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The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2024

Whether you’re getting good sticks in hero ice or traversing the snowfields of some foreign range, a good hardshell jacket will have your back. After months of testing in the harshest of conditions, these are the best hardshell jackets to brave the alpine with in 2024.

Arc'teryx Beta AR Hardshell Jacket(Photo/Erika Courtney)
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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 2024. 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 2024


Best Overall Hardshell Jacket

Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket

Specs

  • 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
Product Badge The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

Rab Namche GORE-TEX Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

  • Price
  • Typical crinkle from GORE-TEX Pro
Best Hardshell for Extreme Alpinism

Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

  • Price
  • Breathability is on the lower end
Best Lightweight Hardshell Jacket

Patagonia Storm10 Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

  • Thinner face fabric
  • Breathability can be overwhelmed by high-output activities
Best Hardshell Jacket for Ski Mountaineering

Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

  • Limited adjustability in hood
  • Price

Mammut Crater IV HS Hooded Jacket

Specs

  • Material construction 75D 3L GORE-TEX ePE
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <13
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 1.6 oz.
  • Best for All-around climbing and mountaineering
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2024

Pros

  • PFC-free membrane and DWR finish
  • Softer hand and quieter than GORE-TEX Pro
  • Mild stretch across fabric
  • Helmet-encompassing hood

Cons

  • Breathability suffers a bit at a RET of

Outdoor Research Archangel Jacket

Specs

  • Material construction 70D GORE-TEX Pro 3L Most Breathable + 40D GORE-TEX Pro with Stretch
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Active/trim
  • Pockets Two handwarming
  • Weight 1 lb., 3.4 oz.
  • Best for Ice climbing, mixed climbing, athletic moves
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2024

Pros

  • Integrated stretch panel makes for uninhibited tool swinging
  • Most Breathable GORE Pro keeps moisture moving
  • YKK Aquaguard zippers with double front zip

Cons

  • Heavier jacket overall at 1 lb., 3.4 oz.
  • Stretch panel has poor breathability, and can lead to a sweaty patch

Patagonia Dual Aspect Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

  • Thinner 30D face fabric
  • Less proven waterproof membrane

Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

  • Large handwarmer pockets
  • Good helmet adjustability
  • RECCO reflector

Cons

  • More trim/limiting overall fit
  • Stiff fabric feel

Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

Stio Objective Pro Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

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

Cons

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

Mountain Hardwear Viv Jacket

Specs

  • 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 2024

Pros

  • 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

Cons

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

Hardshell Jacket Comparison Chart

Hardshell JacketMaterial ConstructionWaterproofing/BreathabilityFitPocketsWeight
Arc’teryx Beta AR 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged28,000 mm / <9 RETRegularTwo handwarming pockets1 lb.
Rab Namche GORE-TEX75D 3L GORE-TEX28,000 mm / 17,000 g/m²RegularTwo handwarming pockets15.3 oz.
Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable28,000 mm / <6 RETRegularTwo napoleon chest pockets1 lb.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV100D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged28,000 mm / <6 RETRoomyTwo napoleon chest pockets1 lb., 2 oz.
Patagonia Storm1020D 3L H2No Performance Standard20,000 mm / UnavailableRegularTwo handwarming, one chest pocket8.3 oz.
Ortovox 3L OrtlerToray Dermizax NX20,000 mm / 40,000 g/m²Active/trimOne napoleon chest pocket14.7 oz.
Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light40D/70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable28,000 mm / <6 RETRegularTwo napoleon chest pockets1 lb., 1 oz.
Mammut Crater IV HS Hooded Jacket75D 3L GORE-TEX ePE28,000 mm / <13 RETRegularTwo handwarming pockets1 lb., 1.6 oz.
Outdoor Research Archangel Jacket
70D GORE-TEX Pro 3L Most Breathable + Stretch28,000 mm / <6 RETActive/trimTwo handwarming pockets1 lbs., 3.4 oz.
Patagonia Dual Aspect30D 3L H2No Performance Standard20,000 mm / UnavailableRegularTwo handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets1 lb., 1 oz.
Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell3L LIFA Infinity ProUnavailable / UnavailableActive/trimTwo handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket1 lb., 2.6 oz.
Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable28,000 mm / <6 RETRegularTwo handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket1 lb., 1.8 oz.
The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT20D/70D 3L FUTURELIGHTUnavailable / 75,000 g/m²Regular Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket1 lb., 3.8 oz.
Stio Objective Pro70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro28,000 mm / <6 RETRegularTwo handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets1 lb., 5 oz.
Mountain Hardwear Viv30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro28,000 mm / <6 RETRoomyTwo handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets1 lb., 2 oz.
TNF Torre Egger
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.

Rab Latok Mountain
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 softshell (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. 

Mammut-Advanced-HS_2
Waterproofing, breathability, and durability are the three scales that every hardshell jacket looks to balance; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Waterproofness

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.

Breathability

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.

Ortovox Ortler Skins
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 the highly breathable camp, and ratings of >12 are only moderately breathable. 

TNF Torre Egger_2
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.

Arc'teryx Beta AR_4
(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 interior lining. All 3-layer GORE-TEX membranes boast the same 28,000 mm waterproof rating and breathability of 17,000 g/m².

It’s important to remember that different layups of materials in the face fabric and linings will affect the overall performance of the jacket. For example, a jacket made from 3L GORE-TEX with a gossamer 7D face fabric will be exceptionally light and breath well, though at the detriment of overall durability.

GORE-TEX 3-Layer ePE

The biggest news in waterproof membranes in recent years, the new ePE membrane from GORE-TEX meets the demand from manufacturers for an environmentally-friendly PFC-free membrane (note: the ‘F’ in ePTFE stands for fluoro) by pivoting their expansion technology to use polyethylene instead of polytetrafluoroethylene. In doing so, GORE has been able to strip out the PFCs from within the membrane and still hit the 28,000 mm waterproof rating that GORE-TEX is known for.

But just as sure as there is no free lunch, the ePE membrane has to make a concession somewhere for its eco-chops, and that somewhere is in the breathability. At a rated RET of <13, jackets made with this material won’t be moving as much moisture as GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable (<6), or even the middle of the road Most Rugged (<9). Because of this, mechanical ventilation like underarm pit zips will be essential to keeping dry from the inside. Undoubtedly, ePE is going to be the next big thing in rainwear, however, it will remain to be seen if the industry can pry itself away from the undeniable performance of GORE-TEX Pro membranes.

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 it’s 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, the Patagonia Storm10, Dual Aspect, and Mammut Crater IV jackets are made without PFCs.

Patagonia Dual Aspect_3
The DWR finish of the Patagonia Dual Aspect jacket uses no 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.

Rab Latok Mountain_3
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.

Norrona Trollvegen Pro Light_6
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.

Patagonia Dual Aspect_4
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)

Pockets

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. 

Norrona Trollvegen Pro Light
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 pound, 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.

Norrøna Trollveggen In Front of Iceland Volcano
Snow and ice aren’t the only thing a hardshell will protect from. During the recent Litli-Hrútur eruption in Iceland, we hid from volcanic cinders in our Norrøna shell; (photo/Erika Courtney)

FAQ

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 jackets 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 its 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.

The Best Ski Jackets of 2024
Skiing

The Best Ski Jackets of 2024

Whether you’re skiing in sunny or stormy conditions, here are our top picks for the most durable, protective, and comfortable ski jackets of 2024.

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