Outdoors gear is made for out there. As trends take wilderness apparel from the summits to the streets, Highsnobiety is recasting a seminal part of the outdoors for its new home. Trail Mix is our wear-test series; instead of climbing mountains, we put gear through tests that ring closer to home. Is that winter parka too warm for a subway commute? Which long johns come up short? Each month, we’ll take on a new category, testing five pieces in the wilds of New York City to answer questions just like these.
This time, we’re unpacking the packable jacket.
How to dress for spring weather? Don’t even try.
Although the first blooms mark the traditional end of #cozyszn, frosty mornings followed by sunny afternoons can make even the strongest layering game weak (or at the very least, chilly in the shade). Forget checking the weather app on the way out the door. When it’s cold rain at 9am but summer at noon, what even goes out the door to begin with?
Options, that’s what. And not the kind your cousin day-trades.
Spring survival is all about the packable jacket. In the outdoors world, an entire category of lightweight, storable “emergency shells” has evolved to help hikers adapt to sudden changes in weather. Off the mountain, these high-performance concealables help their owners navigate a threat of a different kind: the dreaded soccer-mom waist tie.
Packing a jacket and throwing it in a tote bag is the most stylish way to stay one step ahead of spring’s wayward weather. Here are the six packable jackets you need to unbox this spring.
The Next-To-Skin Feeling
If “lighter than air” was too cumbersome, consider the wisp. With the Phantom Pull-On, British gear specialists Rab have thrown everything to the wind except for a membrane and zippers. The truly ghastly part is that it works.
Laying up at a mere 90 grams (0.198lbs), the Phantom is one of the lightest waterproof breathable shells on the market. A lack of pockets and adjustment points make this an emergency shell in truest form. A too-cool “Acid” colorway and wild surface texture make it hard to put away. Like the Helium, the Phantom packs down to the size of your hand (this time, via an included stuff sack.) But during testing, pack-downs were few and far between.
We loved the Phantom for its wild, Martian-EVA-meets-trail-runner aesthetics and its ethereal comfort. It’s surprisingly fun to style, and in translucent slime green, a hoot to pair with other radioactive staples like Baggies shorts. If you’re looking for the ultimate in lightness and packability, don’t ghost the Phantom.
Phantom Pull-On Jacket
The Functional Flex
Just when you think packable jackets are all about whimsical names, Snow Peak’s 2.5 Layer Rain Jacket reminds us that outerwear is indeed function-first.
The 2.5 Layer Rain Jacket is perhaps the most robust shell in this test. Cut from 2.5-layer TORAIN, a membrane fabric by Japanese materials house TORAY, Snow Peak’s spring slicker is windproof, waterproof, and not afraid of the junk in your backpack. This, like the Helium, is a fully-featured jacket with all the pockets and whistles you’d expect. But because it’s Snow Peak, it’s certified drip.
We loved the 2.5 Layer Rain Jacket for its clean looks and thoughtful design touches. In Grey, it effortlessly mixes into both the black pants and purple shorts sides of the spring wardrobe. With black Dickies and white Salomon XT-6’s, it was almost impossible to take off. At $470, this is the most expensive jacket in this test by a fair margin, but if you’ve got the cash, it’s worth it.
The GORP’ers Delights
Swedish brand Klättermusen has become an outdoorstagram staple for its avant garde designs. One of their most remarkable is the Ansur, a lightweight trekking jacket in the brand’s proprietary Katla cotton. Past the biomorphic, mixed-material, Giger-like aesthetics is a capable spring piece that - more importantly - can be mashed into your backpack and come out looking spiffy.
In testing, the Ansur’s comfort exceeded only its looks. A medium weighs 307g and breathes like any cotton overshirt. When there’s a pop-up, however, Katla cotton provides capable water resistance as you run for cover. It’s not capital W-Waterproof, mind you. But for drizzles, it’s more than capable.
Small, but mighty, and stylish as hell. If Allen Iverson were a hiking jacket, he’d be the Ansur.
The Light Heavyweight
While it is a light jacket built for the elements, the Helium is more than a really good pun. It’s also a fully-featured raincoat weighing just 179 grams. The Helium is cut from Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse, a lightweight ripstop nylon known for its pack-friendly durability. How pack-friendly? Stuffing the Helium into its own chest pocket makes it about the size of your palm. There’s “having a winner on your hands.” And then there’s a near-perfect pack jacket for $159.
We loved the Helium because it’s a high-performance technical shell that happens to pack down. While it may not have the abrasion resistance of a ski jacket, Outdoor Research stuffed every bit of the waterproof breathability you’d expect from the big boys into a shell made for your bike basket. The styling here is more barebones than some other favorites, but considering the price, Helium punches way above its weight.
The Stylish Sportsman
From the Latin verb “to set on fire” comes a scorching warm-weather pack jacket courtesy of gear guru Arc’teryx. The Incendo SL (weight: 80 grams) is a breathable minimalist running jacket cut that features a hybrid construction to maximize airflow. To be clear: this jacket is not meant for rain. A light DWR coating is all that comes between you and those April showers. However, there’s other reasons to love it - namely, the styling.
What stood out to us about the Incendo was its uber-cool composite paneling. Mixed materials on the back and arms give it an undeniably athletic look, and with the ever-so-slightly translucent ripstop used on the body, the Incendo as a whole comes off looking like an Undercover React. If you live in the desert (or found the 90 gram Phantom a touch heavy), give the Incendo a try.
The Mountain GOAT
While Patagonia has produced some of the most iconic pack jackets in the outdoors, one of their new models caught our eye for its sheer iconoclasm. A drop-top raincoat? We had to try it out.
Called the “Storm Racer,” Patagonia’s latest is but one part of an expansive mountain running kit. Those contrast double-zips? Meant for quick access to a hydration vest. That snap at the hem? Part of a full-zip entry system designed for easier layering. With a total weight of 198 grams and an included stuff-sack, the Storm Racer checks many of the category’s boxes. Its unique function-driven looks, however, make it anything but standard.
We loved the Storm Racer for its sheer intensity. It looks, feels, and wears like a special piece of kit - especially once you realize there aren’t any pockets. As far as statement pieces go, a wildly different jacket that says “I run up mountains and use a vest to hold my phone” might as well be studs.