GROUP TEST: Lightweight Waterproof Shells

added 02/Aug/2017, see all Outdoor Research, Mammut, Alpkit, Arc'teryx, Mountain Equipment, Berghaus, Jöttnar, Rab or Marmot news & reviews
Reviewed by UKC/UKH Gear
This review has been read 9,837 times

Summer is the time to save weight on your rain shell. Whether you're hillwalking on a day of sunshine and showers, or clipping it to your harness just in case, light is right. From running to backpacking, cragging to alpine routes, British hills to long haul destinations with limited luggage, the lightweight waterproof category covers a lot of bases.

Here we compare minimalist shells from several leading brands. The selection ranges from the ultimate in ultralight, through to medium-light mountaineering jackets. Which is best for you depends what you mean to do with it. We've used them all for several months, in a variety of settings and conditions.

For this review fit, features, value and (insofar as it's possible) breathability have been assessed, but lightness and packability were our primary concern, and it's this that we've given most weight to in our star ratings.

Overall summary

Make and model

Ratings

Berghaus

Hyper 100

Price: £260

Weight: 110g (size L)

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Berghaus Hyper 100 prod shot, 180 kb

Weight

5 / 5

Fit and features

2.5 / 5

Comfort on the move

5 / 5

Value

2 / 5

Overall

5 / 5

Alpkit

Gravitas

Price: £140

Weight: 163g (size L)

Best in Test Large, 13 kb

Alpkit Gravitas prod shot, 42 kb

Weight

4.8 / 5

Fit and features

3.5 / 5

Comfort on the move

4.8 / 5

Value

5 / 5

Overall

5 / 5

Rab

Flashpoint

Price: £220

Weight: 185g (size L)

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Rab Flashpoint prod shot, 43 kb

Weight

4.6 / 5

Fit and features

3.5 / 5

Comfort on the move

4.7 / 5

Value

3 / 5

Overall

4.5 / 5

Marmot

Essence

Price: £160

Weight: 194g (size M)

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Marmot Essence prod shot, 131 kb

Weight

4.5 / 5

Fit and features

3 / 5

Comfort on the move

4.5 / 5

Value

4.2 / 5

Overall

4.5 / 5

Jottnar

Hymir

Price: £250

Weight: 300g (size L)

Jottnar Hymir prod shot, 35 kb

Weight

3.5 / 5

Fit and features

2.8 / 5

Comfort on the move

4 / 5

Value

2 / 5

Overall

3.5 / 5

Outdoor Research

Realm

Price: £250

Weight: 311g (size L)

OR Realm prod shot, 41 kb

Weight

3.5 / 5

Fit and features

5 / 5

Comfort on the move

4 / 5

Value

2.3 / 5

Overall

4 / 5

Arc'teryx

Alpha FL Jacket

Price: £320

Weight: 344g (size L)

Alpha FL prod shot, 42 kb

Weight

3 / 5

Fit and features

4 / 5

Comfort on the move

3 / 5

Value

1 / 5

Overall

3 / 5

Mountain Equipment

Zeno

Price: £120

Weight: 373g (size M)

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

ME Zeno prod shot, 41 kb

Weight

2.8 / 5

Fit and features

5 / 5

Comfort on the move

3.7 / 5

Value

5 / 5

Overall

4 / 5

Mammut

Kento HS Jacket

Price: £175

Weight: 463g (size L)

Mammut Kento prod shot, 83 kb

Weight

1.4 / 5

Fit and features

3 / 5

Comfort on the move

2.5 / 5

Value

3.8 / 5

Overall

2.5 / 5

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Ultralight shells - under 300g

Berghaus Hyper 100 Jacket £260

Minimalist in design, and unbelievably low in weight - not much more than 100g - the Hyper 100 jacket is a really impressive offering from Berghaus. By far the lightest shell in this test, indeed billed as the world's lightest 3-layer mountain jacket, it's a highly breathable light-and-fast specialist, but arguably best saved for gentler conditions or occasional just-in-case use. Runners and ultralight walkers will love it, but it's no mountaineering work horse. For something with minimal features and a relatively delicate feel you're paying an awful lot here, so this is a shell for those who are really serious about saving weight.

Weighing so little, it's perfect as a fair weather just-in-case shell, 146 kbWeighing so little, it's perfect as a fair weather just-in-case shell
© Dan Bailey

Fit

As you might expect from a jacket that goes all-out to save weight, the Hyper 100 is not long in the body, with a hem that sits just below waist level at the front, and drops a little lower at the rear to offer partial bum coverage. There's enough room in the body to accommodate a couple of light layers beneath, but you're not going to stretch it over a thick fleece; this is very much a summer shell. Arm length is adequate, but there's not a lot of volume in the forearm, or space in the armpit, so movement when climbing would be a bit restricted. But then, this is emphatically not a climbing shell, and if you're just walking or running then the close fit is fine.

Fabric

Hydroshell Elite Pro is a Berghaus own brand fabric, and for the use it has been put to here we'd say it's good stuff. Bad-weather-tested in a downpour and gale combination on a hill run, our reviewer remained completely dry inside after a good 20 minute soaking. Despite being so thin, its hydrostatic head of 20,000 is comparable to other top-end waterproof stuff. With a MVTR (moisture vapour transmission rate) of an impressive 55,000g/m2 the fabric is also highly breathable - you can run in fairly humid conditions without feeling unduly sweaty, which is more than we can say for many thicker shells. The featherlight fabric is tissue-thin, which gives it more the feel of a windproof than a traditional waterproof; the audible downside to this is that it flaps and snaps very loudly in a strong wind. Another obvious drawback is durability: you need to treat this jacket with due care. A shell for the rough and tumble of scrambling, or winter conditions, this is not.

Packs to the size of a jaffa orange, 128 kbPacks to the size of a jaffa orange
© Dan Bailey

Close-fitting and very minimalist hood, 229 kbClose-fitting and very minimalist hood
© Dan Bailey

Features

When it comes to features versus price, the Hyper 100 Jacket gives you a lot less for a fair bit more. This is an absolutely minimalist shell - that's its whole raison d'etre. It's not suited to a winter storm on Ben Macdui, but in its ultralight niche this simplicity counts as a major bonus. Cuffs and hem are stripped back to the max, with just a little elastication (enough stretch to roll sleeves up over hot forearms for instance, but enough resistance to stop things flapping madly in a breeze). Up top, the hood fits close around the head, with only a slightly stretchy unstructured brim, and no volume control. The light gauge YKK front zip doesn't claim to be water resistant, but does have an internal flap to gutter the water away. When it comes to storage there are no external pockets - what did you expect? - just a single tiny zipped inside pocket. This is big enough to hold the stuff sack that comes with the jacket, a credit card, and little else. Stuff sack might be a grand term for this tiny storage pouch, into which the jacket packs with ease. It's about the size of an orange, and includes a clip loop so you can pop it on your harness or wherever. Portability is the name of the game with the Hyper 100.

Berghaus say:

An ultra-lightweight 3 layer jacket designed for fast and light days in the mountains when every gram counts, fully waterproof but as light as a feather. Designed by our MtnHaus research and development team this jacket features everything you need and nothing that you don't. Weighing in at just 97g this is the world's lightest 3-layer mountain jacket. Hydroshell Elite Pro fabric is fully waterproof and highly breathable so that you'll remain comfortable and protected all day long.

  • Price: £260
  • Weight: 110g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: Ultra-breathable Hydroshell Elite Pro fabric
  • Stats: MVTR 55,000g/m2/24hr; Hydrostatic Head 20,000mm
  • Sizes: XS-XL (men's only)
  • Hood with a micro bound edge for lightweight protection in harsh weather conditions
  • Pre-elasticated hem to stop water and wind ingress
  • Pre-fitted hood with a micro bound edge for lightweight protection in harsh weather conditions
  • One piece panel – the main body is seamless, made from one piece of ultra-lightweight fabric with articulation for more freedom when moving
  • Close fitting cuffs that are easy to pull on
  • Internal bonded security pocket for route card or personal items
  • Comes with a stuff sack for easy storage

For more info see berghaus.com

Berghaus Hyper 100 prod shot, 180 kb

Alpkit Gravitas £140

Alpkit have made great strides in mountain clothing in recent years, and it's notable that the Gravitas is one of the world's lightest 3-layer shells and the second lightest in this test, yet also one of the more affordably priced. What's more, they've managed to keep the weight down without making huge sacrifices in terms of features. For instance, you get a decent, adjustable wired hood; a hem drawcord; and a single pocket of useful size. Length and room in the body are reasonable too, albeit by the limited standards of an ultralight summer shell that's designed for running or hillwalking. Though it has gone up in price from £120 to £140 since 2016, that still represents excellent value for money for such a high-performing jacket. This is not a climbing or a four-season shell, but for its weight and price the Gravitas is unbeatable, and on these terms a worthy winner of Best in Test.

Standing up fine to horrendous weather at 1200m, 72 kbStanding up fine to horrendous weather at 1200m
© Dan Bailey

Drop hem at the rear, and adjustable hood, 180 kbDrop hem at the rear, and adjustable hood
© Dan Bailey

Fit

We've reviewed the Gravitas in the past (see here), but our positive opinion of it has not changed on second look - with the caveat that it is not to be judged as a climbing shell. To help save weight the jacket is cut fairly short in the body, with a hem that sits just below the waist and drops to half-bum coverage at the rear. It's not quite as much length as you'd want in a winter blizzard, but adequate in summer. Likewise the room in the body, which is enough to accommodate a couple of light summer layers but not winter insulation. The cut feels quite tapered in the sleeves, which makes rolling them up difficult. It's close in the armpits too, and as a result movement is a little too restricted for climbing, and the waist rides up every time you lift an arm. At risk of repeating ourselves, climbing is simply beyond the remit of the Gravitas; this is best considered a shell for walking, running or cycling.

Fabric

With a hydrostatic head of 20,000 waterproof performance is excellent. Rain beads readily on the surface, with no visible wetting out even after a prolonged wind-borne downpour. The business end of this 3-layer waterproof fabric is a mega-thin Polyurethane membrane, which offers excellent levels of breathability. On paper the MVTR (moisture vapour transmission rate) of 40,000 (g/sqm/24hrs) is second only to the Berghaus Hyper 100, and our real world experience tallies with this. We've found we can walk hard or even run in warm muggy weather, without feeling unduly clammy - that's about the toughest anecdotal test we know for breathability. At only 47g per square metre the fabric is noticeably thin and light, and while this contributes to the overall weight saving there are two downsides: 1. it is not the most durable, and 2. it deflects readily in the wind, with the result that it feels less protective than a thicker fabric. If you don't intend to scramble or climb in the Gravitas, and accept that it is not the best choice for a winter storm, then you need never worry about these limitations.

Water resistant front zip and concealed pocket, 218 kbWater resistant front zip and concealed pocket
© Dan Bailey

Packs down easily into its small stuff sack, 134 kbPacks down easily into its small stuff sack
© Dan Bailey

Features

The watchword may be simplicity, but not at any cost. Alpkit might have knocked off a few grams by including only a half-length zip, for instance, but instead you get a full-length one, which makes it easier to put the jacket on and keep it well vented. It's a very light gauge YKK water resistant zip, backed with a little flap to provide a bit of added protection from wind-driven rain. One single pocket is arguably sufficient on a jacket of this nature. Rather than a token offering however, they've made it easily big enough for a hat or a pair of thin gloves. This doesn't have a water resistant zip, but it is cleverly concealed in the fabric of the shell to help keep the wet out. Shaped to give a bit of extra protection to the back of the hand, the sleeve cuffs are very simple - only part-elasticated, and with no adjustment tab. You do get a hem drawcord though, which helps make the Gravitas a little more robust and weather-proof than you might initially assume. And then there's the hood. With enough room inside for a hat (not a helmet) and easy volume adjustment via a single rear toggle, this is simple and effective. Elasticated side pieces help give a close fit around the face, while a small wired brim proves pretty effective in high wind. By the standards of ultralight shells the hood on the Gravitas is really good.

Alpkit say:

Gravitas is for fast and light activity where you want the protection of a fully waterproof, windproof, highly breathable shell but need unrestricted movement to run or ride at your peak performance.

It is very, very light. At 170 grams it is one of the worlds lightest 3 layer jackets. Its simple and effective design features next to the skin comfort, a fantastic hood, large pocket, semi-elasticated cuffs and water resistant main zips. Packing down into its own pocket sized stuff sack, it is small and weighs less than your lunch.

  • Price: £140
  • Weight: 163g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: 47gsm 3 layer fabric; 7d nylon face fabric; PU membrane; 7d nylon tricot back
  • Stats: MVTR: 40,000g/m2/24hr; Hydrostatic Head: 20,000mm
  • Sizes: S-XL (men) 8 - 14 (women)
  • Neat, semi-elastic cuffs mean you can push your sleeves up to aid cooling
  • Cuff shaped over back of hand for extra protection
  • Minimal seams for lighter weight and breathability, and narrow seam allowance
  • No visible stitching, to reduce snag and wear points
  • Bonded hem and cuff construction
  • Narrow internal flap to back up the water resistant front zip
  • Semi elasticated hood opening – allows you to pull hood up without undoing the front zip, and holds the hood closer in to the neck when not being worn.
  • Single hood adjuster cinches everything in and prevents hood blowing off, and stiffened and wired peak protects the face
  • Full hem drawcord for maximum adjustability
  • Stiffened and wired peak protects the face
  • Colour coded stuff sack with clip loop
  • Single concealed zipped chest pocket

Alpkit Gravitas prod shot, 42 kb

For more info see alpkit.com

Rab Flashpoint Jacket £220

The Flashpoint Jacket from Rab has been part of the range for a number of years. This latest version aims to be super-light, whilst maintaining at least some features normally associated with more substantial jackets to give a high level of performance - for instance a single chest pocket, a helmet compatible hood and water-resistant zips. It is not a 'fully featured technical jacket', and the marketing blurb somewhat overstates this, but as a lightweight shell it probably has enough for most people and has found a good compromise between weight and three-season performance. At £220 (mens) and £200 (womens) it is a fairly pricey choice though.

RAB Flashpoint jacket fresh from the stuff sack, 191 kbRab Flashpoint freshly unpacked in sweaty conditions at Cratcliffe Tor

RAB Flashpoint jacket fresh from the stuff sack, 161 kbRab Flashpoint after body ironing

Fit

For such a lightweight jacket, this is a surprisingly roomy garment. We feel it may be primarily designed for summer use, sheltering from rain showers rather than long unremittingly wet days in the hill; however it does still have room for warm layers underneath without restricting movement. The back is cut quite low, again showing that Rab haven't gone for weight saving at the expense of function by simply shaving off fabric deemed surplus to requirements in a race for that magic 'lightest ever' figure. There is plenty of room for arm movement although the thin nature of the jacket means that you wouldn't want to actually use it for hard climbing. However to throw on for an approach, on a stance or descent it could be just the job.

Fabric

The Flashpoint features super lightweight 3 layer Pertex Shield® and not the 2.5L Shield you might expect since that is the lighter fabric. The 3L variant claims an impressive Hydrostatic Head value of 20,000mm which is comparable to top performance fabrics on the market, and a MVTR of 40,000g/m2 which makes it officially equally breathable to the Alpkit Gravitas and just a bit less than the Berghaus Hyper 100. In our experience the jacket performs particularly well, and in use in relatively warm and humid summer conditions we've found it both keeps us dry from the outside, and from the inside, very effectively. What it gains in lightness and and breathability, it loses in durability, but this tradeoff is to be expected.

RAB Flashpoint jacket in its stuff sack, 90 kbThe size of a large orange and looking a bit like one too!

Features

The jacket claims to combine lightness with being a 'fully featured technical jacket' and it does indeed have a large single chest pocket, a helmet compatible hood, velcro sleeve cuffs, hood brim and a stuff sac - a lot for its weight. It doesn't have under-arm vents, internal pockets, additional outside pockets or strengthened shoulders so we would question the 'fully-featured' description. Additionally, the stuff sack is said to be 'integrated' but we would take that as meaning a stuff sack that was part of the jacket to avoid the problem of losing it - the inverted pocket style where you stuff the jacket in on itself, rather than a separate bag as you get here. It is a pretty essential part of the package though since should you regularly pack it loose in a rucksack full of climbing gear we don't fancy its chances much.

Fashion conscious users will find the Flashpoint looks extremely crumpled when pulled direct from the stuff sack - not a problem for most and 15 minutes later it will have self-ironed to give a smooth look suitable for the catwalk! The helmet compatible hood is a nice touch, although this isn't a jacket for summer or winter mountaineering, or even doing much actual climbing in, and hence we feel the hood would be of more use on stances or as an emergency for when you get caught out on long routes. The hood has a small brim which pretty much disappears when used with a helmet, however it does offer a little shelter for your eyes in light rain when not wearing a helmet. Overall this is a jacket which performs excellently and is extremely light and portable for the features you're getting.

Rab say:

The Flashpoint Jacket is our lightest weight waterproof jacket, using a super-light Pertex Shield® + 3-layer fabric, offering the ultimate balance of weight and performance.

In this, the latest reincarnation of our ground-breaking Flashpoint Jacket, now featuring an updated super light-weight Pertex® fabric, we have designed the ultimate combination of performance, weight and protection. Despite the obvious desire of keeping the weight down, we were keen to ensure that the Flashpoint remained a fully featured technical outdoor jacket, and to this end we have included a fully helmet-compatible hood, a YKK® AquaGuard® zipped chest pocket and an integrated stuff sack. The Flashpoint truly finds the balance in super light-weight yet still fully featured outdoor kit.

  • Price: £220 (£200 women)
  • Weight:185g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: Super light-weight 3L Pertex Shield® + fabric
  • Stats: MVTR: 40,000g/m2/24hr; Hydrostatic Head: 20,000mm
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8 - 16 (women)
  • Minimal seams and micro seam tape
  • Helmet compatible hood, light-weight flexible polymer peak
  • YKK Vislon® AquaGuard® front zip with overlapping internal storm flaps
  • YKK® AquaGuard® zipped napoleon chest pocket
  • Micro velcro cuff adjustment
  • Half hem drawcord
  • Light-weight stuff sack
  • Fit: Slim
  • Centre back length (size L): 77cm/30inch

For more info see rab.equipment

Rab Flashpoint prod shot, 44 kb

Marmot Essence Jacket £160

This jacket from Marmot really is the essence (see what we did there?) of what a minimalist three season waterproof should be, impressively light and compact, yet it pulls out from a tiny corner of your pack to give good protection against even driving rain. Our reviewer with an eye more on hefty excess luggage charges than on Marmot's usage guidelines immediately took the Essence ski mountaineering in Arctic Norway, where it acquitted itself very well considering that's really not what the jacket is designed for! Overall, this is a good little jacket that keeps the rain off well, doesn't flap about annoyingly, weighs very little and breathes better than expected for a coat of this price point.

photo
Using the Essence in Lyngen
© Toby Archer

photo
Very soggy mountain biking
© Toby Archer

Fit

After a few questionable attempts at "medium" from Marmot in recent years our reviewer found the Essence was right back on track, fitting him very well. The jacket is trim with no unnecessary flapping, nevertheless articulation is fine, even when stretched out on a drop-bar bike, or scrambling. The hem is slightly scooped at the back giving some extra protection over your bum. The hood is good on its own or over a hat; you can pull it over a helmet and still do the zip fully up too, but looking up or down results in pulling the back of the jacket up. For this reason we feel the Essence isn't quite as well suited to climbing or alpine use as it might have been.

Fabric

The fabric is "20 denier Stretch NanoPro™ Membrain® Waterproof/Breathable" and while we're not exactly sure of the benefits of having pro as opposed to amateur "nanos" in your jacket, what you get is a surprisingly breathable jacket for not too much money. Wearing it on a bike and pedalling hard uphill our tester easily beat the breathability, but that sweat dissipates when the energy level drops away. Marmot says the "microporous structure is dynamically air permeable" which we take to mean not completely windproof and riding a bike in the jacket confirms this. Nevertheless, this is a summer jacket and breathability, which this feature aids, is arguably more important than a total fortress feel that most want from a winter climbing shell.

It's a great choice for overseas adventures on a limited baggage allowance, 164 kbIt's a great choice for overseas adventures on a limited baggage allowance
© Toby Archer

Features

Not many, it weighs so little! There is a chest pocket that takes a phone well, hem and hood drawcord, elasticated cuffs and hood volume adjustor which works OK but isn't that special. The hood fits a helmet, more or less, and its brim is stiffened and works well in windy conditions. Perhaps the most interesting feature are the old school armpit vents – it is hard to say how well they work but obviously they must help breathability to some degree and don't seem to have any negative effects on the jacket's water resistance. The jacket doesn't pack into its own pocket or come with a stuff sack though, so pack-less climbers will need to improvise to attach it to their harness.

Marmot say:

Mountain-tested by guides, this award-winning, super lightweight champ utilizes Marmot's highly specialized, hyper breathable wind- and waterproof stretch fabric and a streamlined design to deliver ultimate protection ideal for ultra light hiking, adventure races and multi-pitch alpine climbs. Ultra lightweight with incredible stretch performance.

  • Price: £160
  • Weight: 194g (size M - our measure)
  • Fabric: 20 denier Stretch NanoPro™ Membrain® Waterproof/Breathable
  • Stats: MVTR: 20,000-47,000g/m2/24hr; Hydrostatic Head: 10,000mm min
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) XS-XL (women)
  • 100% Seam Taped
  • Helmet Compatible Hood with Moldable Brim
  • Chest Pocket with Water-Resistant Zipper
  • Integrated Cooling Vents
  • Asymmetric Cuffs with Elastic
  • 360 Degree Reflectivity
  • Elastic Drawcord Hem
  • Angel-Wing Movement™
  • Fit: Athletic Fit
  • Center Back Length: 28in

For more info see marmot.co.uk

Marmot Essence prod shot, 131 kb


Light / medium weight shells - 300g and up

Jottnar Hymir £250

The Hymir is a great jacket for minimalist climbers. At 293g in size Med (300g size L) it may be nearly three times the weight of the lightest shell on test, but it's still about middle of the road by the standards of this review, and importantly once donned it feels much more like a year round mountaineer's jacket than the ultra-light rain shells. The excellent helmet compatible hood should put it high on the list for any alpinist looking for a shell, but it works well for backpacking, mountain biking and hillwalking as well. Not cheap though, and the smock design will not be everyone's preference.

The new generation Hymir in the Peak, 159 kbThe new generation Hymir in the Peak
© Toby Archer

Fit

Love them or loathe them, the Hymir is a smock. These may be a bit more of a struggle to don (particularly when attached to a belay); but once on the lack of a full zip shaves a few grams off the weight, reduces bulk under a harness and reduces the potential points of water ingress. However it does also reduce your ability to vent when working up a sweat. We have reviewed the first generation of the Hymir a couple of times (see here) and were impressed with the tailored fit of the underarms, cut very much with climbing in mind. The second generation keeps that good fit although it is very slightly bigger overall. It isn't a big change, our reviewer was still happy in medium, but it might affect which size fits best for some users. When looking at the original Hymir we had mixed feelings about hem length: one reviewer found it cut too short at the front so that it rode up out of a harness when climbing; the other had no such problem. This illustrates how personal fit can be; however it's still fair to say that the Hymir is cut shorter than some shells. Sizing at the wrist and forearm seems to have increased over the old model, and there's enough room to roll up the sleeves or to pull them over glove cuffs.

Fabric

Neoshell forms the waterproofing and being highly air permeable it provides very good breathability. The nylon face fabric has been upgraded from the first generation; it looks identical and Jöttnar still say it is the same weight, 96g/m², but we think it feels slightly stiffer than the original and our reviewer liked that, feeling that at least psychologically it seems more protective. Softer materials flap in the wind more and as a result feel less windproof, so this makes sense. Despite the fabric weight remaining the same and the sizing increasing slightly, this generation of Hymir has lost about 40g in weight over the first generation. Presumably magic was involved and perhaps some sneaky sacrifices to those old Norse storm gods.

The roomy hood is very climb-oriented, 89 kbThe roomy hood is very climb-oriented
© Toby Archer

It's compact when packed in its pouch, 172 kbIt's compact when packed in its pouch
© Toby Archer

Features

Don't expect many features – minimalism is what this smock does best, and whether or not this less-is-more approach equates to value for money is a personal judgement. As noted above the Hymir has an excellent helmet compatible hood, and then you get one big chest pocket. Jöttnar have upgraded the wrist closures, which occasionally popped open on the previous version. On the little-things-that-make-a-difference front, they have also made sure the ends of the hem drawcords that you pull are separate, not a loop. Anyone who has ever managed to accidentally "rack" some gear or, even worse, the blade of a holstered ice tool through their jacket drawcord will understand! The Hymir comes with a separate stow bag, which can be easily clipped to a harness. And that's your lot.

Jottnar say:

Evolved for 2017, the Hymir delivers focused, streamlined, stripped down lightweight performance. Truly breathable, truly light, truly packable and fully waterproof with NeoShell®fabric, Hymir is an indispensable tool for all things fast and light.

Updates include: upgraded nylon face, anti-snag hem adjuster, improved panelling and fit, improved cuff configuration.

  • Price: £250
  • Weight: 293g (size M - our measure; 300g size L)
  • Fabric: NeoShell® 3-layer fabric, weight: 96g/m²
  • Stats: Hydrostatic head: 10,000mm, Air permeability: 0.5 ft²/min/ft²
  • Sizes: S - XL (men's only)
  • Athletic, streamlined, articulated cut
  • Scooped back hem
  • YKK Aquaguard® water repellent half zip for reduced weight
  • Harness compatible chest pocket with YKK Aquaguard® water repellent zip
  • Zipped stuff sack with carabiner loop
  • Wire stiffened hood brim with fully moldable peak
  • Internally protected hood pull cords
  • Corded, glove compatible zip pulls
  • One-handed, elastic hem draw cord operation
  • BEMIS® ST-318 13mm seam tape for stretch and light weight

For more info see jottnar.com

Jottnar Hymir prod shot, 36 kb

Outdoor Research Realm Jacket £250

Formerly named the Precipice, the Realm is billed as a technical shell for fast-and-light Alpine climbing. Its feature set reflects this, with a robust full-length zip, a helmet-compatible hood, three pockets, sufficient room in the cut to accommodate midweight insulation layers, and enough length in the body to work well under a harness. That it manages to offer all this while barely breaching 300g (size L) is impressive. Its very thin fabric helps save weight, though by way of tradeoff we don't think it has the durability or wind protection of a heavier, stiffer full-on winter mountaineering shell. Fair weather summer Alps - great; The Ben in a January storm - not so much. Defenders of the Realm will point out that isn't just for ice axe wielders; and we've found it breathable enough for hillwalking and even running too. There is no escaping its high price tag though, which costs the Realm a 'highly recommended'.

Sticking on the Realm for a passing shower at Bowden Doors, 232 kbSticking on the Realm for a passing shower at Bowden Doors
© Dave Saunders

Fit

With a hem length comfortably below the waist, and slightly lower still at the rear, the Realm gives a really decent amount of body coverage, helping to keep you drier in the rain and warmer in the wind. This hem has elastic for adjustment, though this forms a closed loop with a tail that hangs down in accidental carabiner clipping fumble range (separate tails, as offered by the Jottnar Hymir for instance, avoid this possibility). The generous length of the Realm means it pairs well with a harness without tending to ride up, too, and with plenty of spare fabric under the arms to accommodate a full range of movement the tailoring is very obviously climbing-oriented. In keeping with the Alpine credentials there's room in the body to accommodate insulating layers beneath, and the part-elasticated, part-velcro cuffs have enough space to pull over reasonably bulky gloves.

Fabric

Outdoor Research have used AscentShell, a three-layer fabric with a 20 denier face. This has a nice soft feel, a small amount of stretch for freedom of movement, and a ripstop pattern that aids durability. Nevertheless, the Realm would not be likely to fare well against abrasive mountain rock, and this is partly why we are not convinced it would be the best choice for Scottish winter. In a winter setting the thinness of the material would be a disadvantage too, since it's prone to deflecting in the wind and thus does not feel as protective as a more robust shell. On the plus side the fabric does feel very breathable, and our tester took it trail running on a humid summer day in the French Alps without regretting his choice of jacket. On paper the figures for waterproofness are lower than some of the other shells on test, but in practise we can't say we've noticed, and thanks to its effective DWR finish rain is like water off a duck's back.

photo
Integrated stuff sack with a carabiner loop

photo
Trail running in a rainy Aiguilles Rouges
© Dan Bailey

Features

No skimping to save weight here - Outdoor Research provide all the features you'd be likely to want in a lightweight mountain shell. Two external pockets with waterproof zips give a fair amount of storage, and are placed well up out of harness range. Oddly however they are asymmetric, one being very much larger than the other. It would have been preferable if they'd both been big, both for carrying bulky gloves and because - in our opinion - the offset design looks a bit daft. While the larger pocket is lined with mesh for breathability, thus doubling as a vent, the smaller pocket is waterproof fabric throughout. In its favour it does have a key clip tucked away inside, which could also be handy for a compass lanyard. The smaller outer pocket is backed, on the inside of the jacket, by a third velcro-sealed pocket, doubling as a stuff sack for the jacket and including a carry loop for clipping it to your harness. It's a neat arrangement, and preferable to providing a separate stuff sack. The one drawback to this particular design though is that it results in three full layers of the waterproof fabric over a large part of the left side of your chest, while on the other side there is only one. More mesh and less waterproof material would have been better here; or perhaps Outdoor Research could have dispensed with the internal pocket and made the external one the stuff sack? The main zip is a water-resistant YKK Vislon, backed with a stiffened storm flap to really keep the elements at bay. One of the heaviest gauge zips in this review, it is clearly very durable, which in our opinion is a weight sacrifice worth making in a mountaineering shell. Climbers will appreciate the hood, which is sized to comfortably fit over a high volume polystyrene helmet and features a laminated part-wired brim that helps deflect wind and rain. Moving well with the head, giving plenty of protection to the lower face, and offering three points of adjustment, it fully lives up to the Realm's Alpine remit.

Outdoor Research say:

When you're battling spindrift and mixed precipitation on aerobic alpine assaults, put your faith in the ultralight, waterproof and incredibly breathable weather protection of the Realm Jacket. Built with waterproof, breathable and air permeable AscentShell™ stretch fabric, the streamlined Realm is a revolutionary jacket in the hardshell category.

  • Price: £250
  • Weight: 311g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: AscentShell™ 3L, 100% nylon 20D mechanical stretch ripstop face with 100% polyester 12D backer
  • Stats: MVTR: 30,000g/m2/24hr; Hydrostatic Head: 15,000mm
  • Sizes: XS-XXL (men)
  • Fully Seam-Taped
  • Laminated Construction
  • Windproof
  • Movement-Mirroring Stretch
  • Helmet Compatible Wire-Brimmed Halo-Hood
  • YKK® AquaGuard® Vislon Zippers
  • Internal Front Stormflap
  • Zip Chest Pockets
  • Internal Pocket Doubles as Stuff Sack
  • Carabiner Loop
  • Dynamic Reach™ Underarm Panels
  • Single-Separating Front Zipper
  • Hook/Loop Cuff Closures
  • Elastic Cuffs
  • Elastic Drawcord Hem

For more info see outdoorresearch.com

OR Realm prod shot, 42 kb

Arc'teryx Alpha FL jacket £320

Alpha is Arc'teryx's climbing and alpine-focused range, while FL stands for fast and light. No surprises with the Alpha FL then, a shell that wears its purpose very much on its sleeve. At just under 350g (size L) we are beginning to gain weight here, but with its durable Gore-Tex Pro fabric, burly front zip, helmet friendly hood and roomy cut the Alpha FL has solid mountain credentials, so you're getting a tough and protective jacket for what is still ultimately not a lot of weight. If we had to pick just one shell among these for an Alpine mixed route or Scottish winter climbing this would probably be the one, but it is arguably overkill for hillwalking or summer climbing in the UK. It was tweaked for the 2017 season to offer some small improvements on the design. Build quality and tailoring are excellent, but in comparison to some jackets on test here the price is really steep and the weight nothing to write home about, so in the context of this lightweight shell review the Alpha FL does not particularly shine.

photo
It's an alpine and winter oriented shell
© Nick Brown

photo
Long enough for harness use, but only just
© Nick Brown

Fit

Hem length is good, but not great, coming a little below the waist at the front and dropping lower at the rear to provide a decent level of protection from the elements. The hem drawcord tucks up out of the way under the jacket, and the internal Cohaesive adjusters are easy to use with gloves yet completely hidden for a clean external profile. These bulky adjusters are designed to double as a 'hemlock' to help hold the jacket in place below a harness, but despite this, and in spite of the apparently reasonable hem length, our reviewer finds the jacket can occasionally lift out of a harness when you start hanging from your arms. For climbing, an extra centimetre or two in the body might not have gone amiss, though this will partly depend on how the jacket fits each individual. Movement is unrestricted though, with an excellent articulated cut in the underarms and elbows. There's enough space inside for cold weather layering, but thanks to its nifty cut the jacket does not feel baggy as a result. For cold weather use there's bags of room at the wrist to pull over gauntlets, and a simple but effective velcro closure.

Fabric

The Alpha FL is the only shell in this review to use Gore-Tex Pro, a market-leading three-layer membrane that's here paired with a 40-denier face fabric. This face has a nice soft feel, albeit also a crisp packet crinkly sound when you move. Pro is Gore's top-end fabric for climbing in the demanding mountain environment, designed to maximise both breathability and durability. The company does not publish its figures for breathability, which makes a direct on-paper comparison with the other jackets in this test impossible. However what we can say is that we've reviewed several Gore-Tex Pro jackets over the last couple of years, and have never had cause to quibble its waterproof and breathable performance - particularly in tougher winter conditions. Being perhaps the thickest jacket on test, and relatively stiff, the Alpha FL resists wind deflection well, which makes it feel very protective in stormy weather. It is also very tough for its weight, making the Alpha FL much more of an alpine or winter workhorse than the majority of shells in this review. However, for high output activities in warmer conditions the thickness does seem to count against it, and it does not feel as breathable as the less climb-oriented ultralight shells on test here. As ever with these things, it's horses for courses.

Packs about 3 times the size of the lightest on test, but still small enough to hang from your harness, 164 kbPacks about 3 times the size of the lightest on test, but still small enough to hang from your harness
© UKC Gear

Features

A single external pocket has space for a hat or thin gloves, but you'd struggle to fit a pair of ski gloves in. This has a water resistant zip, about which Arc'teryx have this to say: "Note: our WaterTight™ zippers are highly water resistant, but not waterproof. We do not recommend keeping items in your pockets that may be damaged by moisture". Backing onto this pocket is a smaller internal zipped valuables pocket which just about takes an iPhone. Stacking the pockets in this way maximises the amount of pocket-free fabric for breathability, according to Arc'teryx, though you could equally argue that it creates a single decidedly less breathable spot. This jacket won't pack into its own pocket, but does come supplied with a lightweight stuff sack that can hang from a harness. The main zip is a 'water resistant' YKK Vislon, a durable choice that befits a climbing shell, backed with a minimalist storm flap to help gutter away any water that does manage to get through (there's always some). For climbing, the hood is excellent, with enough volume to accommodate a high volume polystyrene helmet with ease. The hood moves well with your head, and with three points of adjustment it can be tweaked to fit a helmet-less head. These cord locks are the internal 'Cohaesive' variety, which are both easier to use with gloves and less cluttered than traditional external toggles. Had the tails of the hood elastic exited a centimetre lower there'd have been no chance of getting whipped in the eye by them in a high wind. Downsides are its floppy laminated brim - never as robust as a wired peak in a Scottish hoolie - and minimal protection for the lower face; both are forgivable in such a lightweight climbing shell.

Arc'teryx say:

Built for alpinists who move fast, the Alpha FL Jacket delivers hardwearing GORE-TEX® Pro performance for a mere 315 grams. Made with a durable N40p-X face fabric, it is carefully constructed to optimize breathability by stacking the exterior and interior pockets. Every gram was carefully considered yet it provides exceptional freedom of movement and room for light layers. Helmet compatible StormHood™. Custom Cohaesive™ hem adjustments serve as HemLocks™ to prevent slippage under a harness.

  • Price: £320
  • Weight: 344g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: N40p-X GORE-TEX® Pro three-layer construction
  • Stats: Unavailable
  • Sizes: XS-XXL (men) XS-XL (women)
  • Micro-seam allowance (1.6 mm) reduces bulk and weight
  • Tiny GORE® seam tape
  • Articulated elbows
  • e3D Ergonomic 3-Dimensional patterning for enhanced comfort and mobility
  • No-lift gusseted underarms
  • Trim fit for enhanced breathability
  • Helmet compatible StormHood™ with laminated brim
  • Externally accessed hood drawcords
  • WaterTight™ Vislon front zip
  • Laminated die-cut Velcro® cuff adjusters reduce bulk, and won't catch or tear off
  • Drop back hem and adjustable hem drawcord
  • Cohaesive™ hem adjusters function as Hemlock™ to prevent jacket from slipping out from under a climbing harness
  • Chest pocket with laminated zip
  • Internal laminated pocket with zip
  • Includes stuff sack with webbing loop to clip to a harness

For more info see arcteryx.com

Alpha FL prod shot, 42 kb

Mountain Equipment Zeno Jacket £120

It may be better described as light-to-middle-weight than ultralight, but if you want a versatile and protective jacket for tougher three-season conditions, and even fairer weather winter days, then the Zeno's generous articulated cut and feature set make up for its weight. There's nothing flash or fancy about it - we think it has a certain old-fashioned feel - but as a no-nonsense shell well suited to British hillwalking through to summer Alpine climbing, the Zeno represents absolutely superb value for money. We have starred it for value, but we could as easily have awarded the Zeno 'highly recommended'.

photo
One of the more winter-worthy of the jackets on test
© Dan Bailey

photo
Loads of length in the hem for max weather protection
© Dan Bailey

Fit

Immediately apparent is the Zeno's generous length in the body. Coming well below the waist at the front, and offering more or less complete bum coverage to the rear, this is the longest shell on test and as a result feels very protective in wind and wet. As you'd hope when climbing, the hem stays securely in place under a harness. The articulated cut of the sleeves allows complete freedom of movement, and again no sign of hem lift when raising your arms. Sleeve length is generous, the cuffs are shaped to give additional protection to the back of the hands, and there's plenty of room to fit them over bulky gloves. Cuff adjustment is a simple velcro tab. For colder weather use the body is sized to fit over insulating layers, yet when you're lightly dressed it does not feel baggy or boxy. In short, the tailoring is superb and helps boost the Zeno's year round performance.

Fabric

Mountain Equipment's use of 30 denier DRILITE fabric may in part account for the Zeno's heavier weight compared to most of the shells on test, as it feels relatively thick beside the lighter jackets. Soft to the touch, and with a little stretch to aid movement, the fabric may have a ripstop pattern for durability, but we'd still be cautious about recommending it for the rigours of alpine rock or Scottish mixed climbing, since it does not have the bombproof feel of a full-on technical winter shell. The fabric is notably less prone to deflecting in the wind than the ultralight shells on test here, which does make you feel warmer and more protected in windy weather, but again it's not in the same league of protection as a heavier, stiffer winter shell. For us, its niche is all-weather three season use, or as more of a fair weather piece in winter. By the standards of mountain shells breathability is superb, though perhaps we would not go running in it. Waterproofness may be lower on paper than some others, but having used it on several very rainy Welsh days (the wettest rain there is), our reviewer has no cause for complaint. One thing we don't like: the inner face of the jacket has a very rubbery feel against bare arms.

Features

The feature set of the Zeno is mountaineering-oriented, and you're getting a lot for your money here. Positioned high enough for access when wearing a harness, two large external pockets offer plenty of carrying space for thick gloves and such; these have water resistant zips, and a mesh lining in order to double as big vents. Additional climate control is provided by zipped underarm vents, a rare feature among the jackets on test here. We find these most useful when working hard in inclement weather, when the jacket has to be worn zipped up. Are they overkill on a modern lightweight highly breathable shell? Possibly, but we have certainly used the Zeno's vents. The main zip is a fairly lightweight offering from YKK, and though it seems robust we might have preferred a chunkier one. Because the zip is not officially water resistant, Mountain Equipment have weather proofed it with a double storm flap, a little strip on the outside and a much larger internal gutter. They could arguably have shaved off a bit of weight and bulk if they'd used a more weather-proof zip and done away with some of the flap protection. Something of a trademark feature on Mountain Equipment jackets is waist drawcords with separate tails rather than closed loops, a small thing but one you'll notice if you've ever mistakenly clipped gear into your shell. Another thing we've come to expect from them is a superb hood - and despite its affordable price tag the Zeno is no exception. This hood easily accommodates a high volume climbing helmet without restricting head movement in the least, while with three points of adjustment it still cinches down comfortably onto a helmet-free head. A laminated and part-wired brim holds up well to wind, and boosts the Zeno's winter credentials. On the downside the adjustment toggles are fiddly little old fashioned external ones rather than the much better integrated sort found on many higher-end shells. In addition, if the tails of the hood elastic had exited the jacket at a slightly lower point then the outside chance of getting whipped in the eye when you look down on a windy day would have been entirely eliminated (ME have tried, but it's not quite enough). No stow pocket is provided, and neither do you get a separate stuff sack.

Mountain Equipment say:

Serious protection from the elements in a benchmark super-light and packable waterproof design.

Our 2.5 layer DRILITE® fabric gives the reliable waterproof, breathable protection needed for the days you don't manage to outrun the afternoon storm. Impressively lightweight but still featuring our proven Alpine fit and Mountain Hood.

  • Price: £120
  • Weight: 373g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: 2.5-layer DRILITE® 30D fabric
  • Stats: MVTR: 27,198g/m2/24hrs; Hydrostatic Head: 16,000mm
  • Sizes: S - XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
  • Mountain Hood is fully adjustable
  • Alpine fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves
  • YKK® centre front zip with laminated outer flap and internal flap
  • 2 ventilated pockets with mesh pocket bags
  • YKK® underarm pit zips with internal flap
  • Adjustable cuffs and hem drawcords

For more info see mountain-equipment.co.uk

ME Zeno prod shot, 42 kb

Mammut Kento HS Jacket £175

Better suited to hillwalking and general outdoor use than either running or technical climbing, the Kento has a lot of features and a durable feel that suggests years of reliable service. As a result, however, it is well up into 'middleweight' territory. Being more than four times the weight of the lightest shell we have looked at, the Kento does not compare like-for-like, but is better considered an all-rounder. Mammut do make lighter shells - the Rainspeed for instance - but availability in the UK is currently limited.

photo
Large brim, but it's soft and floppy in high wind
© Dan Bailey

photo
Warm and drizzly - ideal weather for a lightweight shell
© Dave Saunders

Fit

Short in the body, the Kento HS sits just below waist level at the front, with a slightly dropped hem at the rear to provide at least partial bum coverage. It's an adequate length in gentler conditions, but for very wet weather or winter storms a little more would offer a better level of protection. Due in part to its limited length the hem of the Kento HS does not tend to stay in place beneath a harness, soon riding up when you raise your arms. Elastic volume control at the hem is via two toggles - the slightly fiddly old fashioned external style - and the cord forms closed loops that a careless climber might accidentally clip into. The sleeves have a good pre-curved cut for freedom of movement, and plenty of space in the cuff to fit over bulky gloves. Adjustment is via a simple velcro tab. For colder weather use the Kento has sufficient room in the body to accommodate reasonably bulky insulation without feeling restrictive.

Fabric

The 2.5 layer 'DRYtech Premium' fabric is noticeably thicker than most on test, and with a ripstop pattern to boost durability it gives a good guarantee of toughness. This is the jacket in the review best suited to rough treatment. An additional benefit is that it does not flap and snap so readily in a high wind, resisting air movement inside the jacket more effectively than tissue-thin ultralight fabrics and so helping you feel warmer and better protected when the weather is wild. The face fabric is soft to the touch, the inner side does not feel too rubbery against a bare arm, and its built-in stretch helps with free movement. Though very waterproof, on paper its rating for breathability is less than the rival shells on test - a lot less than some. This must in part be a reflection of its overall weight, and though the test figures never tell the full story (design and additional features have a bearing on performance too), our experience in use tends to confirm the numbers. A high output activity such as running would not be the Kento's forte, and neither would it be our first choice in warm humid weather. For walking in the cooler months however, it's proved spot on. Also worth noting is that when drying out the fabric acquires an odd dimpled effect, each water droplet forming a sort of crater in the surface: this doesn't have any bearing on the waterproofness, but it's an interesting phenomenon.

Features

Mammut have not skimped on features, which partly explains the Kento's weight. Three external pockets give you plenty of storage options. The two lower hand pockets are enough for a pair of bulky gloves, but unfortunately placed a little too low so that they are partly blocked by a harness or rucksack hipbelt. The single smaller chest pocket is a good place for something like a smartphone or a compass. All pocket zips are water resistant, which is good; but on the debit side the pocket bags are solid waterproof fabric rather than mesh, which makes them no use for venting and results in two layers of fabric instead of just one across much of the front of the body - less an issue in winter, but not ideal in hot weather. The main zip is robust and water-resistant, and backed with a laminated storm flap to gutter away any water that does manage to penetrate. To compensate for non-venting pockets Mammut have provided very large underarm zips, which allow you to dump a lot of heat on the move. These zips are not water resistant, so although protected by a small storm flap we'd be worried about potential leakage (albeit likely to be minor) in a typically British wind-and-rain scenario. Up top, the Kento's hood is not large enough to fit over a helmet, which more or less rules this jacket out for technical climbing - particularly so in winter. With three points of adjustment it fits a helmet-free head nicely, but the toggles are the slightly fiddly old fashioned external sort and the tails of the hood elastic don't exit quite far down enough to completely rule out the risk of getting whipped in the eye in a high wind. Lower face protection is limited, and the hood's large laminated peak is not reinforced with wire and so does tend to flap about in a storm. The jacket has no stow pocket, and no separate stuff sack is provided.

Mammut say:

New version of a classic: Very breathable, extremely compressible, lightweight 2.5-layer Hard Shell jacket made from elastic DRYtech Premium™ fabric. Ideal for demanding tours. The Kento HS Hooded Jacket is a very lightweight weather protection jacket for high-alpine terrain. As well as making the Kento breathable, waterproof and windproof, the DRYtech stretch material also ensures a very low packing volume. The Kento is ideal to take along in case of a sudden change in the weather. As you would expect, the jacket comes complete with all the typical Mammut details: pre-shaped sleeves, underarm ventilation, three pockets and a hood capable of resisting even strong gusts of wind.

  • Price: £175
  • Weight: 463g (size L - our measure)
  • Fabric: slightly elasticated DRYtech™ Premium 2.5-layer material
  • Stats: MVTR 15,000 [g/m²/24h] 20,000mm water column
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men - for women the Keiko XXS-XL)
  • Adjustable hem with drawstring
  • Fixed, adjustable hood
  • Small packing volume, great to take with you anywhere
  • 2 front pockets with bonded, watertight zippers
  • Pre-shaped sleeves with hook and loop fasteners
  • Zippered underarm ventilation system
  • Hood can be secured by using a small hook

For more info see mammut.ch

Mammut Kento prod shot, 84 kb

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