soft-shell jacket reviews

Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket.

Review: Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket and Pants

Winter Shell Jacket
Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket
$350, 1 lb. 7 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

Winter Shell Pants
Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants
$299, 1 lb. 5.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

OR’s Skyward II Jacket and Skyward II Pants have demonstrated unique versatility as winter shells over numerous days of backcountry skiing in a full range of conditions. I’ve skinned uphill and skied downhill through hours of dumping snow in temperatures in the teens and 20s Fahrenheit without ever taking the jacket off (and obviously not removing the pants) and remained comfortable skiing in single-digit temps (with an insulation layer under the jacket) and weather shifting from falling snow to sunshine.

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Review: Marmot Zion Jacket

Marmot Zion Jacket
Marmot Zion Jacket

Winter Shell
Marmot Zion Jacket
$400, 1 lb. 4 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

Backcountry skiing at around 9,000 feet around Galena Summit, which separates Idaho’s Smoky Mountains and Boulder Mountains (with views north to the better-known Sawtooths and White Cloud Mountains), on a day with lightly falling snow, wind on exposed ridgelines, and temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit, I needed a shell jacket that could keep me comfortable and dry as my body cycled frequently between overheating and feeling chilled. The Zion Jacket did just that. Waterproof-breathable like a hard shell, it looks, feels, and behaves in some ways more like a soft shell—and offers more seasonal range and weather versatility.

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Gear Review: Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket and Pants

Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket
Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket

Winter Jacket and Pants
Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket
$379, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XL, women’s XS-L

moosejaw.com

Patagonia Knifeblade Pants
$299, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s small)
Sizes: men’s XS-XL, women’s XS-L
moosejaw.com

Skiing up Pilot Peak in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, on a day of clouds, light snow and wind, and temperatures just below freezing, I kept my jacket on—something I almost never do when skiing uphill (unless it’s much colder), because I invariably work up a good sweat. And I did it repeatedly, because of the breathability of my Knifeblade Jacket, which moves moisture so efficiently that it never got more than slightly damp inside. I’m updating this review because the Knifeblade once again impressed me so much on that recent day of backcountry skiing.

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Gear Review: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell

Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell

Winter Shell
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell
$199, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL
backcountry.com

We expect more of jackets made for our winter outdoor pursuits because we spend more time in them than in a rain shell in summer (which may not even come out of your pack). Most of all, it has to fend off a wide range of nasty weather while breathing well enough that you don’t wind up creating a nasty storm of sweat on the inside. Black Diamond’s new Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell did just that for me over numerous days of skiing the backcountry of Idaho’s Boise Mountains, in temperatures ranging from single digits with a below-zero wind chill through the high 30s, in falling snow, light rain mixed with wet snow, wind, and just plain calm, sub-freezing air.

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North of Mount Heyburn, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

Ask Me: Can You Recommend a Jacket and Pants for Winter in the Mountains?

Hi Michael,

Hope all is well with you. I’ve contacted you in the past, and you have given me great information. I ended up buying things that you recommended (Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser Plus GTX RR boots and the Gregory Targhee 45L winter backpack).

I have a couple of different questions for you. First, I was hoping you could recommend a good pair of goggles for winter hiking and climbing (mostly for above treeline in New Hampshire’s White Mountains). I know you are very familiar how hairy it can get up there, so they would have to have great ventilation so they would not fog.

My next question is could you recommend a good, lightweight but warm, breathable fleece to go over a base layer, also for winter hiking? I also saw your review of the Marmot Alpha Jacket—would this take the place of a soft shell/fleece?

Read onAsk Me: Can You Recommend a Jacket and Pants for Winter in the Mountains?