Unlike most other animals out there the human has no natural shield from the elements, save for the beards that some of us can grow. However, man has try for centuries to outsmart mother nature by using technology to afford them more time in extreme climes.
Jackets have evolved from mere tanned animal skin to thick cotton and wool layerings to the nano-fiber, rip-stop, weatherproof, Everest-proof micro thin outer shells.
Most modern jackets are geared towards the outdoor extreme athlete who seeks to do the most with the least amount of clothing. Enter the all weather shell. These jackets are light, packable, durable and and most of all; made to be used year-round.
Picking the proper shell can be difficult as there are many different technical features and materials, all with special attributes.
First pick the proper weight jacket for your needs and climate. I suggest a mid weight jacket; they are the most versatile and you can always add or subtract a layer depending on condition.
While shells are made of materials that are very similar the best shells are made from ripstop nylon and coated with Gore-tex waterproofing. Be sure that the seams are all water sealed, not just sewn shut.
Once you select a weight and materials you need to list all of the possible features that you might need for your style of exploring. Above all other features the prime ones that you want to focus on in a shell are:
- Waterproofing: great for everyday use and essential for outdoor antics.
- Windproofing: most jackets come with a windproofing rating. I suggest at least 75 mph.
- Adjustable cuffs: keeps wind from climbing up your arms and cooling your core, and locks water out.
- Hood: Make sure it does not obstruct the view as this causes neck strain. Also hoods with bills attached are very convenient.
- Waist Cinches: these help to keep snow and wind from sneaking up your jacket.
- Pockets: a chest pocket for phones/ gps. Interior pockets for keys or Mp3 players. Large side pockets to hold essential tools and gear.
- Shoulder quality: regardless of whether you plan on backpacking or not it is essential to get reinforced shoulder material, it adds to waterproofing and durability of the jacket and you never know, you may pick up backpacking in the future.
- Underarm vent zippers: can increase breath-ability but also can add to heat loss.
- Fleece lined neck: if you live in a warmer climate obviously this will cut down on the all weather usability of the jacket.
- Zip-in: a jacket that is part of a layering system is the way to go because it is streamlined and you know that your base layer will always fit. If you plan on using the jacket year-round layering is the way to go.
Finally select the color; as with the color of most clothing the color is totally preferential, however I prefer bright colors; if I am stranded or injured outdoors I would like to be visible for rescue personnel.
Some of the best places to find a credible all weather shell include: REI, Eddie Bauer, The North Face, Patagonia and any kayaking or hiking specialty store.
It may help to print this list out and take it to your local outdoor store, or safe it and use it when shopping online, when considering a shell.
I hope that it proves useful.
This is a nice, low cost shell to get started with: