The Runner up: REI Taku Hard Shell Jacket
In a lot of ways the REI Taku Jacket isn't the perfect jacket - it's does not pack small, it's a little heavy, and the low pockets get blocked by a hip belt while backpacking. The comfort of knowing this jacket will protect you from a full day of savage rainfall, howling wind, and whatever else the elements much chuck at you on the other hand overshadow any deficiencies it might have.
It's flexibility, comfort, and stylish design really put it over the top. It always breathes even when I'm sweating like a pig, and always feels comfortable even in direct contact with bare skin unlike many hard shell jackets which make your skin feel clamy.
I purchased the Taku jacket back in September after my Outdoor Research Revel Hard Shell failed to hold out a rainstorm in Point Reyes and consequently lost my faith in the Revel (even though it is smaller and lighter).
The Taku held up against a full day of rain walking around Seattle, then defended against several storms on the trail. It's kept out harsh winds in the Sierra Nevada and had become one of my most valued pieces of gear despite its weaknesses.
Testing Locations included: Mt. Rainier, Olympic National Park, Ansel Adams Wilderness,
Gear of the Year: Gregory Z22 Daypack
The Gregory Z22 was a revelation when I purchased it this past winter. The Z22 is all around well designed daypack and instantly became an irreplaceable item in my gear closet.
Plenty of straps and adjustment points keep the pack remarkably well balanced and it never becomes unwieldy.
The pack frame and main compartment are pushed away from your back with a thin mesh screen which is comfortable, but more importantly, breathable. I hardly ever have back sweat with this bag even when overlayered on days when the temperature fluctuates.
No matter the miles the pack is never uncomfortable. My only really quibble with the pack is the lack of organization potential. Certainly though additional pockets would require more material and more weight so I'm more than happy to accept this design trade-off. The pack is also not weatherproof (few packs are) but it's remarkable resistant to even a steady rain.
A cover is required for absolute security but the pack stands on its own in most situations.