A basic softshell that doesn't offer anything particularly unique or remarkable, the Mountain Hardwear Principa is an inexpensive general use softshell with a hood.
Ice climbing in the Mountain Hardwear Principia jacket in Ouray, Colorado.
The polyester Motivity Softshell material this jacket is constructed from breathes fairly well. It is more breathable than the OR Enchainment, less breathable than the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's, and about on par with the Columbia Kruser Ridge - Women's. This material has a soft fleece interior that is cozy against the skin and helps to whisk away moisture.
This softshell offers average wind and water resistance. It repels water well for a short period of time, but gets soaked through a little quicker than some of the other shells we tested, such as the Patagonia Adze - Women's or the Outdoor Research Enchainment - Women's. It does have a wind flap behind the main zipper, which prevents wind from leaking into this vulnerable spot.
We tested the Principia on a miserable, rainy winter day. The jacket started out strong and repelled water efficiently, however it didn't take long for the jacket to soak through.
The Principia is soft and flexible, though not as supple as the Gamma MX Hoody. It moves decently with the wearer, but is tight across the shoulders. It would earn a higher score in mobility if it wasn't for one main flaw: the jacket rides up and exposes the stomach when the arms are lifted. Almost all the other jackets have an articulated design to prevent this from happening, but the generic shape of the Principia does not stay put during vigorous motion. If you don't plan on climbing in your softshell, this may not make much difference to you, and otherwise we find it to be comfortable.
The Principia rides up uncomfortably when the arms are raised. Most other jackets in our review have an articulated design to proven this from happening. This is especially annoying while climbing because the jacket comes untucked from the harness frequently.
Weight is one area where the Principia excels. At just under a pound, it is lightweight and packable. This could make it the right choice for a day hike or overnight camping trip.
The Principia has a hood that doesn't quite accommodate a helmet. It is only adjustable around the face, and not in the back for different volumes. The adjustment near the face uses internal cinches that keep the brim in place while sealing around the face to keep weather out. This is actually a nice feature for those that don't need to wear helmets with their hoods, and want the hood to stay in place over a bare head or a beanie. There are two hand pockets lined with soft fleece, and no chest or internal pockets. The hem adjusts with a drawcord and the sleeves adjust with Velcro tabs. We like adjustable sleeves because they fit better over gloves, but the sleeve openings are small, and only fit over thinner gloves not ones with large cuffs.
The hood on the Prinicpia only adjusts around the face and not in the back to accommodate different volumes. It uses internal cinches, and bunches up in a way that keeps the brim in place.
The look and colors of the Principia are appealing. It is on the simple side, so looks less techy than the OR Enchainment or the Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody. It blends into everyday and around town use easily.
This softshell is marketed as a general use piece for cool weather and we agree. It does not work well for ice climbing, alpine climbing, or mountaineering. It would perform decently on short ski tours, but is best reserved for shorter activities closer to home. It does protect from wind and water, but not for long, so it makes a wonderful layer for gardening, walking the dog, and running errands.
For $165 you get an average performing, hooded softshell jacket. This is actually a pretty good deal. The three jackets that we tested that cost less don't come with hoods, and we think hoods are pretty mandatory. At half the price of our Editors' Choice winner, the Prinicpia is a budget option for those who need a hood.
The Principia is a comfortable softshell for the price, but don't expect to take it with you on many alpine adventures. This is a decent everyday shell.
The Principia also comes in a men's version.