This winter is a potential turning point in the world of outerwear. After decades of complete and utter Gore-Tex domination, there are a few high-profile materials that offer attractive alternatives. Each material (including a new Gore-Tex variant called ActiveShell) offers better breathability than traditional Gore-Tex.
Materials like Polartec Neoshell, Columbia OmniDry and Mountain Hardwear Dry.Q promise breathability (and in some cases stretch) comparable to a soft shell with the weather protection of a hard shell. If your winter pursuits are limited to resort skiing and waiting for the bus, you may not care about extra breathability. But if you tend to be highly aerobic and sweat profusely regardless of the cold temperatures, these materials could prove a vast improvement over waterproof but stuffy Gore-Tex.
For a full discussion of how they do it, take a look at my previous breakdown. If you're sold, here are a few of the actual 2011/12 jackets that feature the materials.
Mammut Gipfelgrat Jacket
Maybe it's the fact that Mammut is from my favorite country (Switzerland), maybe it's the fun-to-say "Gipfelgrat" name or maybe it's just the vibrantly colored accents, but I like the Gipfelgrat jacket without ever having worn it. It's an alpine climbing waterproof softshell made from Polartec Neoshell. It offers easy-access front pockets, a reinforced hood shield that stands up to wind, and front-accessed pit zip. Mammut says it's aimed squarely at alpinism and ice climbing and will work well for ski touring. MSRP is $450.
Mountain Hardwear Kepler Jacket
The Kepler is a middle-of-the-road MH softshell jacket that retails for $340. It uses Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q Elite to deliver full waterproofing and advanced breathability. Additional features like sonically welded seams and watertight zippers deliver further water protection, while the Micro-Chamois chin guard and "Butter Jersey" cuffs provide comfort and warmth.
Columbia Melting Point Parka
If you watch a lot of Hulu, I'd wager a guess that you've seen the commercial for Columbia's OmniHeat more than once. Similar to an emergency Mylar blanket, OmniHeat provides warmth by reflecting your body heat back at your body. Columbia claims a 20 percent boost in warmth over traditional liners.
The Melting Point not includes OmniHeat, but also OmniDry, Columbia's new "ultra-breathable waterproof technology." Those technologies seem to work against each other, but OmniHeat is included in the removable liner jacket while OmniDry makes up the outer jacket, so you can adjust based on your activities and the temperature. The $400 Melting Point also offers features like a goggle pocket, removable storm hood and powder skirt.
Westcomb's Apoc jacket is more of a hardshell iteration of Polartec Neoshell, though it still offers some stretch. The "active alpine jacket" includes features like one-handed adjustable waist, YKK AquaGuard Vision zippers and pit zips. The Apoc retails for $480.
Arc'teryx Beta FL
While Gore-Tex Active Shell is designed to be more breathable than traditional Gore-Tex materials like ProShell, it is not air permeable, the characteristic that Columbia OmniDry, Mountain Hardwear Dry.Q and Polartec Neoshell all claim give them their advanced breathing.
The Arc'teryx Beta FL uses the latest Gore-Tex fabric in a lightweight backcountry ski shell application. Thanks to the use of two thicknesses of Active Shell, the Beta FL weighs just 11.4 ounces. It offers reinforcements on high-wear areas. The Beta FL retails for $450. For those looking for something even lighter, Arc'Teryx also offers the $400 Alpha FL, a fast-and-light alpine shell made from Active Shell.