The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023

Arc'teryx Beta AR Hardshell Jacket

Passing into the realm of the up-there requires not only a mindset change, but also a good change of clothing. Waterproof, burly, and breathable; hardshell jackets provide it all for your next foray into mountaineering, backcountry skiing, alpine climbing, or just downright miserable weather. 

After a season spent above treeline, we winnowed our closet down to the most capable hardshell jackets on the market in 2023. Included are shells for every alpine mission, from lightweight options for smash-and-grab summit bids to flexible hardshells for ski-bound romps, to burly alpine armor that will see you through to the other side of any mountain squall.

During testing, we sought out high-mountain terrain that would sufficiently test the weatherproofing, durability, and livability of these jackets. We paid special mind to long-term performance over 24-hour periods, and our testing included input from alpine enthusiasts of every stripe, from current American Mountain Guides Association-certified guides to weekend warriors.

Below we’ve brought together the best hardshell jackets that made the grade during our travels. If you’re new to the world of hardshells, be sure to consult our comprehensive buyer’s guide and FAQ section for a deep dive into what makes a hardshell so hard, as well as our comparison chart to weigh jackets against one another.

The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023

Best Overall Hardshell Jacket

Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <9
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming pockets
  • Weight 1 lb.
  • Best for General mountaineering, ski-touring, alpine rock
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Versatile feature set
  • Unique raised collar for weather protection
  • Built with Most Rugged GORE-TEX tech


  • Most Rugged version of GORE-TEX Pro has lower breathability
  • No two-way front zipper

One metric was truly the deciding factor for landing the Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket ($600) at the top of the heap, and it’s all in the name. All Round. In a pile of hyper-specialized hardshells, versatility is the name of the game, and the Beta AR balances the scales with ease.

The GORE-TEX Pro variant used in this hardshell is made with Most Rugged tech, a textile that was a collaboration between the teams at Arc’teryx and GORE, and one that touts extreme durability. A 40D face fabric used across the body of the jacket creates a lightweight shell, and is balanced against panels of 80D fabric used in areas of high wear. The perfect combo, in our tester’s opinion.

One of our favorite features of the Beta AR was the tall protective collar, a 2.5” tall barrier that allows you the choice of keeping the hood down during gusty conditions. We loved having the choice of a middle-ground option when weather started to kick up, and the microsuede lining on the interior of the collar makes for a comfortable cockpit.

To test the mettle of the Beta AR, we ski toured in Pacific Northwest storm cycles, dry-tooled at dripping crags, and explored the glaciers of the North Cascades National Park, and throughout it all the Beta came out smiling.

While many strictly alpine-focused shells will sacrifice handwarmer pockets in lieu of more function-driven chest pockets, this hardshell opts instead to retain the hand pockets, and adds an additional pocket on the interior of the jacket for extra storage. Not every trip is going to be full-tilt, and having the ability to warm your hands certainly kept us out longer during testing. 

Though both the Beta AR and Alpha SV jackets reside under the regular fit label from Arc’teryx, we found the Beta to better represent the title, while the later jacket was a bit roomier. Perfect for the mountaineer, alpine climber, or ice-aficionado who wants a jacket that’ll do it all, the Arc’teryx Beta AR hits the spot.

Best Budget Hardshell Jacket

Rab Namche GORE-TEX Jacket


  • Material construction 75D 3L GORE-TEX
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 17,000
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming
  • Weight 15.3 oz.
  • Best for General mountaineering, alpine rock climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Budget pricing
  • High-end waterproofing
  • Cozy fleece-lined collar


  • Breathability is lacking compared to higher-end membranes
  • Hood isn't quite helmet-compatible

Let’s be clear: Hardshell jackets aren’t cheap. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the big bucks to get your hands on some high-quality protection. The Rab Namche GORE-TEX Jacket ($350) slides in hundreds of dollars below many of the other jackets on our list, and in our testing held up to much of the same abuse.

Crafted from the tried and true 3L GORE-TEX membrane, this jacket puts up the same impressive waterproofing numbers as other GORE membrane shells, but suffers a bit when it comes to breathability at a rated 17,000 g/m². This doesn’t mean it was a slouch in our testing, just that it’ll be one of the first to tap when it comes to high-humidity conditions and hard treks.

The cut is a general all-around style, meaning there’s space beneath for a light fleece, but not much else. The sleeves are articulated for easy overhead reaches or swings, and the underarm vents help make up the difference when really chugging along.

In the field, we took the Namche everywhere we went in our other hardshells — working our way up snowfields and skintracks, and found that this jacket can hang tough. The 75D exterior is a strong weave, and we’ve got confidence that it’ll stand up to seasons of abuse. We were also impressed by the number of features the Namche retains at its price, including a cinch hem, pit zips, wire-stiffened hood brim, and expansive chest pockets.

One of our biggest laments about the Namche is the lack of a truly helmet-compatible hood, which can be a real bummer when conditions are truly brutal and you want to tuck away. We found in testing that a lower profile climbing helmet will fly, but only just. It is, thankfully, a very adjustable hood, like its sibling the Rab Latok Mountain.

Perfect for mountaineers who have already blown their paycheck on the latest boots and tools, the Rab Namche Jacket makes a perfectly serviceable hardshell, and at a much lower price point than others available today.

Runner-Up Hardshell Jacket

Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb.
  • Best for Extended expeditions, ice climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Generous pit zips for venting
  • Long-lasting DWR finish
  • Burly but lightweight 30D fabric


  • Price
  • Typical crinkle from GORE-TEX Pro

The word burly gets tossed around a good bit when describing hardshell jackets, but we can assure you that the Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket ($650) is among the worthy. This jacket doesn’t leave much on the cutting room floor and has the grit to hold out when it’s time to slam the shutters closed.

The Nordwand Advanced HS makes use of the GORE-TEX PRO Most Breathable textile, a variant that bumps up overall breathability at a slight durability ding. The 30D face fabric further bolsters the venting, and while there’s still the unavoidable crinkle of GORE PRO, we found the materials used in the Nordwand to be confidence-inspiring.

At the front of the jacket, two cross-accessible chest pockets are externally pleated to keep bulk to a minimum within the jacket itself. The underarm pit zips are among the most generous we’ve seen at 17 inches long and are dual-zip equipped for easy open and close. And inside the jacket, a small zippered slash pocket stores valuables like a sunscreen stick.

This jacket is similar to the Arc’teryx Alpha SV in terms of roomy cut and feature set — namely the choice of chest over hand pockets and oversized hood and wrist cuffs. These options lean more into the hunker-down ethos, and both jackets are among our top choices for the worst of the worst weather. Compared to the Alpha, we actually prefer the application of the Most Breathable GORE PRO in the more well-rounded Nordwand, over the Alpha’s Most Rugged.

While not the most environmentally friendly, the DWR treatment on the Nordwand is undeniable. This jacket continued to shed water during a particularly wet Pacific Northwest spring far longer than many of the other jackets we tested.

The price tag certainly stings a bit on the Nordwand Advanced HS, but when it comes to an investment piece like a hardshell jacket, the absolute weather protection provided proved far worth the lightening of our wallets.

Best Hardshell for Extreme Alpinism

Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket


  • Material construction 100D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <9
  • Fit Roomy
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 2 oz.
  • Best for Deep expeditions, mixed rock, and ice climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Burly 100D outer face fabric paired with GORE’s Most Rugged tech
  • Excellent water-resistant zippers
  • Integrated RECCO reflector


  • Price
  • Breathability is on the lower end

With almost 25 years under its hem, the Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket ($800) makes no excuses for itself when it comes to big terrain, rough weather, and the prospect of an extended stay. Arc’teryx has a well-worn groove in the hardshell game, and with their pinnacle Alpha SV offering being near archetypal at this point, it had little effort in proving itself the best for extreme alpine pursuits in our testing.

The Alpha SV (“Severe Weather”) truly shines when the sun doesn’t — thriving on the spindrift, driving rain, and howling winds that can turn an alpine route into a real sufferfest. A true ‘to-the-hilt’ build means this jacket is hewn from a 100D Most Rugged GORE-TEX Pro material, a new blend that ups the durability to easily the highest in our testing so far. 

The cut is pure alpine, tailoring to the movements of overhead ice tool swinging, ski touring, and the occasional chimney grovel. This articulated design is brought together with minimal stitching and makes use of narrow seam tape that both cuts down on bulk and increases available membrane for vapor relief. Smart.

While the jacket does lack hand-warming pockets, it makes up for it in other available storage for things like belay mittens or a V-thread tool. The twin napoleon pockets on the chest are slant for easy access, and are guarded by highly water-resistant zippers which in our own testing take their job seriously. No water penetrated through any of the zippers during a proper Pacific Northwest alpine storm.

We were a bit puzzled by the lack of a two-way front zipper, (in fact, none of Arc’teryx’s hardshell jackets feature such a zip) which typically can be a boon for belaying while under cover. A bit of tucking makes it manageable. 

Compared to a more all-around hardshell like the Beta AR, the Alpha SV feels like an idea taken to its natural (and rugged) conclusion. And at only an extra 2 ounces of weight, the bump up to a total 100D outer weave and inclusion of a few other alpine niceties means the Alpha is top dog in our book when the weather truly turns for the worst. We wouldn’t second guess ourselves to take this shell from the rime halls of Scotland to deep into the Kichatnas.

Read more about the Arc’teryx Alpha SV jacket in our in-depth review.

Best Lightweight Hardshell Jacket

Patagonia Storm10 Jacket


  • Material construction 20D 3L H2No Performance Standard
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one chest pocket
  • Weight 8.3 oz.
  • Best for Dry climates, volcano skiing, alpine rock climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Very lightweight for a 3-layer membrane jacket
  • Great packability with hang loop
  • Built-in RECCO reflector
  • Simple but effective hood adjustability


  • Thinner face fabric
  • Breathability can be overwhelmed by high-output activities

At 8.3 ounces and about the size of a good offwidth fist stack when packed, the Patagonia Storm10 Jacket ($329) is a bit antithetical to the typical hardshell recipe. But with a true 3-layer build, this jacket was created with the mountains in mind and makes a compelling argument for going light with your hardshell when it makes sense.

Made from the same H2No membrane as its burlier sibling the Dual Aspect, the Storm10 boasts admirable waterproofing and acceptable breathability. It isn’t quite the action piece you’d want to be huffing and puffing all day in, but for passing squalls and dry snow, its shedding abilities impressed us.

We used the Storm10 this spring as our volcano skiing outer layer, where it turned stiff winds and blown snow with ease. The helmet-compatible hood, while only adjustable via a single cordlock at the back of the head, does feature elastic at the periphery of the opening that keeps the hood out of the way when turning your head.

Astute observers will note the lack of pit zips on this jacket, which while certainly cut to obtain the overall featherweight, do limit the ability to really move moisture out of the jacket. 

In terms of feature set, the Storm10 comes stripped down of a lot of the bulk that weights down more fortified hardshell jackets, but retains a number of important ones, such as dual handwarmer pockets (with internal hem adjustment), water-resistant zippers, a RECCO reflector, and a single chest pocket with hang loop for parking the shell on the back of your harness.

It won’t be your alpine fortress for everything, but for low-probability, high-consequence weather forecasts, the Storm10 Jacket more than makes the grade in our books.

Best Hardshell Jacket for Ski Mountaineering

Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket


  • Material construction Toray Dermizax NX
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 40,000
  • Fit Active/trim
  • Pockets One napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 14.7 oz.
  • Best for Ski-mountaineering, quick-paced (or tram-assisted) alpinism
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Lightweight and flexible shell
  • Soft merino wool inserts on interior collar
  • Impressive breathability
  • Integrated stretch in fabric


  • Fine-toothed zippers can be difficult to move
  • Limited number of exterior pockets

For long days on the skin track or technical entrances to steep couloir skiing, the Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket ($550) impressed us the most when it came time to reach for a hardshell we wanted to use for ski-accessed pursuits in the mountains.

While GORE continues to dominate the heavy-duty waterproofing scene, the Dermizax NX fabric used in the Ortler jacket is one that we have been excited about for a while. This unique nonporous membrane specs out at 20,000 mm of waterproofing, and an impressive 40,000 g/m² breathability rating, placing it head and shoulders over many other membranes.

The added bonus of using a nonporous membrane is the inherent stretch incorporated into the material, which is key since the Ortler has what many in North America would call the Euro fit — a slimmer cut that prioritizes moving with the body over an ability to layer under the jacket. This is something we can absolutely get behind during high-output activities like ski touring.

While not the most feature-rich (the Ortler only hosts a single chest pocket, in addition to a small upper arm pocket), this hardshell hits the high points with a two-way adjustable hood, chunky wrist cuffs, 13-inch pit zips, and a two-way front zipper to accommodate ski-mountaineering harnesses. We will note that the zippers used in this jacket employ a finer tooth than most other hardshells, and when grappling at them with gloves on, they could be a little finicky to adjust.

Using the 3L Ortler Jacket this spring in the skin track, we found it to be the perfect companion for when squalls blew up and we needed the extra protection. While in other hardshells we typically need to unzip both pit zips and the main zip a bit to maintain the breathability equilibrium, the Ortler was perfectly happy buttoned up as we huffed into the high country.

Best of the Rest

Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 1 oz.
  • Best for Any and everything alpinism
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Protective drop hem and wrist collars
  • Patterned face fabric design for increased durability
  • Unique ‘X-open’ pit zip design
  • Articulated cut


  • Limited adjustability in hood
  • Price

While the name may not be familiar to some, the Norwegians behind Norrøna certainly know harsh weather — and how to protect against it. Norrøna was the first company to bring GORE-TEX to Europe, and since then has been refining its use for high-end hardshell wear like the Trollveggen Pro Light Jacket ($649).

This jacket certainly lives up the history as well. The shell is a more well-rounded version of the company’s straight-ahead Trollveggen Jacket, a storm bunker that uses 70D fabric throughout. In contrast, the Pro Light aims to be a more active and svelte version, opting for a 40D GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable across the jacket, in addition to 70D reinforcements on the hood, shoulders, and elbows.

Given a “technical” fit label from Norrøna, the Trollveggen Pro Light is a bit trimmer than the rest of the brand’s more ski-focused shells, but that isn’t to say it’s snug. We find that Norrøna is second to only Arc’teryx when it comes to savvy articulated cuts that anticipate the maximum of motion the hardshell might expect to see during use.

Rounding out the alpine-centric feature set is a pair of Napoleon pockets on the chest, asymmetric wrist cuffs with generous hand protection, a two-way front zip, underarm pit zips, and a long drop hem that provides protection for your backside. Set beside other jackets in our mix, this compares well to the Arc’teryx Alpha SV or Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS.

The hood, while generous and made to fit climbing and ski helmets alike, is only wrangled by a single cordlock at the rear of the head — which we found to be a bit light in the adjustability department. Without further ability to batter down the hatches, this hood can flap a bit more than other hardshells.

Perfect for long alpine ridge routes or mixed terrain where the difference between making the move is mere inches, the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light has all of the baked-in mobility and durability to see you to the summit.

Patagonia Dual Aspect Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L H2No Performance Standard
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 1 oz.
  • Best for Alpine climbing, general mountaineering
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Zero PFC build
  • Four total front of chest pockets, with clean profile
  • Fit accommodates many body types


  • Thinner 30D face fabric
  • Less proven waterproof membrane

One of the few hardshell jackets to toss the yoke of a build with PFCs in it (that’s perfluorinated chemicals), the Patagonia Dual Aspect ($479) is on the leading edge of what a hardshell jacket can be without harming the alpine environment you’ve set out to enjoy.

Patagonia has been ditching the nasty forever chemicals since 2019, but the Dual Aspect jacket is the first alpine-specific piece in the line-up to get the treatment. Crafted from Patagonia’s proprietary H2No 3-layer membrane, we found the Dual Aspect to perform on par with the original 3-layer GORE-TEX, with possibly a slight ding on the overall longevity of the waterproofing.

Typical of a Patagonia shell, we found the overall cut to be a little more generous than the slimmer jackets like the Ortovox Ortler or Helly Hansen Odin 9 World. This makes layering a breeze, and the slick jersey-backer interior allows for easy motion without bunching up. The sleeves are a bit long, but this allows for easy overhead tool swinging without hem-lift annoyance.

The chest profile of the Dual Aspect is a clean and snag-free design that ensures slings tossed over the shoulder won’t be a hassle to retrieve on lead. The twin chest pockets are hidden away behind storm flaps, and the two handwarmer pockets are set off to the side and above any harness or pack hipbelts.

We were surprised at the overall lightweight fabric used in this jacket — a 30-denier weave that while lightweight, kept our hackles up over the long-term durability. Even Patagonia’s top-tier GORE-TEX Pro build jacket, the Pluma, only uses a 40D face fabric. This doesn’t warrant full-time kid’s glove treatment, but that ice chimney you were eyeing may have a bit more bite than you want.

Pushing the scale in any one direction is bound to require some course correction, but by taking their time to refine the formula, Patagonia is moving the needle in the right direction when it comes to sustainable hardshells, and the Dual Aspect is proof positive of that.

Helly Hansen Odin 9 World Infinity Shell


  • Material construction 3L LIFA Infinity Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) Unavailable
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Active/trim
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 2.6 oz.
  • Best for General mountaineering
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Large handwarmer pockets
  • Good helmet adjustability
  • RECCO reflector


  • More trim/limiting overall fit
  • Stiff fabric feel

Sporting a new take on waterproofing, the Helly Hansen Odin 9 World Infinity Shell ($600) makes use of a waterproof membrane that makes the bold claim of never needing a DWR treatment again.

The LIFA Infinity Pro membrane is Helly Hansen’s proprietary new weave that combines an expanded polypropylene waterproof membrane with a LIFA face fabric that is inherently hydrophobic, requiring no chemical DWR finishes whatsoever to maintain waterproofness. Very tech.

During use, we found the Odin 9 World to be better poised as a ski or general mountaineering piece, versus something you might bring along on alpine rock. The unique weave is a bit stiffer than other hardshell jackets, and overall mobility is a bit limited for that reason.

The hood of the Odin 9 World was one of the more adjustable in our review, with buried cordlocks for the sides of the hood, as well as twin shockcords at the back of the hood to manipulate the crown and peripheral openings. A stiffened brim tops it off, along with a RECCO reflector that can make life easier for ski patrols and search & rescue outfits.

The two handwarmer pockets also bucked convention with dual zipper openings, as well as being externally pleated, meaning they expand outward when filled as opposed to toward the torso. Functionally we found that we often don’t carry enough in our jacket pockets to make much of a difference either way, but stashing bulky belay mitts would ride better in the Odin 9 World.

The fit of this hardshell jacket, unfortunately, is a bit snugger than we’d like, leaving little room for layering much beneath the shell when the temps dip. This is combined with a stiff material that doesn’t move very well with your body, which led to a bit of a wrestling match when pulling active moves on ice or rock. We’d recommend sizing up because of this.

Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 1.8 oz.
  • Best for Ice climbing, mixed climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Smart feature set execution
  • Helmet-compatible hood with impressive adjustability
  • Two-way front zipper


  • Front pockets share volume, which can get a bit snug

Trust the Brits to nail the idea of a hardshell jacket. With two weights of GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable, a two-way harness-friendly zipper, and one of the best hoods we’ve draped over our noggins, the Rab Latok Mountain ($525) hits all the high points we’re looking for.

With 80D GORE across the shoulders and sleeves, and 40D elsewhere, this jacket aims to shore up the durability where it’s needed and cut the weight where it’s not. A YKK Vislon front zip brings it all together, and is two-way directional to accommodate easy belaying while maintaining good coverage. There’s even a snap to keep the jacket from flapping away while opened.

While it does sport a generous opening for a gloved hand, the single chest pocket, unfortunately, shares volume with the left hand warmer pocket, and in circumstances where both are occupied it can be a fight to get storage out of either.

We’ve always been fans of the care that Rab gives to the hoods of their hardshells, and the Latok Mountain is no different. The hood is three-way adjustable, with concealed cordlocks for the side adjustments tucked away near the chin of the hood. A wire-stiffened peak stays where you want it, and the whole hood can be stowed away when not needed. 

The only fault we can find is that this jacket’s hood lacks the unique ability that its higher-end cousin, the Latok Alpine, does: stashing the loose cord ends when extended and avoiding being flayed in the face by them in a stiff wind.

Rounding out the Latok Mountain are 15-inch underarm pit zips that feature two different types of zipper pulls — one plastic, one knotted cord — to help with differentiating which will open or close the vents. A smart design, which is actually something we could say about the whole of this jacket.

The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT Jacket


  • Material construction 20D/70D 3L FUTURELIGHT
  • Waterproof rating (mm) Unavailable
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 75,000
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 3.8 oz.
  • Best for Quick-paced, done-in-a-day alpine missions
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Excellent breathability
  • Hybrid fabric mapping bolsters moisture venting
  • Soft suede inserts in hood


  • Overall waterproofing suffers a bit for the breathability
  • Heavier overall

With a classic alpine cut, tasteful feature set, and a waterproof fabric that puts big breathability numbers up on the board, The North Face Summit Torre Egger Jacket ($575) is hard to deny. We’ve been big fans of the FUTURELIGHT membrane since it debuted in 2019, and it finds an excellent application in the Torre Egger, a hardshell that’s meant to be climbed in all day.

While most of the high-ranking hardshell jackets in our review utilize some flavor of GORE-TEX, The North Face has a good thing going for itself when it comes to its FUTURELIGHT membrane, which claims a breathability rate of 75,000 g/m². Unreal.

Adding to those impressive numbers is a hybrid fabric design on the Torre Egger, which uses a 70D recycled nylon across the body of the shell, and a 20D in the underarms to further increase moisture management. This cut is all sewn up with no shoulder seams to reduce wear areas, and gussets under the arms for full tool swinging ability.

So how does the Torre Egger stack up in the mountains? It can definitely hang. During our testing, we intentionally battened down the hatches and set about hiking up the hill, aiming to overwhelm the breathability. While no hardshell is magic (we’re waiting…), we can say that the Torre Egger held out the longest of any jacket in our review when it comes to moving moisture out.

This jacket compares easily to the Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS or Arc’teryx Beta AR jackets when it comes to overall fit and function. All utilize a premium waterproof membrane, similar prices, and boast feature sets that put them in the middle-upper ends of their respective lines. But when you prioritize breathability over all else? Grab the Torre Egger.

Stio Objective Pro Jacket


  • Material construction 70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 5 oz.
  • Best for Ski-touring, resort skiing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Feature-rich
  • Pass-through front chest pocket
  • Burly fabric denier


  • On the heavier end of the scales
  • Chest pockets share volume
  • Price

With a full GORE-TEX Pro build, smart hood design, and close to the most pockets of any jacket in our testing, the Stio Objective Pro Jacket ($699) follows the ideal hardshell jacket recipe and delivers a solid shell.

Cut from the ski-centric patterns of Jackson Hole-based Stio, the Objective Pro was made for the deep powder of the Tetons, but is adaptable enough to be brought along on mountaineering objectives. 

During testing, we appreciated the two-way front zipper on this jacket — not something we typically see on more ski-styled shells — as well as the helmet-compatible hood that accommodated both climbing and ski helmets.

Instead of opting to deck out this jacket in either lower torso pockets or high chest pockets, the Objective Pro goes for both — though unfortunately at the expense of sharing volume between pockets. This means that the pocket space overlap, and that filling one pocket greatly limits the usability of the other.

One bright side, however, is the novel inclusion of a ‘pass-through’ pocket on the jacket’s right chest, which allows for layering adjustment and grabbing an avalanche beacon without totally stripping the shell. Smart.

At 1 lb., 5 oz., the Objective Pro certainly tips the scales compared to the rest of our line-up and is likely due to its all 70D construction (versus hybrid fabric weights in other jackets). This undoubtedly ups the durability, though at the expense of weight.

Mountain Hardwear Viv Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Roomy
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 2 oz.
  • Best for Ski-touring
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Feature-rich design tailored to ski-mountaineering
  • Four total front of chest pockets, with additional two interior drop pockets, and single arm pocket
  • Hood adjustment cords routed internally


  • Roomy cut favors all-day insulation wearing, rather than layering flexibility

Compared to the pared-down skimo styling of some jackets, the Mountain Hardwear Viv ($725) practically has the kitchen sink in additional features — even some we hadn’t encountered before. Among the most unique are a strip of fabric below the hood that functions as a radio mounting point, as well as deep internal drop pockets and a “skin pin” system for hanging climbing skins to warm.

All those features certainly don’t come for free, and the Viv is on the heavier end of the spectrum for jackets we tested at 1lb. 2oz. But for those who need a hardshell jacket for a number of different mountain activities, this jacket fairly well covers the spread.

Made from a 30D GORE-TEX Pro waterproof membrane, you can be assured of high-level waterproofing and breathability performance with this jacket. Topping off the protection is a helmet-compatible hood, and underarm pit zips for venting off heat when the skin track turns into a booter.

When it comes to hood adjustments, the Viv is one of the few hardshell jackets that opt to route the front-of-hood adjustment cords to the inside of the hood (the other on our list being the North Face Torre Egger). The upside to this is no loose cords to fuss with, though adjustment will require zipping down the shell briefly to fine-tune the fit.

On the outside of the jacket, the Viv goes for the full compliment and integrates two napoleon pockets, as well as two zippered hand pockets for the ultimate blend of storage and comfort. In terms of sizing, this shell certainly skews further toward the “ski” of ski-mountaineering, and has a fairly roomy cut for getting insulation on board.

Made to do-it-all, the Viv Jacket from Mountain Hardwear is perfect for those with minimal closet space, or simply difficulty choosing exactly what they plan on getting into that day.

Hardshell Jacket Comparison Chart

Hardshell Jacket Material Construction Waterproofing/Breathability Fit Pockets Weight
Arc’teryx Beta AR 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged 28,000 mm / <9 RET Regular Two handwarming pockets 1 lb.
Rab Namche GORE-TEX 75D 3L GORE-TEX 28,000 mm / 17,000 g/m² Regular Two handwarming 15.3 oz.
Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV 100D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged 28,000 mm / <6 RET Roomy Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 2 oz.
Patagonia Storm10 20D 3L H2No Performance Standard 20,000 mm / Unavailable Regular Two handwarming, one chest pocket 8.3 oz.
Ortovox 3L Ortler Toray Dermizax NX 20,000 mm / 40,000 g/m² Active/trim One napoleon chest pocket 14.7 oz.
Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light 40D/70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 1 oz.
Patagonia Dual Aspect 30D 3L H2No Performance Standard 20,000 mm / Unavailable Regular Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 1 oz.
Helly Hansen Odin 9 World Infinity Shell 3L LIFA Infinity Pro Unavailable / Unavailable Active/trim Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 2.6 oz.
Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 1.8 oz.
The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT 20D/70D 3L FUTURELIGHT Unavailable / 75,000 g/m² Regular Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 3.8 oz.
Stio Objective Pro 70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 5 oz.
Mountain Hardwear Viv 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro 28,000 mm / <6 RET Roomy Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 2 oz.
From the skin track to the summit, we tested hardshell jackets in a variety of conditions and routes in the Pacific Northwest; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Why You Should Trust Us

From the craggy tumbles of the Rockies to the snow-plastered granites of the Sierra, GearJunkie hosts a healthy number of alpine climbers, skiers, and mountaineers who know the sting of a bad turn in the weather — and how to guard against it. Our collective knowledge is brought together here to help guide your next hardshell jacket decision.

Senior Editor Nick Belcaster is the principal tester of this review, and resides beneath the sheer rise of the North Cascades of Washington State — the perfect test bed when seeking out both precipitous vertical relief and poor weather.

In addition, he has prepared and outfitted many alpine climbers setting out on expeditions in the grand ranges of the Karakoram, Alaska Range, and Andean Cordilleras — guiding their equipment choices to best prepare them for weeks spent under unkind elements.

He, along with a number of AMGA mountain guides, took to the mountains over a span of months to assess the worthiness of a spread of hardshell jackets, and we are confident that these are among the best available today.

The dry tooling crag is the perfect test bed for hardshell jackets, where wet conditions often meet awkward thrutching on rock; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Hardshell Jacket

When it comes to hardshell jackets, the beauty in having a shell that is simply tough is its utility across a number of different activities outdoors. We’ve worn our hardshells in everything from in-bounds resort skiing to ice climbing to braving storm swells in a dinghy. 

The flip side of this versatility, of course, is general confusion when it comes to deciding which hardshell jacket is right for you. Below we’ve dug into the nitty gritty and backed it up with science to untangle just what makes a hardshell jacket hard.  

We should note here the close cousins of the hardshell jacket — the soft shell (or wind shell) jacket, as well as rain jackets. Hardshell jackets exist at the storm-battered fringe of the spectrum, where ultimate performance gives way to packability and weight. They often opt to add rather than subtract features, and prioritize ability in the mountains over all else.

If you’re looking for more ski styling, take a look at our Best Ski Jackets gear guide. And if ultimate performance is trumped by packability and versatility on your next outing, our Best Rain Jackets guide should steer you in the right direction. 

Waterproofing, breathability, and durability are the three scales that every hardshell jacket looks to balance; (photo/Erika Courtney)


Let’s rip the bandage off quickly here — given enough time, pressure, and wear, nothing is truly waterproof. But given new and novel advances in textile technology, hardshell jacket manufacturers can get dang close enough. To better understand this dance, a little science is warranted. 

Waterproofness is a measure of the amount of water that a fabric can resist before it yields and allows it to pass through. Testing of waterproofness has been standardized, and waterproof fabrics will be subjected to these tests over 24 hours to ensure longstanding resistance. These tests will produce a number known as the hydrostatic head of the fabric, with greater figures relaying a stronger resistance to water over the long term.

While rain jackets sport waterproof ratings between 5,000 and 20,000 mm, hardshell jackets will generally maintain a bare minimum of 20,000 mm waterproofing, with specialist membranes nearing the 30,000 mm mark. It is important to note that waterproofness and breathability are two metrics pulling in opposite directions of one another, and that superior water resistance will require some concessions in the breathability department.

  • 5,000 mm: Where technical rain outerwear for outdoors adventures begins
  • 5,000-10,000 mm: Waterproof under light rain or snow and no pressure
  • 10,000-15,000 mm: Waterproof under many conditions, except under pressure
  • 15,000-20,000 mm: Waterproof under heavy rain and snow
  • >20,000 mm: Waterproof under heavy rain, snow, and pressure

When the rubber meets the road, the waterproofness of a hardshell jacket comes down to not only this rating, but also the interplay between fabric construction, DWR finishes, and design aspects such as a tight drawing hood or snug wrist cuffs.


Not every moment in your hardshell is going to be a static shiver bivy, and during the times you’re grinding out vert in your jacket, you’ll be sweating. Our bodies do this in order to cool ourselves down, but without built-in ventilation in our hardshell jacket, that moisture has nowhere to go — and overheating can occur.

In order to circumvent this, modern waterproof fabrics incorporate a certain amount of breathability into the weave, which can also be measured. These numbers can be stacked against each other to give an idea of relative breathability between different hardshells.

The Toray Dermizax NX membrane of the Ortovox Ortler 3L was one of the most breathable in our testing; (photo/Erika Courtney)

MVTR and RET Testing

The Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate, or MVTR, has been the industry standard for some years when it comes to measuring the breathability of waterproof membranes. This rate can be measured through a number of different tests, but the most common metric used is given in g/m²/24 hours. Higher values on the MVTR test denote a better ability to pass moisture.

More budget-minded shells like the Rab Namche sport an MVTR rating of 17,000 g/m², which is a bit shy of the standard of 20,000 g/m² rating we like to see in jackets meant to be used during high-output activities. At the other end of the spectrum, specialized shells like The North Face Summit Torre Egger boast incredible values of 75,000 g/m².

The RET, or Resistance to Evaporation rating has been gaining steam in recent years, with the new GORE-TEX Pro membranes being notable adopters. This rating uses a simulated perspiration test, and values here are the inverse of the MVTR, with lower values showing a higher ability for moisture transfer. 

A jacket with a RET value of <6, such as the Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket, will really pump out perspiration and is rated as extremely breathable on the RET scale. Fabrics with a RET score of between 6 and 12 land in highly breathable camp, and ratings of >12 are only moderately breathable. 

Air-permeable membranes like The North Face’s FUTURELIGHT rely on gaseous vapor transfer, versus diffusion, to move moisture out; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Waterproof Membranes

Waterproof membranes vary in their construction and claims, but all operate on a similar premise: keep rain from getting in, and keep perspiration moving out. Laminate membranes, like GORE-TEX, use an expanded film of specialty material known as polytetrafluoroethylene, or ePTFE, to accomplish this.

These ePTFE membranes have over 9 billion pores per square inch, each 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, but 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule. This allows the membrane to resist water from the elements, but diffuse perspiration as it builds within the shell.

The other majority share of waterproof membranes are made using a very thin sheet of polyurethane, which is naturally hydrophilic and maintains breathability through diffusion. These membranes have historically been monolithic, meaning that they lack any pore structure, but new technologies are producing air-permeable membranes which pass air freely.

(Photo/Erika Courtney)

GORE-TEX Pro 2.0 

The pinnacle of high-performance waterproofing since 2007, GORE-TEX Pro has been the gold standard that many reach for when undeniable weather protection is needed. Whereas traditional 3-layer GORE-TEX requires a thin polyurethane lining to protect its membrane, the Pro version lines itself with a Micro-Grid backer, and is made of several ePTFE membranes bonded together.

Since 2020, GORE-TEX Pro has been available in three different technology flavors, which not only allows for a better application while retaining high waterproofness, but provides for hybrid designs across a jacket to best apply certain attributes where they are needed.

  • Most Breathable: Better thought of as the ‘old’ Pro rolled forward, the Most Breathable variant utilizes lighter 30D face fabrics to bump up the membrane’s breathability to a RET score of <6 — and maintains the stellar 28,000 mm waterproof rating.
  • Most Rugged: Made to be abused, jackets built with the Most Rugged technology use face fabrics from 70D to 200D to really stand up to abrasion. The breathability is inhibited a bit at a RET of <9, but this is still solidly within the highly breathable rank.
  • Stretch: Able to stretch up to 12 to 20%, GORE-TEX Pro Stretch textiles can be used in areas of a jacket where mobility is key, such as between the shoulder blades or arms. The concession comes in terms of breathability, which comes in a RET value of <13.
There’s a reason most flagship hardshell jackets use GORE Pro — it simply works; (photo/Erika Courtney)

GORE-TEX 3-Layer

The classic recipe; 3-layer GORE-TEX has been a reliable construction in hardshell jackets for years, utilizing a laminate of protective face fabric, ePTFE membrane, and lining. All 3-layer GORE-TEX membranes boast the same 28,000 mm waterproof rating and breathability of 17,000 g/m².

Toray Dermizax NX

Dermizax NX is a polyurethane-based waterproof membrane that touts impressive breathability numbers — up to 40,000 g/m² — but perhaps more impressively hasn’t had to cut waterproofness in order to do so. At a rated 20,000 mm, this membrane balances the scales well.

Proprietary Membranes

Recent years have seen an influx of proprietary membranes brewed up specifically for manufacturers, allowing them to tweak and fine-tune parameters to suit their use. 

The North Face’s FUTURELIGHT membrane is among the new and exciting air-permeable membranes that have begun to take hold of the market. This version utilizes “nanospinning” of polyurethane in order to create a matrix of the material that is big enough to allow air to pass, but also sized to prevent rain from making its way in. 

Other notable proprietary membranes used in hardshell jackets today include Patagonia’s H2No Standard Performance, as well as Helly Hansen’s LIFA Infinity Pro.

GORE-TEX might be the big name, but it isn’t the only one. Proprietary waterproof membranes can boast impressive specs, and come in at lower prices; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Fabric Layers and Face Fabrics

No waterproof membrane exists in a vacuum, and most all will require some protection on either side in order to work as designed. While 2 and 2.5-layer designs are common in rain jackets, most any hardshell jacket worth its salt will be made with 3-layer construction. 

This construction will include a waterproof membrane, as well as an interior textile backer to protect from body oils, and a face fabric to turn away abrasion and host a DWR finish.

Face Fabrics 

Combined with a hearty waterproof membrane, face fabrics are what make hardshell jackets truly hard. Ice and rock can chew up weaker shells with ease, so most hardshell jackets will be made with a thicker denier face fabric to shore up their overall durability. The expedition-ready Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket was the burliest contender in our showdown, with an impressive 100D face fabric.

Many hardshell jackets will use a hybrid face fabric design to gain the best of both worlds, opting for a more burly denier in high-wear areas such as the shoulders and sleeves, and using a lighter weave elsewhere to cut weight. In our testing, we found that an 80D/40D split was the most commonly used.

It’s important to note that face fabrics also play a large role in both breathability and waterproofing. The thicker a face fabric is, the more difficult it is to expel moisture, which is why some jackets like The North Face Summit Torre Egger use a lighter face fabric under the arms to really keep moisture moving.

Many jackets make use of a burlier denier face fabric across the shoulders where pack straps will contact the shell; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Durable Water Repellent Finish (DWR)

Like the moat before the castle, a durable water-repellent finish is the first line of defense against rain ingress in a hardshell jacket. These hydrophobic applications are what cause the ‘duck’s back’ look of a new rain jacket shedding water, and are important in protecting the waterproof membrane from being overwhelmed prematurely. 

DWR finishes also play an important role in maintaining the breathability of a hardshell. After extended use or pressure, water can push past the DWR and soak into the face fabric, creating a physical barrier that prevents perspiration from being expelled. Keeping your DWR finish fresh can help prevent this, as well as frequently cleaning your hardshell to rid it of body oils, sunscreens, and dirt.

While these finishes have been historically formulated with nasty perfluorochemicals, (also known as forever chemicals) some hardshell jacket manufacturers are leading the way toward a zero-PFC future. Currently, both the Patagonia Storm10 and Dual Aspect jackets are made without PFCs

The DWR finish of the Patagonia Dual Aspect jacket uses on PFCs, but still held up admirably in our testing; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Fit and Construction

Many of the hardshell jackets in our review sport an “alpine” fit, meaning that they have a bit more space than your typical rain jacket to accommodate more active insulation. Some, like the Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket, are cut a bit more trim with the high output of ski-mountaineering in mind. Others still are a bit roomier for the other side of the ski equation, when you’ll want to be wearing all the insulation you’ll need for the day at once.

When considering how to size your hardshell jacket, aim for a comfortable fit when wearing all of the layers you’ll wear while on the move — such as a baselayer, active insulation fleece or synthetic jacket, and potentially a softshell jacket. You’ll want to have enough length in the sleeves to be able to make overhead swings of an ice tool without lifting the hem too much.

Ample overhead reach is a big deal in hardshell jackets, where swinging ice tools or plugging gear can’t be inhibited; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Most alpinists will opt not to size their hardshell to fit over their large parkas, as these are typically deployed when temps are below freezing, and any precipitation you might encounter will be drier snow instead of a soaking rain.

Finally, components like a long drop hem (the portion of the hem that covers your backside), ample sleeve cuffs, and a helmet-compatible hood greatly up the protection that a hardshell jacket provides. We found the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light to have the best execution of these features.

Alpine-Specific Features

Two-Way Front Zips

A two-way front zipper can be a major upside for those who spend a lot of time in a climbing harness, as it allows for the belay loop to pass through the shell without the need of tucking in the jacket hem. This can also be employed to increase ventilation during tough climbs.

Having a two-way zip means no more faffing to put on your shell at the belay. Just don and unzip to expose your belay loop; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Helmet-Compatible Hoods

Alpine climbing, mountaineering, and skiing all have their objective hazards, and you’ll want to wear a helmet to help mitigate those. A good hardshell jacket will accommodate for the extra space needed to wear one.

Climbing helmets are generally a bit lower profile than ski helmets, so ideally you should aim to try on your hardshell with your helmet to ensure there are no snug fit issues. Almost all hoods on hardshell jackets will include adjustable cords to fine-tune the fit.

A properly adjusted hood will track with your head as you look around. Remember that you’ll often be wearing a helmet beneath as well; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Pit Zips

Ventilation in a shell jacket can be essential to avoiding overwhelming the breathability, and the best way to crack open the windows on a hardshell is through the pit zips. These zippers run beneath the arms and can be opened during times of high exertion to vent off perspiration, all without exposing the climber to the elements.

While most zips in our review open with a two-way closure, the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light impressed us with its novel ‘X-open’ design that places the zipper pulls at either side of the zipper, as opposed to running together. This prevented the openings from catching the wind like sails.

Mechanical ventilation through the pit zips can be essential to keeping moisture moving out of the jacket, certainly so during hard exertion; (photo/Erika Courtney)


Exterior pockets on hardshell jackets come in two designs: those made for hand warming, and those made for storage. Hand warming pockets are less often employed on hardshell jackets, as the activities they are designed for often don’t leave much time for standing around. One notable exception is the Arc’teryx Beta AR, where a focus on versatility prompts their inclusion.

Exterior storage pockets, in our opinion, are much more important — and most often come in the form of ‘napoleon’ breast pockets. These pockets are accessed by reaching across the chest, and are placed above the fray of pack straps and harnesses for easy access.

Finally, consider the zippers of your hardshell jacket’s pockets. Almost all will feature some type of water-resistant zipper, although many will still employ storm flaps, which are folds of fabric that help resist water intrusion. 

Chest-accessed pockets, like these on the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light, are ideal for alpine use where harnesses may block lower pockets; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Weight, Comfort, and Packability

A good hardshell jacket likely won’t be a welterweight champ, but advances in textile tech mean that hardshells are getting lighter and more packable as time goes on. A good example is the Arc’teryx Alpha SV: When this jacket debuted in 1998 it weighed in at 1 lb., 8 ounces, and today has trimmed half a pound off the trail weight.

Today, most hardshell jackets hover just north of the 1-pound mark, with some specialized shells like the Patagonia Storm10 coming in as low as 8.3 ounces — though at a protection tradeoff. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the feature-rich Stio Objective Pro and The North Face Summit Torre Egger jackets, which were some of the heavier shells.

The comfort of your hardshell shouldn’t be downplayed — not every adventure is going to be full-value, after all — and spending time in your hardshell can be made more enjoyable by a few niceties. High on our list is a microfiber lining on the inside of the collar, as well as a soft-to-the-touch jersey backer on the interior of the jacket.

And since you’ll need to stuff your shell jacket away at times, be mindful of overall packability. Most hardshell jackets won’t have an integrated stuff sack, but will fold well enough into their own hoods. Thinner denier face fabrics will have the edge over jackets made with extra burly weaves.


What is the Difference Between Hardshell and Softshell Jackets?

The difference between a hardshell and a softshell boils down to breathability and protection. Softshell jackets emphasize breathability, as well as being able to turn a stiff wind and help to retain body heat. Hardshell jackets are made to provide protection from the elements, and while they offer some breathability, they have a limit to how much they can handle.

Can You Ski in a Hardshell?

Absolutely! While ski-specific jackets are more finely tailored to the needs of skiers and snowboarders (generally a longer cut, with the potential inclusion of a powder skirt and wrist gaiters), a good hardshell jacket ticks all of the boxes needed for a day on the slopes or in the skin track.

The Ortovox 3L Ortler was our top pick as the best hardshell jacket for ski mountaineering; (photo/Erika Courtney)

It’s important to note that ski-focused hardshell jackets can be broken down even further in terms of the type of skiing you’re looking to do. If lift access and all-day laps are on the docket, a shell like the Stio Objective Pro Jacket will serve you well. And if you’re aiming to earn your turns, a more ski-mountaineering-styled shell like the Mountain Hardwear Viv or Ortovox 3L Ortler will do the trick.

Is Anything Better than GORE-TEX?

While GORE-TEX has been the de-facto ruler of the waterproof market since its invention, there are a number of different waterproof membranes of merit that emphasize different facets of the waterproof/breathable equation.

The robust waterproofing of an ePTFE membrane like GORE-TEX is undeniable, but the advent of air-permeable membranes that elevate breathability to previously unheard-of levels will be an attractive option for those who will be climbing or skiing without stopping.

What Do You Wear Under a Hardshell?

The beauty of a hardshell jacket is its interior volume for layered insulation. Under a hardshell, a  typical mountaineer or alpinist might wear something like this: A baselayer top or sun hoody, followed by a thin gridded fleece or synthetic fill active insulation piece. 

Because of the importance of keeping a waterproof membrane clean, we always attempt to wear long sleeves underneath our jackets, as body oils can clog the pores of a membrane.

Do Hardshells Keep You Warm?

Hardshell jackets are not typically insulated, opting instead to allow climbers and skiers to add and subtract layers of insulation to fit their needs. But because a hardshell will limit the warmth-robbing effects of windchill, it will help retain the warmth you worked hard to create.

(Photo/Erika Courtney)
Are Hardshell Jackets Windproof?

Due to their tough face fabrics, waterproof membranes, and full-coverage designs, hardshell jackets are certainly considered windproof. Some jackets, namely those that have air-permeable waterproof membranes, will pass slightly more wind than those made with monolithic membranes.

Should I Size Up For a Hardshell Jacket?

Hardshell jacket sizing typically takes into account that they are meant to be worn over active insulation, and will most often reflect the jacket size you most typically wear in outerwear. Sizing up a hardshell jacket can be an attractive option for those who require more protection, such as skiers, but for alpine climbers and mountaineers, this will often make for excess material.

Some manufacturers have earned a reputation for a specific type of fit, though we would warn against making broad assumptions when deciding on a hardshell based on these alone. Arc’teryx often produces jacket with a trimmer alpine fit, while jackets from Patagonia are a bit boxier. European brands such as Ortovox and Rab also tend to be a bit slimmer.

How Long Should a Hardshell Jacket Last?

With proper upkeep and care, we’ve had hardshell jackets that have lasted 5-6 years before needing to be retired to light duty, and you can likely expect to get the same out of most modern jackets today. Keeping a jacket clean is a surprisingly large part of extending it’s longevity.

Because ePTFE membranes are degraded by oils, things like sweat and sunscreen can greatly limit their ability to do their job. You should do all you can to avoid introducing these contaminants into your hardshell jacket membrane, including wearing long-sleeve baselayers underneath your shell jackets.

You should also expect to refresh the DWR finish of your jacket multiple times over its lifespan, which will return its water resistance to near-new levels. On the hardshells we use consistently, we attempt to refresh the finish twice a year — once in the fall before ski season starts, and once before summer begins.

How Do I Keep My Hardshell Jacket Clean?

Keeping a hardshell clean is an important part of maintaining its functionality — on two fronts. Body oils can clog membranes from the interior of a jacket, while a worn DWR finish can lead to premature wetting out and limit overall breathability.

In order to clean a hardshell, begin by washing the jacket in an outerwear-safe solution such as Nikwax Tech Wash.

Because applying a DWR finish to the interior of a hardshell would limit the membrane’s ability to pass moisture, we don’t recommend wash-in types of DWRs, but instead spray-on varieties such as Nikwax TX.Direct Spray On or GEAR AID DWR Spray. Liberally mist the exterior of the damp jacket fabric, paying extra attention to high-wear areas such as the wrist cuffs, shoulders, and back.

Finally, turn the jacket inside-out and zip it closed, which will keep the finish from rubbing off in your drier. Set your drier to low heat and tumble dry, which will set the finish.

How Do I Choose a Hardshell Jacket?

Choosing a hardshell jacket can be a daunting task — certainly so for outdoors folks who enjoy multiple disciplines and want a jacket that can cover them in most situations. We suggest considering the objectives that you’ll be spending the most time in. Will you be plodding up glaciers to access the summits of volcanos? Swinging tools at Hyalite? Flying into a remote gorge for a skiing objective? Each of these demands a certain type of hardshell, and while most will do some of everything, there are specialist jackets that will excel where others may be just serviceable.

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