usage, and it has the versatility to prove it. The jacket utilizes GORE-TEX Active technology, which is supposed to allow for superior breathability and maneuverability. If you are looking for something seriously light that provides best-in-class protection and ultra-high mobility, you can’t go wrong with the Outdoor Research Axiom. For this reason, it receives our Runner Up award, just inches behind the Arc’teryx Alpha FL.
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The original version of the Axiom was released a few years back, and actually had a few fundamental issues that prevented it from reaching its full potential. This new version fixes all of these small problems and then some, even adding several features that set it directly apart from the immediate competitors. Subtle design cues such as the large hand warmer pockets and the media pocket and through-port stand out against the otherwise standard features included in many other brand offerings at this price point, and the fit and feel of the jacket is second to none. Other unique features were welcome additions, like the double sided zippers which are able to be opened from either side, and the hood design, which overall is well constructed, if a bit difficult to grasp at first.

The Axiom’s breathability performance is very good, but I wouldn’t say it’s able to rival the likes of the Arc’teryx Alpha FL. The GORE-TEX Active material helps out a lot here, but what’s interesting is that the Alpha FL consistently performs better (with it’s GORE-TEX Pro membrane) than the Axiom’s, which in theory shouldn’t be the case at all. There are a variety of factors that could be at work here, though, so we can’t draw any definitive conclusions.

The Axiom is the best-fitting jacket in this entire guide by a wide margin. We’ve found that the jacket’s slim fit design is almost a perfect mold for active use, while still providing plenty of room to layer up underneath. Best of all, the hood, sleeve and hem lengths and sizes are all quite literally perfect in our book. Wearing this jacket feels like a natural extension of yourself, and we feel so strongly about this that it’s one of the main reasons this jacket takes our runner up spot over the others in the guide.

The construction of the Axiom feels extremely solid and cohesive, and the material itself, while very lightweight, feels very sturdy and high-quality. Admittedly, some reviewers have noted that the DWR coating tends to wash out fairly quickly, but that is a reality of life for just about any jacket on the market, so we can’t be too harsh with that judgment.

Overall, the Outdoor Research Axiom is one of the nicest and most versatile jackets out on the market today. The combination of GORE-TEX Active technology, a fantastic fit and feel, and a robust set of features make this jacket a hard to beat product going into 2017 and beyond.
Pros
  • Stretchy
  • Freedom of movement
Cons
  • Might be too bulky for some people

Patagonia Refugitive

Patagonia Refugitive
As one of the first jackets to include GORE-TEX’s new GORE C-Knit technology, the Refugitive had a lot to prove when it released in 2015. Designed as a jack-of-all-trades winter jacket, this jacket delivers on the promise of a lightweight, yet protective outer layer that won’t break the bank. The Refugitive is perhaps the most flexible and versatile of all the jackets on this list, and the level of quality and robust feature set represent the cutting edge of what is available today.
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If you’re looking for a jacket to “live” in, you might just find your match in the Patagonia Refugitive. That being said, it isn’t a perfect jacket by any means. Many reviewers have noted that the storm hood is simply underwhelming, and like the Patagonia M50, it’s just a tad bit too small to be truly flexible for those looking to wear it with a helmet.

In theory, the C-Knit technology inside the Refugitive is supposed to help the breathability of the jacket by a quite a bit, but the results have been somewhat inconclusive. We found that the Refugitive created more moisture buildup than both the Arc’teryx Alpha FL and the Outdoor Research Axiom, but it still did an admirable job of keeping testers cool and dry.

The Refugitive has a rather awkward fit, especially for those who typically fall between sizes. Many have noted that the medium is a bit short in the sleeves and hem, while the large is a bit too baggy for our personal taste. It would be wise to try this jacket on before purchasing it, especially if you are looking for a snug fit. If it wasn’t for this, the Refugitive might have stolen the runner-up spot from the Axiom, because everything else about it impressed us immensely.

The Refugitive’s build quality is exceptional, and all of the seams appear to be solid and built to last. The hood seems a bit shaky, as the size just isn’t what we’d want from a product like this. The weather protection on it is lacking as well, with several reviewers even noting that during tests, snow and rain were able to penetrate the jacket through the hood due to its small size. This was the main factor that gave the Axiom the edge for the runner-up spot over the Refugitive in the end.

Even with the issues with the hood, it’s very clear that this jacket was a labor of love for Patagonia during the design phase. All of the features included in the jacket were phenomenal, and we’d even go so far as to say it might be the most useful jacket in this entire guide. Subtleties like the Cohaesive embedded cord lock system and the large, high-quality no zip pocket on the inner lining of the jacket really speak to the care put into designing the Refugitive. All told, this is a very, very good product that we can readily recommend.
Pros
  • Rugged 
  • Versatile
Cons
  • Sleeves might be too long for some people

Arc’teryx Alpha FL

Arc’teryx Alpha FL
The Arc’teryx Alpha FL finds its way to the top of our list for a very simple reason. While there are plenty of high quality hardshell GORE-TEX jackets out there, including some that are more advanced than the FL, this jacket, in particular, combines the best of everything; a conveniently middle-of-the-road price, a striking aesthetic, and functionality that is hard to rival. The FL stands for Fast and Light, and Arc’teryx mean it; this is one of the simplest, most minimalistic hard shell GORE-TEX jackets ever made.
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This is far and away one of the most breathable jackets out there at the moment. The Aplha FL really shines during high intensity activities, but it’s also a fantastic companion for lighter jaunts as well. We feel confident in saying that the Alpha FL is one of the most breathable and comfortable jackets out there at the moment. The GORE-TEX Pro membrane works extremely well here, despite the fact that this jacket doesn’t have any pit zips or additional ventilation to speak of. What’s interesting is that sometimes added ventilation actually works against you by lowering the relative humidity inside the jacket, reducing its ability to breath properly. We found that without the vents, the Alpha FL was able to breathe as it was intended to, and users were kept dry and comfortable the entire time as a result.

Originally, the jacket actually featured GORE-TEX Active technology, but in 2015 it was swapped out in favor of the GORE-TEX Pro 3 layer membrane used in other top quality products in the last few years, including many of those in this guide. The difference with the Alpha FL, though, is that few jackets have included the 3 layer GORE-TEX Pro material and still come out feeling as light, mobile and breathable as this jacket does. It really is a testament to Arc’teryx’s engineering team that something like this is even possible to begin with. As the race for lighter and more packable materials increases, brands should be taking note of how Arc’teryx is evolving to match this new demand, because they’re doing it better than just about everyone else.

The Alpha FL is shaped by Arc’teryx’s Trim Fit design, giving it the perfect fit for those looking to do something requiring lots of motion, such as climbing or skiing. The hem is low enough to make snow getting into the jacket from below practically a non-issue, and the sleeves have a bit of extra length packed onto them so that your arms are covered adequately, even when raising or extending them. The 40 denier fabric used is a bit loud and crinkly, but that is to be somewhat expected with GORE-TEX products. All in all, this product offers a fantastic fit that won’t let you down.

Over the last few years, this jacket has worked its way up to the top of many lists, not just our own, and has made a name for itself in the larger outdoors community. Arc’teryx have always been known for their quality materials and construction hardiness, but the Alpha FL really surprised and delighted.

All of this being said, this jacket isn’t a be-all-end-all solution to your outdoors needs; if you’re needing something for prolonged, multi-day hikes through very harsh conditions, this jacket might not hold up for you in the end. The good news is, Arc’teryx have you covered. The Alpha SV variant of this jacket keeps the incredible mobility while adding tons of functionality and durability in the process. You’ll end up paying quite a bit more, but that’s a relatively small price to pay for those that really need it.
Pros
  • Hood large enough to fit a helmet
  • Comfortable design
Cons
  • A bit pricier model

Arc’Teryx Theta SVX

Arc’Teryx Theta SVX
The Theta SVX also performs especially well for skiing, where the lower hemline gives it an edge against the similarly featured Arc’Teryx Beta AR. One thing that is important to note, however, is that the bulk of this jacket means reduced flexibility and mobility in general compared to other jackets in this guide. This, coupled with the price, means that potential buyers should be sure they know what they are getting into before purchasing. For most users looking for a jacket for light skiing, resort use, or even backpacking, this jacket might not serve you all that well, considering the price and the other, more appropriate products out there today (including several in this guide).
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This jacket performed surprisingly well in the breathability department, especially considering how heavy duty the material is. Testers found that the jacket was highly versatile, and includes additional pit vents for situations when you need a bit of help. The GORE-TEX Pro membrane shines here yet again, proving itself over and over to be extremely breathable.

The Theta SVX also performs especially well for skiing, where the lower hemline gives it an edge against the similarly featured Arc’Teryx Beta AR. One thing that is important to note, however, is that the bulk of this jacket means reduced flexibility and mobility in general compared to other jackets in this guide. This, coupled with the price, means that potential buyers should be sure they know what they are getting into before purchasing. For most users looking for a jacket for light skiing, resort use, or even backpacking, this jacket might not serve you all that well, considering the price and the other, more appropriate products out there today (including several in this guide).

The Arc’Teryx Theta SVX is, without a doubt, the most durable product in this entire guide. This is a jacket meant for those venturing into very harsh weather and conditions, and features several perks to accompany this specialization. That being said, these additions come with a price, and for many readers, this might end up being overkill to one extent or another. Combine a GORE-TEX Pro membrane with a bevy of professional features and subtle details, and you’re left with a jacket that can stand up to just about anything that’s thrown in its way.

If you’re looking for something to stand up to even the most brutal of elements day after day, Arc’teryx actually refers to this jacket as a “storm shelter”, and they couldn’t be more right. Most reviewers have noted that there simply doesn’t seem to be a more durable hardshell jacket out there at the moment, and Arc’teryx has a proven track record of developing products that push the limits of what is possible with current wind and waterproofing technologies. The fabric on the Theta SVX is the hardiest of any jacket in this guide, and while that does make for a slightly heavier build, those that need this kind of protection are most likely willing to accept that tradeoff.
Pros
  • Weather resistant
  • Highly durable
Cons
  • Articulation might be lessened for some activities

The North Face Summit L5

The North Face Summit L5
The Summit L5 is unlike just about any other jacket in this guide. It might even be the most impressive waterproofing technology out there at the moment; utilizing the new FuseForm tech to make the seams of the jacket all but impenetrable by water and wind. The jacket features a beautiful, monochromatic shades-of-grey look that is also completely unique to this design. The style might not be for everyone, but we count it amongst our favorite designs in the last few years.
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The North Face’s offering features GORE-TEX 3L membrane material, alongside the company’s own FuseForm technology, resulting in seams so minimal, they almost seem to not even be present at first glance. This is truly novel technology, but the jury is still out as to how much of a difference this really makes in practice.

We found that the Summit L5 was quite breathable in tests, but that it couldn’t stand up to rivals like the Arc’teryx Alpha FL. The jacket includes some pit zips, which helped out here in a cinch, and none of this is to say the jacket wasn’t breathable at all. In fact, we found it to be rather impressive how breathable it ended up being, relative to the insane amount of waterproofing that went into making the L5 what it is.

This jacket fits extremely well and true to size, and the fabric has a unique feel to it thanks to the minimalized seams. Some testers have noted that the sleeves are a bit long on all sizes, but we’ve found them to be pretty normal.

The Summit L5 features heavy-duty, high-quality fabrics with a highly unique feel thanks to the FuseForm tech in use throughout all of the seams. We were genuinely impressed with the build quality as a whole, and we can see this jacket staying functional for quite a long time.

The North Face has always been pretty good about the details in their products, and the Summit series represent the highest end products the company makes. in the ball park of around $600, this jacket might come in a bit higher in the price range than many readers might be interested in, like the Arc’Teryx Theta SVX above. Still, for those who are looking for something with serious style (and serious protection to back it up), the Summit L5 might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Pros
  • Hood large enough for a helmet
Cons
  • Expensive

Criteria For Evaluation

Look for a Gore-Tex Jacket with these features:

  • Light & Mobile
  • Snug Fit
  • Not Loud or Crinkly
  • High Durability
  • Breathable
  • Wind-resistant
  • Coated Zippers
  • Seam Taping
  • Smart & Snug Hood Design
  • Plenty of Vents
  • Pockets

Wind & Waterproof Jackets

Ever since GORE-TEX was first invented in 1969 by way of a fortunate accident, the outdoor world has never quite been the same. The material brought with it substantial changes to enthusiasts expectations of what a piece of clothing could achieve as far as weatherproofing goes. Today, GORE-TEX works by sandwiching an ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane in between other types of fabrics, creating a seal that blocks out rain and wind from reaching the innards of the shell, thus the name hardshell jacket. These jackets excel at keeping our bodies completely dry during even the most precarious weather, and they do so by utilizing a number of different fabric technologies, stitching styles, and layering systems.

GORE-TEX jackets have multiple different permutations, from a 3-layer system where the membrane is bonded to fabric on both sides, to a 2-layer one where one side is lined, sometimes with insulation and sometimes not. Depending on how the fabric is set up, certain jackets might be ideal for a specific type of activity. By extension, certain technologies might be best suited for a particular use as well. Let’s further break down hardshell jackets by the common technologies used by major manufacturers.

Types of Hardshell Materials

GORE-TEX

Today, GORE-TEX is still the leading technology used in most hard and softshell jackets. While a handful of competitors exist today, none of them have been able to establish the brand awareness and consistency that GORE-TEX has long enjoyed. The material is in use by a variety of popular brands, including Arc’teryx, The North Face, Outdoor Research, Montane, and more.

There are three main types of GORE-TEX fabric; GORE-TEX, GORE-TEX Active and GORE-TEX Pro.

GORE-TEX: The original GORE-TEX fabric is a versatile, all-around wind and waterproof material that is well-suited for a variety of tasks, from hiking to everyday town use. The material often comes in both 2 and 3 layer designs, depending on the nature of the jacket it is being used in. There’s also an offshoot of the material in production today, called GORE-TEX PacLite. PacLite features a 2 layer design that is extremely packable and breathable, making it very ideal for situations where every bit of weight counts, like cycling and running. It is also a very appealing option for travelers looking for an easy-to-travel with jacket.

GORE-TEX Active: Like the name suggests, this material utilizes a lightweight design to create a durable jacket that performs well during demanding tasks, like cross-country skiing and mountain climbing. GORE-TEX Active features enhanced breathability and a 3 layer system for the material itself, like the GORE-TEX Pro material listed below. The key difference between the two lies in the fact that GORE-TEX Active is usually used in lighter, more stretchable jackets than the Pro variant is used for.

GORE-TEX Pro: The “Pro” variant of GORE-TEX is designed from the ground up for use in some of the harshest places on the planet, for extended periods of time. This material uses a 3 layer system like the GORE-TEX Active uses, but also makes use of extremely rugged materials like 70 denier nylon in order to achieve such impressive protection against the elements. If you’re wanting a material for a multi-day hike, a treacherous climb, or just a particularly frigid destination, a GORE-TEX Pro jacket won’t steer you wrong.

Other Technologies

In recent years, many companies have been taking advantage of the fact that GORE-TEX’s original patent is now expired by creating competing products that attempt to improve on the formula by creating an even more wind and waterproof material with even better breathability. Most of these have proven to have mixed results, with the exception of a few standouts like the eVent 3 Layer technology used in the Rab Latok Alpine to great success. There’s also the extremely impressive Polartec Neoshell technology, whose breathability is second to none. (Check out the Westcomb Shift LT for more on this material) These cases are very subjective, however, and we’ve found that despite all of the competing marketing information surrounding each brand, it is extremely difficult to say one technology has a real leg up on any of the others.

Types of Hardshells

There are two main types of hardshell jackets included within this guide. The first type of jacket is the General Purpose jacket, which is a workhorse that is usually made of heavier, more durable construction than the second type of jacket; the Light & Mobile. It’s no secret that the trend in hardshells is trimming product weight without sacrificing warmth and protection from the elements, which has really led to the birth and subsequent proliferation of the Light & Mobile jacket.

General Purpose

General Purpose jackets are usually made with heavier fabrics and materials, usually utilizing a 3 layer GORE-TEX membrane or other equivalent technology. The majority of the jackets in this review still fall under this category. These (usually) tend to have more features and utilities than their lighter counterparts, such as additional pockets and more robust, weatherproof zippers. Jackets such as the Montane Alpine Endurance and the Arc’Teryx Theta SVX are two examples of what this looks like in practice. Compare these jackets to the Westcomb Shift LT or the Outdoor Research Axiom, and you’ll quickly pick up on the difference between the two.

Light & Mobile

Light & Mobile jackets are the product of a race to the bottom of the scale, where some of the top outdoor gear companies in the world compete with each other year after year to create the lightest, best-performing jacket possible. Our top pick this year was a Light & Mobile jacket, proving definitively that the category could compete with its larger, more beefy brethren. At the end of the day, these two types of jackets serve very different purposes, and your individual needs should be taken into account when you are trying to decide what will be right for you.

Choosing The Right Jacket

There are a number of factors to consider before you jump to making your first hardshell purchase, but far and away the most important one is the intended usage for the jacket. Are you going to be venturing into the deep wilderness in an area rife with extreme conditions, or are you going to be walking your dog every morning in the rain in Seattle? Do you need something more mobile to fit your active or on-the-go lifestyle, or is the heavier, more durable approach for you? Do you enjoy upgrading and renewing gear every few years, or do you like to pick one thing and stick with it? Depending on your answer to these questions, you might want to consider a particular style of jacket in order to maximize its effectiveness for your needs. You might also find that you don’t even need a hardshell jacket at all, and that something like a softshell rain jacket would be better for you. So, to break things down further, think about these three factors when considering your hardshell purchase:

Primary Weather Usage

It is crucial to understand what sort of weather you’ll be putting the jacket through on a regular basis. Do you live in the rain-soaked, fog washed Pacific Northwest? If so, you’ll likely want a jacket with a powerful rainproof design in order to maximize your ability to keep dry, but if you’re in a dryer climate like the mountains of Utah or Colorado, having the latest in rain-resistant materials probably won’t do you a lot of good. Opting for something with more insulation will usually be the better option for you if you live in a place like this.

Diversity of Activities

Do you do a little bit of everything? Could your Saturday morning be just as easily spent ice climbing as it could be spent hiking and camping? If so, you might want to consider a more generalized jacket that features flexible material, such as GORE-TEX Active. If, however, you are looking for something, say, only for ice climbing, it might be best to choose a specialized type specifically engineered for that, such as the Rab Latok Alpine.

Price Range

Everyone has a budget, and in the world of hardshell jackets, there’s something for just about any price point. Like with many things in life, you tend to get what you pay for with hardshells, and they are certainly not all made equally. The more expensive a jacket is, the more likely it is to feature advanced insulation, better wind and waterproofing, and more pockets and safety features as well.

Waterproofing a Gore-Tex Jacket will eventually be required because despite the inner layer being a breathable waterproof membrane, the outer layer (shell) of the jacket will lose its waterproofing, soak up water and stay wet, blocking the effect of the Gore Tex. Dirt, grease and muck will also hamper a coat’s breathability.

How to Waterproof a Gore-Tex Jacket

Waterproofing a Gore-Tex Jacket will eventually be required because despite the inner layer being a breathable waterproof membrane, the outer layer (shell) of the jacket will lose its waterproofing, soak up water and stay wet, blocking the effect of the Gore Tex. Dirt, grease and muck will also hamper a coat’s breathability.

Re-proofing is quick and easy for all waterproof breathable jackets using a combination of washing and technical re-proofing products such as those made by Nikwax, Grangers or Toko.

Step 1:
howtowashagoretexjacket3Wash the garment using a soap-based wash such as Nikwax Tech Wash, or you can also use pure soap flakes if you can find them in the shops.

A soap-based cleaner will remove dirt from the shell and Gore-Tex membrane. Do NOT use detergents, washing powder or fabric softener because these will block the pores in your Gore-Tex membrane and affect the breathability.

You can either hand-wash (which I do) or machine-wash your waterproof jacket, but if you choose to machine wash you must remove all trace of washing powder and fabric softener from the machine before hand, i.e. clean out the drawer and give the drum a quick rinse spin. Bear in mind that if you are using soap flakes, these can clog some washing-machine filters, so keep an eye on your machine if you do it often. There’s a more in-depth guide to washing Gore-Tex here.

You can rub neat Tech Wash or soap into any areas with stubborn stains before washing. You can even use a soft nailbrush or old toothbrush, but be careful not to damage the shell material.

You’ll need about 100-150ml of Tech Wash per item, depending on how hard your water is.

Step 2:

Rinse the garment thoroughly in clean water or do an extra rinse-cycle in the washing machine.

Step 3a – if the jacket is worn next to the skin or has a wicking layer:

You don’t need to wait for the jacket to dry out from washing…

Lay the jacket out flat and spray the entire outer shell with Nikwax Spray-on TX Direct (or similar).

Make sure you cover all external surfaces of the jacket and leave the TX Direct to soak in for a couple of minutes.

Mop up any excess using a piece of kitchen towel – you don’t want pools of it to form.

Continue to step 4…

howtowashagoretexjacket4

Step 3b – if the jacket goes over non-wicking or multiple layers:

You don’t need to wait for the jacket to dry out from washing…

Repeat the washing process (hand or machine) but use 100ml of Nikwax TX-Direct  (or similar) instead of Tech Wash.

Again, make sure that there is no trace of detergent, washing powder or fabric softener in your machine before hand.

Continue to step 4…

 

 

Step 4:

Either air-dry or tumble-dry the jacket, depending on what it says on its care label.

howtowashagoretexjacket2Step 5:
Wear your jacket in the rain and marvel as water runs off it like it was brand-new again.

You should notice two things – the surface treatment causing water to bead and not ‘wet out’ the fabric. And also an improvement in breathability – usually best understood by you feeling less clammy.

Note: some people report better results if you ‘heat activate’ the new waterproofing. Nikwax says you don’t need to do this – it’s only necessary for fluorocarbon DWR treatments.

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