The vast majority of shell jackets
maintain high quality for several years. Having said that, many models are designed for specific situations, so choose your shell jacket according to how it will be used.
For really long trips it’s important to check the fit and weight carefully before buying. If you are going on a long trip, every extra gram counts, but if it's just a day trip to the forest, weight matters less. A shell jacket sits slightly closer to the body compared to a regular jacket but should be loose enough so you can wear layers underneath.
Water resistance and breathable material
A shell jacket that is good but does not protect against water is not a good shell jacket, so consider whether you need a completely waterproof or water resistant model. Water resistant models protect against wind and lighter rain but should not be used in heavy rain, then a waterproof shell jacket with reinforced seams and shoulder parts is a better choice. The alternative is a water resistant shell jacket combined with rainwear which also works well.
Not all materials in shell jackets are resistant to water. To find out how much water each model can handle before you get wet, check how much water pressure they can withstand. The marking is stated in millimetres and all over 1,000 millimetres, or 9.6 kilopascals, are considered water resistant. There are models that can handle up to 30,000 millimetres, but a good figure to aim for is 5,000 millimetres.
In addition to water resistance, it’s advisable to also check for how well the material breathes. The shell jacket should not only stop wetness from the outside but also be able to transport moisture that otherwise cools the body. The ability to breath is measured in grams, by how much moisture in grams per square meter is released through the pores of the material during a 24-hour period. Even here, 5,000 is a good figure to aim for. Some shell jackets can handle 20,000 grams.
Shell jacket on hiker. Photo: iStock.com / Olga_Danylenko
You often encounter names such as hard shell, softshell and hybrid shells when choosing a shell jacket.
Hard shell is the most resistant one to tough weather conditions, but often lacks the ventilation offered by softshell and hybrid shells. Therefore, hard shell is best in situations where you do not sweat much, because the moisture formed on the inside cannot be transported away so well.
Softshell uses softer material that feel easier to move in but does not have the same dense construction as a hard shell. Therefore, softshell jackets should not be used in, for example, heavy rain or strong winds. In return, soft shells offer greater possibilities for ventilation, which is good if you sweat a lot.
Hybrid shells often consist of a softshell shell jacket but with reinforced parts on the front and top. The sides, back, and underside have softer materials that can breathe and thus transport moisture in a good way. Hybrid shells are intermediates between hard shells and softshells with comparatively few models on the market today.
Material used in shell jackets
Highly waterproof jackets usually use polyurethane or polyamide as shell material, which is the ultimate protective layer in the jacket. Underneath this is normally one or more inner layers to isolate and transport moisture.
Polyurethane (PUR) is a collective name for a variety of plastic materials with different properties. Common advantages are that a polyurethane material is both durable and malleable with good features in both really cold and very hot conditions. Plastic materials are used in a wide range of products, from refrigerators and freezers to tyres and mattresses.
Polyamide (PU) is a strong synthetic fibre with excellent extensibility, elasticity and tensile strength. The material is chemically manufactured and is part of the group of artificial fibres together with seven other types of synthetic fibres. A common material in clothing that is a polyamide is nylon, and when marking shell jackets, either or both of the names can be used as they mean the same.
On the inside of these we find a membrane attached to the outer material with glue and then protected by yet another material that is placed closest to the wearer. There are a variety of well-known membranes, such as Event, Dry.Q, Polartec neoshell and Gore-tex. Everyone has different special techniques to stop water to come through, while the material breathes to transport moisture.
Protective material on the inside
The protective material should prevent wear on the membrane and hang either as a loose lining inside, which is called a 2-layer construction, or glued to the membrane. It in turn is called a 3-layer construction. In some cases, there is no lining that protects the membrane, but instead a coating and it is then called a 2.5-layer construction.
The big difference between the three is the compliance and the tolerance. A loosely hanging protective material wears faster but often gives a better feel, while a glued, protective material withstands more use and wears slower. A protective coating is not as good as a lining when it comes to protection, but the total weight is less.