The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review

What makes the perfect softshell? Is it the most protection from weather or the most flexibility and breathability? Do you need one with features tailored to climbers or would you rather have a lightweight shell best suited to running? Heck, do you even need one at all? After evaluating multiple models, and seeing different versions come and go over the course of several years, we feel like we have zeroed in on what makes the ideal softshell and what needs each different piece meets.

To test these jackets we romped through all kinds of winter weather during a span of activities, trying our best to thrash them. We wore them ice climbing, alpine climbing, skiing on lifts and in the the backcountry, nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. We even wore them around town to see how they held up to peer scrutiny while out and about. Then we compared and contrasted these jackets based on the primary categories of breathability, weather protection, mobility, weight, features, and style. Read our full review to see which ones came out on top and to see if it is even worth spending your hard earned dollars on a softshell jacket.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Senior Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Softshell Jackets - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's
Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's
Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's
Read the Review
Marmot ROM- Women's
Marmot ROM- Women's
Read the Review
Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's
Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $227 - $350
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $219 - $379
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $299 - $349
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $111 - $185
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $194 - $225
Compare at 4 sellers
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Stretchy and the most comfortable fit, excellent mobility, highly breathable, helmet-compatible hoodVery durable, extremely weather resistant, excellent mobility, large adjustable cuffs, large helmet compatible hoodHybrid design combines hardshell and softshell materials, more breathable than a hardshell, more water resistant than a softshell, large velcro cuffs on sleeves, crossover chest pockets, helmet compatible hood, fits over insulating layers well.stretchy, very breathableStretchy, breathable panels underneath arms, extremely water resistant, beefy zipper
Cons Expensive, non-adjustable cuffsNot as versatile as other modelsHandwarmer pockets are covered by backpack hipbelt, not as functional as either a softshell or hardshelltight sleeves are hard to layer underneath, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, short hemline, not very water resistantNot the most breathable or flexible
Best Uses Alpine climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, winter aerobic activitiesAlpine climbing and ice climbingIce climbing, alpine climbing, backcountry skiingwinter aerobic activities: hiking, running, cycling, cross country skiing, snowshoeingWet but high exertion activities such as skiing or alpine climbing
Date Reviewed Mar 10, 2014Mar 10, 2014Mar 10, 2014Mar 10, 2014Mar 10, 2014
Weighted Scores Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's Marmot ROM- Women's Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's
Weather Protection - 30%
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Breathability - 30%
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Mobility - 20%
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Weight - 10%
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Features - 5%
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Style - 5%
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Product Specs Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's Marmot ROM- Women's Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's
Weight 1.27 lb / 580 g 1 lb / 450 g 1.12 lb. / 510 g 0.85 lb / 390 g 0.97 lb / 440 g (size med)
Material Fortius 2.0â˘â"49% polyester, 35% nylon, 16% spandex, 160 g/m². Polartec® Power Shield® Pro 89% polyester/11% spandex Polartec® Power Shield, waterproof/breathable H2No® Performance Standard WINDSTOPPER® Softshell 100% Polyester Stretch 5.4 oz/yd, Softshell Double Weave 90% Polyester 10% Elastane Stretch 7.3 oz/yd 100% polyester fabric body, 100% polyester Schoeller® fabric with Nanosphere® technology under arms
Number of Pockets 4 (1 chest, 1 sleeve, 2 hand) 4 (2 chest, 2 hand) 3 (1 chest, 2 hand) 4 (1 chest, 1 interior chest, 2 hand)
Helmet Compatible Hood? Yes Yes Yes Hood, not helmet compatible Yes
Pit-Zips? No No No No No
Adjsutable Cuffs? No Yes yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product
The softshell is an interesting piece because it strives to do so much in one layer: resist wind, repel water, and breathe well. It wants to be a comfort piece and a protection piece at the same time. Ultimately, we find the softshell to be a luxury layer. Some athletes such as ice climbers and backcountry skiers may find a layer of this type to be a necessary addition to their garment quiver, but the majority of users don't need a softshell. Unlike potentially life-saving protective hardshells and insulation layers that are essential in your outdoor layering kit, a softshell is nice to have because it is, well, soft, but it won't keep you warm and dry in a storm. The primary objective of a softshell is to increase comfort through breathability and supple flexibility while offering some degree of weather protection. These layers are less stiff, noisy, and suffocating than hardshells, making them more pleasant to wear, but they only offer protection in mild weather.

For more details on different types of shells and the level of protection they provide, reference our Buying Advice article.

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The windproof Apex Bionic is the perfect sunny-but-windy jacket for activities like hanging out at a lake or going for a short hike.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Types of Softshells
In addition to your standard issue softshell, which is wind and water resistant as well as flexible and breathable, there are several other types on the market. While we tested a wide range of these jackets, we didn't test every possible type. Here is a brief run-down of the unique types you may consider.

Lightweight
Some shell jackets are ultra-thin and light and are designed with runners and hikers in mind. These are best suited to high-exertion, aerobic activities that require outstanding breathability where wind and water resistance are less important. An example of this would be the Rab Solar jacket which is so thin, you may not even consider it a shell.

Windproof
On the opposite end of the spectrum are windproof models that offer the most protection possible short of being a hardshell. These models incorporate a membrane into the face material, which also makes them highly water resistant (not waterproof), but they aren't as breathable as thinner, membrane-free shells. They tend to be thicker, stiffer, and less comfortable as well. Examples of windproof shells are the Patagonia Adze - Women's and The North Face Apex Bionic - Women's.

Fleece Insulated
There are a few designs on the market that combine a weather resistant face material with a high-loft, insulating fleece interior. Backcountry makes some shells like these with their Stoic brand and we tested the Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody - Women's, which fits in this category. These models are warmer than a sftshell without an insulated lining, but a tiny bit less breathable. They are also heavier and bulkier, but may make a more complete and useful everyday jacket for someone living in a mild climate.

Hybrid
An emerging yet popular category is hybrid jackets. These jackets combine two materials with very different properties to create a jacket that bridges the gap between two functions. On the Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's this means using hardshell and soft-shell materials in tandem to create a jacket that is both breathable and waterproof in key areas. The Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's uses a similar design. Additionally, the Marmot ROM - Women's uses Gore Windstopper in concert with an extremely thin and breathable layer to offer wind protection and outstanding breathability.

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Ice climbing in the Mountain Hardwear Principia jacket in Ouray, Colorado.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Criteria for Evaluation

Breathability
Breathability is the reason why people buy softshells. If you only want weather protection, then you want a hardshell. So finding a piece that strikes the perfect balance between breathability and weather protection is key. We tested these jackets in a variety of conditions during a number of activities. The most telling is when we wore them skate skiing and hiking. Both of these activities get the blood moving and the sweat flowing. We found the Arc'teryx Gamma MX to be the most breathable and the hybrid Marmot ROM to be on the same plane. Just after these two standouts came the alpine climber's Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's and the budget Mountain Hardwear Principia - Women's. The least breathable were the windproof models that include a membrane or laminate of some kind: the Patagonia Adze and The North Face Apex Bionic. We also found the hybrid models that provide additional water resistance, such as the Mixed Guide Hoody and the OR Enchainment, to be less breathable than the thin and flexible Gamma MX.

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The Gamma MX Hoody is the most breathable jacket in this review, making it good for aerobic activities such as ski touring.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Weather Protection
No softshell is as fully weather protective as a hardshell. While there are some windproof models, the designation of "waterproof" is reserved for hardshells. Some of the hybrid designs that we tested have waterproof parts, but these jackets should not be worn as rain jackets in a bad storm. Overall, softshells are ideal for mild weather where some moderate protection from wind and water is needed, but full storm protection isn't required. When evaluating for weather protection we took into consideration both wind resistance and water resistance.

We tested two windproof models, the Patagonia Adze, and The North Face Apex Bionic - Women's. The Adze features a membrane in the material to block wind, incidentally this construction is also highly water resistant. These two shells offer the most weather protection of any of the jackets we evaluated with the one caveat: they don't have hoods, which add a significant amount of warmth and protection. However, both models can also be purchased in a hoodie version.

The other notable mentions are the hybrid designs made to increase water resistance: the Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody, which incorporates sections of hardshell material, and the Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's which uses a tightly woven 100% polyester shell material that is extremely water resistant. Both of these repel more weather than the soft and supple shells like the Gamma MX, the Columbia Kruser Ridge, or the Mountain Hardwear Principia; however they are also slightly stiffer and less comfortable.

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The tightly woven polyester shell material that makes up most of the Enchainment is highly weather resistant. We tested this jacket on a miserable day of rainy ice climbing and the wearer stayed dry for most of the day. (Note: this piece is not designed to be a rain jacket.)
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Mobility
The clear winner in the mobility category is the Arc'teryx Gamma MX. It has articulated elbows, gusseted underarms, and is made from a thin, stretchy material that feels like a second skin when worn. It does not ride up when the arms are lifted, and actually doesn't make the wearer think about it at all, which is a good thing. Our second favorite is the Patagonia Knifeblade - Women's. This jacket is carefully thought out with longer, articulated arms, a roomy hood, and spacious sleeve cuffs, which make it easy to move around in.

The biggest disappointment in the mobility category was the Mountain Hardwear Principia. The arms of the jacket are not articulated at all, and if the arms are raised, the jacket rides up significantly. This makes it frustrating to wear underneath a harness, and for other activities it feels like it doesn't fit or move well at all.

We also found the stiff windproof shells, the Adze and the Apex Bionic, to be less supple and flexible than the thinner and softer shells.

Weight
At 1.6 lbs, the Apex Bionic is the heaviest shell we tested, and it doesn't even include a hood. On the featherweight side is the 0.85 lb Marmot ROM - Women's, half of which is constructed with a very thin and light material. All of the other shells hover around a pound each, which is adequate. None are so heavy and bulky that we could consider leaving them behind on a long day, but at the same time none of them are light or protective enough to be much use on a backpacking or overnight trip.

Features
Some shells are designed with a specific purpose in mind. For instance, both the Mixed Guide Hoody and the Knifeblade are targeted at ice and alpine climbers. Because of this they both have features that climbers look for, such as helmet-compatible hoods, adjustable cuffs, and chest pockets that don't interfere with a harness waist-belt.

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Some shell jackets are designed with features specific to climbers, such as the bellowed sleeve cuffs, generous hood, and cross-over pockets on the Patagonia Knifeblade. Others are designed with aerobic athletes' needs in mind.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The Marmot ROM is designed more for runners, hikers, and nordic skiers, so the hood does not fit well over a helmet; in this piece, Marmot combines two materials to create a mostly windproof, yet highly breathable jacket.

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The sleeves of tested jackets compared closely. (L to R): Arcteryx Hyllus, Columbia Kruser Ridge, Marmot ROM, OR Enchainment, MHW Principia, Patagonia Adze, Patagonia Knifeblade, Patagonia Mixed Guide.
Credit: McKenzie Long

All of the jackets we tested had adjustable hems, and all but three had adjustable cuffs. Three models did not come with hoods, which we find to be a necessity in any layer that provides weather protection, but two of those models can be purchased in a hooded version. The only one that has no hood option at all is the Columbia Kruser Ridge.

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The hooded women's jackets lined up for examination. (L to R) Arcteryx Hyllus, OR Enchainment, Marmot ROM, MHW Principia, Patagonia Knifeblade, Patagoina Mixed Guide.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Style
Though style is clearly objective, we find that for daily around town applications we prefer the look and fit of the Columbia Kruser Ridge - Women's or the Arc'teryx Hyllus Hoody - Women's.

Though we think the hemline is a bit short, we love the look and feel ...
Though we think the hemline is a bit short, we love the look and feel of the Hyllus Hoody. It combines just the right amount of weather protection and insulation to make a versatile everyday layer.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The Kruser Ridge has simple, clean lines; an attractive longer-than-average hem; and long, asymmetrically cut sleeves. These features give it a comfortable, flattering fit. The Hyllus Hoody has a plush, fleecy interior which makes it cozy to wear and a pill-free exterior with a casual appearance that stays looking new for the life of the jacket. The rest of the shells in this review have more technical applications, and therefore a more technical and less casual appearance. We still find the Gamma MX and the Mountain Hardwear Principia - Women's to have a flattering look, and don't mind wearing them around on a daily basis.

Editors' Choice Award: Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody

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The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, with its articulated elbows and gusseted underarms, is the most flexible and mobile jacket, which is conducive to climbing. The jacket does not ride up when the arms are raised.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's wins the Editors' Choice award because it epitomizes a soft-shell. It has an outstanding supple feel and unrivaled mobility; it is also highly breathable, moves with the wearer, and is completely non-restrictive. It provides comfort on all the necessary levels and offers moderate weather protection at the same time. On the pricey end of the spectrum, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX is a high-end model of what we would call a luxury layer. If you want the most versatile, best-of-the-best, this is the one we recommend.

Top Pick Award for a Hybrid Shell: Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody

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The hybrid design of this shell makes it most useful in very specific cases such as ice climbing and backcountry skiing, and less versatile for overall use. However, we think it performs admirably in these applications, and the combination of soft-shell and hardshell is beneficial.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The hybrid design of the Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody - Women's makes it one of our favorite pieces for specialized activities such as ice climbing and backcountry skiing where you may need extra water resistance coupled with breathability and mobility. This piece uses soft, breathable material on the stomach, lower back, and lower sleeves and waterproof hardshell material on the hood, shoulders, and upper arms. This design provides extra protection that is useful during certain activities, but makes it less versatile for others. We love how it works in these specialized applications, which is why it earned our Top Pick.

Best Buy Award for a Basic Shell: Columbia Kruser Ridge

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The Kruser Ridge is longer than most of the other softshells we tested. This added coverage adds comfort and looks nice. This also prevents the jacket from riding up when the arms are raised.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

At a price 5 times lower than our Editors' Choice winner, the Columbia Kruser Ridge - Women's is hard to beat when it comes to value. For a ridiculously low price, you get a soft, pliable, and comfortable shell that is still adequately protective. This shell is very basic and does not come with a hood, but is arguably our favorite stylish piece as well. It has a longer hem, asymmetrically cut sleeves, and a simple, classic look. It is versatile enough to wear hiking or around town on a daily basis, and is available in extended sizes so will comfortably fit more women. We think the quality-to-price ratio with the Kruser Ridge is outstanding.

Best Buy Award for Weather Protection: Patagonia Adze

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Taking the Best Buy winning Patagonia Adze out for an alpine climbing test drive.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

If you are on a budget but want the most protection possible, we recommend the Patagonia Adze - Women's. This windproof shell is also highly water resistant and has useful adjustable sleeve cuffs. Though it is less supple and less breathable than non-windproof shells like the Gamma MX or the Mountain Hardwear Principia, it is more flexible and comfortable than its biggest competitor, The North Face Apex Bionic. For the price, this shell offers outstanding weather protection.

McKenzie Long
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