On any spring weekend in the Pacific Northwest, we never know what weather conditions we might face, nor what we might want to do for the day.
We can see dramatic weathers changes not just day-to-day, but hour-to-hour. We also must choose from an array of actives. We can ski inbounds or slide into the backcountry. We can hike rainforest trails, or desert canyons. We can fish the salt for sea run cutthroats, or cast in the rivers for lurking rainbows. Or we can simply hike around the cities, sampling great foods, craft liquors and small-batch wines.
To meet these endless opportunities and varied weather conditions, we need appropriate outerwear. Fortunately, we found some jackets well suited to each of these situations.
Best for aerobic adventures
Outdoor Research Furio
We put this jacket on a few testers and sent them into wettest environments we could find: the forests on the west side of the Olympics. Tramping through temperate rainforests, the hikers returned upset and angry. Why? Because there was only one Furio, and they all wanted it! The trio of testers reports that the lightweight jacket effectively block rain while shedding sweat moisture, but Outdoor Research’s unique design features excel at maximizing breathability and ventilation.
The Furio blends featherweight Gore-Tex PacLite throughout the core of the jacket, with stout Gore-Tex ProShell in the shoulder yoke and along the sides. This creates durability in the high-wear areas while minimizing weight overall. The addition to core venting, dubbed TorsoFloTM by Outdoor Research, helps shed excess heat and prevent sweating much better than traditional pit-zips. The TorsoFloTM system features side zippers from the jacket hem to the upper arm section of the sleeve. You can literally open the entire sides of the jacket without getting wet.
Weighing in at just over 20 ounces, the jacket is light, durable and comfortable in a variety of conditions and exertion levels. It sells for $320. www.outdoorresearch.com
Best for rough use
Carhartt Soft Shell Hooded Jacket
The new Carhartt Soft Shell Hooded Jacket utilizes Carhartt’s vast experience in designing outerwear that moves with the body while working. The Soft Shell jacket fits somewhat loosely without being baggy. The articulated arms flex and move with you as you stretch and reach, without the body of the jacket riding up. We found it ideal for trekking through soft snowfields, scrambling off-trail around the rimrock bluffs of the Yakima River Canyon country, and hiking through tree-strewn forests in the Issaquah Alps. It proved comfortable and incredibly durable – not a single tear or even thread snag despite the abuse we heaped upon it.
The soft shell material is a blend of polyester and ripstop nylon that has a bit of 4-way stretch for active performance. The fabric is virtually windproof, highly water resistant, and very breathable. The hood is oversized so it can be worn over a helmet, but without a helmet is a bit loose and bulky. The Soft Shell Hooded Jacket sells for $130. www.carhartt.com
Best for active women
Columbia’s Omni-DryTM waterproof/breathable membrane provides the weather protection for this lightweight shell. But what makes it a great spring – and even summer – storm shell is the addition of the company’s Omni-WickTM material inside to enhance the great breathability of the membrane. The wicking layer pulls moisture away from the body while ‘pushing’ it into the membrane, which then moves it out of the shell. The system works as promised, especially when the jacket is properly fit. For the women, that fit seemed perfect for all our trio of testers. They said the cut was tailored nicely to be close fitting without being constrictive. It was just loose enough to allow a modest layer of base and mid-layer pieces.
For the men’s jacket, the fit was good for most of us, though the one ultra-slim marathon runner thought it was a bit too loose fitting through the torso, though the shoulders and sleeves were perfect. $300. www.columbia.com
Best for fast packing
Mountain Hardwear Epic
The fickle nature of mountain weather, especially during the shoulder seasons, means every hiker should have a storm-proof shell stashed in their pack on every outing. Even if the sun is beating down at the trailhead at the start of the day, you could find yourself in cold rain within the hour.
For these situations, and general fast-and-light hiking, you want a jacket that doesn’t weigh much, nor takes up much room. Enter the Epic. This 13-ounce shell cuts wind and rain, while still moving moisture. Mountain Hardwear’s Dry.Q laminate provides the waterproof/breathable protection in the jacket. That laminate is bonded to a thin ripstop face fabric to keep down the weight and bulk. Though light on frills, it does splurge on a few niceties, including a chamois-lined chin guard on the fully-adjustable hood. That keeps the zipper and rough shell material off your face when fully bundled up against the elements.
Pit-zips supplement the breathability of the Dry.Q laminate, and together they proved effective at reducing sweat-build up for most outings. Only when we pushed up through the morning fog on Mount Si during the early February heat wave (temps topping 55ºF during the fog event and elevation gain of 3,200 feet in 4 miles) did we feel damp inside.
While not the most breathable, it is the most affordable high quality shell we found. Retailing for just $100, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a jacket worthy of residing in any pack. www.mountainhardwear.com
Best all-around mountain use
Rab Stretch Neo
During wet treks through the Columbia Gorge, the Stretch Neo transported moisture so efficiently, we took to drying our rain-soaked gloves inside the jacket – letting our body heat dry the gloves, and the Neoshell to transport that extra evaporated moisture out as fast as we produced it.
Meanwhile, torrents of rain failed to penetrate, even as the sweat smoothly evaporated through the shell. The sleek Stretch Neo sports just a few frills – nice zipper-sealed gear pockets to keep gadgets handy but dry and a stowaway hood that proved comfortable when in use and unnoticeable when folded away.
We found the Rab Stretch Neo an ideal jacket for general outdoor use regardless of weather conditions, but it excels when used on cool, wet spring hikes along our rain-drenched Cascade trails. It sells for $480. us.rab.uk.com