A softshell is, by and large, a luxury layer. Unlike the essential, possibly life-saving protection provided by hardshells and insulation layers, a softshell is meant for more mild weather and its primary function is to allow the wearer to be as comfortable as possible while active. More breathability means more comfortable temperature regulation. More stretchiness and mobility means more comfortable ease of movement. And when it comes to comfort, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody is a clear winner. It is supple, stretchy, breathable, and just generally luxurious feeling - the epitome of what a softshell should be. There are of course more budget-friendly options, such as our Best Buy winner, the Marmot Moblis, but overall none were as comfortable or well-tailored as the Gamma MX. We awarded this piece our Editors' Choice for the second time in a row because it's everything that a softshell should be and it functioned excellently in the broadest range of uses.
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's Review
Cons: Pricey, non-adjustable cuffs
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Our Analysis and Test Results
A lightweight, stretchy, and deluxe softshell, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody is the ideal piece for high-exertion activities that require a lot of movement and breathability. It earns our highest honor award for the second time because of its lavish comfort and mobility, as well as its adequate wind and water resistance.
The Gamma MX is designed for mixed weather (this is what the "MX" stands for), meaning it provides mixed usage protection in changing weather conditions. It sheds water for a time and blocks a decent amount of wind, but it won't shelter you from a storm or downpour. In that situation, you would need a hardshell.
The Gamma has a DWR finish to increase its water repellency, (though that wasn't a strong point for it), and a hood that seals down efficiently against windy weather. If you need a fully windproof jacket, our Best Buy winner, the Marmot Moblis, or the Gore-tex North Face Apex Flex GTX are some other options. Both are much cheaper than the Gamma MX, but also considerably less breathable. Overall we found this jacket to be a solid performer through all kinds of chilly and windy swing season activities. If you want to add a softshell to your wardrobe that you can feel confident about and that will last for many years, this is a fantastic choice.
This jacket is one of the most breathable in our review, especially for its weight. While our Best Buy on a Tight Budget, the Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody, was considerably thinner and, as a result, able to allow more air to pass through, it was also substantially less warm and protective. Our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the Gamma LT Hoody was another great choice for breathability alone, and while it struck a better balance between that and weather protection, it was still a thin layer that won't be able to keep you very warm in inclement weather.
The Gamma MX, however, hit a critical balance between all of these crucial softshell features. Whether biking, skiing, running or hiking in the glacial alpine, it allowed our bodies to breathe. This is a big reason this jacket won our Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row. As a bonus, if you are working hard and need more airflow, the sizeable mesh-lined hand pockets can be left unzipped and used as vents, a helpful detail that we appreciated.
Mobility is another area that this shell excelled. With underarm gussets, articulated elbows, and lush stretchy fabric, this jacket was noticeably easy to move in and an overall joy to wear.
The tailoring on the Gamma MX is top notch, and the jacket does not ride up when the arms are raised, instead moving with the wearer during all types of activities. This award winner virtually disappears on the wearer, and throughout our tests we found it to be comfortable for hiking, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and everyday wear. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol just marginally better in this department due to a slightly larger fit, wider adjustable cuffs, and incredible four-way stretch fabric, but it also wasn't nearly as flattering. The thin OR Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody, which is styled like a sweatshirt, was also incredibly easy to move in because it's such a minimal layer, but it's nowhere near the overall jacket that the Gamma MX is.
The light insulation lining of this jacket adds a bit of weight, but it was still on the lighter side when compared to other jackets in our test, weighing in at only 17.1 ounces. We didn't consider that so heavy as to be cumbersome, and thus have no reservations about recommending it for long days in the mountains.
Some jackets, like the fleece-lined Patagonia Adze Hoody were a bit warmer, but the Adze was also a full eight ounces heavier and awkwardly bulky to deal with or have to stuff into a pack. Most of the models that were lighter than the Gamma MX also had much less substance and were therefore entirely inappropriate for very much wind or cold.
The one exception to this was our Top Pick for Warmth, the 11.5-ounce Ascendant Hoody. This impressive layer was incredibly warm considering its weight, feeling a lot like a light down puffy. But it suffered from durability issues that the Gamma MX did not, showing, once again, why it was worthy of our prestigious Editors' Choice award.
The Gamma MX has the perfect list of features suitable to the ice climber, backcountry skier, or general swing season athlete.
The helmet-compatible hood adjusts for volume in the back and around the face. The hood features a stiff, laminated brim, which is helpful for keeping it firmly in place on a helmet and for blocking sun or rain from the eyes. It fits over a helmet easily, and remarkably also adjusts down to fit well over a bare head.
This jacket has four pockets: one laminated sleeve pocket, one garaged chest pocket, and two hand pockets. While it was a little tight, we even found that we were able to access the hand pockets while wearing a harness. If having more pockets is something that appeals to you, be sure to check out the impressive 6-pocketed Rab Upslope as well. For slightly better climbing-specific hand pocket placement, also check out the Dawn Patrol.
The stretch-woven cuffs on the Gamma MX are not adjustable, so they can't be tightened around glove cuffs, but they do slide smoothly underneath gloves with a long gauntlet. This simple design keeps the jacket lighter and more streamlined, though we often found ourselves struggling a bit to get our hands in and out as the cuffs are quite narrow and tight. Most of our testers preferred models with adjustable velcro cuffs, but there are some people that dislike this feature, in which case the cuff configuration on the Gamma MX is a bonus.
In general, we found the construction quality of this piece to be very high and the details to be well thought-out and useful. It has a durable, thick wind flap behind the zipper that prevents snagging and also blocks cold air from coming inside the jacket. The plastic zipper is durable and easy to zip. The material by the face is a very soft, fine fleece which prevents chin chap when the hood is zipped all the way closed. All these features add to the comfort and ease of wear of this jacket.
The Gamma MX is slim and contour-fitting, providing a flattering fit and look that we found ourselves regularly grabbing for all manner of activities - even those centered in the city. Sure, this layer is slightly more technical than a favored casual around-town piece, but it looks decidedly less techy than models like the Patagonia Adze Hoody or the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol.
We felt at ease, natural, and even a bit classy wearing the Gamma MX from the mountains to the grocery store to drinks with friends. We liked how durable and easy to keep new-looking the material on this jacket was and also found the available colors fun and appealing. And, most importantly, we loved that the comfort of this contender made us want to throw it on every time we walked out the door.
Since the Gamma MX shined in the mobility and breathability categories, we feel it excels at high-exertion fall and winter activities such as backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, running, hiking, and snowshoeing. The helmet-compatible hood provides some versatility, making it function well during sports like ice and alpine climbing where wearing a helmet is mandatory, but also able to transition just as easily to other sports such as cross-country skiing without seeming overbuilt. We find this shell to have an extensive range of uses, which is one of the reasons it takes our Editors' Choice award for the second time. From a casual dog-walk or bike ride to an intense day in the mountains, this shell will keep you comfortable.
The Gamma MX was the most expensive jacket in our review, making it a commitment to purchase. However, paying a luxury price for the best option seems worthwhile. This jacket is exceptionally comfortable, which is one of the main things you want in a softshell. If you do throw down and purchase the Gamma MX Hoody, we don't think you will be disappointed. Making your investment even more worthwhile is the fact that this jacket is extremely durable, and the classic look is likely to remain stylish for years to come.
A high-end softshell, the stretchy Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody offers exceptional breathability, mobility, and comfort. It maintains a classic style while still protecting in mild to moderate weather. We think this piece exemplifies the desirable characteristics of a softshell more than any other piece we tested, which is why it took the Editors' Choice award for the second time running.
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Most recent review: December 26, 2017
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