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.
I use the napoleon pockets on my rain 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.
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. Here are some sample coats that come with side pockets that I’d avoid for backpacking use.
- Arc’Teryx Alpha SL Jacket
- Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket
- The North Face Resolve Jacket
- The North Face Venture 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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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.
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:
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
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.
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!
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!
Thanks for this, I’ve been looking for this information all over and finally found someone who has it.
Have at it.