Best Hardshell Jackets For Hiking + Backpacking

A hardshell jacket is one of the most important articles of hiking clothing to take with you on your hikes. It should be windproof, waterproof and breathable. The primary purpose of a hardshell jacket is to protect you from extreme weather. In this guide, we cover the key features to look for and we show you the newest and best hardshell jackets for hiking and backpacking.

Further down we will cover all the key features of a hardshell jacket as well as buying advice. But first, let’s take a look at top picks. These are all the newest and best hardshell jackets for men and women to wear on day hikes and backpacking trips. The only jackets featured in this list are the best quality on the market.

The best hardshell jackets for hiking and backpacking

Top 12 Hardshell Jacket Picks

These jackets are organized from most protective, durable, and heaviest in weight to the lightest weight jackets that are less durable but more packable.

1. Outdoor Research Archangel GORE-TEX Jacket (MEN)

This jacket by Outdoor Research delivers the most alpine protection of their three jackets on this list. It is a good choice for hikers that also participate in high alpine activities such as climbing, ice climbing, or skiing. It can handle any storm faced. If you are loyal to Outdoor Research this is the best jacket you can get for hiking and exploring the high country. This jacket is currently available only for men.

  • Windproof waterproof GORE-TEX Pro 3-layer laminate with stretch
  • 70D and 40D nylon used in this garment
  • Helmet compatible hood
  • Wired hood brim
  • Hand pockets above hip belt and harness location
  • YKK AquaGuard Vislon zippers
  • Double separating center front zipper
  • Adjustable wrist cuffs
  • Pit zips for fast ventilation
  • Streamlined fit
  • 550 grams

2. Patagonia Galvanized Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The Patagonia Galvanized jacket offers protection for the worst weather conditions in the high alpine and the fit delivers full mobility for those that are super active.

  • H2No Performance Standard shell
  • 3-layer 4.4-oz 50D fabric (88% recycled polyester, 12% spandex for stretch)
  • DWR finish for extra moisture protection
  • Helmet compatible hood
  • High hand pockets are accessible when wearing backpacks and harnesses
  • Watertight PU-coated two-way pit zips for ventilation
  • One-handed adjusting hem cord
  • 527 grams (men), 439 grams (women)

3. Black Diamond Sharp End Shell Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The Black Diamond Sharp End jacket is durable and provides protection for harsh conditions.

  • Windproof waterproof GORE-TEX Pro 3-layer laminate with stretch
  • Durable 70D nylon plain-weave face
  • DWR (durable water repellent) finish for extra weather protection
  • Comfy brushed microsuede collar lining
  • Underarm gussets for increased mobility
  • One chest pocket and two hand pockets
  • Two-way pit zips for ventilation
  • Climbing helmet compatible hood
  • 445 grams (men), 395 grams (women)

4. Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

A versatile all-around high performance packable lightweight hardshell jacket for hiking and backpacking adventures.

  • Windproof and waterproof Nylon 40D plain weave 3-layer GORE-TEX Pro fabric
    • Nylon 80D 3-layer GORE-TEX Pro fabric reinforces high-wear areas
  • Taped seams for additional weatherproofness
  • DWR finish repels moisture
  • Trim fit, articulated sleeves and gusseted underarms allows for great freedom of movement
  • Hip length tucks under hip belt comfortably
  • Internal chest pocket with a laminated zip
  • WaterTight (water-resistant) high volume hand pockets are backpack compatible
  • WaterTight (water-resistant) pit zips for ventilation
  • 460 grams (men), 410 grams (women)

5. Patagonia Pluma Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The Patagonia Pluma jacket is lightweight, packable, and durable. It can protect you in any alpine conditions. A great pick for those hikers that want to hike all year round and be ready for any weather. The newest GORE-TEX Pro fabric is considered 28 percent more breathable compared to previous generations.

  • Waterproof, breathable and windproof 3-layer GORE-TEX Pro fabric
  • GORE Microgrid Backer Technology provides high internal abrasion and snag resistance
  • 40D 100% recycled plain weave nylon fabric
  • DWR finish for extra weather protection
  • Two hand pockets are watertight and compatible with backpacks and harnesses
  • Stay ventilated with two-way watertight pit zips
  • 414 grams (men), 366 grams (women)

6. Outdoor Research MicroGravity AscentShell Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

A versatile hardshell jacket that works all year round for snow hikes, or wet weather hikes. Excellent weatherproofness that you can count on. The one thing that is missing is pit zips.

  • Windproof and waterproof AscentShell 3-layer laminate technology
  • 100% nylon 20Dx45D mechanical stretch ripstop
  • 100% polyester 30D knit backer
  • Fully seam taped for extended weather protection
  • Left hand pocket works as a stuff sack
  • Helmet compatible adjustable hood
  • Two upper chest pockets
  • YKK AquaGuard zippers
  • Elastic drawcord hem
  • 414 grams (men), 338 grams (women)

7. REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX jacket is the most affordable 3-layer GORE-TEX laminate hardshell jacket on this list. This is the jacket that I own and take on my hikes. It is perfect for a climate like Colorado and can be worn on most days in all seasons. It works great as a shell over an insulating mid-layer or as an emergency shell when I am doing summer hikes in the high alpine.

  • Waterproof, windproof, breathable 3-layer GORE-TEX laminate
  • 30D ripstop nylon; shoulders/waist: 40D ripstop nylon
  • Helmet-compatible hood is adjustable
  • Pit zips for ventilation
  • Fully taped seams
  • Two high hand pockets located above backpack hip belt
  • Adjustable hem drawcord
  • 414 grams (men)

8. Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The Torrentshell 3L jacket by Patagonia provides all-day comfort and durable long-lasting waterproof protection.

  • 3-layer H2No Performance Standard technology is waterproof and breathable
  • 3.3-oz 50-denier ECONYL 100% recycled nylon ripstop face
  • DWR (durable water repellent) finish
  • Adjustable hood with laminated visor
  • Snag-free front zipper
  • Microfleece lined neck is comfy
  • Pit zips for ventilation
  • DWR treated zippers
  • Two hand pockets
  • 100% recycled fabric
  • 394 grams (men), 354 grams (women)

Check REI Price: MEN | WOMEN

9. Black Diamond Highline Stretch Shell (MEN | WOMEN)

The Highline Stretch is a durable, lightweight, and versatile jacket that can be used as a protective shell or a rain jacket.

  • Waterproof, windproof, and breathable 3-layer BD.dry fabric
  • PFC-free DWR finish
  • DWR pit zips for ventilation
  • Climbing helmet compatible adjustable hood
  • One chest and high two hand pockets
  • YKK Aquaguard Zippers keep you dry
  • Fully taped seams
  • 360 grams (men), 304 grams (women)

Check REI Price: MEN | WOMEN

10. Outdoor Research Guardian II AscentShell Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

The Outdoor Research Guardian II jacket is best for wet conditions. If you live in a climate like the Pacific North West, this is a great choice.

  • Windproof and waterproof AscentShell 3-layer laminate technology
  • Constructed of 50D/30D 100% polyester fabric
  • Very breathable, stretchy and comfortable
  • Fully seam taped to stay dry
  • TorsoFlo hem to pit zip ventilation
  • Adjustable hood
  • Left hand pocket works as a stuff sack
  • Elastic drawcord hem
  • Carabiner loop and key clip
  • 353 grams (men), 321 grams (women)

11. Arc’teryx Beta LT (MEN | WOMEN)

The Zeta LT by Arc’teryx is a hardshell jacket that is lightweight, and packable. It is good for long day hikes or extended backpacking trips.

  • Windproof, waterproof, breathable 3L GORE-TEX fabric
  • Helmet compatible StormHood
  • Pit zips for rapid ventilation
  • Trim fit increases breathability and comfort when wearing a backpack
  • Sleeve articulation and gusseted arms increase mobility
  • WaterTight zippers keeps moisture out
  • Low profile StormHood provides full protection
  • 395 grams (men), 350 grams (women)

Check REI price: MEN | WOMEN

12. REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Jacket (MEN | WOMEN)

A very lightweight, minimalistic jacket for hikers that want to be moving fast on the trails.

  • Waterproof, windproof, breathable GORE-TEX Active 3-layer fabric
  • 20D ripstop nylon
  • Fully taped seams
  • Two hand pockets set high are backpack compatible
  • Mesh lined pockets work as core vents (no pit zips)
  • Adjustable hem drawcord
  • 298 grams (men)

Hardshell jacket features + buying advice

Before you purchase a new hardshell jacket, take some time to think about the activities that you will use it for, and the weather conditions you will encounter.

What is a hardshell jacket?

A hardshell jacket is a non-insulated protective outer layer that should be 100 percent waterproof and windproof. A hardshell jacket should also be breathable to allow water vapor (aka sweat) from your body heat to escape. GORE-TEX is the most popular waterproof and breathable fabric.

When extreme weather strikes, staying warm and dry is the name of the game. If you don’t carry a real hardshell jacket (and pants) with you the risk is getting wet and cold which can lead to serious health complications or death caused by hypothermia.

You can use your hardshell jacket in all seasons of the year. It can protect you when hiking in cold snowy conditions layered on top of an insulating mid-layer such as a fleece jacket or vest.

There are three categories of hardshell jackets: Alpine, all-around, and minimalist. For most hikers and backpacking enthusiasts, an all-around or minimalist hardshell jacket is going to be the best choice. If you are a frequent ice climber or backcountry skier in the high alpine then an alpine hardshell jacket is the best choice for maximum weather protection.

A true hardshell jacket has a 3-layer laminate construction. This is the one feature that you must look for in a jacket. You will find other jackets that are 2-layer or 2.5 layers in their construction which are really rain jackets and will not stand up to persistent heavy rain, wet snow, or intense wind conditions. Invest in a 3-layer GORE-TEX Paclite jacket. They are more expensive but offer way more value.

Hardshell jackets vs. rain jackets vs. softshell jackets

What’s the difference? A hardshell jacket provides the ultimate protection in extreme cold and wintery weather conditions in the high alpine. A rain jacket is typically lighter, more packable, less durable, less breathable, cheaper (under $200), and is best suited for warmer weather conditions such as in the summertime. A softshell jacket provides some protection against very light precipitation and some insulation in milder conditions, but not for extended periods of time. For the money, I don’t particularly feel that softshell jackets provide much value and lean more towards dishing out style points.

Waterproofing

The waterproof laminate used is the most important feature of a hardshell jacket and what you should focus on the most when choosing a jacket. When you need your jacket, you want it to perform as expected!

It is recommended to get a jacket that has a 3-layer GORE-TEX laminate. There are two options. One is known as GORE-TEX Pro garment technology. This type of GORE-TEX is the most durable (30-200 denier), breathable, and windproof product. The other is GORE-TEX Active that is a lighter weight (13-30 denier) and more breathable 3-layer laminate.

Some brands may use similar laminates: eVent, NeoShell, Outdoor Research’s AscentShell, and Patagonia’s H2No Performance.

Durable water repellent finish (DWR)

Durable water repellent or DWR is a coating that is applied to the exterior of hard shell jackets. DWR prevents the absorption of moisture into the outer surface of the fabric. Instead, precipitation will bead and run off your garment. Keep in mind the performance of DWR degrades over time so you will have to restore it periodically using a product such as Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In.

Fabric thickness and durability (Denier)

The durability of your jacket is another super important feature to consider before you buy.

Specifically, you want to look at the denier of the fabric. Denier refers to the thickness of the fibers used in the jacket fabric. The higher the number, the more durable the fabric. The lower the number means that the fabric is lighter and therefore less durable. For most hikers, a denier that falls into the range of 30-80 is good.

When you review the best hardshell jackets below you will notice a reference to a denier number such as 50D.

Weight and packed size

A heavier weight jacket is going to be more durable, will offer more protection against intense weather, but could be more burdensome in your pack.

A lighter weight jacket is going to be more packable, less durable, and lighter which could be better suited for warmer climates or multi-day backpacking trips.

Think about where and how your jacket will be used and what conditions you are likely to encounter.

Fit and comfort

Every jacket is going to fit a bit differently. Sizing is also likely to vary between brands. And of course, not all hikers are the same shape and size. Order, and try on a few different jackets to zero in on what fits your body best.

The fit you want to aim for in order to feel comfortable while moving (with a backpack) should be somewhat streamlined or snug in a comfy way. The fit should not be too tight or restrictive, or too loose and baggy. Your jacket should accommodate an insulating mid-layer such as a fleece jacket or puffy jacket. So, make sure you try on several hard shells on top of your various mid-layers.

Ventilation and pit zips

Pit zips are highly recommended. If you are a high-exertion, super active, fast-moving hiker, or generally run hot you will benefit from the extra and rapid ventilation that pit zips offer. I know I am! I get hot and sweaty pretty quickly on the trails.

Backpack-friendly pockets

The best hardshell jackets for hiking and backpacking have hand pockets that are located mid torso and above the hip belt of your backpack. This prevents the pockets from being covered up so that they are always usable and accessible as you travel.

Helmet compatible hoods

This is a feature to consider if you plan to use the jacket for skiing or snowboarding, are hiking in extreme and rugged terrain in the high alpine (13ers, 14ers, etc.), or if you plan to combine your hiking adventures with mountain climbing. Or any other activity that requires wearing a helmet.

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