Best Hardshell Jackets
If you want a premium jacket that will protect you from the unpredictability of Mother Nature, then a hardshell is a terrific choice to go with. While they are primarily designed to keep you protected from the rain, they also tend to be breathable and windproof. However, if you are on a tight budget then they can prove problematic for you. Be ready to spend a good chunk of money if you want a hardshell jacket. But, know that they are worth every penny of your investment.
It tends to be true, that often products which cost a bit more have the performance and capabilities to back up the price tag. Although, sometimes there are some jackets that aren’t as mainstream as some of the better known brands, but will surprise you with the kind of protection they provide under less than friendly weather conditions. The models that we came up with for our list all come from brands which are known for their reliability. There’s nothing worse than shelling out some money for a product that you expect to work, to then have it fail on you when you need it most.
- Beta AR
- Great wind blocking properties
- Patagonia Pluma
- Anatomical nonrestrictive fit
- Outdoor Research Axiom
- Articulated elbows allow freer motion
10 Best Hardshell Jackets
Arc'teryx Beta AR
In both a packable and lightweight form, this jacket provides durable storm protection and a reduction of overlapping and bulkiness. For proper waterproof and breathable properties, Gore-Tex technology has been implemented to deliver the highest performance possible.
If need be, you can easily wear a helmet with the hood on as it is helmet compatible. In addition, you can quickly adjust the hood and it has a separate collar for further draft protection.
There are a few hand pockets included and they are very deep, accommodating for essential items. However, the inner pocket is not quite as large.
A plethora of color options are available including midnight hawk, Riptide, cardinal, anvil gray and twinleaf. Size-wise, the selection is available from extra-small to xx-large.
Additional Design Features
This jacket includes pit zippers to enhance the ventilation and has a perfect fit (not too short or long) with other apparel.
While it may not necessarily have loads of features to discuss, you would be hard pressed to find any major issues with this jacket. It is as perfect as you possibly could get.
- There are loads of color options to choose from
- The hood is compatible with a helmet, easily fitting over
- It does a superb job of blocking the wind
- Can be a little too baggy around the arms, creating excess noise
With a Gore-Tex Pro outer shell, a micro grid liner that keeps you comfortable and absorbs sweat, and pit zips, this is a great option to keep you warm while not weighing you down. The 40-denier face fabric, and a 15-denier backer help to keep the Pluma thin while not sacrificing warmth.
There is a highly adjustable helmet-compatible hood.
There are three large exterior pockets and a zippered interior chest pocket.
Again, there are several color options to glance through including navy, black, red, and fluid green.
If you're looking to stay warm, but not weigh yourself down, the Pluma is an excellent option. With plenty of pockets, a great hood, and moisture-wicking inner fabric, this jacket hits all the marks.
- WaterTight zippers for proper ventilation
- The Gore-Tex fabric is both rugged and highly breathable
- Moistuer-wicking inner layer
- Outwer shell could be more abrassive resistant
Outdoor Research Axiom
No matter how hard you work or what you put this through, it will remain breathable and waterproof every single step of the way. This is thanks, in large part, to its Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric. To add extra comfort, the inner backer fabric is sewn directly into the membrane.
Without potentially shielding your vision or mobility, the side and back of the hood can tailor to anyone’s fit. In addition, it is helmet-compatible and it will protect you from precipitation.
For multiple options, there are two hand pockets and a zip-chest pocket. Conveniently, the hand pockets are positioned in a way that will not interrupt a climbing harness. In addition, the left-hand pocket can also be used as a stuff sack.
Not too many color options to speak of, but you can choose either black hydro, glacier, or typhoon and hot sauce. For sizes, you can choose from extra-small to extra-large.
Additional Design Features
For extra protection, there is a chin guard to prevent sensitive skin from rubbing on the fabric. Besides this, an interior storm flap will add enhanced protection to the wind.
Simply put, there is way too much quality here to ignore. Not only is it beyond impressively designed, but it is also extremely practical. It does not get much better than this.
The articulated elbows give everyone a proper fit
Directly sewn in the membrane is the inner backer fabric
An included interior storm flap adds enhanced protection
Can be a snug fit, may want to go up a size
To keep you safe from the environments of the outside world, patented thermal-reflective technology has been used. This fabric will not only provide a comfortable fit, but also full protection against rain and a breathable experience.
The storm hood can be adjusted to suit your liking, but also removed if you do not see the need for it.
Good luck finding a use for all the pockets present on this Alpine Jacket. There is an interior security pocket, zippered chest pocket, hand pockets, a media and goggles pocket, and a ski pass pocket.
You can choose from black, groovy pink, and red color options, while between extra-small and extra-large for size options.
Additional Design Features
When walking in the snow, the snap-back powder skirt will keep any from penetrating the jacket. Thus, giving you peace of mind in snowstorms.
This is an absolutely superb jacket for women who love to go on crazy adventures. While it may not be that great as an everyday jacket and you may not find a need for all the pockets, it succeeds in its designed purpose.
The storm hood is not only adjustable but removable
Without being too bulky, the fit is ideal for most women
Its waterproof nature and breathability are both world beaters
The fit is narrow, almost a little too narrow for some
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
It is built using Gore-Tex Pro triple-layer fabric. What this provides is a packable, lightweight, durable, waterproof and breathable membrane. To reduce the overall weight and bulkiness, there is also micro-seam allowance and Tiny Gore seam tape implemented.
The hood has a laminated brim; you can also wear a helmet with it on and it will still feel like a natural fit.
Unfortunately, there is only a chest pocket included. While it does have a water-resistant zipper and is laminated, additional pockets would have been nice.
Each man should be able to find a color and size for them with choices of bamboo, magma, carbon copy, and lithium (for colors), and extra-small to extra-large (for sizes).
Additional Design Features
The two-piece hem drawcord is integrated in a way that allows them to prevent the jacket from slipping out underneath a harness. Also, the cuff adjusters will not accidentally get caught or rip off.
It is up to you if the lack of pockets plays a major role because if it does not, the quality and construction more than speak for themselves. Making this worth it for the price alone.
It includes a stuff sack with a webbing loop to clip onto a harness
The micro-seam allowance reduces the overall bulkiness
Hem drawcords perfectly accommodate for wearing a harness
There are no pockets for your hands and only one altogether
The North Face Summit L5 FuseForm GTX
The Summit L5 is one of the new hard-shells that form the outer layer (L5) that the North Face has integrated in the Summit Series. It is by far the most expensive of the collection but with a standard 3-layer Gore-Tex membrane with a 90D Corder face fabric, this is a ridiculously heavy jacket that should be on top of your wish list for its durability and warmth.
The hood is easily adjustable and designed to rotate with your head. It is also well-matched with helmets.
The jacket has two external hand warmer pockets that sit under the waste belt. It also has two cross-over chest pockets, one with mesh partition inside for storing a phone.
Range from small to extra-large, with colors including black, and blue fuse.
Additional Design Features
Pretty standard features here, with external hand warmer pockets, chest pockets, storage for your phone, and drawstring cards at the bottom of the jacket.
If not for the intense competition, this could have been higher on the list. The extreme warmth and durability of the jacket definitely outweigh it's expense and should be high on your list when looking for a new jacket.
- Extremely durable fabric
- Superior weather protection
- Protective hood
Mountain Hardwear Torsun
No doubt about it, this is made for serious outdoor enthusiasts. The integrated Dry.Q Elite technology is what makes this jacket impressive, as it has triple-layer construction that will keep you dry under the most intense of circumstances. But, it does so without restricting your mobility or comfort.
Yes, the hood is indeed fitted for a helmet but also features a wire brim that allows it to keep its shape.
It comes equipped with two pack and harness compatible hand warmer pockets. However, they are a little too close to the chest; which can be unflattering for some.
The size options are very limited, with the options for extra-small and large available, and the colors not much better with black or graphite and black rose.
Additional Design Features
Without your mobility being compromised, the cuffs are adjusted to protect the top of your hand. Also, the center zipper seals out all moisture.
Besides the seller options, the only real gripe here is the pocket placement. If you can see past this, everything else is top-notch quality and worth an investment.
Dry.Q Elite technology does a terrific job of preventing clamminess
The pockets are harness compatible and will hold key valuables
Overall, does a super job of keeping you dry
The pockets need to be lower as they can be unflattering where they are
Arc'teryx Alpha SV
The Gore-Tex fabric is engineered to protect you from water, snow and other outdoor precipitation. The extra layer of fabric also does a marvelous job of resisting abrasions. Finally, the 3D patterning provides you excess room for underneath layers.
Besides the jacket, the hood itself is designed to protect you from cold and wet weather. In addition, you can wear it with a helmet and it will not block your vision.
There is no doubt that the pockets are there, with two chest pockets, two internal pockets and a sleeve pocket, but they are oddly placed. Depending on your preference, they may or may not be practical.
A good amount of colors are open including mantis green, oxblood, blue, and magma. Size-wise, you can pick between extra-small to extra-large.
Additional Design Features
Really not much to speak of here besides the addition of WaterTight zippers that permit rapid ventilation.
This is not an everyday jacket, but it is one that is perfect for outdoor adventures. Again, the pockets come up as an issue but just as before, weigh them yourself as they can be user-preference.
Zippers are WaterTight to allow for proper ventilation
The storm hood will rotate without blocking your vision and is designed to withstand against terrible weather
There are many color options to select from
While there are plenty of pockets, they could have been placed in a more practical arrangement
Black Diamond Helio
One of Black Diamond’s lightest jackets on the market is also one of their most effective. The Gore-Tex technology itself provides weather-resistance, but the soft construction plays a lending hand in making it as comfortable as possible.
This is one of the few issues present as the hood can be adjusted, but it does not fit adequately over a helmet. You may find it to be an unnatural fit.
Right across from one another are extra-large chest pockets. They should be able to fit any essential items that you have (normal pocket accessories).
Men, you have the option from small all the way to extra-large. For colors, cactus, captain, and octane.
Additional Design Features
It features full-length pit zips and custom-molded cuff tabs. On top of this, it is crafted to be compatible with a harness.
At this point, it seems like one or two issue will make the difference. As with the entries that have preceded it, the quality is impeccable and will hold up tremendously for you. It really all comes down to the issue of wearing a helmet with the hood up.
To add to your range of motion, the underarms have been gusseted
It is extremely light-weight, adding to its comfortability
It is fully-compatible with a harness
The hood does not fit that great over a helmet
Outdoor Research Realm
It is constructed from an AscentShell stretch fabric, which gives it its waterproof and breathable capabilities. Past this, it is fully-seamed and completely windproof. Thus, it is a total package that will protect you from the wildest mood swings from Mother Nature. But, without wearing a big helmet, there is a gap below your neck (even with it zipped up all the way) that can let rain get in.
A fully-adjustable and wire-brimmed hood makes a terrific addition to the base of the jacket. Plus, you can easily pull it over a helmet.
Not only is there an internal pocket but it doubles as a stuff sack. In addition, there is a pocket located on the chest.
Three color options can be selected from (Tahoe, lemongrass and black) and any size from small to xx-large.
Additional Design Features
Conveniently, there is an internal storm flap located on the front that will block the wind. To top this, there is a carabiner loop to allow the jacket to directly attach to your harness.
The gap below the neck does not prevent this from being amazing, but it can be a deciding factor. In massive rainstorms, this could prove to be problematic. But, everything else is fantastic.
The hood is fully-adjustable
Includes a carabiner loop for a harness
Provides great breathability and protection against the wind
The gap below the neck, without wearing a big helmet, can allow rain in
The Criteria We Used to Find the Best Hardshell Jackets
How Well They Are Constructed and Designed
It goes without saying that jackets, by themselves, need proper construction and technology to achieve their designed purpose. However, it is enhanced with hardshell jackets as their main purpose is protecting you from the hazardous weather outdoors. If there are blimps in the design and they are unable to achieve this level of protection, they are nothing more than an overly-expensive traditional jacket. This can’t happen, and typically will not when you see the following characteristics of the overall construction.
Hardshell jackets achieve their waterproof and windproof capabilities with the fabric and technology integrated. For example, Gore-Tex, AscentShell and Dry.Q Elite. These are just a few, but they all provide the utmost in weather-resistance. You can put your faith in them that they will deliver top-of-the-line technology. Past this, you can keep a special eye out for other features. This could include a micro-seam allowance, or specific seam tapes, that reduce the weight or gusseted underarms and articulated elbows for enhanced freedom of movement.
Also, you may want to take note of any integrations that are made to provide extra resistance against corrosions and damage. Just know, however, that a hardshell jacket is specifically designed to prevent the weather from altering your experience. If nothing else, most will accomplish that very well.
The Overall Design of the Hood
The torso on the jacket is just one section of it and you need to pay attention to the construction of the hood, as well. In times of torrential downpours, you will find it necessary to wear your hood. But, there is more to it than you might initially think. Manufacturers will use the same fabric on the hood to ensure it has all the weather-resistant properties of the torso. However, this alone will not provide you with a capable hood.
First and foremost, keep an eye out for adjustability and removability. The former is critical as you may want to adjust the way the hood fits (but doing so without restricting your vision or mobility). However, the former is not necessary but nice in the instance you want to remove the hood completely. Also, take note if the hood has a wire-brimmed as this can help provide shape and definition to it. Finally, bikers, climbers, skiers and any others who partake in dangerous activities, may want to wear a helmet with the hood on. Thus, you will often see a hood as helmet compatible. This just means that you can adequately wear a helmet with the hood up without it feeling unnatural.
The Number of Pockets and Their Practicality
No matter what product you are looking into, there will come a moment where you are exposed to a factor that is a matter of opinion. In other words, one that is strictly personal preference. While a little anti-climactic, this so happens to be pockets when assessing hardshell jackets. For some, they may be one of the most important factors to consider. Others may see them as an addition rather than mandatory. Either way, you stand, these are some of the ways to assess the pocket design.
First, analyze where the pockets are located. This could be in the interior, on the chest or near the bottom where your hands would go. Sometimes, hand pockets are just nice to place your hands inside (whether for rest or warmth). Chest pockets are great for holding key essentials and valuables, just as interior pockets are. Which ones do you think you will utilize? Once you answer this, you will know which ones to prioritize. After which, figure out if the placement will be an issue for you. As you noticed, some of the entries on this list had impractical locations.
Any Seller Options Provided for You
It is important for clothing, especially ones with specific integrations, to be designed with the utmost efficiency. However, have you ever wore a piece of clothing and not cared about the colorization? As people, it is human nature to invest in apparel that matches your style. This will vary from person to person, so it is convenient when sellers provide you with multiple color options.
As for sizes, you will not get much use from a hardshell jacket that does not fit you. This one is a no-brainer, but there will be times where a specific model will fit smaller than usual. If need be, you can always look at the seller’s size charts for extra precaution.
Any Extra Design Features
All the major design elements have been addressed, so this could be considered as a section for any other design features that catch your eye. One notable feature that came up multiple times is the way the zippers are constructed. Some being WaterTight to keep all water out, some being pit zippers for adequate ventilation and others as simple as zippers for the pockets.
Of course, there are some additional design implementations that can sway your decision one way or another. Two great examples would be an interior storm flap and powder skirt. The former further protects you against the wind, while the latter will prevent snow from entering in the jacket. Or, how about something innovative and useful as an included carabiner loop for your harness? You may even find further factors that you really are fond of, but it is important to note that none of these should solely convince you to invest in a particular model. In other words, if everything else is below-average but it has some gnarly features it should not warrant a purchase.
What is the Difference Between Hardshell and Softshell?
Though this is a guide catered towards hardshell jackets, this is a common question that always seems to come up when discussing them. What exactly is the difference between these models and a softshell jacket? First off, they are both terrific in their own rights and neither one of them are inferior to the other. But, they do have different characteristics.
The easiest way to assess this is to explain what each is generally designed to do. When it comes to hardshell jackets, they tend to be waterproof and windproof. Their primary design is to keep you safe from the rain and they utilize specific fabrics (such as Gore-Tex) and DWR to do so. Also, they usually have a hood to allow further shielding from the rain. However, softshell jackets are not 100 percent waterproof. Instead, they are water-resistant but are more breathable than hardshell versions. Softshell material behaves eerily similar to that of fleece with superior weather-resistance.
How Can You Repair a Hardshell Jacket?
The term hardshell may insinuate that the outside is indestructible and invulnerable to abrasions and damages. Unfortunately, this is not the case and during their shelf life, they can succumb to holes, scuffs, tears, and any other abrasions. If this happens to you, it does not necessarily mean you must churn out another several hundred dollars on a brand-new replacement model. Instead, you may be able to do a little DIY work to fix any damages.
For example, if you have the skills, you could try to sew the jacket back together (as carefully as possible). Once you have completed the sewing, be sure to place a seam seal over the patch. For extra security, a Gore-Tex patch is another option and you could patch it in the inside of the jacket. To prevent the hassle, also consider finding someone you know who possesses the skills to accomplish this repair.
How Do You Properly Wash a Hardshell Jacket?
Point of advice, do not be “that guy” who never washes their hardshell jacket because they do not see the need. You will later learn why it is so important, but for now, you should know how to wash them. Arcteryx, a top-brand for this type of product, and Gore (the makers of Gore-Tex, which is a popular fabric) have product care information that you can reference for nearly any hardshell jacket that you decide to invest in.
As they state, you need to first prepare the jacket for washing by releasing the tension on the drawcords and closing the main and pit zippers. Once done, place it in your washing machine with a cleaning agent, on medium heat, and at the regular cycle setting. To remove any excess soap, they also advise doing an additional rinse cycle. From there, if you notice that the jacket is no longer beading any water, you can re-apply some DWR if need be (you may need to purchase it). Finally, to activate the DWR finish (if applied), to dry it simply place it in your dryer for around 45 minutes on medium heat.
How Should the Jacket Fit?
This is not an easy question to answer because it will vary from person to person. But, you may be back and forth with the decision of wanting a tight and form fitting as opposed to a loose fitting. Both have their advantages. Possessing a loose fit will allow you to add extra layering underneath in times of extremely cold climates. On the opposite side of the spectrum, having a tight fit can be a little more comfortable for people.
Really, this is all about looking out for number one, yourself. If you know you will want excess layering, and possibly a harness, go with a jacket with a roomier fit.
Does Gore-Tex Fabric Have a Lifespan?
No, it was not a coincidence that you saw so many jackets on this list integrate Gore-Tex fabric for their hardshell. This is one of the top and premier fabrics in the world of waterproof and windproof properties. But, this begs the question, will this last forever? The funny thing is, Gore-Tex fabric does not technically wear out over time. It is built to last for a very long time, but that does not mean the jacket will keep you dry the whole time it lasts.
Here is the reality of the situation, the fabric is one part of it and the DWR is an entirely different beast. The DWR coating assists in allows water to bead directly off of the jacket. When this begins to wear down, the jacket becomes more prone to moisture and water. Even when applying spray-on repellents, they will not work quite as efficiently as the original coating. Now, there is no timetable for when this will begin to deteriorate but you play an integral role in the lifespan.
How Do You Care for a Hardshell Jacket?
Now that you understand how important the DWR finish is, you are immediately more knowledgeable in regards to this question. To ensure your hardshell jacket performs its designed purpose for as long as possible, you need to take care of the DWR finish. First and foremost, wash your jacket regular as this repellent gets contaminated from dirt and soils. Leaving them on will negatively affect the repellent.
In addition, you should not wear these types of garments near smoke. Smoke is another kryptonite to DWR finish, so do not wear it next to a fire or at a venue with lots of smokers. There is no way that you will be able to avoid all these instances, so just make sure you wash the jacket. You already know the proper way to do so, anyway.
A hardshell jacket, while expensive, is a perfect garment when you need protection against the rain and the wind. While they are not ideal everyday jackets, they serve their purpose tremendously.