The best waterproof and breathable shells

There's a bewildering array of waterproof breathable membranes on the market. Learn the differences.
David Lama and Corey Rich.
Geared up. © Corey Rich/Mammut Archiv/Red Bull Content Pool
By Jakob Schiller

The essential piece of any three-layer waterproof and breathable jacket is the membrane. The membrane is the second layer of fabric and it keeps you dry but still breathes because it has billions of microscopic pores that are big enough for water vapor (sweat) to escape through but too small for a water droplet to penetrate from the outside. That's the theory...

Each of these jackets will keep you plenty dry even in the heaviest snowstorm and all the membranes breath well enough that it’s hard to tell the difference at times.

To figure out which one is best, buyers might also consider things like price, intended use and durability. The Alpha SV has a reputation for being the toughest on the market, but the Latok Alpine is less expensive. If you’re skiing couloirs instead of ice climbing, the Lab Coat is a better choice. But whichever jacket you pick, make sure it isn't just sitting pretty on the coat rack at home – get out and put it to use!

Arcteryx Alpha SV jacket green
Arcteryx Alpha SV jacket © Arcteryx

Arc’teryx Alpha SV

The Alpha SV is Arc’teryx’s top of the line, most bombproof alpinist jacket and this year’s version features Arc’teryx’s new N80p-X face fabric, a tight weave nylon that has a high resistance to abrasion. The Alpha SV also uses the new GORE-TEX Pro membrane.

, the most recognized manufacturer of waterproof and breathable membranes, has long used a thin breathable polyurethane polymer as a component of its membrane that protects it from oil, dirt and other contaminants that might comprise the membrane’s ability to perform. This year, however, GORE-TEX did away with the polyurethane coating on its Pro membrane and according to the company it’s now up to 28 percent more breathable.

Arc'teryx Alpha SV, €690

Rab Latok Alpine jacket red
Rab Latok Alpine jacket © Rab

Rab Latok Alpine

The Latok Alpine is a top alpinist jacket from Rab and like the Alpha SV is known to be tank-like because it also uses tight weave fabrics. It’s been in the company’s product line for a while, but that’s a good thing because it means that it’s been tested and refined.

For its waterproof and breathable membrane, the Latok Alpine uses eVent. eVent has been around since the 1990s and unlike GORE-TEX, has never used a coating of polyurethane to protect the membrane from contamination. Instead, eVent developed a patented technology that treats each individual fiber of the membrane.

They say this maintains the pores’ open structure and creates something called air permeability, which allows for easy transfer of air and water vapor out of the jacket.

Rab Latok Alpine, €360

Flylow Lab Coat jacket mandrain
Flylow Lab Coat jacket © Flylow

Flylow Lab Coat

The blueprint for the Flylow Lab Coat was drawn up by a top mountaineering apparel designer and then the Flylow team added their own touches so that it landed as a technical backcountry-oriented ski jacket that’s made for long days of skinning and skiing.

For its membrane, Flylow chose Polartec’s NeoShell, the newest membrane on the market. Like eVent, NeoShell does not use a polyurethane coating. Instead the NeoShell membrane is made from polyurethane so it’s also air permeable.

NeoShell made quite a splash when it was introduced a couple years back and Polartec says it’s the most breathable membrane on the market by far. (These breathability tests are often done in-house and they’re hard to verify, but many brands quickly added Polartec NeoShell to the mix so that tells you something.)

Flylow Lab Coat, €375

read more about
Next Story