The late bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn had a great line in Blues Brothers: “If the shit fits, wear it.” Never an image guy and, frankly, a tough fit for jackets, I can abide. Enter this sample Arc’teryx/Gore-Tex piece that I picked up at a press event last year in Chamonix. Made of Gore-Tex Pro throughout, it’s like nothing in the Arc’teryx line. Well, aside from its high-quality construction and anatomical cut.
Gore wanted something for the event that would showcase the company’s new Pro fabric and how, they say, it’s 20 percent more breathable than the previous iteration. So, just to test their assertion, there are no pit zips for ventilation in this jacket. And, honestly, while I’ll still use a softshell for long tours, I find myself leaving this hardshell on much more than shells I’ve had in the past. So while I can’t tell you this new Gore laminate outperforms Polartec Neoshell or eVent, I can say it outperforms the old Gore product. I guess that’s what six years of development will get you.
When it comes to hardshells, I don’t need much. Helmet-accommodating hood with draw cord? Check. Climbing-skin-eating outside pockets? Check. Minimalist cuff closures? Yup. Bomber zipper, taped seams and a draw cord in the drop hem to keep the snow out on deep days and the wind out on the lift? Check, check, check. Hunter orange with billboard-sized advertisement for Gore-Tex so my kids won’t want to be seen with me (great for powder days)? Uh huh.
+ Articulated sleeves, hood brim and long drop hem.
– Would be more versatile with pit zips.
= The inspiration to source an Arc’teryx jacket made of Gore-Tex Pro. Check out the Beta AR model.
$480 | westcomb.com
Don’t let this jacket’s soft side fool you. The softer and less crinkly Polartec Neoshell under the arms and down its side is still as waterproof as the ripstop-nylon-like fabric with the same laminate on the jacket’s body and hood. Translation? The Apoc is an alpine-inspired shell, but is plenty packable and sports the bare necessities. A three-point-cinch, helmet-compatible hood, adjustable hem, and pit zips are standard nowadays, but at a feathery 485 grams, the Apoc leaves little room, or need, for much else.
Mountain Equipment Lhotse
$500 | mountain-equipment.co.uk
Despite its British roots, the Lhotse isn’t at all high brow. It’s built for heavy daily use whenever a backpack is involved, thanks to stout, Gore-Tex Pro Shell in the jacket’s high-wear areas like the shoulders and precurved, articulated elbows. A lighter iteration trims the jacket’s body. While the two-way, left-handed front zipper feels akin to driving on the wrong side of the road, the intuitive, dual-tether hem drawcords take less getting used to than you’d think.
Scott Explor’air Women’s
$475 | scott-sports.com
Although a hardshell is less practical for sweaty applications than a softshell, the women’s Explor’air comes close to a softy thanks to an athletic—but not tight—fit and 12-plus-inch pit zips. Contoured stitching in the shoulders and an ample drop hem keep the Explor’air from feeling bunchy under pack straps. But the beauty of the Explor’air lies in the subtleties—like zipper garages on both chest pockets and low-profile cinch points on the helmet-compatible hood. Combine that with a sturdy square-ish brim, and you’ve got a practical Gore-Tex Pro Shell jacket for stormy days in the skintrack.
$399 | bergans.com
If nothing else, the Cecile jacket from Norwegian brand Bergans, looks waterproof. But there’s more than looks to this Euro-cut women’s hardshell. Dermizax-NX, a lesser-known, waterproof-breathable laminate, is advertised as thinner than Gore-Tex Pro Shell but with twice the wicking ability of traditional membranes. This, in conjunction with extra-long sleeves, and two-way, 15-inch pit zips, equals a roomy jacket that allows you to regulate your body temperature more efficiently than most comparable shells. Only downside? It takes a PhD in design (we don’t have one) to figure out the front cinches on the hood.
This story first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine.