Enjoying your favorite outdoor activity doesn’t have to be limited to warm and clear weather. With proper backpacking gear, you can spend quality time outside the whole year-round. This gear includes a jacket of course. Several types of jackets are available for outdoor enthusiasts, but none of them surpass a hardshell winter jacket in terms of versatility.
No matter if you prefer camping, hiking, or climbing, the weather isn’t always going to be your ally. The best hardshell jacket is designed to be fully windproof and waterproof so you stay protected. In addition to this, it’s breathable too, so you won’t sweat if you take part in intense activity.
Not all hardshell jackets come with the same features, quality, or price of course. We created this list so that you may find the right one no matter your budget. We didn’t compromise on quality though, so you won’t make a wrong choice picking any product. To make this process easier, be sure to read the buying guide below and learn more about the construction and features these amazing jackets offer you.
How To Choose A Hardshell Jacket – Buying Guide
Like with any other piece of equipment, it’s more than useful to know what it can offer you and what you should expect in terms of performance. This is especially true if a product is a bit pricey, and meant to last for a long time. Take a look.
Suitability and Use
As we mentioned, this is an all-around product. You won’t use it just for camping, you may use it as your everyday rain protection, hiking, skiing or other activities. Based on your preference and intended use, you want a jacket that offers particular features. For example, when camping you want a jacket which protects you from the weather of course, but also allows free movement and has above average durability.
On the other hand, if you’re buying a ski jacket, you want the hood to be helmet compatible and the jacket should include a powder skirt. For hiking and climbing it’s often important that it’s lightweight, and that you can use the pockets and other features without removing other gear (backpack or harness). This is certainly something worth thinking about because it will make your experience better.
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Waterproofing and Breathability
Hardshell jackets try to find a balance between these two opposites, so you can get the best of both. Waterproofing makes sure that no water from the outside is going to pass through. On the other hand, breathability allows water vapor to leave the jacket so you don’t get wet from your own sweat. Hardshell jackets usually have three layers to help achieve this, which we will discuss in more detail when we talk about materials.
To show how waterproof a fabric is, Hydrostatic Head (HH) rating is used, and a higher value is better. A cylinder is held against the fabric and filled with water to a certain level (in millimeters). Then you check if the fabric holds up or if there is water leakage. A fabric with at least 1000mm HH rating is considered waterproof. All hardshell jackets have way more than this, with some going over 10,000mm. Breathability means vapor passing through, and the material needs to allow it.
In addition, a DWR coating is applied on every jacket, and it improves both things we mentioned. It stands for Durable Water Repellent, and basically it prevents water from sticking to the surface of your jacket. Instead, it forms beads and rolls off the surface. The outer layer remains dry, and the jacket can breathe because vapor can leave.
This coating can last and function for a certain period. If the DWR is gone, the jacket can “wet out”. This means the outer layer gets soaked. It will still be waterproof because water can’t pass the membrane. However, it won’t be able to breathe and you will end up sweating more than you used to. Luckily, you can re-apply the coating again – we will explain how a bit later.
Since it’s made for the outdoors, the jacket needs to remain mobile – you need to have a free movement without restrictions. This depends on the fabric as well as the design of the jacket. Nylon can be rigid sometimes, and won’t feel as comfy as some other jacket types. Heavier jackets can influence movement, so manufacturers try to make them lighter for this reason. Also, you should pay attention to length and fit, because if it’s too large it will get in your way when moving about.
This mainly depends on what the jacket is made from, and most hard shells are made to be very tough and durable. The material used for the outer layer (face) needs to be as strong as possible. Fabric quality is measured in Denier, and a higher number means thicker thread. Keep in mind that stronger fabric is heavier, so lighter jackets won’t be as durable. Durability also depends on how you take care of your jacket – if you maintain it properly it will certainly last longer.
Thanks to the materials and the design itself, a hardshell is your number one choice against nasty weather. It keeps rain, snow, and ice out, and also prevents the chilly wind from reaching your bones. Like many other features presented, this too varies from one jacket to another, so pay close attention if you plan on putting your new backpacking gear to a serious test.
This type of jacket has pretty clear tasks, and keeping you warm isn’t one of them. Even though some products come with insulation layers, that is usually not enough when it becomes cold outside. For this reason, many models come with a looser fit – so you can wear something underneath to keep you warm. On the other hand, this can be a plus too. If you need rain protection during warmer months you can just wear it over a t-shirt and feel comfy without overheating.
This is one of the more important things because it influences the performance of your jacket. As we mentioned, you will often need to wear some layers underneath, so don’t get a jacket which is too tight, or you’ll feel constricted. On the other hand, if it’s too lose it will feel baggy and possibly allow air and water inside. The best hardshell jackets will have many drawcords to allow better adjustment. Hem and cuffs are most important for a snug fit and keeping the cold air out. You can also loosen them for better air circulation if you feel warm.
Some longer jackets come with an adjustable waist, while others allow you to tighten the hood properly. If you have the opportunity, try out the jacket before buying it, or at least see what other customers said. Carefully measure your proportions and then check the sizing so you can be sure to get the best fitting product.
Weight and Packability
The weight of your new jacket can be more or less important, depending on your situation. Hardshells generally have acceptable weight, so you most likely won’t have a problem with this. You may opt for a lighter jacket if you want to pack it and want your backpack to be as light as possible. Some shell jackets weigh as little as 10oz. However, a lighter jacket often means fewer features, because something had to be sacrificed for that weight loss.
Whether you’re going to be able to pack the jacket tightly or not depends on the material. This type of jacket is generally easy to pack because they are not bulky. Some models are larger than others though. They do take more space compared to rain jackets, but it isn’t a significant difference.
When it comes to materials, manufacturers normally use either nylon or polyester as the outer layer, with some additions underneath. Both are synthetic materials with great durability, and solid wind and water resistance. Nylon is more common because it’s excellent for waterproofing. As we mentioned earlier, hardshell jackets usually have three layers. You will hear about materials like Gore-Tex, eVent, and NanoPro. You don’t need to trouble yourself over this too much. Even though there are small differences between them, they will all work great if you take care of your jacket.
The outer layer (jacket face) is made from the mentioned materials and coated with DWR. This layer repels water and gives strength to the jacket. The middle layer is where the magic happens – it’s a special membrane that is fully waterproof on one side, but still has tiny pores that allow vapor to pass through on its way out of the jacket.
This membrane is sensitive and can get clogged with dust, dirt, oils, or other things. For this reason, there is an inner layer that serves as membrane protection. It consists of a thin polyurethane layer next to the membrane and another material which makes the jacket more comfortable to wear. Jackets with 2 and 2.5 layers also exist, and they have a different design. They are somewhat lighter, but less durable and with reduced versatility.
For the jacket to be fully effective, it needs to have waterproof seams. They are necessary when connecting fabric, and they need protection too – otherwise, water can come through. Waterproof products come with either welded or taped seams. You should certainly check this when buying a jacket. If you notice a problem, you can buy a seam sealer and fix the leak yourself.
Quality zippers are almost as important as jacket material. It’s no use if the material is waterproof if your zippers are leaking. They need to work smoothly, so you can easily close your jacket. There are two main ways to keep the water out. The zipper can be coated with rubber, or the jacket has a storm flap that goes over the zipper. Jackets with coated zippers are usually lighter, but often more expensive. As an added feature, some jackets have two-way zippers – these allow you to unzip from the bottom if you need to adjust your pants or use the pockets, which is very handy.
Many added features are available, depending on the model and manufacturer. Some can be found on many models, but they are designed differently. Let’s start with the hood – you can find it on most if not all hardshell jackets. However, some are removable, while others can be rolled and packed into the collar. Your head needs protection too, so a good hood can be tightened. As a bonus, some hoods are helmet-compatible, which we mentioned earlier.
For extra ventilation, some jackets have pit zips (underarm vents). By unzipping them you allow air to freely circulate and cool you down more easily after intense activity, or just when the outside temperature rises.
Pockets are a necessity, and almost all jackets have them in one way or another. But it’s not just about having them, it’s about number and placement too. You need to have enough room for all the things you need at hand. In addition, good placement allows quick access to what you need. Like the rest of the jacket, they need to be waterproof. Besides pretty standard hand pockets on each side, some products have them in the chest area, on the sleeves, and even on the inside.
Q: What Is A Hardshell Winter Jacket?
It’s a specially designed outdoor jacket which is wind and waterproof, but at the same time breathable. This makes it suitable for many situations when you need to be protected, but don’t want to get sweaty. It’s called a hardshell because the outer layer is somewhat rigid compared to other jackets.
Q: What Is The Difference Between Hardshell And Softshell Jackets?
Hardshell jackets are fully waterproof, while softshells are just water-resistant. Hardshells are designed to perform well in very harsh weather. On the other hand, a softshell jacket is more comfortable, but it’s made for moderate weather. If you use it in heavy rain it will get soaked and you will be wet. While most softshells also come with DWR coating, it’s less effective because of the materials underneath as well as the lack of membrane.
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On the other hand, it’s certainly more breathable than a hardshell. Both types are an excellent choice, but it depends on what you need. In addition to this, a rain jacket is fully waterproof but isn’t very breathable so it can become very uncomfortable after some time.
Q: How Do I Get The Most Out Of A Hardshell Winter Jacket?
Think about when and where you’re going to use it most often, and choose your model carefully. Get a standard fit so you can wear something underneath when it’s cold. If you don’t mind spending an extra buck, get a jacket with arm vents so you can comfortably wear it in higher temperatures too. Finally, don’t forget to maintain and clean it regularly.
Q: Will A Cheap Hardshell Be Enough For Me?
It certainly can be, but you need to look at what the jacket offers. They can be excellent if you get the protection you need. When going down in price, you probably won’t get so many added features. But to be honest, you may not really need any of them, as long as the jacket functions properly.
Q: How Can I Repair A Hardshell Winter Jacket?
If your jacket tears, you may be tempted to just sew a patch on it. This is not a good idea because the needle will create holes in the waterproof material. You can get a Gore-Tex repair kit which has a patch that you apply with adhesive. You can also send the jacket to a licensed center and let a professional take care of it. If you choose to sew it anyway, you should put a seam sealer over the patch so it doesn’t leak.
Q: How Do I Properly Clean and Care For A Hardshell Winter Jacket?
You can’t avoid getting dirt and dust on your jacket, and this reduces effectiveness. Most jackets are safe for both washers and dryers, but always check the label first. Washing doesn’t damage the DWR coating, just makes it more efficient. You should use a mild detergent, and always rinse it off properly. If you throw it in a dryer, use low to medium heat.
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Washing also cleans the inner layer which improves fabric membrane function. If you notice the DWR coating is gone, you can re-apply it. It usually comes in spray form. You should spray it evenly on the jacket while it’s still wet, after washing. Then you either put it in a dryer or iron it to activate the coating again.
Q: How Should The Jacket Fit?
As you’ve had the opportunity to see, it depends on your activity. We recommend a standard fit because you can get the most out of it. However, if you want many layers and higher comfort, choose a looser jacket. On the other hand, if you’re very active and want your jacket to move with you, choose something tighter.
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A mountaineering jacket is an excellent addition to your outdoor camping gear. You will get unsurpassed versatility from a product that can protect you from all types of weather. As we said, choose a jacket based on your activity. The best hardshell jacket has features that will make your experience much better. We hope our guide helped you, and you now know what to look for and how to pick out a product. You’ll certainly enjoy the outdoors more!
More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:
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- Rain Pants
- Garmin Watch
- Survival Kit
- Hiking Baby Carriers
- Survival Books
- Bug Out Bag
- Tactical Boots
- Drone For Gopro
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Have you tried a jacket that made it onto our list? How effective is it? Are you comfortable wearing it? Is it durable? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.