It's time. My 2-year-old Marmot Essence, acquired for something like half price is several months past the end of its "keeping me dry" stage. I've experimentally confirmed the wisdom that PU stuff like Precip or Membrain or YourFavorite AwesomeLight 2.5 Membrane just will not last. So, I've done a (tiringly) large amount of research on more durable (but heavier) shell options for the next round, so I'm familiar with much of the theory as discussed in many threads here and elsewhere, and resigned to the fact that my system will include Gore-Tex or eVent.
For low-impact or low-wetness 3-season trips, I will probably carry something in the vague poncho/DriDucks category (waiting for Dave's series to be complete to join and read up). However, more and more of my trips involve higher impact conditions where some of these options won't pass muster: glissading, brushbashing, occasional alpine abuse, etc. I'm mainly getting out in the Pacific Northwest in beautiful weather, rain, snow, and everything in between, backpacking on and off trail, scrambling, and occasionally doing some glacier/alpine travel. So I'm looking for a new shell system suitable for 4-season use, with an eye for long-term durability. I am willing to compromise a bit on weight to achieve that durability, but only as far as I need to. My hope is that I can still get something moderately light that will last. I do not go out in search of ways to abuse my shells, and when I do abuse them, I still try to be careful. so I hope I won't need to upgrade (downgrade?) all the way into territory where my jacket is as heavy as my 30-degree sleeping bag... On the other hand, I am somewhat skeptical of the durability of the latest hardshells in the 8oz range like the Montane Spektr Smock. (Also these seem to have slightl reduced coverage and lack of helmet-compatible hood.) Budget constraints exist as well, but we'll keep them out of the picture for now.
For each of the following shells, I would like to hear from those who have personally used them over an extended (ideally multi-year) period and in some high-impact situations. For those who have used more than one (or who have also used something like the Essence), comparisons and contrasts are most welcome! You can assume I am familiar with the features -- but not real-world performance -- of any shell I've listed. Of course I'll welcome other varieties of input and suggestions for other similar options since there's such a large amount of knowledge and opinions on tap here, but I'll probably only listen seriously if you have non-trivial personal experience using what you preach. :)
Westcomb Specter LT Hoody: 3-layer eVent, 11oz
Rab Demand Pull-on: 3-layer eVent, 10oz
Rab Momentum Jacket: 3-layer eVent, 13oz
Arc'teryx Alpha SL Pullover: 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite, 11.5oz
Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket: 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite, 12oz
Arc'teryx Alpha LT Jacket: 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell, 13oz
Westcomb Cruiser LT Pant: 3-layer eVent, 13oz
Rab Bergen Pant: 3-layer eVent, 12oz
Rab Drillium Pant: 3-layer eVent, 10oz
Outdoor Research Mentor Jacket: 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell, 17oz
Westcomb Cruiser LT Jacket: 3-layer eVent, 16oz
(Fewer examples here because I am less enthused about this category.)
How well do the fabric and waterproofness stand up to long-term wear under the friction of pack shoulder straps, hipbelt, or climbing harness? Does/will it last for several years of regular use?
How well do the fabric and waterproofness stand up to high impacts like glissading, brush-bashing, occasional scrapes on rock? Does/will it last for several years of occasional high-impact activity?
How strong does the fabric feel? (Will I always be worried about busting it?)
Does the design permit sufficient venting? (e.g., lack of pit zips on eVent jackets, suitability of pockets for venting in place of pit zips, reduced breathability from large kangaroo pockets) I believe breathability is mostly a farce, though I've only used PU jackets. If I can sweat enough to get and stay wet without a shell, I'm sure I can with a shell... any venting will help.
If the design depends largely on breathability for venting, does it remain breathable over several years? (Assume or define reasonable maintenance.)
More generally, is something from the 12oz category going to last me several years of regular use and moderate abuse, or will I need to swallow another 4oz or more for that kind of durability?
If you have comments about a particular shell you like/dislike, please mention how long you've had it and how much use it's gotten.
Thanks for any insights!