Shell Jacket Showdown - Gear Reviews

According to the calendar, Spring has been here for a few weeks.  In stark contrast stepping outside today says Winter refuses to let go.  The local weather man says the upcoming weekend hold temps in the 60's and maybe even 70's, which almost makes up for the fact that we have had snow in May.  So, it may finally be time to pack away the down jackets for the season.  As the precipitation changes from snow to rain, outerwear needs to change right along with it.  A term that is all to familiar to gear heads is "waterproof - breathable" jackets, and the range available is simply staggering.  How can you keep dry and not suffocate inside a plastic baggie?  We put some of the best waterproof shells we could find through the paces and here is a list of our favorites...

Eddie Bauer First Ascent's BC-200:  This shell is an amazing ultralight rain shell.  Weighing in at a minuscule 11 ounces and providing bomber rain protection, you can stuff this in your pack and be ready for Mother Nature's worst.  Fully welded seams and water proof zippers mean once you are zipped up inside, you WILL stay dry.  Based on testing it breathes pretty well.  The hood has a slight bill integrated into it, providing better than normal vision with the hood up, and forces the water drips away from your face.  Large zippered hand pockets and a zippered chest pocket keep gear at hand and easily accessible.  The cuffs have a velcro closure to cinch them tight to keep water from sneaking in that direction, a must when paddling for shore in a torrential down-pour...  What really makes this a Team Paddle Junkie favorite is the price.  At $200, it is clearly one of the best values in the category.

Bergans of Norway's Dynamic Neo Jacket:  Want to go play in a hurricane, or brave a MN spring sleet/snow/slush storm?  This jacket is the ticket.  Not as light as most, 1lb 10oz, but it will keep even the gnarliest storms at bay.  Incredibly impressive 4-way stretch fabric with an integrated Dermizax NX membrane make this one of the most comfortable jackets we tested.  Range of motion is not impeded at all.  Climbers will take note of all the mountain friendly features; helmet compatible hood, well placed side pockets and a long enough fit to keep your backside dry when spread out on a rock face.  at $575 (online) it's not cheap, but you get a jacket that can easily be 3 full seasons and maybe even squeeze a 4th out of it, unless you live here.  

Hi-Tec's Pour Off Jacket:  This jacket (and matching pants) are the bargain of the group.  If you need rain-gear for those "in case of emergency - break glass" kind of moments, look no further.  Pretty light, and a soft feel make it easy wearing.  breathable enough that you don't get soaked from sweat inside trying to avoid the water outside.  Paired with the pants, you can stay bone dry in those out-of-nowhere rain storms.  One of my favorite features is that he jacket packs up small and stores away in it's own pocket.  I keep one of these in the side pocket of my pack "just in case".  When I say that it's a bargain, I mean it.  You can get into the Jacket ($69.99) and the Pants ($59.99) for less than you can get any of the other jackets we tested alone.  Hi-Tec, putting real rain gear in the hands of anyone.

Mammut's Lanin Jacket: I spent 5 days in New Orleans wearing this jacket everywhere.  Jazz Fest in the mud and drizzle dancing my butt off, to wandering the French Quarter through sheets of rain so thick you couldn't see 20 feet in front of you.  I was the only guy in the group not soaked to the bone.  I am blown away by how soft this jacket feels.  Forget that hefty bag crunch and the crinkle every time you move.  It comes with all the features you would expect from a top-flight shell.  Weighing just 15.3 ounces it is one of the lighter jackets in the mix.  Welded seams, a quality hood, easily accessible pockets and velcro cuffs.

What I love about this jacket is the fit, slightly more athletic, and the trail to sidewalk styling.  Of all the jackets in the group, I am most likely to grab this one on the way out the door on a rainy Tuesday morning.  Hunting the Mammut site, it looks like this jacket is currently unavailable - may have been replaced by the Segnas Jacket recently.  The Lanin is on closeout all over the web for about $250, originally $400.

Helly Hansen's Odin Guiding Light Jacket:  This jacket is the Cadillac of waterproof/breathable shells in my book.  If you are looking for the most trail capable, packable, bomber shell you can get your hands on, look no further.  Only 410 grams, slick inside so it doesn't stick to you base layers, and unparalleled water resistance.  One of my tests was to wear the jacket with a loaded pack on and hands-down this jacket was the best performer.  I never once had to jump and yank on this jacket to get it straight.  It can take a pounding from both the rain and the trail and come out looking brand new.  5 hours of pouring rain, one quick shake and it was dry again.  Retailing for $460, this is one of the more expensive jackets we tested, but the way it performs and holds up to a beating, you won't be in the market for a new one for a very long time.  Two giant thumbs up for the Odin!

Marmot's Vapor Trail Hoody:   Rounding out the group is the Vapor Trail Hoody.  There are times when bomber water protection is not necessarily the #1 factor in outwear selection. Hitting the trail in cooler conditions? This super stretchy soft-shell will keep the wind and cold out, no problem.  Forget what you know about soft shells, because the Vapor Trail changed everything in my eyes.  They don't have to be a glorified sweatshirt. It does a pretty good job on the rain too, as long as you don't expect it to keep you dry for hours.  It will saturate after a period of time.

If you are budget minded and are looking for a great all-around spring/fall jacket, that's trail ready but will be comfortable at the kid's ball game, here's my favorite. You can steal this thing for only $150 too...  not too shabby.

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