Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Review
Cons: Light on features, awkward fit, weird styling
Our Analysis and Test Results
We were initially intrigued by the Backcountry Notchtop's low weight and burly hardshell features. However, we were ultimately disappointed by the fit, style, and lack of features, considering the price tag.
The Backcountry Notchtop is a three-layer hardshell jacket, and it doesn't have any insulation. This design means that it is not effective at keeping the user warm on its own. Any warmth must come from insulating mid-layers worn underneath. Backcountry skiers and experienced resort skiers who enjoy high-output activities like mogul skiing and inbounds hiking will consider this lack of insulation a plus, while many skiers looking for a thick and warm ski jacket will want to look elsewhere. Our testers noted that it was difficult to add insulating layers beneath this jacket due to the narrow chest.
The Backcountry Notchtop uses Gore-Tex Active to keep wind and water outside of the jacket. All of the seams are sealed, and the zippers are waterproof. A drawcord seals the hem, velcro straps that keep the wrists sealed, and an adjustable hood to keep storms at bay. Overall, these features work together to create an impenetrable hardshell jacket that did not falter during our test period. If we had to pick an area to critique, it would be that the hood could be bigger to provide more coverage.
Comfort and Fit
At first glance, the Notchtop seems like a comfortable jacket. The outer shell fabric is softer than other Gore-Tex shells, the material is stretchy, and the inner lining is soft on the skin. However, our testers noticed that the chest is awkwardly tight when spreading or lifting the arms, even when the rest of the jacket's measurements fit perfectly. In other words, we think this is a tailoring issue, not a sizing issue. It is tight enough in the chest to make out testers cringe at the thought of spreading their arms or bending over to buckle their boots. If you have a medium to wide chest, beware.
While the Gore-Tex Active membrane is relatively breathable for a hardshell, this jacket has some unique features that help improve breathability. The armpit vents are long and open completely without a mesh liner, which is great. The front zip has two zip options, one that seals the jacket completely and one that introduces small holes into the front of the jacket for increased breathability. Finally, the jacket's front pockets have holes in the lining, allowing them to act as front vents if left open. These unique features effectively help the user dump heat in the torso when skinning uphill, hiking inbounds to fresh snow, or skiing in the spring.
While not the most important consideration, our testers like to look good on the slopes and in the backcountry. This jacket has funky tailoring, bright primary color options, and a large logo on the right shoulder, all of which make us cringe. Many of our testers were put off by the style of this jacket, to the point that the weight savings and ventilation options didn't matter. Our testers ended up preferring other, heavier backcountry shells simply because they thought the Backcountry Notchtop's style was lacking. However, style is subjective, so if you like how this jacket looks, disregard our opinions here.
To save weight, the Backcountry Notchtop lacks many features that are standard in other ski jackets, even backcountry-specific ones. Two well-placed front pockets provide plenty of storage and are accessible even when a backpack is strapped across the chest and waist. A small pass pocket on the left sleeve for RFID cards is helpful for days lapping the sidecountry. There are no internal pockets, which is a bit of a bummer, but it keeps the jacket's weight down, so we tolerate it.
Should You Buy the Backcountry Notchtop?
The Backcountry Notchtop Gore-Tex Active Jacket is a lightweight hardshell that provides great weather resistance and ventilation but little else. It is more affordable than other Gore-Tex shells, but it also lacks the refinement of these more expensive options. For budget shoppers, we'd recommend other shell jackets that don't use Gore-Tex (which generally reduces the price), and that still perform better across the board.
What Other Ski Jackets Should You Consider?
If you are looking for a Gore-Tex shell and you're on a budget, this is a good option. But there are better ski shells on the market that don't use Gore-Tex and still perform better overall than the Backcountry Notchtop, like the Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell. If you hop between in-bounds and out-of-bounds skiing, the Flylow Lab Coat is another great shell that offers a better fit, better ventilation, and more features than the Notchtop. But if money is a primary concern, instead consider the REI Co-op First Chair GTX.
— Jeff Dobronyi
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More