The term "hybrid" doesn’t just mean space-shippy little cars that save gas. Outdoor companies have adopted the word to mean apparel that combines multiple fabrics within a single layer for comfort and smart performance. Employing what they call “body mapping,” designers examine the way certain parts of our bodies work during high- and low-output activities, in all kinds of weather, and then put waterproof shell fabric where you need waterproofing, stretch panels where you need breathability, and insulation where you need warmth, all in the same layer. It’s a new way of looking at outdoor apparel that goes beyond your typical hard shell, softshell, puffy, and midlayer categories.
We tested a number of new pieces and then picked four that exemplify the hybrid approach. Since it’s almost impossible to compare an outer layer with an insulation layer (and some pieces can be worn as both), we analyzed each jacket individually to see how it measured up against what it was intended to do.
THE NORTH FACE SUPER ZEPHYRUS
The first time you put on this jacket is like the first bite into a chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven: It’s comforting and warm, and you never want to lose that feeling of pure joy. The Super Zephyrus has PrimaLoft One synthetic insulation in the arms and much of the torso, with Polartec Power Stretch panels on the sides, hood, and around the hem of the wrist. It’s described as a “lightweight insulated hooded wind shell,” but it goes way beyond wind protection, offering insulation as a midlayer as well as protection from light rain. (A surprise rain shower in Eldorado Canyon had one tester thankful for the jacket’s lightly PU-coated, water-resistant nylon.) And this is an excellent midlayer to put under a hard shell because of the increased breathability offered by all those stretch panels. During a strenuous hike in the Sawatch Range of Colorado, the panels acted as an overall cooling system at the same time as insulation kept vital areas of the tester’s body warm. Both female testers appreciated the stretch and movement of this jacket; it didn’t ride up when arms were raised for climbing because of the stretch in the sides and between the shoulders. The Super Zephyrus packs down really small, is lightweight, and has a zip that works great under a harness. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
- Perfect midlayer for high-output activities
- Super breathable
- Stretchy, comfortable, warm
OUTDOOR RESEARCH CENTRIFUGE JACKET
With a hard-faced knit fabric on the front of the torso and airy Radiant LT Fleece on the back, sides, and underarms, this jacket was really breathable but still managed to block the wind with ease. Our tester complimented the “perfect” fit, which he called “trim but with a super-comfortable cut,” and he added, “Without the more mesh-like panels, I think it would have been restrictive and sweaty.” The Centrifuge’s warmth-to-weight ratio was excellent (14 oz. for size L), and it packed up into a compact package about the size of a honeydew melon (smaller with a stuff sack). Although the jacket repelled water at first, it seemed to lose some water protection and began to wet through after several damp outings. (The coat is not designed for steady rain, but wearing it under a hard shell is a good option because of its slim profile.) The hood cinches down nice and tight to keep all the elements out. Our tester lauded the Centrifuge as his “warm single layer for summer outings in lower mountains,” perfect for a multi-pitch where one layer is needed to both climb and belay in. Sorry ladies, it’s only available in men’s.
- Light and warm
- Incredibly breathable
- Trim but comfortable fit
ADIDAS TERREX WINDSTOPPER HYBRID JACKET
Adidas has entered the adventure industry with a goal to be “the athletic brand in the outdoors.” Having used Adidas gear for more than a decade of soccer, I expected the trim fit (I wear a small in most brands, but the medium in this jacket was perfect), as well as performance-based design, but I wondered how these clothes would stand up to the volatile elements and horrendous abuse we put clothes through. The Terrex is comprised of Windstopper Active Shell, which provides some water resistance and complete wind protection, and it has stretch panels on the back, under the arms, and down the sides. The jacket has no hood, but the shell fabric performed well in a short rainstorm in the Tetons, with no wetting through. Pointed and high-pressure rock rubbing didn’t even faze the material—you would have to repeatedly drag it across a razor-sharp edge to see any damage. The stretch panels provide flexibility of movement, but I was a bit disappointed in the breathability. I overheated pretty easily while skinning up a mountain in the Western Fjords of Iceland in 30°F to 40°F temps. I would recommend this jacket for lower-output activities (downhill skiing, easy approaches, etc.) in sub-freezing weather as part of layering system. Available in men’s and women’s sizes.
- Suited for low-output activities and cold temps
- Tough material
- Smart fit but no hood
MILLET W3 WDS COMPOSITE JACKET
Our tester wore this jacket as his primary mountain coat last spring and recommended it for skiing, winter climbing, and ice climbing. The hood and shoulders are waterproof Gore-Tex Paclite, while the rest of the jacket is water-repellent Windstopper fabric. As a superbreathable softshell with waterproof protection in key areas, it’s a solid cold-season jacket, but steady rain revealed potential leaky areas in the zips and along the back seams. (Northwesterners, take note.) While pushing hard during spring snow climbs, our tester got halfway up most peaks before he had to open the jacket’s extra-long pit zips—the jacket breathed that well—and mesh behind the hand pockets and oversized, Velcro-sealed wrist cuffs provide even more venting options. The stretchy Windstopper fabric helped with movement, but the fit is very trim: Our medium-sized tester said a large felt slim on him, and the coat would be snug over thick insulating layers. Also, the hood is not large enough to go over many helmets, but fits nicely underneath. Overall, this jacket would be best for highoutput activities where breathability is key but a little wetness may be encountered. Available in men’s only.
- Best for winter use
- Repels wet snowfall and drippy ice climbs
- Highly breathable