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Let's Talk About Hardshells


OneEyeMan
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I'm currently putting together my clothing arsenal for backpacking and hiking in the fall and I'm trying to get a handle on what the best hard shell for my purposes would be.  So far, the Arcteryx Beta SL seems like a good jacket, although a bit expensive.  Any of you own one?  Pros, Cons?  What other shells should I consider?  Most likely, it'll be used for emergency downpours, but I don't want to sacrifice durability in case I need to wear it with my pack and/or bushwack through trees, brush, brambles, etc.

Thanks all.

Lenny

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I really like mine - Patagonia Super Cell. It's tougher and more breathable than their cheaper and more popular Torrentshell, but people love the Torrentshell. The most popular rain shell is the Marmot Precip - it's cheap and lots of people swear by it. You can wear out 3 of them for the price of 1 Arcteryx jacket (but the Arcteryx stuff is really nice).

Try a bunch on and look for deals. I wouldn't have bought mine if it wasn't 20% off. Consider "breathability" to be a relative term - nothing waterproof is really breathable if you are hiking in the rain. So pit zips are great to have, and real Gore Tex breathes better than poprietary layers.

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If it's just for brief rains, you could save a lot of cash and get a 2.5 layer piece like the precip, etc.  I think there are better competitive jackets than the precip, but it's a long term proven favorite and the shell fabric is reasonably durable.  You can obviously go lighter or heavier with fabrics and features. For a more substantial jacket look for something with Gore Active or Mountain Hardwear's Dry-Q Elite membrane.  Both of those perform great and have garment options from light to moderate weight, and they're more comfortable than the 2.5 layer coatings or the Gore Paclite (which is still decent).  It's a balance between weight and durability but only the heavier hard shells (over a pound, hopefully less than two) are going to be super durable for bushwhacking and even they will suffer from thorns.  I'm not mentioning brands and models because there are so many to pick from...better to try to decide on the tech layer first, then jacket features, and then look at what's available in an acceptable weight for you.  Arcteryx is always good gear but they aren't doing anything particularly special with rain jackets and their dwr on most pieces seems to be the same or marginally better than what others are using.  Marmot, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardwear all make great pieces in a range of weights/fabrics, and the jackets from Montbell, Haglofs, Mountain Equipment, and Z-Packs are definitely worth a look as well.  Remember that all of these need maintenance of the dwr coating and that's really the core of any WPB gear - it's the great equalizer and trumps any marketing or reputation.

Neoshell and the newest version of Gore Pro are excellent, but they're better for cold weather winter activities.  They work for backpacking but I think other choices are better all things considered.

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Thanks guys.  Hey Stepbystep, when you say:  "that all of these need maintenance of the dwr coating" you're not talking about fabric with a Gore-Tex laminate, are you?  Or do Gore-Tex fabrics also need DWR coatings?  I don't quite fully understand this.

Thanks,

Lenny

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All of them.  Membranes, laminates...any brand.  The DWR is a surface treatment on the outside of the fabric that causes water to bead up and roll off - which prevents the outer fabric from becoming waterlogged.  If that happens then you effectively lose any breathability and will soak in your own humidity on the inside until the jacket can dry out again.  The jacket will still be waterproof and not leak but you'll still be wet inside (just a fact with any raingear...some just hold that off from happening a little longer than others.  Physics will always win, though.)  Some DWR products are better than others as far as sustained rains and abrasion, but all of them will need to be reapplied from time to time.  Several years ago the industry changed to more environmentally friendly DWR products but they don't last as long now, so a yearly treatment is almost the norm if you use it much - sometimes more or less.  It's not true across companies or price points but usually with the more expensive jackets you will get a better DWR...but they still wear off eventually.   What you get with a more expensive membrane like Gore (but not their Paclite which is different) or the Dry-Q Elite (just the Elite version, not the other two) is a longer lifespan and usually more comfort when damp inside, sometimes better breathable performance or a longer delay until it wets out, when compared to coatings like used on the Precip/Torrentshell/Helium/Plasmic/etc/etc.  What's best?  It really just depends.  The price of 2.5 layer laminates is so attractive and the perform very well for most rain, but they're shorter lived sometimes (you won't be giving it to your children) and are less comfortable in long extended rains when it's warm or you don't have layers below to mitigate moisture.  I've used a lot over the years including an early Arcteryx and several Gore pieces, but what I use most now is the 2.5 stuff because it's light and compact and serviceable (my current MH one is less than 8oz.  I still have and use some Gore when I know it's a rainy trip especially if the temps will be cooler.  For $200 I would look for some closeouts on sites like Sierra Trading Post, Campsaver, and Backcountry.  I'm not a huge fan of the paclite material but it's ok and you can find those pretty cheap in something like the Marmot Minimalist (or older Optima which is the same jacket pretty much).  You might be able to find a Marmot Nano AS or Outdoor Research Axiom in that range, too, which are Gore Active.  Tons of 2.5 jackets in that range if you decide on that.  I would say go with Mountain Hardwear for those, or if you like the full cut fit of the Precip then get one of the new 2015 models because they improved it (dwr and coating both).  This is very longwinded, sorry.  Really would go through those steps of deciding the tech you prefer, followed by garment features and weight range...nose around and see what meets your criteria.  And pick up a bottle of Revive-X or Grangers dwr treatment because no matter what you pick you will eventually need it. 

This might help you out.  It's a great site and this is a very good article.

http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Rain-Jacket-Reviews/Buying-Advice

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OK, thanks again.  I'm a little confused on the different membranes:  Paclite, all the various Gore products, 2.5 etc.  Is there somewhere I can read up on the pros and cons of these various materials/membranes?

Lenny

 

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Aaron Zagrodnick

OK, thanks again.  I'm a little confused on the different membranes:  Paclite, all the various Gore products, 2.5 etc.  Is there somewhere I can read up on the pros and cons of these various materials/membranes?

Lenny

 

REI has a pretty good break down here:

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/rainwear.html

I use a Marmot Essence. Very light and no durability issues - I renew the DWR with spray-on ReviveX every now and then and it's been good to go on trail and off.

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Thanks for the link Aaron.  I'm almost settled on the Essence myself.  Glad to hear there are no durability issues with it.  Surprising seeing as how light it is.

Lenny

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Aaron Zagrodnick

No problem! The Essence isn't a jacket I'd abuse, but I've had no issues with normal use and it's seen its fair share of tree branches and occasional rock contact etc. although I do normally try to dodge those types of obstacles vs. just blazing through. 

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