Skip to Content

Skyblue Guide to Choosing a Shell Jacket

Skyblue Overland may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Choose the best rain gear with our Skyblue Guide! Stay dry and upgrade your outdoor experience by learning about technology and shell construction methods to find the perfect pieces for you.

The relentless downpour beats against the windows, a constant reminder of the tumultuous weather outside. But for you, the thought of postponing your plans is inconceivable. You refuse to let something as trivial as rain stop you from your next adventure.

With unwavering determination, you prepare yourself with the latest in waterproof technology and advanced shell construction techniques. So when Mother Nature unleashes her fury upon you, you’ll be ready to face any challenge and conquer any obstacle that may come your way. Your unbreakable spirit will not be deterred by something as simple as a little rain.

Elevate your outdoor adventures with the ultimate rain gear, as recommended by Skyblue. Discover the latest technology and construction techniques to stay dry and enhance your outdoor experience. Find the perfect pieces for your needs and upgrade your gear game.

Woman wearing her rain shell jacket while out hiking.

How to choose a shell jacket

Before you choose a jacket, consider when and how you plan to wear it. While most garments are designed for versatility, an insulated shell ski jacket is made from more durable material and includes features that a lightweight running jacket may not have.

Shells can serve as both jackets and pants. Each type of shell offers unique features that can be tailored to your specific needs for outdoor activities. For instance, if you tend to get too hot while hiking, opt for a jacket with underarm zippers to release excess heat. And if it’s important for you to stay completely dry during multiple rainy hikes, make sure your jacket has taped seams for 100% waterproof protection. This process seals the weakest part of the garment to prevent any water from seeping through. Additionally, different models may vary in hood design, pocket placement, visibility tape, and other details to consider when choosing the best rainwear for your adventures.

Types of Shells

There are four different types of shells, each offering a specific level of protection from rain and designed for different purposes. By understanding the variations and their ideal applications, you can narrow down your choices based on your planned activities.

Soft Shells: Soft shells with water-resistant properties blur the distinction between midlayers and outer shells. The inner layer provides warmth and softness, while the outer layer is designed to repel moisture. While not as waterproof as other jackets, soft shells are ideal for intense activities in colder weather where there may be light rain or mist.

A good example of a soft shell is the Patagonia R2® TechFace Jacket, which provides warmth and breathability with the added benefits of abrasion and weather resistance for extended versatility in shifting mountain conditions.

Hard shells: Most hard shell jackets are designed with some level of water resistance. They consist of multiple layers, but their primary purpose is not to provide warmth. Instead, jackets like the Stio Ender Hooded Jacket are ideal for keeping you dry and comfortable during unexpected rainstorms.

Hybrid Shells: A hybrid shell combines elements from both soft shells and hard shells in its construction. Typically, it will resemble a hard shell but have more flexible and breathable material on the back, sides, or under the sleeves. As a result, it is not entirely waterproof and is most suitable for activities in mild precipitation.

An example of this a hybrid shell is the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Shell jacket, which combines Black Diamond protective BD.Dry™ laminated waterproof breathable solution with an air permeable soft shell fabric in key placements.

Insulated Shells: Insulated shells can be classified as either waterproof or water resistant. They are designed to provide warmth and protection from harsh weather conditions, typically in colder climates. For a shell to be considered waterproof, it must have a face fabric with a membrane and be fully seam sealed. Insulated shells are most useful during the winter months for activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, or everyday wear.

A good example of an insulated shell jacket is the Mammut Stoney HS Thermo Jacket, which has a perfect combination of weather protection and insulation. The jacket is made from 2-layer DRYtech™ material (water column: 20,000 mm), that keeps out snow and rain while remaining breathable. 

Couple trekking through the rain.

Laminates & Treatments

All four of the shell types utilize a laminate or a treatment to ensure protection from wet weather. While laminated rainwear offers stronger waterproofing, many options use a coating similar to soft shells for their waterproofing capabilities.

Durable Water Repellent Coatings

DWR, or Durable Water Repellent, is a special coating that is commonly used on rainwear. This coating causes moisture to bead up and roll off the fabric instead of being absorbed. It’s important to note that having a DWR coating does not automatically make your gear “water-resistant.” Other factors such as seam taping are necessary for full water resistance. However, DWR does provide protection against unexpected bouts of rain, keeping your rainwear dry and you comfortable in inclement weather.

Over time, DWR treatments will degrade. Whether it’s from being exposed to the elements or from frequent washing, your DWR coating will gradually lose its ability to repel water. This means that water will no longer bead and roll off your rainwear, and it may even look wet after being worn in a storm. Fortunately, you can easily reapply a DWR treatment to restore the same level of performance as when it was first purchased.

Eco-friendly Treatments

Most DWR coatings that have been used in the outdoor industry for reliable waterproof performance contain PFCs (or perfluorocarbons). While these chemicals are highly effective, they do not degrade over time and can harm the environment. Many companies are now working on new technologies to eliminate PFCs from their products. Keep an eye out for product descriptions with the “PFC-free” label. This is often seen on soft shell and mid-layer garments, but many Gore-Tex hard shells have also transitioned to using PFC-free treatments.

Laminated Shells

Every raincoat has a coating to make it water-resistant, but hard shells go above and beyond with lamination. Fabrics and waterproof membranes can be combined in three different ways to create a truly waterproof shell, known as layers. How these layers are organized plays a significant role in the overall performance of the raincoat. Here is a brief overview of the different types.

2-layer Shells

The first layer of a 2-layer waterproof shell is created by laminating a waterproof membrane onto the inner side of an outer face fabric. Next, a mesh layer is added to act as a barrier between the skin and the laminate, protecting it from sweat and reducing friction. This also makes the 2-layer shell the most silent option out of the three. As a result, 2-layer shells are often marketed as urban or travel gear.

2.5-layer Shells

While 2-layer shells may be the quietest option, it is the 2.5-layer shells that truly excel in terms of weight. The first layer is a durable face fabric, followed by a laminated waterproof membrane and topped off with a protective print to shield the laminate. With no mesh and a thinner construction, 2.5-layer shells, such as the Backcountry Daintree Rain Jacket, are some of the lightest and most versatile shells available. They are perfect for backpacking trips and make great emergency shells to keep in your pack in case of unexpected bad weather.

3-layer Shells

Designed for tough and rugged activities where protecting against water and lasting durability are top priorities, 3-layer shells are the preferred outerwear option. These shells are constructed by sandwiching a membrane between two fabrics: a face fabric and a liner. The face fabric on these shells has a dense weave compared to the other variations of shells, resulting in a heavier and sturdier product.


Laminated rainwear offers more than just protection from the rain. Whether it’s made by a certain brand or technology, each waterproof membrane allows for some level of breathability so you don’t feel suffocated while climbing steep inclines. These laminates effectively block outside moisture from seeping in, but also allow trapped inside moisture to escape. As your body produces warm moisture, it is able to pass through the membrane and out into the colder, drier air outside, preventing that unpleasant clammy feeling and keeping you warm and comfortable.

Over the years, outdoor brands have worked tirelessly to improve the efficiency of moisture vapor transfer. As a result, there are now numerous membrane options available, such as Gore-Tex, FUTURELIGHT, Omni-Tech, and others. While Gore-Tex has remained the top choice for many, other brands have developed innovative technologies that make their membranes worthy contenders. To select the best rainwear for your needs, consider reading reviews to gauge each option’s breathability, durability, and water protection capabilities.

Waterproof vs breathable shell jackets

When choosing a shell jacket, one important factor to consider is whether or not it has a membrane. While a membrane provides full waterproofing, it also restricts airflow. This type of jacket is perfect for activities like skiing or providing daily protection from rain when weatherproofing is crucial. On the other hand, lightweight jackets without a membrane, such as softshells, are better suited for high-intensity activities like ski touring, fast hiking, or running. All of these jackets offer both weather protection and breathability, but finding the right shell jacket always involves finding a balance between the two.

High performance, low impact

Many shell jackets are created with circular performance fabrics, ensuring that no harmful chemicals like PFAS are used in the production. Manufacturer’s like Houdini use a circular approach, which means that all fabrics used are either made from recycled materials or can be recycled themselves. When your shell jacket has served its purpose, we encourage you to return it to the manufacturer so that they can salvage the materials and use them to create new products. Skyblue believes in minimizing waste and extending the lifespan of your garments. If your garment does get damaged, companies like Patagonia or Houdini offer repair services through their customer service department. 

Layering for optimal comfort

For optimal functionality and comfort from your shell jacket, proper layering is key. The basic method is to start with a base layer next to your skin, which will keep you dry and provide warmth. Then, add a mid-layer made of fleece or wool for extra insulation. If you are someone who gets cold easily or spends time in colder climates, we highly recommend adding a padded insulation jacket on top or even underneath your shell jacket.

Skyblue Featured Video: Patagonia Layering Guide: What is a Shell Layer?

Be prepared for any weather. We make our waterproof and windproof shells to protect you from the elements. Learn more about shells and how they work with your layering system. Head over to Patagonia’s layering guide for more advice on how to choose the right layers for your cold-weather kit.

Popular Articles:

Best Rain Jackets to Protect You from the Elements In 2024

All-Weather Protection: Black Diamond’s Shell Jackets

Meet The All-New Black Diamond TreeLine Rain Shell

Nocs Provisions Introduces Pro Issue Waterproof Binoculars

Camp Better in a Roofnest Roof Top Tent