Women’s Lightweight Shell Jackets Buyer’s Guide

September 26, 2016

  • by
  • Peter Reese

Owning a jacket that goes from blustery mornings to sun-scorched afternoons is a good thing. If you’re a multi-sport, four-season person, this kind of lightweight outerwear is even more important. In many parts of the United States, it may be the only weather-fighting piece you need in your outdoor wardrobe.

Active Junky favors a jacket that doesn’t need to be taken on and off with every gust of wind or rain squally. The products our testing team evaluated are not so weatherproof that they become uncomfortable while stopping for a macchiato or walking the dog on a crisp evening. As such, features such as pockets and hem adjustments are important beyond conquering a mountain ridgeline or backpacking through old-growth forests.

Brands evaluated by Active Junky

  • Bergan’s of Norway
  • Craghoppers
  • Helly Hansen
  • Marmot
  • Patagonia
  • REI
  • Salomon

Lightweight Jacket Selection: Five Insights

The women-specific jackets Active Junky reviewed fit into what’s termed “hardshells,” outerwear normally suited for wearing over light tees up to insulated midlayers in colder conditions. Many come with fabrics treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to handle everything from drizzle to downpours. 

As you’ll read, some products are more water-resistant or repellent than waterproof. The same applies to their ability to breathe or pass body moisture to the outside. When a woman’s pushing hard uphill or the humidity is high, this “breathability” factor is crucial. Some models rely upon technical, laminated fabrics to accomplish this, while zip-open armpits or mesh-back pockets are alternatively employed by others.

Being able to hold back water while creating a comfortable interior environment is important. A jacket’s wind-resistance can’t be ignored and, for many women, may be even more essential than other factors. That’s because more temperature environments, including coastal regions, are known for their chilling breezes even on bright summer days.

Five Important Questions

To make product selection easier, Active Junky recommends considering these five questions even before you read more about each one. Our goal? Allow you to narrow your choices down to no more than three.

Question #1: How important are the three main factors; 1) precipitation resistance (rain, sleet and snow), 2) breathability and 3) wind blocking?

Question #2: Will you be wearing a cycling, climbing or paddling helmet under the hood (and need room for it)?

Question #3: Is carrying a pack – with a waistbelt – part of your plan such that pocket placement is important?

Question #4: What kind of fit do you prefer – and do you need to allow room for bulkier layers underneath?

Question #5: Are you planning to buy a full-on “winter” weight piece of outerwear in addition to a multi-season jacket?

Three Common Jacket Selection Mistakes

Mistake #1: Failing to ask the five questions, leading to a model that doesn’t perform in the field as needed.

Mistake #2: Settling for a “one size fits all” jacket not tailored to a women’s shape and, consequently, doesn’t allow for athletic movement in the piece.

Mistake #3: Investing too little in the jacket and either living with a substandard piece or requiring replacement within 24 months.

Shell Selection Attributes

Active Junky focused on five characteristics, used at the beginning to select jackets for testing. As a result, all lightweight jackets reviewed in the Buyer’s Guide meet baseline standards. Once tested, each model was given special commendation for a single “attribute” to make it easier to prioritize your final purchasing candidates. Pricing ranges between $100 and $300 because Active Junky sees this category as worthy of a reasonable investment to get multi-season wear. And the ability to wear the jacket more continuously during the day.

Protection considers how the shell guards against water and wind

Adaptability covers the jacket’s capability in different weather conditions, seasons and types of outdoor activities

Features include being able to adjust fit, store essentials in pockets and even stow the jacket in its own pocket

Weight looks at how the jacket performs in the field, with a preference for lighter models that utilize technical fabrics to reduce ounces

Durability examines how well constructed the garment is, the ability to resist abrasion and whether there are weak points (that could include zippers, pulls and toggles)

Best Women’s Lightweight Shell

Patagonia M10: On it - and above it

Patagonia m10 main Patagonia M10 Jacket Women’s $278.31 - $355.11

Dialed and done, this jacket is priced for serious alpine pursuits but takes it to field and forest like few others. Don’t lose it, feel free to abuse it (simply by wearing it through life) but don’t lose it.

Read the Full Review

Active Junky Tester Women’s Favorite

Salomon Bonatti WP Jacket: Life, elevated

Salomon bonatti 1 Salomon Bonatti WP Jacket Women’s Starting at: $153.41

Here’s where the freedom to go hard, stay one step ahead of the weather but remained prepared all meld into one jacket. Being seen in the wilderness is a good move as well.

Read the Full Review

Runner Up Women’s Lightweight Shell Jackets

Marmot Women’s Starfire Jacket: Ready for launch

Marmot starfire black Marmot Women’s Starfire Jacket $171.77 - $279.00

Three layers of Marmot’s NanoPro fabric equate to a waterproof and lightweight women’s shell that, with an athletic fit and Angel-Wing Movement, is ready for any outdoor activity with high performance across a wide range of activities.

Read the Full Review

REI Rhyolite Rain Jacket: Friend in field and forest

Rei rhyolite blue REI Rhyolite Rain Jacket Women’s

More than simply a lightweight rain jacket, REI constructed its Rhyolite shell with eVent fabric, waterproof and windproof up to 60mph. Years of experience are behind the design, with high-pocket placement to accommodate hipbelts and on-trail access.

Read the Full Review

Helly Hansen Enroute Shelter: Anywhere attention to detail

Helly hansen main womens 1 Helly Hansen Enroute Shelter Jacket Women’s Starting at: $90.00

With a regular, loose fit ideal for layering, this hard shell jacket is fully waterproof with water-resistant sealed zippers is a solid choice for multi-season adventure. High neck coverage, adjustable hood and waist cord along with Velcro cuffs protect against bone-chilling gusts.

Read the Full Review

Bergan’s of Norway Eidfjord Lady Jacket: Zip up the determination

Bergans eidfjord main Bergan’s of Norway Eidfjord Lady Jacket $301.67 - $359.00

Performance textiles Dermizax and Ecodear comprise this 3-layer lightweight jacket. Water and windproof, the Eidfjord offers extra space in the arms and torso for unrestricted movement and layering on colder days. Pit zips provide ventilation for warm rainy days and during heat-producing aerobic activities.

Read the Full Review

NatGeo Craghoppers Olivia Pro Series: Solid solution to fit most

Nat geo craghoppers main NatGeo Craghoppers Olivia Pro Series Jacket Women’s Starting at: $141.00

Partnering with National Geographic, Craghoppers designed the Olivia Pro Series jacket for outdoor adventures and international travel. Waterproof and breathable, the DWR AquaDry fabric protects in full downpours. And with an active fit and stretch material, this lightweight shell is ready for backcountry and urban exploration.

Read the Full Review

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