How We Tested Hardshell Jackets

By:
Andy Wellman
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
February 26, 2018
This year marks the seventh straight year that OutdoorGearLab has tested hardshell jackets. The information found in this review is not one season's worth of testing, but rather a culmination of all of the testing and knowledge that we have gained over the years. We have now tested over 80 different jackets, and have been on top of all the changes in design and materials that have taken place during that time. In short, the hardshell jacket review found here is not just comprehensive in its breadth of this year's models, but complete in scope of the entire hardshell jacket market for the past half decade.

Testing the Summit L5 FuseForm GTX on untracked pow slopes above the Columbia River in British Columbia proved to be very fun!
Testing the Summit L5 FuseForm GTX on untracked pow slopes above the Columbia River in British Columbia proved to be very fun!

The majority of our testing took place out in the field. This meant wearing and using jackets on mountain adventures. Most of the jackets were tested during a three month period during late fall and early winter, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, as well as the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia. The activities we enjoyed in each of these jackets included ice climbing, backcountry skiing, resort skiing, and hiking, as well as regular everyday use around town such as shoveling the driveway. Multiple people used each of these jackets and gave their opinions on their performance. While field testing formed the basis of our knowledge and ideas about these jackets, to more accurately compare jackets side-by-side, we also devised and conducted numerous controlled tests for each metric, described below.

Testing jackets doesn't have to be all work. Running a lap  and practicing our drops  on a run through the North Bowl of Revelstoke  BC.
Testing jackets doesn't have to be all work. Running a lap, and practicing our drops, on a run through the North Bowl of Revelstoke, BC.

Weather Protection


The majority of this testing took place on our adventures backcountry skiing, climbing mountains, skiing at resorts, and ice climbing. However, these jackets were tested in the mountains in winter, so to simulate their performance in a hard downpour, we conducted the shower test. We put on each jacket, zipped it up, donned the hood, and stood underneath the shower for at least three minutes to test how the jacket held up in a serious rainstorm. We also conducted the test with a helmet on underneath the hood. This test gave us the best information about the efficacy and durability of a jacket's DWR coating, and more importantly, the performance of the hood and collar.

When we test for weather protection  we are sure to test each jacket against weather that has already fallen  as well was weather that is currently occurring. How do we do that? This is a good way of seeing whether a jacket will actually keep the snow out...
When we test for weather protection, we are sure to test each jacket against weather that has already fallen, as well was weather that is currently occurring. How do we do that? This is a good way of seeing whether a jacket will actually keep the snow out...

Weight


To determine a jacket's weight, we weighed it on our independent scale immediately upon arrival, before it had a chance to get wet or dirty. We ignored what manufacturers' claimed the weight to be, although posted that number as well in our specs table. Despite the fact that some of the jackets were size large and others size medium, we compared weights across the board, as the fit of each jacket was appropriate for our head tester, despite their different designations.

Weighing the OR Realm  the lightest jacket in this year's review  on our independent scale.
Weighing the OR Realm, the lightest jacket in this year's review, on our independent scale.

Mobility and Fit


To accurately compare fit we wore each jacket one after the other with nothing but a thin base layer on beneath, as well as a thicker warmth layer. We also wore them both with a helmet and without. The majority of our testing for mobility took place in the field on our adventures.

Not content to simply call the CloudSeeker a skiing jacket  we took it for a few pitches at the Ouray Ice Park and found that its protection  mobility  and even features were just as equally suited to steep ice as steep powder.
Not content to simply call the CloudSeeker a skiing jacket, we took it for a few pitches at the Ouray Ice Park and found that its protection, mobility, and even features were just as equally suited to steep ice as steep powder.

Venting and Breathability


This metric was mostly tested while on the skin track on backcountry skiing days by wearing our hardshell for the entire uphill, even if we felt too hot to be doing so. However, for a more accurate comparative test, we took these jackets to the local gym and conducted the stationary bike test. For this analysis, we wore a Capilene base layer beneath each hardshell jacket. We spent 15 minutes warming up to a sweaty state, and then wore each contender one after the other as we pedaled on the bike.

We maintained a sweat-inducing heart rate of 130 throughout and wore each jacket fully zipped up with the hem drawcords tightened for five minutes of riding to compare breathability, then immediately opened all available vents and rode another two minutes to judge the ventilation effect. The results were impossible to quantify but were anecdotally very noticeable, and we immediately kept notes about the performance of each jacket. In general, we weighted the ability to ventilate as the more important aspect of this metric, as we have found this to be a far more comfortable way of staying dry while wearing a hardshell.

Testing the Summit L5 FuseForm GTX for breathability on the stationary bike in the local gym. Due to its heavy face fabric  we found it to be perhaps the hottest and least breathable jacket in this test  but found some relief when we opened up the pit zips.
Testing the Summit L5 FuseForm GTX for breathability on the stationary bike in the local gym. Due to its heavy face fabric, we found it to be perhaps the hottest and least breathable jacket in this test, but found some relief when we opened up the pit zips.

Features


Testing of a jacket's features mostly took place in the field. First, we identified all of the various features present on each jacket, and then made a concerted effort while out adventuring to test and notice how each feature worked. We gave preference to optimally functioning features over pure quantity.

The Radical has two mesh stash pockets on the inside  designed for stowing your skins for quicker transitions. Only problem is that our fat powder skins barely fit with some work  so this feature might be more applicable for gloves or a hat  or when using the skinny touring skis.
The Radical has two mesh stash pockets on the inside, designed for stowing your skins for quicker transitions. Only problem is that our fat powder skins barely fit with some work, so this feature might be more applicable for gloves or a hat, or when using the skinny touring skis.