Share

Group Tests and Best Buys

Best Waterproof Shell Jackets Reviewed 2016

We've tested around 20 of the best 2016 waterproof mountain shell jackets and picked out our choice for walking, mountaineering and climbing.

We’ve reviewed around 20 of the best 2016 waterproof jackets out there and rated them for performance, value and how protective they feel – the latter is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof jacket, particularly in winter mountains, but it’s often overlooked.

We’ve chosen jackets from the top brands using a variety of fabrics, both top names like Gore-Tex and eVent and leading own-brand fabrics. All the jackets are guaranteed 100% waterproof and have sealed seams and full hoods.

The waterproof jackets we’ve tested

For each jacket we’ve picked out the most important points, these include how they fit, how well the hood works and whether you can adjust zips and tensioners while wearing winter gloves, We’ve also included a mini-test of each along with marks out of five for performance, value and protection.

Finally, although none of these jackets are lemons, we’ve picket out our top choices for walking, mountaineering and technical climbing use.

What about different waterproof fabrics?

There’s a big choice of waterproof fabrics out there with Gore-Tex being the best known. If you run hot, you’ll want as breathable as fabric as possible along with some cooling vents. If you run on the colder side, that’s less crucial. We’ve tried to tell you a little about the fabric each jacket uses to help you make a choice that works for you.

Navigation

Either scroll through the jackets or jump straight to your favourite brand by following the links below.

Arc’teryx | Berghaus | Black Diamond | Columbia | Fjällräven | Haglöfs | Jöttnar | Mountain Equipment | Montane | Paramo | Rab | Sprayway | The North Face

Verdict – Our Best Buys

Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket: £320 / 330g

Review

Arc’teryx has paid just as much attention to detail with the Zeta LT as it does with its top-end climbing shells and while you may not notice all the little details, the overall result is a feel of real quality and a certain wow factor. The cut is lovely and, as a bonus, the jacket looks great too especially in the iron oxide colour we tested.

The Gore-Tex C-KNIT fabric is impressive. A sort of capable halfway house between standard Gore-Tex and the top end, but somewhat crackly Pro version. It’s soft and relatively quiet with good breathability. It’s also lighter, which contributes to the weight of just 330 grammes.

In use it works as well as you’d expect. The non-helmet hood fits and works well and while the peak isn’t overly stiff, it’s up to the sort of conditions you’d expect a lighter jacket like this to encounter – it doesn’t have quite the winter-friendly sturdiness of some of the others tested.

Another quirk is that the hand-pockets zip open from the bottom upwards rather than the more usual direction, but you soon get used to it and it doesn’t adversely affect function. Overall a lovely jacket that also does the job though it’s not one we’d choose for dedicated winter use.

Pros

Beautifully made and detailed, excellent athletic cut, light weight, good looks.

Cons

Hood peak could be stiffer.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 3.5
Value: 4.5

For more information visit www.arcteryx.com.

Back to top

Berghaus Baffin Island Hydroshell Jacket: £300 / 470g

Review

First we really like the cut of the latest Berghaus technical jackets and the Baffin Island is no exception, it has a really nice fit and enough space for us to layer over a medium-weight synthetic fill jacket if needed. The vee-shaped notch gusset in the hem seems to work too and despite a snug hip-fit, high steps were easy and unrestricted.

The hybrid construction is interesting. The Hydroshell Air panels have a lab-rated 40,000g/m2/24hr moisture vapour transfer figure, which is twice the rest of the jacket and we found that when going hard, the jacket really did seem to breathe well and felt more comfortable.

The Air section is also less outright waterproof – 8,000mm of hydrostatic head compared to 20,000 elsewhere, but so far we’ve had no issues with leakage. The other thing that would bother us for really hard, sustained climbing use would be whether than fabric is vulnerable to abrasion for bandolier-racked gear.

Otherwise we’re mostly impressed, but the hood while excellent with a helmet, is a little less usable, but not useless, without one.

A good call for fast-moving technical mountain use by folk who run hot, but we’re not sure how well it would survive really sustained hardcore brutality. If you want bombproof, you may want to look elsewhere.

Pros

Impressive breathability, great cut and build quality, good with a helmet, excellent venting pockets.

Cons

Pockets fiddly with thick gloves, helmet less good with a bare head, durability question mark with hard use.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 3.5
Value: 4

For more information visit www.berghaus/com.

Back to top

Berghaus Tower Hydroshell Jacket: £250 / 570g

Review

A sturdy-feeling, protective and well-cut all-round mountain jacket that also copes with occasional helmet use. It’s a little longer than average which gives added crotch protection without being restrictive. The darker blue areas in the picture are heavier duty reinforcement fabric to cope with wear from pack and abrasion and feel reassuringly rugged.

The hood’s good too and will cope with occasional helmet use, though it’s slightly tight with a lid in place. The YKK VISLON main zip slides easily and is a nice touch as are the handy torso vents, but overall the jacket doesn’t feel as breathable as the Baffin Island with its body-mapped Hydroshell Air panels.

Otherwise it’s hard to fault as a well-specced, all-round mountain waterproof.

Pros

Decent cut, longer length, full adjustability and venting, sturdy feel, decent hood.

Cons

Less breathable than some if you run hot, hood slightly restrictive with helmet. Slightly heavy.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4.5
Value: 4

For more information visit www.berghaus/com.

Back to top

Black Diamond Sharp End Shell: £350 / 450g

Review

The Black Diamond Sharp End has real wow factor – it’s beautifully manufactured, uses an excellent, lightweight version of Gore-Tex Pro fabric and the distinctive Cohaesive cord locks work well, even if they are a little bulky and a’re reckoned to be pretty much indestructible.

Touches like the easy-to-grab zip-pulls and distinctive custom-moulded cuff tabs are nice as well and we can’t fault the fit. It’s not perfect though: for UK use the lack of facial protection from the hood isn’t ideal and you’d have to factor in some sort of face-mask for really gnarly conditions, plus we found it slightly restrictive when used with a helmet. We’d also prefer more stiffness to the peak.

We can’t fault the detailing and build quality which is right up there with the likes of Arc’teryx and the cut is also good, but for UK winter use, we reckon the hood design is a bit of a hindrance even without a helmet, though adding a face mask or balaclava would mostly sort that out.

One last thing: we don’t quite get the stealth hand-pockets which sit under the harness level. They seem like an odd addition to a jacket targeted at ‘fast-moving minimalists’.

Pros

Good fabric, lovely cut, immaculate detailing, cool cord grips, lightweight and great build quality.

Cons

Hood design lacks face protection and is just slightly limiting used with a helmet.

Performance:  4
Protective Feel: 4
Value: 4

For more information visit blackdiamondequipment.com.

Back to top

Columbia OutDry Extreme Test Jacket – £300 / 430g

Review

Around 19 jackets using this fabric are due out in early 2016, but we’ve been using this sample jacket for the past few months to get and idea of how the fabric works. And the simple answer, once you get beyond the odd, slightly rubbery look, is pretty damn well.

Cards on the table time: we don’t like the design of the test jacket much, but we really like the fabric. It doesn’t wet out after a couple of hours and turn into a soggy, unbreathable, cold thing, instead you just wipe off any moisture droplets and keep going. And not only is it decently breathable, it stays that way in use. It’s impressive.

We don’t like this particular jacket’s design or looks, but we’re hopeful that the production version will be better cut and look neater too. Ours is a yellow version of the model pictured and looks like a sou-wester… as worn by Paddington Bear.

Pros

Breathability, ongoing waterproofness,

Cons

Cut, cosmetics, the hood.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4
Value: 4

For more information visit blog.columbia.com/outdry_extreme.

Back to top

Fjällräven Keb Eco-Shell Jacket: £390 / 524g

Review

We were impressed by the combination of good all-round performance and the sort of inconspicuous looks that mean the jacket’s as happy around town as it is in the hills. The soft stretchy fabric has a really nice feel and we can’t fault the build quality either.

Our one initial concern was that the polyester fabric would be vulnerable to pack use and scraping against rocks but so far things have held up well. Breathability is subjectively up there with top-end waterproof fabrics, so you’re not sacrificing performance to ecological credentials either.

Pros

Nice feel, good breathability and weather-proof performance, nicely made and featured, eco credentials, neat cut especially for a walking jacket.

Cons

Polyester face fabric may not be as durable as some in the longer term.

Performance: 5
Protective Feel: 3.5
Value: 4

For more information visit www.fjallraven.co.uk.

Back to top

Haglöfs Astral III Jacket: £275 / 640g (large)

Review

The Astral III might not have technical alpine credentials or pretensions, but it’s a very effective, no fuss walking shell with a really well designed hood with an excellent peak design. Similarly the non-water resistant main zip gets a double storm-flap arrangement with lots of Velcro fasteners to keep things happily closed up.

There are plenty of pockets too with the hand ones being pack belt friendly and it’s nice – on a walking jacket – to have the option of pit-zips as well. Not everyone will like the two-layer Gore-Tex fabric, the lining adds weight and bulk and a little added warmth too, but if you run cool it works just fine.

Finally the muted styling and colour choice means that it’s just as much at home around town as it is on the hill.

Pros

Good hood design, subtle looks, pit-zips, good build quality.

Cons

Less breathable than some, a little heavy.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4
Value: 4

For more information visit www.haglofs.com.

Back to top

Jöttnar Asmund Hardshell Jacket: £250 / 340g

Review

Given that we run hot, we’re big fans of the super-breathable Polartec NeoShell fabric and the Asmund is also commendably light for a jacket using the material. We were surprised though at the generous cut, most technical jackets are snugger than this to fit efficiently over tailored mid-layers.

We actually found we could fit the jacket over Jöttnar’s own, moderately bulky Fjorm down jacket. On the plus side that means you can layer over quite bulky warm garment if necessary, but it also means that worn with thinner mid-layers – as it mostly will be – the jacket’s a little loose. That said, the generous cut should also help accommodate more generously proportioned mountaineers too.

That aside, it’s a nicely made jacket with a decent helmet-compatible hood that also works on a bare head and gives lots of facial protection, the fabric feels nice and it packs decently small too making it a good alpine retreat option.

Pros

Super breathable fabric, light weight, decent helmet hood, pretty colour.

Cons

Cut is on the generous side.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 3
Value: 4

For more information visit www.jottnar.com.

Back to top

Mountain Equipment Lhotse Jacket: £330 / 510g

Review

The Lhotse’s a bit of an old mate, but we’ve included it because it’s still one of the best waterproof mountain jackets out there for UK use. In a nutshell, it’s just very nicely cut and thoroughly thought-out in design terms – everything works as it should.

The Gore-Tex Pro fabric gives a good balance between toughness and breathability and while it’s not quite a butch as the Tupilak, the use of 80D reinforcement in key areas and general solidity of the jacket mean that it feels reassuringly protective when the wind starts to howl. A British jacket for British conditions.

Pros

Fabric, cut, hood function, breathability, VISLON zips

Cons

Hood slightly restrictive with a helmet.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 4.5
Value: 4.5

For more information visit mountain-equipment.co.uk.

Back to top

Mountain Equipment Tupilak Jacket: £380 / 560g

Review

The Tupilak’s been around for a while, but got an upgrade this year after sponsored climbed Nick Bullock trashed the front of his jacket in a multi-day climbing orgy. The big change is the use of 80D fabric all round which was previously just used on wear points like shoulders and hips.

The result is a bombproof jacket for relatively little weight gain and it certainly feels tough, if a little stiff to start off with. We’re big fans of ME’s alpine cut and there’s no change there, and the hood is reassuringly protective, even though we were surprised to find a restriction on the edges of head movement – long neck and a high profile helmet perhaps?

Realistically, although it’s a cracking, tough and protective mountain jacket, for most of us, it’s probably overkill. Likewise, if you don’t use you shell with a helmet the majority of the time, you’ll get a better barehead fit from other ME shell hoods.

If you do need a really tough jacket though – maybe you’re a guide or instructor or just won the lottery and plan to spend the rest of your life mountaineering – the Tupilak’s a well-cut and functionally designed shell that doesn’t weigh a ton and fits impressively well too.

Pros

Tough breathable, excellent cut and serious mountain hood with lots of helmet capacity.

Cons

Some slight head restricted when wearing a lid.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 5
Value: 4

For more information visit mountain-equipment.co.uk.

Back to top

Montane Alpine Endurance Jacket: £325 / 620g

Review

The eVent fabric’s nice and breathable and despite the version used here having a nice, soft feel, the jacket still feels reassuringly tough and protective. Some of that is down to the over-layered pockets on the front of the jacket which means there are three layers of fabric across the chest.

Personally we don’t really feel the need for more than a couple of pockets, but if you like a lot of on-board storage, the Alpine Endurance has it in spades with both large hand-warmer pockets and map-sized chest ones. Adjustability and fit are both good and the hood works well with or without a helmet.

The downside for the jacket is that Endurance no longer has the breathability edge over Gore-Tex Pro which it once enjoyed and the jacket is slightly heavy compared to some competitors. If you’re an eVent and pocket fan though, it’s an option worth considering.

Pros

Breathable fabric, build quality, cut, capable hood, lots of pockets.

Cons

Possibly too many pockets, fabric needs care, slightly weighty.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4.5
Value:4

For more information visit www.montane.co.uk.

Back to top

Paramo Alta III Jacket: £280 / 770g

Review

Paramo is about as close to a cult as you get in the outdoors gear world. The Nikwax Analogy waterproof system is completely different to anything else out there, being a soft-feeling combination of a windproof outer fabric and ‘Pump Liner’ inner.

It’s almost impossible to describe in words, but it all seems counter-intuitive. Regardless of that, it works well with excellent breathability and fast drying times plus is easy to repair if it holes. Adherents swear by it, others find it too warm in milder conditions thanks to the extra insulation of the pump liner.

Others still are put off by the baggy, shapeless cut of many traditional Paramo garments. the Alta III is another step in changing that. It’s cut neater and closer than iots predecessor, though it still has plenty of space for layering up underneath.

Mostly it just works. Possibly not for you if you’re a lightweight fan or if you run hot, in which case it may be too warm in temperatures much above freezing, but for many users it works uncannily well. Ready to join the cult?

Pros

Quiet, soft, very breathable fabric system, hood, pockets, venting options, revised cut, warm.

Cons

Warm and a little heavy.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4.5
Value: 4.5

For more information visit paramo.co.uk.

Back to top

Rab Latok Alpine Jacket: £260 / 470g

Review

Like ME’s Lhotse, the Latok Alpine – despite the name – is something of a UK mountain classic. It ticks all the boxes: decent cut, effective helmet, breathable fabric, enough pockets and has some added extras like Rab’s confidence-boosting ‘dual internal storm flap system’ and a VISLON front zip that’s bedded into urethane.

In another nice touch, the big, harness-friendly A-line pockets are claimed to have ‘drainage’. We’re investigating that one… There’s also a waist cord, or a half-cord, but we suspect most wearers will manage just fine without using. The cut is actually pretty trim as is.

And then there are those slightly mad pit-zips. We actually like them, but if its at all windy you need to tuck the sleeves away to avoid them flapping around madly, which is slightly problematic. Still, you can always choose to use them in more conventional fashion and they don’t seem to have much impact on the jacket the rest of the time. We suspect they’ll be one of those Marmite features that people either love or hate, but they’re not obtrusive.

Pros

Breathability, cut, pockets, decent helmet hood, eccentric pit-zips.

Cons

Eccentric pit-zips, eVent fabric needs regular care.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 4.5
Value:4.5

For more information visit rab.equipment.

Back to top

Rab Muztag Jacket: £200 / 300g

Review

It’s been around for so long now that it’s easy to forget that eVent fabric is still competitively breathable and still developing new versions. The DV Storm used for the Muztag works really well and on a par, we reckon, with stuff like Gore-Tex Active.

On top of that, the Muztag is a nice mix of proven design features and a decently light weight. It doesn’t feel as reassuringly protective as a heavier jacket like the Latok Alpine, but it would work really well as a back-up to a protective soft shell in really nasty conditions rather than as an all-day option.

Plus because it’s light and packs relatively small, you can stick it in your pack without fretting. One for fast movers who need maximum breathability and low weight and pack size.

Pros

Breathabilty, weight, pockets, decent hood, nice cut,

Cons

Not as tough as heavier grade jackets.

Performance: 4.5
Protective Feel: 3.5
Value: 4

For more information visit rab.equipment.

Back to top

Sprayway Zeus Jacket: £260 / 470g

Review

Put together by an erstwhile designer from sister brand Mountain Equipment, the Zeus is a bit of a throwback to Sprayway’s mountainous past. Don’t be taken in by the understated looks – all the rage going forward by the way – the Zeus is a nearly designed, really competent all-round mountain jacket with some really nice detail touches.

We like the smooth-running VISLON zips, the capable and protective mountain hood, pack and harness-friendly pockets and all-round clean design touches. There are compromises here: the cut is slightly more generous than you get with outright technical shells from the likes of ME, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond and the like, but it does make the jacket more forgiving and capable of layering over bulkier insulation and second, there’s the fabric.

There’s nothing wrong with standard three-layer Gore-Tex, but you lose out a little on breathability compared to fabrics like eVent, NeoShell and Gore-Tex Pro and on durability relative to the latter. Realistically though, if you don’t run hot and move fast, that may not be an issue for you.

Finally, we’ve seen the Zeus discounted online to around £180 or less, which makes the Zeus a bit of a bargain if you’re after an all-round mountain jacket with the capability for occasional helmet use. Finally, the understated looks mean you can wear it in town without looking like an alpine wannabe.

Pros

Hood, medium cut, neat design, smooth-running VISLON zips, understated looks.

Cons

Fabric less breathable than some, medium cut again.

Performance: 4
Protective Feel: 4
Value: 5

For more information visit www.sprayway.com.

Back to top

The North Face FuseForm Dot Matrix Insulated Jacket: £220 / 640g

Review

In an ideal world we’d have included the non-insulated Dot Matrix waterproof jacket instead, but we were intrigued by the insulated version and here it is. It’s hard to know whether to think of the jacket as a waterproof with added insulation or a waterproof insulated jacket.

The shell’s pretty impressive and reasonably light going by the overall weight of the jacket plus it uses FuseForm to reduce seams, though the changing dot matrix pattern is more about aesthetics than changing the properties of the fabric.

The own-brand Heatseeker synthetic fill – confusingly our test jacket came with a Primaloft Eco swing-tag attached – is decently warm and graded so the sleeves and hood don’t feel over-filled. To be honest, unless it’s very cold, the jacket’s likely to be too warm for most active use, thought the pit-zips do allow you to dump some heat when things get sticky.

The problem with that, for us at least, was that we were unable to close the pit-zips after opening them up, they wouldn’t go past the bend under the armpit.

For more static or slow, bumbly cold-weather strolls, the jacket works pretty well and it would rock in horrible, wet snow conditions. It might also, if you bought it oversized, make a highly water-resistant over-layering jacket – at 640g for a medium, it’s not excessively heavy.

Overall we’d say that it probably makes more sense to keep your shell and your insulation separate for maximum versatility, but if you do want a warm and waterproof  jacket for everyday outdoor use, but not strenuous stuff, it’s a definite option.

Pros

Warm, waterproof, impressive technology, contemporary looks, neat-fitting hood.

Cons

Too warm for most active use, pit-zips snag and are hard to close once open.

Performance: 3
Protective Feel: 4
Value: 4

For more information visit www.thenorthface.co.uk.

Back to top

The North Face Summit L5 Jacket: £470 / 570g

Review

The L5 is arguably the most impressive waterproof shell jacket we’ve used. It’s a phenomenal piece of product engineering – the FuseForm technology means the whole jacket minimises the number of seams and the, erm, literally seamless transition from one fabric texture to another is amazing,

It looks brilliant too in low-key, but distinctive monochromatic shades of grey, like nothing else out there. More importantly it fits phenomenally and has a super-reassuring, sturdy, protective feel to it. When we interviewed TNF athlete David Goettler a few months back, he described it as feeling like a ‘suit of armour… At first it feels stiff,’ he said ‘but you can really move in it thanks to the 3D fit, you have no feeling of fight against the jacket’.

He also pointed out that it’s very uncompromising and ‘not for everyone’, but if if does fit you, the combination of an excellent hood, glove-like fit and carefully thought-through features makes it one of the very best technical mountain jackets out there.

So good in fact, that the real question may be not whether the jacket is worth it, but whether you are…

Pros

Superb fit, excellent helmet, innovative product engineering, super sturdy feel, good breathability, good mobility distinctive looks.

Cons

Uncompromising fit, slightly weighty, expensive.

Performance: 5
Protective Feel: 5
Value: 5

For more information visit www.thenorthface.co.uk.

Back to top

Verdict – Our Best Buys

In a sense there are no ‘winners’ here – without exception they’re all good jackets with different strengths and weaknesses, the trick is to work out what’s best for you. That said, in time-honoured fashion, we’re going to round-up a few of our favourites for technical climbing, all-round mountaineering and mountain walking.

Technical Climbing

There are some cracking climbing shells out there, but we’re blown away by the excellent The North Face Summit L5 Jacket. TNF put a huge amount of development into the new Summit Series and it shows: the cut is uncompromisingly fitted, but not restrictive, the hood is excellent, like a nuclear bunker for your head and the FuseForm construction is mind-blowingly clever. It really does feel pheneomenally protective.

Runner Up:  The 2016 version of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak is a bombproof cracker of a jacket, tough, light, beautifully cut and with a proper mountain hood.

General Mountaineering

For a mix of mountaineering and mountain walking in UK conditions, it’s a close run thing, but we’re going to give it to the Mountain Equipment Lhotse – like the Tupilak it has a superb cut and an efficient hood that allows you to wear it with and without a helmet plus thorough design all round with great Gore-Tex Pro fabric doing an excellent job.

Runner Up: It was a close-run thing, but the latest 2016 Rab Latok Alpine is another excellent all-round mountain shell jacket, this time using eVent fabric. The cut and design are both good, though the Escape Artist pit-zips have the uncanny power to amaze, amuse and horrify depending on your standpoint. We like them. Also excellent as an all-rounder is the Berghaus Tower Hydroshell Jacket, simply hard to fault.

Hill And Mountain Walking Jacket

Finally, if you don’t have any gnarly mountaineering ambitions, the new, updated version of the Paramo Alta III is our choice for winter use at least. The cut is vastly better than before and we love the rustle-free performance and breathability of the Nikwax Analogy waterproof system. The hood is good too. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but for damp and cool conditions, Paramo really does work.

Runner Up: Plenty of other options out there too, but the no-nonsense Sprayway Zeus is a cracking all-rounder if you can find it at the right price. The Haglöfs Astra III is nice enough with a decent hood, but we’d have preferred a three-layer fabric to save a little weight and bulk and finally the Fjällräven Keb Eco-Shell is an all-round lovely jacket made from a very nice fabric.

Into The Future

Finally, an honourable mention for the innovative Columbia OutDry Extreme technology. We don’t particularly rate the sample jacket we’ve been using as a UK-friendly design, but the fabric, which does away with face materials and DWR treatments has huge potential. We’d love to try it with a different jacket design – there are 19 versions out in spring 2016 so watch this space!

Back to top

Share

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.

production