I know you might not believe it as we’ll be kicking through fresh snow in the hills this weekend, but summer is coming so it’s time to lighten the load a wee bit.
I like big protective hoods in the winter, I like wide cuffs I can pull over gloves and as the years are racking up I’m feeling quite happy out there with a heavier fabric to keep a little bit more of the windchill at bay. However for the past few weeks as I’ve been back in lighter shells and I’ve adjusted to all the cut corners and missing features, smaller hoods and elasticated cuffs. I’m not complaining – there are some very good jackets in this review and one or two have seen service all through winter even at the 400g or below, target I set for the review.
Weight is lost in various ways, by stripping back on features or adjustability or by using a lighter fabric. The obvious danger is cutting back too much to the point where a jacket is no longer fit for purpose, but that’s subjective, it’s really down to how few features you personally are happy to work with, or without. Like pockets, do you need two, one or none? I like a chest pocket, but with so many rucksacks having hip fin pockets, it’s not vital by any means.
Fabric weight is a big factor in the overall weight of the jacket and in recent years fabrics have become lighter in general, allowing some jackets to retain more features at low weight. I was surprised to find pitzips on such light jackets.
Breathability is the other fabric factor we need to know about and many of the jackets here stay away from the familiar waterproof and breathable fabric names. Performance of these fabrics ranged from okay to excellent, it’s hard to be scientific and get consistent results, even walking the same routes as I do on my regular deer fence inspection runs. A few of the fabrics have no inner layer to the fabric laminate so the waterproof membrane itself is the inner surface which has no moisture absorbency, these jackets will wet-out more readily on the inside when you’re working hard, but do dry fast when you’re pumping out less sweat.
When I was looking at the submission ideas for the review I was expecting a bunch of fell racing jackets and basic pack-a-macs but going light has crossed into the mainstream and many of the jackets here are geared towards hill use as well as general use. This means a lot of the pockets are set low as handwarmers. I was initially resistant to include these in the review, a lingering suspicion that all mountain jackets must have high set chest pockets probably, but after trying some, it turns out low-set pockets can actually be okay. They’re definitely the right height as hand warmers when you’re standing on a mountain or in a train station, you just can’t use them as storage with a bigger rucksack hip belt as easily. I’ve had no real issues with my smaller summer packs which have only a 25mm webbing waist strap or no strap at all.
I took all the weights myself, so believe me, not the manufacturers. The sizes tested were men’s large and women’s medium for my fellow tester Joyce.
Men’s version available
The Light Trek manages an impressive list of features for the weight. Two hand warmer pockets, two napoleon chest pockets, zipped side vents, mountain hood with a wired peak and roll away strap, old-school double storm flapped main zip, adjustable cuffs and hem. The fit is neat but not too slim or overly sculpted, so less athletic body shapes could still be happy in here. The Hydroshell fabric is in two weights with the heavier grade on the shoulder and forearms for durability. It’s a soft feeling fabric and breathability seems decent. The pockets are all big and have easily gripped zip pulls. The hood is excellent, well-shaped and moves with the head. It has rear volume adjustment and front drawcords which you need two hands to tighten up as the cord locks aren’t attached, a wee bit of unnecessary faff there. The vertical side vents are good, easier to use than pitzips and let a lot of cool air in. Decent body length with a slightly scooped tail, excellent shoulder movement and there’s some reflective detailing.
Women’s version available
The OutDry weighed up slightly above my 400g limit but not by much and it was definitely an interesting jacket to test. I remember years ago there was a debate about whether Gore-Tex should actually be worn inside out to improve the performance, that aesthetics and durability were put before moisture movement. Well, Columbia have put that theory to the test with this jacket and their own OutDry Extreme fabric. The jacket itself has a roomy square-cut fit with decent shoulder movement. There are three zipped chest pockets with mesh liners. The zips are laser-cut and water resistant but the tops have no garages for the zip pulls and there are small gaps that water can creep in. I like the scooped adjustable cuffs that give extra hand coverage and the adjustable hood is a good size and shape but it’s let down by a peak that bundles up however I adjust it. There are storm-flapped pitzips and the main zip is water resistant with an internal stormflap.
The reversed fabric is quite stiff and russles, but the inner face is very comfy and does absorb sweat well enough while the outer sheds rain very well although it can still wet-out despite than shiny surface.
I like innovation so I like what Columbia are trying here. For me just now it needs a slightly softer fabric and a look at some of the details on the jacket.
Women’s version available
The Versa is light and very packable. The fit is neat but not tight with a decent back length, scooped tail and the arms have excellent articulation with Velcro adjustable cuffs. There are two mid height chest pockets with water resistant zips and the main zip is water resistant with an internal storm flap.
The hood is well shaped and moves with my head, it has a fleece chin guard and single handed volume and face adjustment. The peak is soft and when all the adjusters are slack it is a bit shapeless. It takes a nice curve when the adjusters are pulled in but I only tighten in my hood when the wind is up or the rain is going sideways, so I’d like to see some kind of stiffening in there.
The current Paclite fabric is good, much better than earlier versions which would wet-out inside instantly with no inner surface to absorb the moisture. The inner coating can still be overloaded with sweat if you’re working hard, but it dries fast and I find it is a pleasant fabric to wear.
The Kento is the heaviest jacket in the test but the stretch fabric gives the jacket the feel of a softshell so it still feels light to wear, so it qualifies. Just.
The Kento has a slimmer fit and with a good length on the body and arms. The shoulders have good articulation and along the stretch the jacket allows good free movement. The fabric has good breathability outside of overloading it when working hard and has a pleasant soft handle.
The three chest pockets have water resistant zips and zipper garages, the pitzips have stormflaps and the main water-resistant zip has in internal stormflap. The hood is well shaped, fits well and moves with my head. It has three-point adjustment which is all one-handed and easy enough to operate with gloves on. The peak is a little soft as it’s just laminated and should be packed carefully in your rucksack so it doesn’t kink, as it takes a while to straighten out again. Once it does it’s fine, the peak is big and offers great protection. One of the few jackets I can keep my glasses on with in the rain.
You don’t get much more basic than the Helium. A full length water resistant front zip, single zipped chest pocket with water resistant zip, part elasticated cuffs, well-shaped hood with a stiffened peak and volume adjustment. The volume adjuster pulls the hood away from your face a little and tucks the collar under my chin which means that rain doesn’t get into the jacket, just onto my mountain man’s beard. A lot of US designed jackets have this style of single hood adjustment, it can work well just feels a little odd at first.
The fit is on the relaxed side of neat with okay shoulder articulation, higher scrambling moves do pull the hem up a little.
The Pertex Shield fabric does its job, you can wet-out the inside while working hard but it dries fast and keeps the rain out. The jacket folds into a hidden pocket at the back which is also perfectly useable as it has a Velcro closure.
Women’s version available
The Torrentshell is a more casually styled jacket with roomy cut and big low-set pockets. It has a double storm flapped main zip, velcro adjustable cuffs and pit zips, all of which help make it feel more of an outdoor jacket.
Shoulder articulation is okay, helped by the roomy cut and the length is good. The hood is a good size and had three-point adjustment but the face aperture ruffles up a lot when cinched in and the soft peak would benefit from some stiffening to help it keep a protective curved shape.
The fabric is soft and pleasant enough to wear with breathability in line with most of the other jackets here, will wet out inside when working hard but dries off quick enough.
The Torrentshell feels like an every-day jacket that you can take to the hills.
Light and packable, the Myriad is still fully featured and has been a year round jacket for me.
It has a slightly relaxed cut for layering with a long scooped tail and excellent shoulder articulation. The front zip is water resistant with an internal storm flap which and there are two chest pockets with water resistant zips and zipper garages for the zip pulls. There’s another smaller zipped stretch-mesh pocket inside. The cuffs are velcro adjustable and wide enough for winter gloves.The hood is excellent, a great fit that moves with my head even when not adjusted and the peak is stiffened and wired. The three point adjustment is all one-handed and the face adjusters cord ends are very well positioned, low down where they’re easy to find.
The Polartec NeosShell fabric is very breathable indeed, coping with average sweat output very well. If it makes sense, the myriad is a mountain jacket that is light, not a lightweight jacket.
Women’s version available
The Nebula’s stretch fabric gives the jacket a very softshell-like feel making it easy to wear. The fabric’s moisture management is in line with most in the review where it’s fine until working hard where it’ll wet out but dries off quick enough. There are velcro adjustable cuffs, two large lower set pockets with water resistant zips and unusually, two side venting zips that can be undone completely from armpit to hem.
The hood has the single rear adjuster which draws the hood back from your face, there’s a small stiffened peak and the hood fits well and moves well with my head.
The Nebula looks and feels a bit like casual jacket with the smooth-touch stretch fabric, but it is hill compatible, it’s probably only the more basic hood that’ll keep it out of really bad weather for me.
Men’s version available
The Thame mixes two different fabrics with stretch panels on the arms, shoulders and back. Along with the excellent shoulder articulation it makes the Thame a good jacket to be mobile in. The general fit is quite neat with a slightly pinched waist and flared hips. The arm length is very good and there’s a slight scoop to the tail. The front zip is the chunky style of water resistant zip with an internal storm flap. There are two lower-set pockets and one zipped chest pocket. These pockets are storm flapped with regular zips and have waterproof inners so even if the rain gets in, it won’t penetrate the jacket. Water ingress into the pockets hasn’t been an issue for Joyce so far though.
The hood has a fleece chinguard and a single rear adjuster. This works well but can be a little fiddly, especially with gloves on and watching the hood being pulled in, it lessens the coverage that the excellent big stiffened peak gives the face. It still protects, but I know I’d like that big peak to stay put in the worst weather.
Fabric performance in fine, only hard work wets it out inside and it clears fast when back at normal pace. The pitzips also help with ventilation and cooling.
The Rhea is unusual as it’s a 2-layer fabric with a mesh liner, something that we see less of these days in mountain waterproofs. It’s a good system though, very breathable and comfy to wear, the mesh holds the sweat away from you until the membrane can pass it to the outside, so don’t dismiss this format as old fashioned at all. The Hydro Dry fabric isn’t the most breathable, but the mesh liner does get the best comfort conditions for the wearer from it. The cut is relaxed with a slightly pinched waist and flared hips with a decent scoop to the tail. The arms were quite short for Joyce, but the cuffs are adjustable enough for wearing big gloves underneath.
The main zip has an external fabric guard and an internal storm flap, it works fine and the zip runs smooth, no rain ingress has been reported so far. The hood rolls away into the collar but it avoids any loose flaps or drawcords and is a near well-fitting design with a wired peak.
The pockets are low set and quite small, definitely handwarmers. A jacket for everyday and mountain use.
Women’s version available
Last up is something that nearly never made it into the review because I originally thought it was a windproof for next month’s grouptest. But no, this is actually the claimant for the world’s lightest full-zip waterproof and at 84g for this large size, it’s hard to see how you could go any lighter. The fit is neat, but arm and body length is good, the hood is basic but fits well and keep rain and wind off, I wear a peaked cap most of the time in the hills and this works perfectly with it.
The fabric does breathe and you just don’t know your wearing it, in fact if worn over a base later, it just feels like the rain’s hitting you. On the sunniest of days, this lives in my pack in the hills now. It’s not for everyone, it’s not for the worst of weather, but as a wildcard in the world of waterproofs it’s worth a thought.
The Last Word
Of the women’s models Joyce chose the Sherpa as her number one. The fit was excellent and the stretch panels made the difference to comfort and movement. I thought it would have been the Berghaus Light trek, it’s got the features I like in my jackets, but it just goes to show how important fit is, nothing else matters other than how it feels on. Get into those shops and try stuff out.
Of the men’s test models Rab made a jacket for summer and winter with an excellent fabric and fit that’s been a regular choice for my trips. The others feel good at different times and places for me, all were good for smaller hill days or long trails, some are great for big hill days and overnighters.
The Haglofs LIM Versa fits very well everywhere, as does the Mammut Kento and the Outdoor Research Helium feels like just enough jacket to wear anytime outside of winter.
You’ll see a lot of white inside the hoods in the photos, this is the exposed membrane which most of the jackets in the review have. This lack of an inner scrim is partly why the jackets will wet out inside when sweat output exceeds the fabric’s capacity to move it to the outside. The membrane can feel a little clammy on bare skin so they all have some sort of printed pattern to alleviate this, and it does make a difference, the surface might sometimes drag on bare skin, but it doesn’t stick as much as it would otherwise. One good tip is to wear a long sleeve baselayer all the time, it makes you immune to the effect!