The Best Gore-Tex Jackets Of 2018 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.
- Outdoor Research Axiom
- Built for active use
- Patagonia Refugitive
- C-Knit technology
- Arc’teryx Alpha FL
- Lightweight yet protective
8 Best Gore-Tex Jackets
Outdoor Research Axiom
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.
- Freedom of movement
- Might be too bulky for some people
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.
- Sleeves might be too long for some people
Arc’teryx Alpha FL
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.
- Hood large enough to fit a helmet
- Comfortable design
- A bit pricier model
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).
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.
- Weather resistant
- Highly durable
- Articulation might be lessened for some activities
The North Face Apex Flex GTX Jacket
We found that the Apex Flex GTX was quite breathable due to it's Pit-Zip venting, but that it might not stand up to rivals like the Arc’teryx Alpha FL. As mentioned, the jacket includes pit zips, which helped outin a cinch, and none of this is to say the jacket isn'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 Apex Flex GTX what it is.
Some more features that you may enjoy with this jacket are the covered hand pockets, which come in use during rainy hikes. Along with this, includes a chest pocket which is covered that has been reinforced for durability.
When your needing less material around your wrists, there are Velcro adjustable cuffs that you can fit to your needs, as well as a cinch-cord at the hem of the jacket for further customization.
All in all, this jacket has a lot going for it. It offers water-proofing that others lack, breath-ability, limiting air penetration to reduce wind-chill, and is made from lightweight fabrics that regulate body temperature.
The diversity of warmth, air ventilation, weather-proofing, movement, and soft, comfortable fit will keep almost any outdoors junkie feeling satisfied.
- Designed for hiking
- Wind protection
- May not be as breathable as other jackets on the market
Sherpa Lakpa Rita
The Sherpa Lakpa Rita is also helmet compatible. The hood is adjustable, so that it can be fitted to be snug and keep out rain. Along with this, seams are strategically placed away from the tops of shoulders and hips to avoid chafing under the use of a harness.
Other features include chest pockets for easy access to anything you might need. There are also large zippered pockets that are placed above most, so that they are not blocked by a harness. And when they are opened, they serve as core ventilation.
The Sherpa Lakpa Rita really is a great quality coat that offers functionality and a truly thoughtful design.
- Thoughtful design
- Harness compatible
- Helmet compatible
- No pit zips
Black Diamond Sharp End
Conveniently, this jacket includes two harness-compatible chest pockets that are specially engineered with YKK Vislon AquaGuard for protection from the elements.
At 16 oz. and made with the ultra-burly denier, this jacket is quite sturdy. Not to mention it is water-proofed with Gore-Tex Pro technology.
- Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing
- Sleek design
- Premium feel and comfort
- Hood may not fit all ski helmets
Marmot Men's Minimalist Jacket
Along with the above, there is also a chin guard. The Marmot Minimalist includes a Snap closing storm flap over they front zip closure. The nice thing about this jacket is the movement which is maintained by patented Angel-Wing Movement, so you won't feel constricted when needing to reach or move with freedom.
Of course, breath-ability is always important the zips under the arms provide ventilation to restore coolness and remove heat. Along with this, there are convenient and useful touches, such as a chest pocket that has a water-proof zipper, so your goods won't get wet.
All together, the Minimalist offers a large impact coat that will keep you feeling ventilated, able to freely move, and protected, to a degree, from the elements.
- Good movemnet and airflow
- A minimalist jacket that is durable
- Some find it sits a bit small
Criteria For Evaluation
Look for a Gore-Tex Jacket with these features:
- Light & Mobile
- Snug Fit
- Not Loud or Crinkly
- High Durability
- Coated Zippers
- Seam Taping
- Smart & Snug Hood Design
- Plenty of Vents
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
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.
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 in 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 hard shells 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 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 into 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 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.
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 hard shells, 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.
Wash 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 beforehand, 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.
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…
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…
Either air-dry or tumble-dry the jacket, depending on what it says on its care label.
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 can feel the waterproofing. Nikwax says you don’t need to do this – it’s only necessary for fluorocarbon DWR treatments.
Q: What is Gore-Tex fabric?
First introduced in 1978, Gore-Tex fabric is created by laminating the GORE-TEX membrane to high-performance textiles, which are then used by authorized garment manufacturers to make outerwear, accessories, and footwear.
Q: What is the life expectancy of Gore-Tex fabric?
It really depends on you. The Gore-Tex membrane won’t deteriorate with time, and the garments are guaranteed to be durably waterproof and breathable. Just use common sense and wear your garment for its intended use; i.e, don’t wear a lightweight cycling jacket on a backcountry camping trip. And obviously, a ski instructor who wears his or her garment every day will need to buy a new one sooner than a skier who takes his or her garment out twice a year will. If you maintain your garment properly, you can expect it to last.
Q: Will Gore-Tex keep me warm?
Yes. Gore-Tex fabric is windproof, so it blocks cold air and wind that can disturb your body heat and cause windchill. However, Gore-Tex fabric itself doesn’t have any special insulating qualities, so in really cold conditions, wearing extra layers underneath your outerwear will ensure that you stay warm and comfortable.
Q: What is the best way to wash my Gore-Tex jacket?
Be sure to read the manufacturer’s care tag first. Wash your Gore-Tex garment in the washing machine in warm (105°F/40°C) water. For the best results, use a small amount of liquid detergent. Please do not use powder detergents, fabric softener or chlorine bleach.
Q: What is DWR?
Gore-Tex garments are treated with an ultra-thin treatment known as DWR, or durable water repellent. This treatment causes water to bead up and roll off the outer layer of the jacket, instead of being absorbed. Regular wear and tear, plus exposure to dirt, detergents, campfire smoke, cooking odors and other impurities diminish the protective DWR treatment. When water no longer beads up on your Gore-Tex garment’s outer fabric, you can restore its DWR by using a topical spray-pump available at retail outdoor stores. These special treatments help maintain and restore the DWR on the outer shell fabric of the garment so that it remains water and stain repellent