The Charles River Axis is a simple non-technical layer that sells for the very approachable price of $59. We wanted to include something downright cheap in our review and see if it could measure up against some of the more serious softshells made by dedicated outdoor retailers. Bottom line, no, it couldn't, but we still enjoyed this basic shell for some applications and have no problem recommending it for mild weathered urban activities.
Charles River Axis Review
Cons: No hood, not warm or water resistant, cheap material
Manufacturer: Charles River
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Charles River Axis was the least technical piece in our review. It was the only contender without a hood, and it didn't offer any features beyond a drawcord hem and built-in hand warmers (which we enjoyed!). Constructed from thin polyester, the Axis was not very weather protective, and overall just felt cheaper than any of our other tested jackets. But it also WAS less expensive than any model - you can snag this shell for a mere $59.
While this is nice, for only $30 more, you can get the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody, our Best Buy on a Tight Budget award winner. The Ferrosi is also very thin and not very feature-rich, but it comes with a hood and is constructed with 86% nylon, 14% spandex 90D stretch woven ripstop - a considerably more durable and nicer-feeling material.
This cheap polyester jacket is no match for any serious weather. Both wind and water cut straight through it the same way they would if you were simply wearing a sweatshirt. It's another layer of material, and that's about it, especially considering there's no hood to huddle under. The built-in hand warmers are a nice addition, and they helped to keep our hands and arms a bit more protected, but a serious layer this is not.
If you're looking for, what we consider to be, the best softshell on the market, check out our two-time Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody. The Gamma is sheer luxury to wear, but that also means paying a premium price. For something a bit more affordable that can also handle some weather and keep you warm, we like the the Marmot Moblis, our Best Buy award winner.
The Axis scored well in this category solely because it's a very thin jacket. While we realize that a thin material is not the same thing as true breathability, we couldn't deny the fact that there was obvious air flow when wearing this simple layer. It's made primarily from a rather cheap-feeling polyester which didn't feel all that great when we started to get hot and sweaty. There were a plethora of jackets we enjoyed just as much or more, from the thin yet durable OR Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody to our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the impressive Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody to the fabulously-pocketed Rab Upslope.
The Axis fared well because it's very thin, not because it's made from highly technical materials. That being said, it has been cut and tailored nicely with a generous arm length and decent stretch. It doesn't constrict movement or impede activity, though it did tend to ride up a bit in the back at times. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol was much better. The Gamma MX Hoody and Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody also had excellent mobility.
At 12.8 ounces, the Axis was one of the lighter competitors in our review. Not to sound like a broken record, but remember this is due to thin material, not high-tech wizardry. The softshell jacket we found the most impressive in this category was the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, weighing in at only 11.5 ounces but still managing to provide superior warmth and protection. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody was another notable option, weighing just 15.3 ounces and providing excellent wind resistance and durability.
No surprise, this simple and inexpensive jacket wasn't very feature-rich. It does have four pockets, but the two on the interior are simple drop pockets that don't have zippers. Our favorite feature on the Axis was the built-in hand warmers which provided extra fabric length on the arms when not in use. It has a standup collar with chin guard and full-length wind flap as well as a drawcord hem, and that's about it. No hood, superior insulation, or water resistant finish on this puppy. For some more feature-rich options, we like the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol which is geared toward climbing, the highly pocketed Rab Upslope, or the Apex Flex GTX, a softshell/rain jacket hybrid.
We appreciated the clean lines and well-executed tailoring of the Axis. It has a slimming cut, and the hand warmers give it an extra boost of hipness that we liked. It's also not overly technical-looking, which is a bonus for those that want a more urban everyday look and don't require a hood. The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody was our favorite in this category, not shocking when you consider the $349 price tag (for that price it better look good!). We also really liked the slim athletic cut of the Gamma LT Hoody and the flattering shape of the Moblis. The Upslope was a favorite for some of our testers due to its fun colors, and the Ferrosi was popular because it's designed to look like a stylish sweatshirt.
This jacket is best for mild weather and simple non-technical activities. The Axis is simply not built for much beyond that. We enjoyed having it on sunny crag days as a light extra layer, or for days on the bike that weren't too cold. If you're looking for an affordable layer for around-town use, this is a viable option. But if you need a layer that can keep up with a sporty outdoor lifestyle then there are many better options.
For $59, it doesn't get much cheaper than this. However, we were unimpressed and felt that $59 is probably better spent elsewhere. Unless you just really love the look of this shell, your dollars are better utilized towards something more durable and technical. If weather protection isn't of huge concern to you, check out the $99 OR Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody. Still affordable, but you'll get a hood and more durable material.
The Charles River Axis was a decent layer to have around for walks in the park and trips around town - as long as it didn't get too cold. With no hood, very thin material, and a lack of serious features, this just isn't a very impressive jacket, even for the low price tag.
— Penney Garrett