The right hiking clothes will drastically improve the overall trip experience by making you comfier, faster, and especially safer. As they say, there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!

This guide will help you pick the best lightweight jacket and pants for your needs, your travel, and your budget. No BS! All these lightweight rain jackets have all earned their spot on this list by performing far better than the competition.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear boldly calls their $450 rain jacket THE SHELL, and states “this jacket is unprecedentedly breathable, waterproof, and tough as f*#k for its weight.” To see how well it stands up to the hype & price I took THE SHELL out for two weeks of guiding at 10,000 to to 14,000 feet in the High Sierras. The following Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL summarizes my findings.

(Lead picture: THE SHELL is roomy, especially in the upper torso, arms, shoulders and hood. To demonstrate this I’m wearing it over my super-puffy GoLite Bitteroot Jacket which is stuffed with over 5 oz of high fill power down—something most snug-fitting 6 oz waterproof-breathable (WP/B) rain jackets can’t do.)

Quick Spec’s

  • 5.8 oz claimed weight M’s medium (6.0 oz measured)
  • Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber)
    with highly breathable eVent WP/B liner (claimed 32,000 gm2/24hr)
  • Roomy fit – especially in the upper torso, arms, shoulders and hood
  • Fully featured with beefy, toothed zipper; velcro cuff closures; dual drawcord adjusted, helmet compatible hood, etc.
  • Full spec’s are below

Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

Test Setup

The picture below shows my 8.8 oz, highly breathable, full rain setup:

  1. (Top) HMG THE SHELL is 6.0 oz
  2. (Bottom) a MLD Dyneema Composite Fabric (Cuben) rain kilt is 1.8
  3. (Hands) MLD eVent Rain Mitts are 1.0 oz
Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

THE SHELL kept me dry in a torrential weather event in the Sierras. It started with snow and sleet and progressed to 35 degree rain for the next 4 hours. In just a few hours sections of trail were 4 to 6 inches under water. When it was all done, I fared much better/drier than the rest of our group. [Apologies for the “phone-quality” photo, but it was dark, pissing down rain and I wasn’t going to get my good camera out.]

Field Testing

We had the full spectrum of late season conditions in the High Sierra. Snow, sleet and sustained 35 degree rain. For 4 days, the low temperature was 13 to 19 degrees, and daytime highs barely rose above freezing. The average temperature one day was only 26 degrees. I used THE SHELL over my fleece as an active layer during this cold snap—and it was breathable enough that I didn’t sweat out. THE SHELL fit well over my super-puffy GoLite Bitteroot Jacket to increase it’s warmth on cold nights (the jacket is un-baffled). And finally the jacket kept me warm and dry in a torrential storm of snow and sleet, changing to sustained 35 degree rain.

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL did everything everything required of it and did it well. It kept me warm. It kept me dry from precipitation on the outside. It kept me from sweating out on the inside due to the eVent breathability (but note that I mostly used it in cold weather). It was small and light, so easily carried and available in the outside pocket of my pack. The roomy, non-constricting, climber’s fit was especially welcome as was the stiff hood brim and the sophisticated adjustment system.

Mid afternoon conditions for my guided group at 11,000 feet during the colder time in the Sierras

Compared To

  • Patagonia Storm Racer (6.3 oz, $249) is likely the strongest competitor – THE SHELL has more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms; is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters for hoods and sleeves. The outer fabric on the THE SHELL is likely tougher. The Storm Racer is a 3-layer fabric, so the WP/B layer might be less prone to damage from long term use due to a tricot lining. And the Storm Racer has a more useful Napoleon chest pocket vs. the hip pocket on THE SHELL.
  • Outdoor Research Helium II (6.2 oz, $160) – THE SHELL is  has a LOT more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms, has a much longer hem, is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters. It also has a beefier and smoother operating zipper vs. the Helium II’s small coil zipper. Helium II has a more useful Napoleon chest pocket vs. the hip pocket on THE SHELL.
  • Patagonia Men’s Alpine Houdini (6.5 oz, $199) is closest in roomy fit – Still THE SHELL has a bit more room in upper torso, shoulders and arms. It is more breathable, and has more sophisticated adjusters. It also has a beefier and smoother operating zipper vs. the Alpine Houdini’s small coil zipper which lacks even a metal tab. The Alpine Houdini has no pockets.

Conclusion

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s THE SHELL comes close to meeting the hype of “this jacket is unprecedentedly breathable, waterproof, and tough as f*#k for its weight.” THE SHELL did all I asked of it and I have few if any complaints. I especially like the roomy fit and its ease of use with all its well thought out adjustments, e.g. the beefy front zipper, and hood and cuff adjusters. So often these are skimpy or not included in minimal rain jackets. As HMG’s new slogan states, “LESS WEIGHT. MORE OPTIONS.” And it’s nice to see some many useful options included in THE SHELL without unduly increasing weight.

After only two weeks of field use, THE SHELL’s long-term durability or “toughness” is still undetermined. And durability for a full-sized, 6 oz garment is a shaky topic—subject to many opinions, interpretations, and expectations. That being said, THE SHELL feels solid and durable for such a large and low weight garment. It shows no obvious signs of deterioration from two weeks of use.

In addition to the outer fabric’s toughness, there is also the durability of the WP/B membrane. After almost 40 years of using WP/B rain jackets I have found that ALL of them, when worn for a long enough with a heavy backpack will eventually leak around the neck shoulders. This is true of both 2-layer and 3-layer fabrics by all manufactures! 2-layer versions leak sooner than 3 layer, but all will eventually succumb to the stresses of a heavy backpack’s shoulder straps.

Please to get me wrong! This is NOT criticism of the WP/B rain jackets or any manufacturer’s products vs. another manufacturer’s. I like them and I use them—mostly the very light ones like THE SHELL! It’s just the reality of the technology. And some of my best loved jackets have remained mostly leak free for a good amount of time. I am hoping the the SHELL joins this group.

Finally, I leave it up to the reader as to whether all this functionality, roomy fit and low weight justifies the $450 price tag…


Manufacturer’s Specifications

WEIGHT

Review of Hyperlite Mountain Gear THE SHELL

X-Small 0.32 lbs | 5.16 oz | 146g
Small 0.34 lbs | 5.46 oz | 155g
Medium 0.36 lbs | 5.80 oz | 164g
Large 0.38 lbs | 6.14 oz | 174g
X-Large 0.39 lbs | 6.20 oz | 176g

FEATURES

  • DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema® and eVent® materials technology
  • Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr
  • Waterproof Rating: 10,000mm
  • #5 YKK VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper
  • Polartec® Power-Dry® chin guard
  • VELCRO® adjustable cuffs for additional weather resistance
  • High collar zipper for additional weather resistance
  • Front and rear hood shock cord adjustment
  • Bottom hem shock cord adjustment
  • Low-profile stuff pocket with waterproof zipper and clip-in point; ideal for climbers
  • Helmet compatible hood; ideal for climbers, canyoneers, skiers
  • Stiff hood brim
  • Performance fit allowing a full range-of-motion for all outdoor activities
  • Unisex sizing

Disclaimers

Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with loaner of this product. I was/am under no obligation to write a review or otherwise promote this product. And this post represents my own independent opinion.

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.

Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.

Now 8d fabric for 2020: Highest performance down jacket that blow the hubcaps off of previous ultralight contenders! It’s the puffiest most insane Michelin Man look of ultralight down jackets. The GooseFeet Gear – 1/2 zip Custom Jacket: At only 9 oz, and with 61% down, this jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.

See jacket comparison table below for full spec’s. And to see many other high value off-the-shelf down jackets and pants that will save you $ and keep you warm!

 

Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets

  • Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
  • And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
  • *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.

Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers

If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.

What’s in this Guide

I own, or have extensively field tested the vast majority of the jackets (and pants) below.

  • Down Jackets
  • Down Pants and Down Booties
  • Note1: All garments below use Ethically Sourced Down (or something very close to it)
  • Note 2: We only include garments where the manufacturer provides oz. of down fill. Unfortunately, some major mfrs have stopped providing oz of down fill even upon request—essentially stating “trust us, it’s warm enough.” We are from Missouri…
Lightweight Down Jackets

Sometimes you need down and lots of it. Like jacket, pants, and booties. Author on a winter backcountry trip in Montana and Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau.

Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide

* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.

The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.

  • What’s the lightest?
  • * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
  • What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
  • What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
  • How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.

Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets


2020 GooseFeet Gear – Custom Down Jacket – $380  (as shown)

The new warmth to weight king. At 61% down for its weight, the GooseFeet Gear Jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer or Montbell Mirage. Pictured is a custom 1/2 zip jacket made for me by Ben at Goose Feet Gear. Weight is 9 oz with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down. It has a deep kangaroo pocket that is great for warming hands and has shopping basket size room for storing stuff in camp.

This is custom work so expect 6 weeks or so wait time. The upside is you get exactly the size and features you want! Note: that I purchased this jacket with my own funds and receive no commissions from sales.


feathered-friends-eos-mens-ultralight-down-jacket_1-1 Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290

This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz, it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down. That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.


Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded  – $350

Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.

 


Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers - Expensive Montbell EX Light Down Anorak – $269

At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as WARM as it gets!  The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.  It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a hood and a kangaroo pouch pocket! These great pockets let you really keep your hands warm by putting them in the same space against your abdomen. Truly lightweight warmth, this is a perfect puffy layer to bring on high alpine adventures like the South Sierra High Route, or Wind River High Route. The only downside is that there isn’t a Women’s version yet.


Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers Montbell Mirage Parka – $379

Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled (a warmer but more expensive construction method) jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters in much of the country (although you may need more in the deep north, see the Helios below). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version.


 image_feathered-friends-helios-hooded-down-jacket-ash_1 Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340

If you need ultra warmth, this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm with 3x the down (warmth) of the lightest jackets here.

The Helios packs 2 oz. of high-fill down over the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.


 b0a7e9f1-e647-468c-8432-750385958f5a  REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a down jacket, REI has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 10.2 oz (in a non-hooded version). And while the jacket sets no records for warmth to weight ratios with 650 fill power down, it likely has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and children’s cuts. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because all jackets are substantially warmer with one!


Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry

The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).

  • Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
  • Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.

Montbell Superior Down Parka – $209
8.5 oz, 2.5 oz 800+ fill power downAt under 9 ounces this is another great value in an ultralight, fully featured jacket. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.” While not the warmest jacket in the group, it should be more than sufficient for 3-season use.

11fee0b4-6278-410c-9113-09fe0348dc27
Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket or Hoody – $229

At $100 less than many top of the line jackets, this is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s reasonably light (2.8 oz, non-hooded), and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service  are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $375

Western Mountaineering has been making some of the finest and lightest down products since forever. And they are legendary for their immaculate construction and their long term durability. This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years! Made in the USA.


Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $375

This is a warmer version (3.5 oz of down) of the Flash Jacket with a highly water-resistant shell. This jacket was my choice for a climbing trip to the Andes in Peru. I summited a couple of 20,000+ foot peaks in this jacket. And yes, that’s a steep price tag but it’s made in the USA.


Lightweight Down Pants and Down Booties


image_featheredfriends_black_heliospant_1_3 Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants – $240
13 oz, 4.4 oz 850+ fill power downThese pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.

Montbell Superior Down Pants – $169
8.4 oz, 1.9 oz 800+ fill power downThese are one of the best values in insulated pants on the market. They are warmer and more windproof than fleece pants. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.”

wmflashpants1 Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – $250
6.5 oz, 2.0 oz 850+ fill power downThese are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.

 feathered-friends-assorted-down-booties
Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99
9.3 oz, 4.0 oz 800+ fill power downThese booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes, then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep  your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.