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.
- The REI Taku Jacket
- Marmot PreCip
- The North Face Resolve Jacket
- The North Face Venture Jacket
- Patagonia Rain Shadow Jacket
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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