The Charles River Axis is a simple, non-technical layer that sells for a very friendly price. 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.For a little less than twice the price of the Axis you can get twice the jacket — at least in our opinion. The Rab Borealis, our Best Buy for Climbing is a technical jacket that offers more features and durability. You get a better fit, nicer material, a hood, and considerably more wind resistance. Our other Best Buy winner, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded is another solid and feature-rich choice. And the Columbia Phurtec II is thick, fuzzy, uber-warm and just $120. Yes, these are all more expensive options, but in the long run, we believe they are far superior purchases.
Charles River Axis Review
Cons: No hood, not warm or water resistant, cheap material
Manufacturer: Charles River
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Axis is the least technical piece in our review. It doesn't have a hood or really any features beyond a drawcord hem and built-in hand warmers (which we enjoyed!). Constructed from thin polyester, the Axis is not very weather protective, and overall just feels cheaper than any of our other tested jackets. But it is also WAY less expensive than any model — you can snag this shell for a mere $59, and it's often on sale for even less than that.
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 three-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. However, with that investment comes the peace of mind of owning a layer that will keep you protected and last for many years.
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. However, 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. If you truly plan to get aerobic in your softshell, there are many better options in our review to explore.
The Axis fared well because it's very thin, not because it's made from highly technical fabrics. 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. More serious jackets often have a drop-tail hem to counter this issue.
At 12.8 ounces, the Axis is one of the lighter competitors in our review. Not to sound like a broken record, but remember this is due to the thin material, not high-tech wizardry. The lightest model in our review is the Rab Borealis, weighing in at just 8.3 ounces including a hood.
No surprise, this simple and inexpensive jacket isn'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 is the built-in hand warmers which provide 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.
We appreciate 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 like. 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.
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.
It doesn't get much cheaper than $59 for a softshell jacket. However, we were mostly unimpressed and feel that your dollars are probably better spent elsewhere. Unless you just really love the look of this shell, your money is better utilized towards something more durable and technical.
The Charles River Axis is a decent layer to have around for walks in the park and trips around town — as long as it doesn'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