Best Lightweight Storm Shells of 2017
Think of a 2.5-layer jacket as the family sedan of the storm shell world. Well priced, versatile, and comfortable, these jackets get the job done but not with a lot of style or excitement. If you don’t live in your shell or rely on it for a job, these shells are a better value than the tougher and higher performance three layer shells and offer plenty of waterproofness and breathability.
The 2.5 relates to how these jackets are made. Where a 3-layer shell is a sandwich of a protective exterior fabric, a waterproof-breathable membrane, and a protective interior lining, a 2.5 shell forgoes the interior lining for a coating—the 0.5. This cuts cost and weight and also makes it easier for manufacturers to add stretch, which many of the jackets in this category brag about. The membranes also tend to be proprietary, rather than a third party like Polartec or Gore, further bringing down the cost of the jacket.
The tradeoff is mostly durability compared to 3-layer jackets. Some may argue that breathability suffers as well, but that’s debatable, especially since most 2.5s are lighter and thus not as steamy to wear.
Bottom line: unless you take off for a week or longer on expeditions, I think 2.5s are ideal for most weekend warriors. These jackets can be your one and only rainshell, keeping you comfortable in a huge range of conditions and temperatures.
So how to choose between them? While these jackets sport many similarities, they each have strengths and weaknesses. To compare them, I used five filters: weathershedding, breathability, function, durability and packability. Most are self-explanatory. Weathershedding refers to how well they deflect rain and wind and for how long. Breathability considers their heat and sweat dumping capabilities. For durability I noted their toughness in the face of bushwhacking and rock contact. Packability is a combo of weight and bulk. Finally the least obvious is function. This is a combination of factors relating to what it is like to wear the jacket, how it fits, how it works, and what features are annoying and which ones were brilliantly useful.
It’s these little things that often make or break a jacket. For instance, the category winning Sherpa Assar led in Function scoring an 8 out of 10. It goes to show when everything does what it should on a jacket, you don’t even notice it’s there. And that’s the best a product can ever hope for.
For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check out our Best Hard Shell Jackets of 2017, Best Hybrid Jackets of 2017, Best Soft Shell Jackets of 2017, along with other related hiking and camping gear tests.