The Best Hardshell Jackets for Women

Kelly  one of our testers  donning the Arc'teryx Beta AR on a ski mountaineering day trip near the Last Dollar Hut in the San Juan Mountains.
Hard luck finding the best women's hardshell? We've got you covered. We researched the industry's top 30+ models before testing the best 6 head-to-head. These jackets saw a full range of use, from ice climbing to winter trail runs to just about every type of skiing out there — resort, backcountry, cross-country, and ski mountaineering. We take testing an assessment seriously, which led us to intentionally spending time in rain and snowstorms to judge weather protection. We also checked which models move effortlessly with our body movements and which ones breathe the best during aerobic activity, among other performance metrics. This type of outerwear isn't cheap, making a purchase decision that much more important to carefully consider. This comprehensive review breaks down the advantages and drawbacks of each model to help you find the perfect jacket.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 ≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product
Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's
Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's
Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's
Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's
Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket - Women's
Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket - Women's
Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's
Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's
The Outdoor Research Clairvoyant Hardshell
Outdoor Research Clairvoyant
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $530.99 at MooseJaw
Compare at 2 sellers
$449.40 at Backcountry
Compare at 4 sellers
$575.00 at REI
Compare at 4 sellers
$136.73 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$267.53 at Amazon
Compare at 4 sellers
Overall Score 
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82
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75
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75
100
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73
100
0
72
Star Rating
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Pros Long cut, extremely weatherproof, very durable, roomy for many layersIncredibly durable, highest rated for weather protectionMost mobile of Gore-Tex Pro shells, light weight, great weather protection.Great bright colors, very breathable fabric, all-purpose versatility, great priceMost breathable shell, lightweight, inexpensive, bomber zipper, packs into its pocket
Cons Expensive, fabric isn’t very mobile, not as breathable as lighter jacketsLeast mobile fabric, short cut, least breathable fabric, very expensiveShorter cut, less coverage.No pit zips, not severe weather rated, hood cinch cords are inside the jacketNot very warm, short length, no pit zips, not good for terrible weather
Ratings by Category Theta AR - Women's Alpha SV Jacket - Women's Beta AR Jacket - Women's Torsun - Women's Clairvoyant
Weather Protection - 20%
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
4
Mobility - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
Breathability - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Weight - 15%
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
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8
10
0
9
Features - 10%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
3
Durability - 10%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
Versatility - 5%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
Specs Theta AR - Women's Alpha SV Jacket - Women's Beta AR Jacket - Women's Torsun - Women's Clairvoyant
Weight (oz) 15.05 15.25 14.45 15.15 11.70
Category Heavy weight; Athletic, long fit Heavy weight; Athletic fit Heavy weight; Athletic fit Medium weight; Athletic fit Lightweight; Regular fit
Length Lower Bum-Length Lower Hip-Length Lower Hip-Length Lower Hip-Length Mid Hip-Length

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Amber King
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
December 21, 2017

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Updated December 2017
If winter crept up on you before you could grab a hardshell, fear not. We updated this review to include the industry's most intriguing models. A newcomer to our review is the Arc'teryx Beta SL. It's in the hands of our hard-charging female experts, and they are loving its low weight, breathability, and mobility. It's also under $300, which is inexpensive for a quality hardshell. We recommend it for anything from ski tours to ice climbing when you want to keep costs low. Arc'teryx also confirmed with us that the Theta AR - Women's jacket is being discontinued this year. This all-star performer is still available at some retailers at a discounted price, so if you're into it, follow our links to get a good price on a phenomenal shell before it's gone.

Best Overall Women's Hardshell Jacket


Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's


Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's Editors' Choice Award

$530.99
at MooseJaw
See It

Long, roomy cut makes layering easy
Incredibly weatherproof and durable
High price
Fabric isn't as breathable or as mobile as other jackets
In a competitive race, the Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's took home the Editors' Choice Award for its incredible weather protection, roomy fit, and its plethora of features. For a heavy duty hardshell jacket, it did a great job at breathing and providing ventilation when it was much needed. The Theta is a versatile shell that can accompany you on journeys through the backcountry and through some of the worst weather that mother nature can throw your way. In our water tests, it maintained an ability to keep water from absorbing into the fabrics after almost 10 minutes of torrential downpour. It will keep you dry when its gross outside, and keep you comfortable when it's not. So, if you're looking for an all-purpose weather-proof hardshell jacket that will go with you practically anywhere - from the store to the high summits - take a look at the Arc'teryx Theta AR.

Read review: Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's

Best Bang for the Buck


Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's


Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's Best Buy Award


Excellent breathability
Comes in a host of bright shades
Very versatile at an excellent price
No underarm zips
Not awesome in severe weather
Hood cinches are hard to access
Scoring high points, and being a secret favorite of the primary tester, the Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's did a stand-out job balancing breathability, weather protection, and comfort features at an affordable price of $350.00. The Torsun features Dry.Q.Elite fabric technology that performed extremely well in our breathability tests, making it the second most breathable jacket. This is a perfect piece for an early morning winter run, or on a cooler day while cross-country skiing. It also has a wonderful long fit, with great colors. It's also the only one that features a multi-directional zipper, the largest and most comfy chin warmers, and pockets with a built-in ventilation system. It's a fantastic all-purpose jacket that you can take anywhere. So if you're looking for an all-purpose warrior with a low ticket price, you've found it right here.

Read review: Mountain Hardwear Torsun - Women's

Top Pick for Big Mountain Expeditions


Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's


Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's Top Pick Award

$449.40
at Backcountry
See It

Excellent durability
Highest ranked for severe weather
Short cut and less mobility in fabric
Not super breathable
Expensive
Hmmm…so what exactly does a hardshell need to be big mountain expedition savvy? Well, let's take a look at the Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's, which exemplifies just that. First, it needs to be totally wind and waterproof - check. Second, it needs to have a bomber storm hood, attached to the jacket, with full coverage - check! Third, it needs to be ultra durable, something that won't rip or break a few days into the expedition - check. The Alpha SV is all this and more. It is perfect for ascent-oriented activities. It features a removed hemlock system that keeps the jacket from riding up when you put your arms up. It has an incredibly roomy fit, in the arms and body, so you can stack as many layers as you need to stay warm. Given its bomber construction, this shell will have you putting yourself all over the map as you trek long days in the mountains without a care of weather breaking through your mountain armor outerwear. This piece is expedition ready!

Read review: Arc'teryx Alpha SV Jacket - Women's

Top Pick for Lightweight Design


Outdoor Research Clairvoyant


The Outdoor Research Clairvoyant Hardshell Top Pick Award

$267.53
at Amazon
See It

Lightweight and most breathable
Affordable
Bombproof zipper
Stows into pocket
Not the warmest or the best for extreme weather conditions
Shorter cut
No underarm vent zippers
The Outdoor Research Clairvoyant got the most attention from our many female testers. First, for its soft and supple outer, which makes it one of the most mobile and breathable shells tested. Second, for its light weight of just 11.70 ounces - the lightest shell tested. Third, for its minimalist design. If you're looking for a jacket that will protect you when the weather turns bad, that can pack into its pocket, or that you can comfortably continue wearing while moving uphill, check out the Clairvoyant.

Read review: Outdoor Research Clairvoyant

Serious Bang for the Buck


Arc'teryx Beta SL



$293.03
at Amazon
See It

Lightweight
Flexible ripstop fabric provides stellar range of motion
Breathable
Less durable than the most rugged shells
No chest pocket
Arc'teryx is known to be an industry leader in outerwear. It is also known to be priced as such. With the Beta SL, Arc'teryx offers consumers a much more affordable hard shell jacket, with the same high quality we expect. This is a hardshell that breathes better than most and moves more fluidly than some of the thicker, burlier shells. This became our go-to piece for ski tours in the Pacific Northwet (no, not a typo) as well as ice climbs in Montana. It provides stellar weather protection while allowing freedom of movement for those more technical ascents. For a jacket that weighs under 10 ounces, we could even stuff it in our pack and forget it was there—until the sky cracked open or the snow started blowing. In a gear category that's far from inexpensive, the Beta SL is a knock-out budget option.

Best for Specific Applications


Best for Comfort: Patagonia Piolet

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Weight (oz) Category Length
82
$625
Editors' Choice Award
15.05 Heavy weight; Athletic, long fit Lower Bum-Length
75
$749
Top Pick Award
15.25 Heavy weight; Athletic fit Lower Hip-Length
75
$575
14.45 Heavy weight; Athletic fit Lower Hip-Length
73
$350
Best Buy Award
15.15 Medium weight; Athletic fit Lower Hip-Length
72
$325
Top Pick Award
11.70 Lightweight; Regular fit Mid Hip-Length
66
$299
18.90 Medium weight; Regular fit Lower Hip-Length

Analysis and Test Results


When evaluating hardshell jackets, we rated them according to the seven most important metrics that you should consider before purchasing one of these bomber behemoths. These metrics included Weather Protection, Mobility, Breathability & Venting, Weight & Packed Size, Features, Durability, and Versatility. Read on to learn how we tested each metric, and how the products compared to one another.

Hardcore hardshell testing!
Hardcore hardshell testing!

Weather Protection


One of the main reasons to buy an expensive hardshell jacket is for its ability to combat the elements. So it's no wonder that we awarded 20% of each product's score to weather protection. When testing to see how weather protective these products were, we considered three main variables. First, we measured each one's windproof factor. Given that some fabrics like the Outdoor Research Clairvoyant and Mountain Hardwear Torsun are more breathable, it's unavoidable that they will be less windproof. So to test, we rode bikes around, got out in the backcountry on windy days, and glided on cross country skis with just a t-shirt and the shell over top to test to see if we felt the wind against our skin. The second variable tested was how waterproof the hardshell was. To test this, we put on a cotton t-shirt and climbed into the shower to see if the water leaked anywhere, if the hood prevented water from funneling down the hood or collar in any strange way, or if the fabric simply wetted out after any period of time. Last but not least, we considered how relatively warm we felt while riding out storms or wearing the products on cold jaunts around town.

The shower test was how we could comparatively test waterproofing capabilities. We strapped on a hardshell  and got into the shower. All shells except the Arc'teryx Theta AR and Alpha SV wetted out after just one minute. Though  they were all able to maintain waterproofing capabilities.
The shower test was how we could comparatively test waterproofing capabilities. We strapped on a hardshell, and got into the shower. All shells except the Arc'teryx Theta AR and Alpha SV wetted out after just one minute. Though, they were all able to maintain waterproofing capabilities.

After a lot of rain, snow, and wind, we weren't surprised to rate the Arc'teryx SV and the Arc'teryx Theta as our top performers for weather protection. Both feature great hoods that provide amazing coverage. The SV had a little more coverage than the Theta with its storm hood. Not only that, but they were the only two hardshell jackets that did not "wet out" after a minute of being in a continuous stream of water. All others tested, including the Arc'teryx Beta, beaded the water for a few minutes before the fabric became saturated. All the products across the board are waterproof thanks to their membranes, but many of the face fabrics absorbed more water than we expected.


The product we were the least happy with was the Patagonia Piolet. The hood does not provide adequate coverage and funneled water down into the collar after being cinched down. Regarding warmth, the Arc'teryx SV provided the most warmth.

Psyched to get out on some ice during a winter storm in Silverton  CO. A perfect day for testing weather protection - wind  wet snow  and cold weather.
Psyched to get out on some ice during a winter storm in Silverton, CO. A perfect day for testing weather protection - wind, wet snow, and cold weather.

Mobility


You know that 'swish swish, crinkle crinkle' sound that some hardshells make with every movement? That swishy sound equates to a shell that is fairly rigid and does not have a whole lot of stretch and mobility. This mobility (or immobility) is a result of the different types of polymers used in the membranes of each jacket. To test mobility, we lifted our arms, stretched the fabric, did some yoga, and busted out some kung-fu moves to see if the jacket moved with us. We also researched the different types of fabrics and learned about why and how some jackets were more mobile than others.


It's no surprise that the most lightweight and minimalist shell tested, the Outdoor Research Clairvoyant, was the most mobile. It has a soft fabric that moves with you. However, it's not a very roomy jacket, so wearing many layers underneath can be restricting. The Patagonia Piolet was the most flexible of all the medium weight jackets, while the Arc'teryx jackets scored at the lower end of the mobility scale, encompassing the heavy-duty category. Even though the Arc'teryx jackets scored low for fabric mobility, they had the most room in the arms and body to accommodate movement in other ways.

Loving the mobility and comfort features of the Patagonia Piolet Jacket. We took this on a 5-mile crosscountry misson and it was surprisingly awesome. Good Job Patagonia!
Loving the mobility and comfort features of the Patagonia Piolet Jacket. We took this on a 5-mile crosscountry misson and it was surprisingly awesome. Good Job Patagonia!

Breathability & Venting


So you are hiking through the snow, and the weather is pretty bad. You don't want to take off your shell, for fear of getting wet, but you need a way to get that moisture and sweat away from your skin. This is where fabric breathability and venting comes into play. What we found in our testing is that having pit zips are much more important for breathability than just relying on vapor diffusion through the fabric. During our testing period, we looked at fabric breathability by taking each shell out for early morning winter runs, accompanied by just a simple base layer. We observed how warm or how swampy the jacket kept us throughout the run. Once we stopped running to walk home, we noticed how cold we got from water vapor that stayed on the skin. We also looked at the number of vents each jacket had, how big they were, and how well they worked in their particular positions. Some jackets like the Arc'teryx Beta AR had pit zips, while others like the Mountain Hardwear Torsun just had simple hand pockets with mesh.


Regarding fabric breathability, we found that the Gore-Tex Active fabric used in the Clairvoyant provided the most breathability. Other fabrics like two-layer Gore-Tex (Piolet) and Dry.Q.Elite (Torsun) were also quite breathable, with the Torsun leading the way of these two. We were surprised to learn that the Gore-Tex Pro layers (Arc'teryx Beta, Theta, SV) were somewhat breathable, but not so much as the other fabrics in this review.

The Clairvoyant was one of the most breathable shells tested  though it was lacking any type of pit zip venting system. Like the Torsun  it had built in ventilation in its pockets.
The Clairvoyant was one of the most breathable shells tested, though it was lacking any type of pit zip venting system. Like the Torsun, it had built in ventilation in its pockets.

Pit zips were prevalent on the Gore-Tex Pro shells and provided ample relief while hiking, running, or cross-country skiing. All Arc'teryx shells had large vents. Neither the Clairvoyant nor the Torsun have pit zips, but they do feature mesh pockets that when opened, turned into a ventilation system. Even though this offered some relief on warmer days or amped up workouts, we were hoping for pit zips to accompany the ultra-breathable fabrics.

Weight & Packed Size


If you're considering buying an ultra-durable shell to take with you on long multi-day expeditions, it's important that it can pack into a backpack without taking up too much room and weighing you down. In general, you might sacrifice an ounce or two for extra durability and weather protection, found in a heavier shell like the Alpha SV, when it comes to nasty weather conditions. But if you're just out skiing for the day or looking to get in touch with your inner aerobic self, take a look at a lighter shell. To look at weight and packed size, we simply rolled each up into their hoods and compressed them down as far as they would go. We also looked to see if any would fit into their pockets - Outdoor Research Clairvoyant did very well in this test.


In general, we feel that a hardshell jacket that weighs more than 17 ounces is too heavy for ascension-based activities (only the Patagonia Piolet is over this threshold). Most of the products we tested compressed to a similar size without a significant difference. The Clairvoyant turned out to be the most compressible and lightweight model tested, earning its Top Pick for Lightweight Design. Following behind was the Arc'teryx Beta AR, weighing in at just 14.45 oz, and compressing to a size just a tad larger than a 1-liter water bottle. The Patagonia Piolet weighed the most at 18.90 ounces, making it a poor choice for light multi-day excursions. The Alpha SV and Piolet were the least compressible, making them better worn than packed.

From left to right: Outdoor Research Clairvoyant  Arc'teryx Theta AR  Norrona Trollveggan dri3  Arc'teryx Beta AR  Mountain Hardwear Torsun. Bottom left to right: Patagonia Piolet and Arc'teryx Alpha SV.
From left to right: Outdoor Research Clairvoyant, Arc'teryx Theta AR, Norrona Trollveggan dri3, Arc'teryx Beta AR, Mountain Hardwear Torsun. Bottom left to right: Patagonia Piolet and Arc'teryx Alpha SV.

Features


Ahhh…sometimes it's the little things that make the difference. When looking at features, we took into consideration a bunch of different things that make a hardshell jacket more versatile, comfortable, and functional. For example, we looked at how big the pull tabs were to adjust hoods and hems, and whether we had to take the gloves on or off. We also looked at pocket design - their number, depth, and position. We are happy to report that all the products we tested turned out to be harness/backpack strap compatible, as well as helmet compatible. We also looked to see if there were any cozy chin warmers, how much room there was in the collar, and how far it came up on the face when the hood was cinched down. Finally, we took into consideration any fancy features that stood out on each product.


The Alpha SV has many functional features, like a harness compatible system and pockets that have cross-body access. Tying at the top of the bunch in this metric is the Theta AR. Other products like the Clairvoyant are minimalist in design and lack some features. The Patagonia Piolet was another cozy hardshell jacket that has a warm liner, felted chin warmers AND hand warmers as well (the only one with this feature!).

The Norrona dri3 almost won the Editors' Choice award for its great features. We thought it was a perfect ice climbing jacket due to its longer arms  and no-lift fit.
The Norrona dri3 almost won the Editors' Choice award for its great features. We thought it was a perfect ice climbing jacket due to its longer arms, and no-lift fit.

Durability


When considering purchasing an uber-expensive shell, you better know if it's going to last you for a long time. To be honest, because of our short testing period, this was the hardest metric to test. So we made our observations based on the quality of stitching, fabrics used, and zipper design. Models with big burly zippers are more likely to last than ones with tiny zippers with teeth that might fall out of sync. We also put these hardshell jackets in the washer to see if it affected the DWR after just one wash, or if anything part looked worn afterward. To top it all off, we did our research. We talked to long-term owners of shells like the Piolet and looked at consumer reviews online. In the end, we were able to comment on the durability of each shell.


In general, the Arc'teryx models scored top marks for durability. Their construction is supreme with complex stitching and welded overlays that ensure the shell will last close to a lifetime. Many Arc'teryx owners gloat about the durability with a huge trade-off for price. One thing we did not like about the Beta AR was that after tugging on the pull tab of the hood's cinching system, the top popped off. Aside from that, we didn't notice any wear and tear after three months of testing. We also loved the bomber zippers on the Arc'teryx and Outdoor Research products. On the other end, we are wary of the tiny toothed zippers used in the Mountain Hardwear and Patagonia pieces. No need to worry, however, because all these manufacturers back their products with a lifetime guarantee. This includes zippers. So if it breaks, send it in for a fix.

Kelly takes a trek through the Northern San Juans on an overnight ski mountaineering trip. The ultra durable Arc'teryx Beta AR was a perfect compadre for the mission.
Kelly takes a trek through the Northern San Juans on an overnight ski mountaineering trip. The ultra durable Arc'teryx Beta AR was a perfect compadre for the mission.

Versatility


It's nice to have a hardshell jacket that you can take with you on all your favorite activities that require bomber weather protection…everything from resort skiing, snowshoeing, running, hiking, ice climbing, mountaineering, and all else in between. To test this metric - we simply did all those things. We noted which shells were suited more for one purpose and which seemed to offer high performance for multiple activities. We noticed which ones our friends reached for when headed out for different activities like backcountry touring and cross-country skiing. With these tests, we were able to determine which shells were versatile, and which weren't.


We found that the most versatile models were the ones that were more breathable. We gave top marks to the Mountain Hardwear Torsun because of its great breathability and its ability to perform in adverse conditions. The Arc'teryx products and the Outdoor Research model still earned top marks because you can use them for pretty much anything. From skiing to ice climbing to scampering around town. The only product that did not perform for all fun outdoor adventures was the Piolet due to its heaviness and wavering weather protection. It is better suited for more mellow recreational activities, shoveling snow outside, or just for a quick cross-country ski at the track.

The Mountain Hardwear Torsun is our Best Buy Award winner that is quite versatile. Take it hiking  backcountry snowboarding  or cross country skiing.
The Mountain Hardwear Torsun is our Best Buy Award winner that is quite versatile. Take it hiking, backcountry snowboarding, or cross country skiing.

Conclusion


Kelly  one of our testers  donning the Arc'teryx Beta AR on a ski mountaineering day trip near the Last Dollar Hut in the San Juan Mountains.
Kelly, one of our testers, donning the Arc'teryx Beta AR on a ski mountaineering day trip near the Last Dollar Hut in the San Juan Mountains.

The jackets in this review are intended to protect you from the most fierce of weather conditions. Depending on where you live and what you plan to use your jacket for, the hardshell you choose may vary. After reading through the details of our thorough testing, we hope that you were able to find the model that suits your taste. Still unsure? Have a look at our Buying Advice article for tips on what to consider when selecting your hardshell.
Amber King

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