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Rain Shell Chest Pockets

Rab Momentum Jacket

Napoleon Chest Pockets

When it comes to hard shell jackets for backpacking, you really want to buy a rain jacket that has napoleon chest pockets aligned along your sternum instead of side pockets. Waist level side pockets are completely worthless because they’re going to be covered up by your hip belt.

For example, I use the napoleon pockets on my Rab Momentum Jacket so much they act like extensions to my backpack. I store hats, a map, balaclava, face mask, snacks, and gloves in them for easy access. This is very convenient when I’m frequently changing my hat and glove density during the day for temperature regulation in cooler weather and drizzle.

Jacket pockets act as extensions to backpack storage

While there are some jackets on the market that provide one chest pocket, I’d strongly recommend that you look for jackets that have two. Once you start using napoleon chest pockets, you’ll want as much front storage as possible.

Fashion vs. Function

When buying technical rain gear, it’s important to distinguish between fashion and function. For some reason I can’t fathom, people like to wear gear branded with outdoor company logos (The North Face, for example), even though the garments are functionally sub-standard for backpacking use. If you are serious about going lightweight, or even just getting true value for your money, make sure that everything on your rain shell can be used when you are wearing a backpack.

I think the Montbell tag line “Function is Beauty” sewn onto their clothing labels sums up my perspective on this. Side pockets aren’t functional, so I prefer to buy shells without them.

Rain Jackets with Napoleon Pockets

If you’re on the market for a new rain jacket or windproof winter shell, I’d recommend that you take a look at jackets from Acr’Teryx, Rab, Montane, and Outdoor Research. All of these manufacturers have jackets that come with napoleon chest pockets. Here are a few examples:

Rain Jackets without Chest Pockets

On the flip side, rain jackets from REI, The North Face, Marmot, and Patagonia tend to have side pockets, or side pockets and one chest pocket, instead of two. For example, I used to own a Marmot PreCip and gave it away because the side pockets didn’t work. Here are some sample coats that come with side pockets that I’d avoid for backpacking use.

Choosing Rain Gear

By calling out Napoleon Chest Pockets as a must-have feature on rain shells, I’m not trying to be prescriptive in how you go about selecting rain gear. Let’s face it, jackets that come with chest pockets instead of side pockets tend to cost more and are frequently made with more breathable materials such as eVent, Pertex, or GoreTex Paclite. If you prefer to buy low cost outerwear, don’t let me stop you.

My aim here is simply to call out the fantastic utility of chest pockets for three-season and winter backpacking and to call attention to the compromises that must be made if you get a rain shell that only has waist-level side pockets.

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14 comments

  1. I don't mind the side pockets on my Marmot Mica jacket because I can't stand to have anything in any of my upper body pockets anyway. Think about it. Do you have any Napoleon pockets on your base layer or tee shirt? Probably not.

    Just my personal preference.

  2. Like I said, I'm not being prescriptive. Just saying that front pockets can help compensate or extend external backpack storage, especially in winter or rain.

  3. Interesting standpoint and one I tend to agree with. That said, I'd offer that the presence of a Napoleon pocket (or two) doesn't necessarily make a jacket more useful as utility is as dependent on the user as it is the tool.

    Clearly you like to use them and so two such pockets are a plus for you. My winter hardshell has two Napoleon pockets and I rarely, if ever use them. I do occasionally use one of the two pockets that are above the waist belt, but even then, I do so sparingly.

    Instead of stuffing my jacket full, I prefer to use the waist belt pockets on my pack and tend to only layer up and down with a hat and gloves. All other venting/temperature control I manage with zippers (primarily my chest) and toggling my hood (R1) on or off. The only time I need to make more serious adjustments is when I head above treeline and for that a stop is usually required to get goggles, a second hat, and my mittens.

    In other words, I have four very accessible pockets on my shell but don't find much value in them. (One could argue that my jacket has excessive and superfluous function, and I'd be inclined to agree.)

    Incidentally, and I know you wrote "tend," but REI does offer a superb shell meeting the stipulations you list above:

    http://www.rei.com/product/802251

  4. Forget the Taku, this is the one you want, four pockets in the right places…

    http://www.rei.com/product/802251

  5. Rob – I'm glad to see that REI finally fixed their event jacket. I remember when they introduced eVent last year and only had side pockets. I felt cheated.

  6. Peter – good point. I don't have hip belt pockets on my above treeline pack, but I'm going to be using a different below treeline pack this year that does. Still I love those chest pockets!

  7. Phil, I agree with your assessment. I am all about napolean pockets. It's the reason I own a marmot essence and not the marmot mica. Perfect for maps/snacks.

    I dont think you mentioned it in the article, but I do see it in the comments, but many jackets are now coming with chest high waist pocket, so that even the hipbelt won't interfer with their utility. My Rab drillium has these. I still prefer a napolean pockets though for the simple reason that they are 1) lighter than their equivalent chest-high waist pockets and 2) I found out that I never hike with my hands in my pockets, so the chest-high waist pockets are kind of useless to me. Sure they can serve as storage, akin to a napolean pocket, but they are a bit large, heavy, and overkill for the task

  8. i rarely use mine … the only ones i think are useful are the mesh ones so that you can dry out gloves, or vent yr jacket

    otherwise theyre just dead weight to me

  9. Another alternative to stowing essentials close at hand is a chest pouch. I use the trio pocket on my OMM 25 pack to keep my camera, snacks, gloves and hat close at hand, yet the weight is borne by the pack straps and my jacket doesn't feel 'stuffed'. I also have my gear there if I'm wearing a wind shirt or short sleeve as well. The neat thing about the trio is that it 'clips in' in three different locations, so if I don't want it up front, it can also go under the hood or on the back of the pack. It does, however, make getting the pack on/off a bit more time consuming – but I find with my essentials at hand, I rarely remove the pack except for extended breaks.

  10. My Integral Designs eVent Thru Hiker Jacket has a single Napoleon pocket and no side pockets. Even the XL is only 13 oz.

    My son doesn't like side pockets because the zippers go under the hipbelt and are uncomfortable in addition to being inaccessible.

  11. I like the pullover version of the Arc'Teryx jacket recommended here. The kangaroo pouch is great for stuffing things in. As an additional benefit- no zippers to break or leak!

  12. Clinton – that pocket looks good. I like the built in map case too. Wish it was lighter, but I like the function. I have ti get around to getting a front chest pocket for non-winter camping.

  13. Another fine piece of experienced gear reviewing on the site. I'm a big fan of your work and tend to agree with a lot of the things you tend to favor.

    I personally use an Arc'Teryx Alpha SV shell year round. It may be a bit overkill in the summer months, but I've been in the High Peaks in some bad storms and have been more than happy I had it with me. I couldn't agree more on the two Napoleon pockets vice two "hand" pockets.

    Another great outdoor manufacturer that I think would be a great topic for your site is Westcomb. I recently purchased the Recon Hoody, a PrimaLoft insulated soft shell for winter.

    All of their products are made from experience. Just like Arc'Teryx, one can see how much attention to detail is used on ever single feature the provide for their garments. They are based in Vancouver B.C. and unlike Arc'Teryx, all of their products are made in Canada.

    Hey, thanks for listening!

  14. I ended up getting a Norrøna Falketind a couple years ago, absolutely bombproof. Runs true to size, so if layering you might want to size up. That's for winter use only, as I use Dri-Ducks for the hiking season (just the jacket, the pants tear too easily).
    http://www.backcountry.com/norrna-falketind-gore-

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