Spring is here and so is touring season. Whether on skis or a splitboard, the requirements needed in a good backcountry shell are universal; lightweight, flexible, breathable protection.
Here are three of my favourite touring specific shells for this spring. They all feature a hybrid or composite construction where different fabrics are used in different areas of the jacket depending on the level of protection or breathability required.
This approach is a good one when you need a shell that offers both protection and breathability. All three are good choices for lightweight alpine climbing and hiking throughout the rest of the year too.
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hoody
Black Diamond are relatively new to the clothing game but they’ve really hit the ground running with some brilliant products, many of which are ideal for fast paced activities in the mountains. The Dawn Patrol Hybrid Hoody is a ski touring specific shell that features a waterproof fabric on the hood, shoulders, arms and hem and a more breathable soft shell fabric on the torso. The waterproof fabric provides complete protection from the wind and sudden snowstorms whilst the soft shell material vents internal moisture to keep you dry and comfortable on the skin track.
Arc’teryx Lithic Comp Jacket
The Lithic Comp Jacket could the the perfect touring shell. It’s super light at only 510g and very packable so goes unnoticed when stored in a pack. The Lithic uses waterproof GoreTex fabric over the entire front of the jacket, around the hem and over the hood. This means it provides complete protection from wind and snow on the descent. On the back of the jacket and under the arms is a fabric called Trusaro an air permeable soft shell that still offers some weather protection but breathes and stretches to offer great ventilation and comfort in the areas that are covered by a pack and where extra ventilation is appreciated. Mesh backed pockets also offer extra venting if required. Along with the excellent construction, a big helmet compatible hood and a long cut make the Lithic the ideal choice for the splitboarding and ski touring. [Take a look at the video above].
Patagonia Dimensions Jacket
Patagonia have always made great soft shells and the Dimensions Jacket is no different. In a similar way to the Dawn Patrol Hybrid and Lithic Comp, the Dimensions places fully windproof Gore Windstopper fabric over the areas most exposed to moisture and wind and a more air permeable stretch woven fabric under the arms where more flexibility and breathability is needed. The Dimensions has a helmet compatible hood and Patagonia’s innovative modified YJoint sleeve construction that gives excellent freedom of movement with minimal shoulder seams. [Take a look at the video below].
To sum things up I’d say the Arc’teryx Lithic Comp is perhaps the most ski /board specific of the three and offers the most protection due to the GoreTex fabric covering the entire front of the jacket. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol looks like it would cross over to Alpine climbing the best and is probably the most breathable as it has the greatest amount of soft shell fabric. The Patagonia Dimensions Jacket meanwhile looks to be the most versatile of the three, being great for everyday wear as well as for use in the mountains.
Whatever you’re wearing this spring always make sure you have the backcountry essentials of a shovel, probe and transceiver, along with knowledge of how to use them effectively. This year especially there are some instabilities lurking deep in the snowpack throughout the Alps.
Read more of Andy's reviews back in our news feed - search 'Latest Gear' or visit his website.